World War II: Aftermath Facts
The cost of World War II is uncalculable in human or financial terms. estimates indicate that about 55 million people died in Europe during the World War II; of these, about 8 millions were German. Death was not for soldiers – civilians died in their millions too, and came from many different directions through these cruel years. In the opening stages of the war, as the German armies invaded Poland, Adolf Hitler wasted little time in organizing the killing of large numbers of non-combatants.
He wanted to minimize the potential for trouble making amongst the Polish people, and so he tasked Himmler with eliminating the political and cultural elite. Since the job was effectively wholesale murder, it was given to the SS rather then a regular army. Several units of 400 to 600 men were assembled – these were not fighting forces, but death squads. Called Einsatzgruppen, their role was to go in after the invading armies had passed and arrest and murder certain categories of civilians. These included government officials, aristocrats, priests, and business people.
The squads also sought out Jews and forced them into overcrowded ghettos. The final death toll of Polish Jews was over 3 million, but another 3 million or more non-Jewish Polish civilians also died in the war. This amounted to losing around 18 percent of its prewar population – this was a greater toll than for any other country in the world.
Originally there were plans to ship the German Jews to Madagascar where they would be corralled in special colonies. This became impracticable once war has started, especially when millions more Jews were captured in the occupied countries of the east. Instead, Hitler and Himmler decided that mass extermination was the answer, and so the Holocaust began. The Nazi’s “Final Solution” killed in the order of 6 million Jews, as well as countless homosexuals, the mentally ill, German political prisoners and Bolsheviks. On the top of this, a million Serbs were executed and around 1.5 million Romanies died during the period 1933 – 1945. It is estimated that the Nazis executed about 12 million civilians in all.
There were death camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belsen, Treblinka, Sobibor, Majdanek, Dachau, Chelmno and many others elsewhere in Germany and Poland. One of the death camps outside this countries was Jasenovac in today’s Croatia, then Independent State of Croatia, Nazi Germany’s most faithful ally. Camps in Germany and Poland were run by Himmler’s Special Duty Section (Sonderdienst or SD) who supervised mass extermination in the killing chambers which they disguised as showers. These had been specially developed to kill large numbers of people with a gas called Zyklon-B, a form of cyanide. The dead then were searched for gold teeth; their bodies were often also boiled up to extract fat, which was used to make soap or candles.
At the end of the war these camps were so filled with the dead and the dying that they were serious health hazards to the local population, even after the survivors had been rescued. Belsen, for instance, had to be burned to the ground by British forces with Crocodile flamethrowing tanks to prevent the spread of diseases such as typhus.
As the war progressed, the need for slave labour meant that many of those who were sent to the concentration camps were forced to work in terrible conditions in German armaments factories. Vast numbers died as the result of starvation, disease and maltreatment. As the war drew to a close, the Nazi hierarchy tried to hide evidence of the concentration camps and slave labour units from the advancing Allied armies.
Even as the Red Army reached Berlin, the death toll of non-combatants continued. Not only did the Russians treat the German civilians they encountered with extreme brutality, but the millions of artillery shells that they fired into the city killed nearly a quarter of a million people during the last three weeks of the war. The atrocities the Russians committed on German civilians can be partially explained as revenge for the treatment that Germany troops had exacted on the peasant population of the Soviet Union.
The Russians had cause to be bitter for many other reason too, however. In all, about 5 million Russian soldiers were captured by the Germans, but the brutality they experienced at the hands of their captors killed around 3 million of them. The death toll also continued after the war was over – Stalin sent many of them to labour camps for the crime of being captured, where another million of them died. It is thought that the Soviets lost about 13 million soldiers and 8 million civilians in all.
All the other countries that were involved in the conflict lost large numbers of people. Some, like the British also had troops from the Empire and Commonwealth where there was not much fighting on home soil, and so for these countries the civilian toll at 60,000 was low in relation to the 452,000 soldiers killed. Other countries like Czechoslovakia, however, did relatively little fighting, losing 10,000 soldiers, but they lost an incredible 333,000 civilians. Yugoslavia lost 300,000 fighting men, which was badly enough, but its civilian population experienced a terrible 1.3 million losses. Many of these occurred when Hitler ordered the destruction of Belgrade in revenge for their brief uprising. Belgrade was also heavily bombed by Anglo-American army.
The toll continues – even small countries like Romania lost 200,000 soldiers and 465,000 civilians. British civilian losses at 60,000 were almost entirely due to bombing and rocket attacks, but nearly half a million military men died. Mussolini’s eagerness to get involved in the war cost Italy 330,000 soldiers and 80,000 civilians. Hungary for her part lost 120,000 soldiers and 280,000 civilians. France, whose population had been severely depleted in World War I lost a further 25,000 soldiers and 360,000 civilians. Officially, the French government also executed 4,500 collaborators, however, an estimated 50,000 more were executed by the French Resistance.
The numbers are so large that they risk becoming meaningless – it is estimated that approximately 25 million soldiers died during the years 1939 – 1945. Of these, some 19 million were killed in Europe, and around 6 million in the war against Japan. The Allied military and civilian losses were in the order of 44 million, and the Axis lost about 11 million. The numbers got much worse in the Far East – the Chinese lost over 11 million to fighting, with up to another 20 million killed by Japanese. The Americans got off relatively lightly – since they experienced no domestic fighting, their civilian losses were insignificant, although they did lose over 40,000 soldier.
World war II was truly global – in all, 61 countries with 1.7 billion people took part; this amounts to three-quarters of the world’s population. 110,000 million people did military service, with the major participants being the USSR at 22 – 30 million, Germany at 17 million, the United States at 16 million, the British Empire and Commonwealth at 9 million, Japan at 7 million and China at 5 million.
The financial cost of World War II can only be estimated. It is possible to calculate how much money was spent by the various governments who took part during and after the conflict – some assessments make this figure more than trillion dollars. These does not, however, take into account the enormous amount of damage done to privately owned property.
The US spent more than any other country, at an estimated $ 341 billion. This figure includes $ 50 billion for land-lease supplies, which is made up of $ 31 billion to Britain, $ 11 billion to the Soviet Union, $ 5 billion to China, and a further $ 3 billion to 35 other countries. Germany spent $ 272 billion, the Soviet Union $192 billion, Britain $ 120 billion; Italy $ 94 billion and Japan $ 56 billion. Official Soviet figures show that the USSR lost 30 percent of its national wealth. In total, the war cost Japan an estimated $ 562 billion.
What cannot have a financial value placed on it, however, is the change in the balance of world power. Before the war, there were four great military nations – these were Britain, France, Germany and Japan. Although America and the Soviet Union were massive countries, they had small armies. Both had experienced terrible poverty and domestic social problems in the run up to the war as a result of major economic troubles. During the war, however, they built up their military machines to such an extent that when the conflict ceased they stood head and shoulders above everyone else, and the term “superpower” was coined.
During the war America and the Soviet Union had a common enemy in the Nazis, and they fought together to entirely eliminate the Third Reich. However, this mutual understanding soon evaporated in the post-war era, and matters went downhill rapidly. This resulted in what became known as the “Cold War”, which had a major influence on world politics for several decades thereafter.
In order to punish those responsible for the behaviour of the Third Reich during World War II, a war crimes tribunal was held at Nuremberg between November 1945 and August 1946. Although many senior Nazis had escaped 21 did not, and they appeared before Allied judges to answer charges made to them. Only 3 were acquitted, to other 19 being found guilty. Of these 12 were executed, and 7 were imprisoned.