WWII caused unprecedented destruction. At the same time, it also helped to create a new postwar age. It caused more destruction than any other conflict in human history.
Most experts estimate that the number of war dead reached at least 40 million. Both the Allies and the Axis Powers absorbed terrible losses. The soviet Union alone suffered 20 million casualties, more losses than all nations put together in WWI.
The cost in property damage was also devastating. Historic cathedrals, homes , factories, and schools were all damaged.
In some areas of Germany and Japan the living envied the dead. Thousands of people starved to death during the first months after the war ended.
The Holocaust claimed the lives of six million Jews
The Nazi nightmare did not stop on the battlefields of Europe. Hitler divided humankind into two groups---a German master race and a lesser race composed of everyone else.
Hitler deprived Jews of their political rights and property (Kristallnacht)
The Jews’ worst fears became a reality when Hitler conquered Poland and invaded Russia.
The killing units brutally shot innocent men, women and children and hid their bodies in mass graves. SS killing units murdered 1.4 million Jews.
The killing squads were part of a program of mass murder that Nazi leaders began to call their final solution of the Jewish race.
Polish Jews were herded into ghettos, Jews caught outside the ghettos were killed.
Warsaw ghetto contained half a million Jews squeezed into an area that usually housed 10,000.
Despite these horrible conditions, the Jews struggled to maintain their traditions and keep their dignity (theaters, teachers, writers.)
The Death Camps
The ghettos were allowed to last just a short time, the Nazis replace them with death camps.
By Jan. 1942, top Nazi officials met to coordinate the total destruction of the Jews. Such an attempt to kill an entire people is known as “genocide”.
When the victims arrived, they were divided into two groups: those judged healthy enough to do heavy labor for the Nazis; in the other were those who were to die at once. They might be shot, bayoneted, or gassed. Any who were merely wounded were buried alive (shower room)
World War II changed America
Women and minorities: WWII created new opportunities for American women.
With more than 12 million men in the armed forces, the government urged women to take places in the work force. By the end of the war 36% of all American women were in the work force. This experience change the attitudes of many women about their traditional roles in society
The war was also a turning point for African Americans. Thousands of them left the rural South for higher paying jobs in defense industries.
After fighting for freedom, many African American soldiers returned home determined to end racial discrimination.
This new attitude helped to spark the civil rights movement in the 1950’s.
The imprisonment of Japanese Americans
When the war began, 120,000 Japanese Americans lived in the United States. The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor stunned the nation. Panic citizens feared that the Japanese would soon attack the West Coast.
False rumors spread that the Japanese Americans were committing sabotage by mining coastal harbors and poisoning vegetables.
An ugly wave of prejudice against the Japanese Americans. So Roosevelt felt he could no longer ignore the public’s fear.
On February 1942,Roosevelt authorized the establishment of military areas. Japanese Americans were moved to “internment camps,” or prisionlike camps.
Despite this mistreatment, Japanese Americans nevertheless demonstrated their patriotism honoring the American flag every day.
In 1988 American congress voted a tax free payment of $20,000 to all those who had been sent to “internment camps”. Congress also officially apologized to Japanese Americans for the grave injustice they had suffered.