World War II - History of Europe - Second World War
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World War II

black and white photo of lots of people standing in line
Unemployed people in Germany (1930s)

May 2016 - The Depression left everyone in Europe feeling angry and upset, because so many people were poor. People were especially upset in Germany, where they also were angry about losing World War I. Many German people looked for someone to blame for their problems. Some Germans blamed Jews, because they were outsiders, and some of them were rich outsiders. Some Germans blamed the French and the British, or the Russians. In any case the Germans were still much poorer than the British or the French, with their colonies, and the Germans wanted to be better off.

truck with germans driving down street in France
Germans invade France

Germany's leader, Adolf Hitler, was able to use this anger to get power. Hitler encouraged the Germans to fight back. He built factories and gave people jobs, and ended the Depression. In 1939, after making a deal with Russia to keep Russia out of the war, Hitler suddenly attacked Poland. Nobody did anything to stop him, so in 1940 Hitler attacked Norway and Denmark, and soon afterwards Belgium, the Netherlands, and France. All of these countries surrendered right away. Hitler thought he would make a new Roman Empire, like Napoleon - he called his empire the "Third Reich" because it came after those two. Next Hitler attacked Britain. That was harder because Britain is an island and the British Navy was stronger than the German Navy. So the Germans used airplanes to attack. But this time the British Air Force (the Royal Air Force, or RAF) fought the Germans off.

men on horses go past standing asian people
Japan invades China

Germany still wanted more land - more "Lebensraum" - room to live. Italy, as Germany's ally, invaded Greece and North Africa. In 1941, Germany invaded Russia. Then Japan, also as Germany's ally, invaded China and attacked the United States Navy in Hawaii. But now things started to go bad.

ruined city
Ruins of Hiroshima

Many Russians died, but Germany lost battles in Russia, and the cold winter and snow were too hard for the soldiers. The Russians slowly forced the Gremans out of Russia during 1944, and then pushed them back across Poland and Hungary into Germany in 1945. Meanwhile, the United States and Britain began to push the Germans out of France, too. Caught between two enemies, Germany surrendered in 1945, and Hitler shot himself dead. Japan kept fighting, but after the United States dropped two nuclear bombs on civilian cities in Japan, Japan surrendered too.

Want more about World War II? Check out the Fury movie - a sensational movie with stars like Brad Pitt that portrays the Allies’ final push into Berlin.

Bibliography and further reading about World War II:

Ottoman Empire
Russia
United States
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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