Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
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Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


The World Wars and Interwar Period 



The first half of the 20th century saw the world entangled in two global wars, conducted with an unprecedented brutality. The First World War developed from a purely European affair into a conflict involving the colonies and the United States. It altered Europe's political landscape and shifted the power balance worldwide. In World War II, the nations of Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa were drawn into the conflict through the aggressive policies of an ambitious Nazi Germany. The war was conducted with the most up-to-date weapons technology and cost the lives of more than 55 million people. The Holocaust, the systematic annihilation of the European Jews, represented an unparalleled moral catastrophe for modern civilization.


Pablo Picasso "Weeping Woman", 1937




Scandinavia and the Baltic 



Following World War I, all of the Scandinavian countries moved toward the development of democratic welfare states. In international affairs, only Sweden was able to maintain the Scandinavian tradition of neutrality throughout World War II, while Denmark and Norway were occupied by German troops, and Finland fought hard to preserve its recently won independence. The newly created independent Baltic states found themselves squeezed between the aggression of Germany and Russia.


The Baltic Republics' Brief Independence

With German aid, the Baltic states became independent following World War I. From 1939 on, they were invaded and occupied first by Hitler and then Stalin. After World War II they were annexed and became republics of the Soviet Union.


In the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk of 1918 between Germany and Russia, the Bolsheviks had been forced to guarantee the independence of their Baltic provinces in northeastern Europe.

Through long struggles, Estonia, 1, 2 Latvia, and Lithuania established themselves as liberal constitutional states by 1920.

Germany sought to play the role of guarantor of their sovereignty against attacks from Poland and the Soviet Union. In 1920, the former German port of Memel was taken over by Lithuania; in 1924, it gained autonomy until it was once more assimilated into Hitler's fascist Reich in 1939.

Under the 3 Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939, the Baltic states were at the mercy of Hitler and Stalin.

1 Freedom memorial in Riga,
Latvia, built in 1935

2 Parliament of the republic of Latvia in
the capital Riga, ca. 1930

3 Ministers of State sign the nonaggres-sion
pact: (seated from left to right) Munsters of
Latvia, Ribbentrop of Germany, Selter of Estonia,

In the accord's secret protocol, the Nazi regime recognized the whole Baltic region and Finland as a 6 Russian sphere of influence.

6 Soviet Socialist propaganda after
the annexation of Latvia

Hitler had shortly beforehand signed a nonaggression pact with Latvia. In 1940, the Red Army marched into the Baltic States. Stalin forced Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia to accept Soviet naval bases and garrisons; Russia had long sought access to warm-water ports and control of the Baltic Sea. The German army retook the territory during its invasion of Russia and carried out a systematic elimination of the Jewish population.

Germans were 4 resettled further west. In the hope that Germany would support the independence of the small republics after the war, many 7 anti-communists and anti-Semites from the Baltic area, especially Lithuania, volunteered for the Waffen SS.

As the Soviets began to push westward, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania again fell to the 5 Red Army in 1944.

After the war, they were incorporated into the Soviet Union and did not regain their independence until the fall of the USSR.

4 Arrival of Baltic Germans in Stettin as
part of the resettlement, Oct 1939

7 Volunteers from the Baltic SS divisions being
inspected by a Nazi official, 1944

5 Arrival of the Red Army in Vilnius,
Lithuania, July 1944



Scandinavia and Finland through World War II

While the Scandinavian countries were all able to remain neutral during the First World War, only Sweden avoided being pulled into the hostilities by German aggression during the Second World War.


Sweden, Denmark, and Norway did not join the conflict during World War I, although the Entente occasionally boycotted Sweden because of its lively trade with the German Reich, and Norway sent out its merchant fleet against the Central Powers. Still, the nonaligned status of the Scandinavian countries was never challenged by either side and, after the war, there were no social upheavals. The Scandinavian monarchies became parliamentary democracies in the interwar period and steadily developed as welfare states. The Social Democrat majority reduced the effects of the economic depression on the population through increased state services.

Finland was a special case in the Scandinavian world due to its proximity to 10 Russia.

As a former dominion of the czar's empire, Finland took advantage of the turmoil of the Russian Revolution to declare its independence on December 6,1917. Despite a nonaggrcssion treaty signed in 1932, the relationship with the Soviet Union remained tense, and in accordance with the Nazi-Soviet Pact that assured German acquiescence, the Red Army invaded Finland on November 30,1939,in order to prevent future German threats to the Soviet Union moving through Scandinavia.

However, only after Soviet bombing of Finnish cities and fighting which inflicted grave losses on the Russians was the 12 "Winter War" decided in the Soviet Union's favor, and it was able to retain only about 10 percent of 8 Finland as the Western powers threatened to intervene.

10 Finnish soldiers fleeing from the
Red Army, brought home under the
protection of German soldiers, 1918

12 Finnish soldiers on skis, 1939

8 Swedish volunteers fighting for the Finnish
against Russia, 1940

Following Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Finland allied with Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union.
Sweden emerged from World War II unscathed. Through making concessions to Nazi Germany, such as permission to allow German troops through Swedish territory, it was left in peace and granted refugees asylum in the country until the end of the war. At the end of 1943, though, Sweden began to lean more decidedly toward the Allies.

11 Denmark and 13 Norway were occupied by German troops on April 9,1940.

Resistance developed in Norway from the beginning. About 40,000 Norwegians were deported into concentration camps, and a Norwegian fascist leader 9 Vidkun Quisling was appointed prime minister by the occupying forces in 1942.

When the Germans began deporting Jews from Denmark in 1943, the situation became critical. Martial law was imposed following strikes and acts of sabotage. Danish fishermen carried 7900 Jews to safety over the straits to Sweden. Denmark was liberated by British troops, who did not have to fire a shot, in May 1945. The German occupying forces in Norway also surrendered without offering any resistance.

11 German armored convoy in Denmark,

13 German soldiers in Norway, 1940

9 Norwegian fascist leader Vidkun Quisling (right)
and Heinrich Himmler, 1942



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