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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




The Second World War



Allied forces propaganda poster, 1943


With its attack on Poland in September 1939, the German Nazi regime under Hitler initiated the most devastating military conflict in world history to date. Before the unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan in 1945, World War II claimed the lives of some 62 million people. The heavily ideological aspect of the war led to incomprehensible crimes against humanity. World War II fundamentally altered the international political situation. The victorious United States and the Soviet Union became the leading world powers.


The Military Collapse of Germany

Germany surrendered unconditionally on May 8,1945, only after the Allied forces had conquered the entire country. Hitler avoided capture by committing suicide.


The last German offensive in the Ardennes in southern France failed in December 1944. American, British, and French troops pushed from the west onto German soil at the beginning of 1945 and, despite desperate resistance, conquered the contested cities one after another. On April 25, American and Soviet soldiers shook hands at Torgau on the Elbe. The Red Army crossed the German eastern frontier on January 1945 and launched its attack on Berlin. In the course of this assault, brutal acts of revenge for German atrocities committed on the Russian front were carried out on the German civilian population, particularly on women. Despite overwhelming Soviet superiority, the Germans continued to offer heavy resistance.

Hitler now had 1 children, the aged, and the sick armed and sent to the front.

1 9 March 1945 photo of Joseph Goebbels hands Iron Cross II class to 16 year old Hitler Youth Willi Hübner after capture of Lauban;
Members of the Hitler Youth are arrested by the Russians

Berlin fell on May 2 after a brutal 13-day battle for every street and building; on April 30 the 2 Soviet flag flew over the Berlin Reichstag.

2 Soviet flag flying over the German Reichstag, April 30, 1945

Hitler and 5 Goebbels had committed suicide in an underground bunker of the 3 German chancellery: Hitler on April 30, Goebbels the day after.

5 Joseph Goebbels's body in Hitler's underground bunker, 1945

3 Soviet soldiers in the ruins of the Reich Chancellery in Berlin, May 1945

Hitler's  body


The Suicide of Maria Goebbels and Joseph Goebbels

Joseph Goebbels; Goebbels family; Johanna Maria Magdalena "Magda" Goebbels

Johanna Maria Magdalena "Magda" Goebbels
(11 November 1901 – 1 May 1945) was the wife of Nazi Germany's Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. A prominent member of the Nazi party, she was a close ally and political supporter of Adolf Hitler.

As Berlin was being overrun by the Red Army at the end of World War II, she murdered her six children with Goebbels and then committed suicide.

In late April 1945, the Soviet Red Army entered Berlin, and the Goebbels family moved into the Führerbunker, beneath the bombed out Reich Chancellery. One of the rooms they occupied had been recently vacated by Hitler's personal physician Theodor Morell. The only bathroom with a bath was Adolf Hitler's own, and he gladly made it available to Magda and her children. Meanwhile, reports of Soviet troops looting and raping as they advanced were circulating in Berlin. Hitler and his bride Eva Braun committed suicide on the afternoon of 30 April.

Two days earlier, Magda wrote a farewell letter to her son Harald Quandt, who was in a POW camp in North Africa. This letter is her only handwritten bequest.

“ My beloved son! By now we have been in the Führerbunker for six days already — daddy, your six little siblings and I, for the sake of giving our national socialistic lives the only possible honorable end ... You shall know that I stayed here against daddy's will, and that even on last Sunday the Führer wanted to help me to get out. You know your mother — we have the same blood, for me there was no wavering. Our glorious idea is ruined and with it everything beautiful and marvelous that I have known in my life. The world that comes after the Führer and national socialism is not any longer worth living in and therefore I took the children with me, for they are too good for the life that would follow, and a merciful God will understand me when I will give them the salvation ... The children are wonderful ... there never is a word of complaint nor crying. The impacts are shaking the bunker. The elder kids cover the younger ones, their presence is a blessing and they are making the Führer smile once in a while. May God help that I have the strength to perform the last and hardest. We only have one goal left: loyalty to the Führer even in death. Harald, my dear son — I want to give you what I learned in life: be loyal! Loyal to yourself, loyal to the people and loyal to your country ... Be proud of us and try to keep us in dear memory ... ”

Joseph Goebbels' last will and testament, dictated to Hitler's secretary Traudl Junge, directed that Magda and their children support him in his refusal to leave Berlin and his resolution to die in the bunker. He later qualified this by saying that the children would support the decision [to commit suicide] if they were old enough to speak for themselves.

