The Horrors of WWII Occupation in Europe: A Comprehensive Look

The Horrors of WWII Occupation in Europe: A Comprehensive Look

Summary

During WWII, Europe was forced to endure a number of harrowing occupations by both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Polish citizens were subjected to ruthless “germanization,” leading to the starvation, executions, and forced labor of Poles and the genocide of Jewish people. The Soviet occupation led to similar atrocities and resulted in widespread hatred towards Bolsheviks and Jews. In Croatia, the Germans installed a fascist regime that targeted Serbs, Jews, and gypsies, leading to ethnic hatred and the growth of the communist partisan movement. In Ukraine, Hitler’s representative Erich Koch implemented ruthless domination and aimed to “cleanse” the region for future German settlement with plans to “remove” over 31 million people. Ukrainian Jews were subject to widespread antisemitism, and nearly every family was affected by their deportation to the Reich.

Table of Contents

  • The Nazi Occupation of Poland
  • The Soviet Occupation of Eastern Poland and its Atrocities
  • The German Occupation of Croatia and the Rise of Ethnic Hatred
  • The Genocidal War in the East and the Killing of Soviet Jews
  • The Nazi Occupation of Ukraine and the Brutality that Ensued
  • Ukrainian Jews and the Antisemitism Prevalent in their Community
  • The German Plan to Exterminate the Jewish People and the Operation of Auschwitz

Q&A

Q: How did the Germans’ treatment of occupied Western Europe compare to their treatment of Poland?

A: The German occupation of Poland had no remote counterpart in the German treatment of occupied Western Europe. The Poles were ruthlessly “germanized,” leading to starvation rations, executions, and forced labor. Thousands of Polish villages were destroyed, and the Jewish population was subjected to extermination.

Q: Did anyone welcome the Soviet occupation, and if so, why?

A: Despite intense persecution by the Germans, many Jews welcomed the Soviet occupation as a possible liberation. However, their hopes were quickly dashed as they were robbed of their property, and intellectuals and professionals were arrested.

Q: What was the German occupation of Croatia like?

A: In Croatia, the Germans installed a regime under Ante, the leader of the Ustaša fascists, who instigated a rule of terror to “cleanse” the country of all non-Croatians. The Ustaše massacred entire communities, targeting Serbs, Jews, and gypsies in an effort to wipe out all non-Croatian influence. The atrocities spawned far more ethnic hatred than had been present before the war, and Tito’s communist partisan movement grew stronger.

Q: How many Jews were killed during the genocidal war in the East?

A: The war in the East was genocidal, with the killing of Soviet Jews being an implicit part of the German conquest. Task forces eradicated all “subversive elements,” which mainly meant Jews. The task forces kept a precise count of their killings, and by the end of the year, the task force operating in the Baltic region proudly recorded a precise total of 229,052 Jews killed.

Q: Why did the Ukrainians welcome the Germans as liberators?

A: The Ukrainian population suffered immensely under Nazi occupation during WWII, but many initially welcomed them as liberators from Soviet rule. However, the Germans even managed to turn the Ukrainians into enemies and achieve greater hatred of them than the Soviets.

The Nazi Occupation of Poland

During WWII, Poland was subjected to a brutal occupation by Nazi Germany. The Germans aimed to ruthlessly “germanize” the Polish population, treating them as subhumans and seeking to eliminate Polish culture and statehood. The Jewish population was also targeted for extermination, despite the acute labor shortage that the Nazis faced. The Poles were subjected to starvation rations, executions, and forced labor, with thousands of villages destroyed.

The Soviet Occupation of Eastern Poland and its Atrocities

The Soviet occupation of eastern Poland was also marked by atrocities. The Soviet secret police executed over 20,000 members of the Polish elite, and almost 400,000 Poles were deported to concentration camps in the Soviet Union. Despite intense persecution by the Germans, many Jews welcomed the Soviet occupation as a possible liberation. However, their hopes were quickly dashed, as they were robbed of their property, and intellectuals and professionals were arrested. The discovery of thousands of victims of NKVD atrocities in jails led to widespread hatred towards the Bolsheviks and Jews.

The German Occupation of Croatia and the Rise of Ethnic Hatred

In Croatia, the Germans installed a fascist regime under Ante, the leader of the Ustaša fascists. The Ustaše massacred entire communities, targeting Serbs, Jews, and gypsies with the aim of wiping out all non-Croatian influence. The atrocities spawned far more ethnic hatred than had been present before the war, and Tito’s communist partisan movement grew stronger.

The Genocidal War in the East and the Killing of Soviet Jews

The war in the East was genocidal, with the killing of Soviet Jews being an implicit part of the German conquest. Task forces eradicated all “subversive elements,” which mainly meant Jews. The Germans found willing collaborators among nationalists in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia who saw them as liberators from Soviet rule and were able to whip up anti-Jewish sentiment. The task forces kept a precise count of their killings, and by the end of the year, the task force operating in the Baltic region proudly recorded a precise total of 229,052 Jews killed.

The Nazi Occupation of Ukraine and the Brutality that Ensued

Hitler’s representative Erich Koch implemented ruthless domination in the region, with plans to “cleanse” it for future German settlement. Himmler’s plan for the Ukraine was part of the larger “General Plan for the East” that aimed to “remove” over 31 million people, mostly Slavs, from conquered territories over the next twenty-five years. The brutality of the occupation was severe, engendering an all-pervasive fear in the population. The streets were littered with corpses of victims who were arbitrarily shot by the occupiers, and public executions left victims hanging for days. A huge source of fear from 1942 was being rounded up for deportation to the Reich, which was seen as a death sentence. Nearly every family was affected as those deported swelled in number to a million by June 1943.

Ukrainian Jews and the Antisemitism Prevalent in their Community

Ukrainian Jews, who numbered around 1.5 million, were subject to widespread antisemitism before the war. Ukrainian Jews found themselves within a friendless society facing a murderous onslaught from the conquerors. Many Ukrainians either helped their Jewish neighbors or were ready to denounce Jews to the German occupiers or to join in massacres. Envy of Jewish wealth, property, and position played a significant part in Ukrainian antisemitism, which increased after the Red Army retook Ukraine in 1943.

The German Plan to Exterminate the Jewish People and the Operation of Auschwitz

The Germans committed genocide against the Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, with the aim of exterminating the entire Jewish people via a program that was carefully planned and executed through a meticulous bureaucracy. The main killing center in 1943-4 was Auschwitz, where the vast majority of Jews sent to the camp came from outside Poland. Most were sent to Birkenau, an auxiliary camp that was much larger than the parent camp.

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