The following day, on 1 May 1945, Magda and Joseph Goebbels drugged their six children with morphine and killed them by breaking cyanide capsules in their mouths. Accounts differ over how involved Magda Goebbels was in the killing of her children. Some accounts claimed that the SS doctor Ludwig Stumpfegger crushed the cyanide capsules into the children's mouths, but as no witnesses to the event survived it is impossible to know this. O'Donnell concluded that although Stumpfegger was probably involved in drugging the children, Magda Goebbels killed them herself. O'Donnell suggested that witnesses blamed the deaths on Stumpfegger because he was a convenient target, having disappeared (and died, it was later learned) the following day. Moreover, as O'Donnell recorded, Stumpfegger may have been too intoxicated at the time of the deaths to have played a reliable role.

Meissner claims that Stumpfegger refused to take any part in the deaths of the children, and that a mysterious "country doctor from the enemy-occupied eastern region" appeared and "carried out the fearful task" before disappearing again.

Magda appears to have contemplated and talked about killing her children at least a month in advance. She also refused several offers from others, such as Albert Speer, to spirit the children out of Berlin. There was evidence, in the form of bruises, that the eldest child, 12-year-old Helga, had awakened and struggled before she was killed. The children's bodies, in nightclothes, with ribbons tied in the girls' hair, were found in the two-tiered bunk beds where they were killed when Soviet troops entered the bunker a day later.

The last survivor of Hitler's bunker, Rochus Misch, gave this eyewitness account of the events to the BBC:

"Straight after Hitler's death, Mrs Goebbels came down to the bunker with her children," Mr Misch recalls. "She started preparing to kill them. She couldn't have done that above ground — there were other people there who would have stopped her. That's why she came downstairs — because no-one else was allowed in the bunker. She came down on purpose to kill them. "The kids were right next to me and behind me. We all knew what was going to happen. It was clear. I saw Hitler's doctor, Dr Stumpfegger give the children something to drink. Some kind of sugary drink. Then Stumpfegger went and helped to kill them. All of us knew what was going on. An hour or two later, Mrs Goebbels came out crying. She sat down at a table and began playing patience. This is exactly how it was."

After their children were dead, Magda and Joseph Goebbels walked upstairs to the bombed-out garden, avoiding the need for anyone to carry their bodies. By some accounts, she was shaking uncontrollably. The details of their suicides are uncertain. One SS officer later said they each took cyanide and were shot by an SS trooper. An early report said they were machine-gunned to death at their own request. According to another account, Joseph Goebbels shot Magda and then himself. This idea is presented in the film Downfall. Their bodies were doused in petrol, only partially burned and not buried. The charred corpses were found on the afternoon of 2 May 1945 by Russian troops and a photograph of Goebbels' burned face was widely published. Their remains and those of their children were later secretly buried by the Soviets, and in April 1970 all were burned and the ashes scattered in the Elbe river.



The Suicide of Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler

Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The generally accepted cause of the death of Adolf Hitler on 30 April 1945 is suicide by gunshot and cyanide poisoning. The lack of public information concerning the whereabouts of Hitler's remains, confused reports stemming from the dual method and other circumstances surrounding the event encouraged rumours that Hitler may have survived the end of World War II. Records kept by the Soviet KGB and Russian FSB were opened in 1992 and mostly matched the widely accepted version of Hitler's death as described by Hugh Trevor-Roper in his book The Last Days of Hitler published in 1947. However, the Russian archives yielded more detailed autopsy information along with what happened to the corpse.


Hitler's  body

Hitler took up residence in the Führerbunker on 16 January 1945 where he presided over a rapidly disintegrating Third Reich as the Allies advanced from both east and west. By late April Soviet forces had entered Berlin and were battling their way to the centre of the city where the Chancellery was located.

On 22 April, Hitler had what some historians later described as a nervous breakdown during one of his military situation conferences, admitting defeat was imminent and Germany would lose the war. He expressed his intent to kill himself and later asked physician Werner Haase to recommend a reliable method of suicide. Haase suggested combining a dose of cyanide with a gunshot to the head.

Hitler had a supply of cyanide capsules which he had obtained through the SS. Meanwhile, on 28 April Hitler learned of Heinrich Himmler's attempt to independently negotiate a peace treaty. Hitler considered this treason and began to show signs of paranoia, expressing worries the cyanide capsules he had received through Himmler's SS were fake. He also learned of the execution of his ally Benito Mussolini and vowed not to share a similar fate. To verify the capsules' potency he ordered Dr. Haase to try them on his dog Blondi and the animal died as a result.

After midnight on 29 April, Hitler married Eva Braun in a small civil ceremony in a map room within the bunker complex. Antony Beevor states that after hosting a modest wedding breakfast with his new wife Hitler took secretary Traudl Junge to another room and dictated his last will and testament. He signed these documents at 04:00 and then retired to bed (some sources say Hitler dictated the last will and testament immediately before the wedding, but all sources agree on the timing of the signing).

Hitler and Braun lived together as husband and wife in the bunker for fewer than 40 hours. Late in the morning of 30 April, with the Soviets less than 500 metres from the bunker, Hitler had a meeting with General Helmuth Weidling, commander of the Berlin Defence Area, who informed Hitler the Berlin garrison would probably run out of ammunition that night. Weidling asked Hitler for permission to break out, a request he had made unsuccessfully before. Hitler did not answer at first and Weidling went back to his headquarters in the Bendlerblock where at about 13:00 he got Hitler's permission to try a breakout that night. Hitler, two secretaries and his personal cook then had lunch consisting of spaghetti with a light sauce, after which Hitler and Eva Braun said their personal farewells to members of the Führerbunker staff and fellow occupants, including the Goebbels family, Bormann, the secretaries and several military officers. At around 14:30 Adolf and Eva Hitler went into Hitler's personal study.

Some witnesses later reported hearing a loud gunshot at around 15:30. After waiting a few minutes, Hitler's valet, Heinz Linge, with Bormann at his side, opened the door to the small study. Linge later stated he immediately noted a scent of burnt almonds, a common observation made in the presence of prussic acid, the gaseous form of cyanide. Hitler's SS adjutant, Otto Günsche, entered the study to inspect the bodies, which were found seated on a small sofa, Eva's to Hitler's left and slumped away from him. Owing to an exit wound towards the top, left side of his head Hitler appeared to have shot himself in the right temple with a Walther PPK 7.65 mm pistol which lay at his feet. According to Hitler's bodyguard, Rochus Misch, Hitler's head was lying on the table in front of him.  Blood dripping from his temple and chin had made a large stain on the right arm of the sofa and was pooling on the floor/carpet. Eva's body had no visible physical wounds and Linge assumed she had poisoned herself.

Günsche exited the study and announced that the Führer was dead. Immediately afterwards, several people in the bunker began smoking cigarettes (which had been forbidden, given Hitler's strong dislike for smoking). Several witnesses said the two bodies were carried up to ground level and through the bunker's emergency exit to a small, bombed-out garden behind the Chancellery where they were doused with petrol and set alight by Linge and members of Hitler's personal SS bodyguard. Someone was heard to shout: 'Hurry upstairs, they're burning the boss!' The SS guards and Linge later noted the fire did not completely destroy the corpses but Soviet shelling of the bunker compound made further cremation attempts impossible and the remains were later covered up in a shallow bomb crater after 18:00.


As many as 200,000 Red Army soldiers and around 50,000 Germans lost their lives in the 4 battle for Berlin alone.

The German army signed the unconditional surrender of Germany first on May 7 at Allied Headquarters in Reims, and a day later at Soviet Headquarters in Berlin-Karlshorst; it came into effect the next day.

All of Germany was occupied, and the entire armed forces became 6 prisoners of war.

World War II in Europe had ended. Japan, however, surrendered only after the first atomic bombs had been dropped in early August.

4 Rubble at the Brandenburg Gate in the capital of Berlin, 1945

6 German prisoners of war are transported to the Soviet Union,
May 1945



The "Nero Order"

In mid March 1945, Hitler issued the so-called Nero Order, instructing Armaments Minister Albert Speer to destroy Germany completely.

With no regard for the civilian population, any installation in Germany that could be used by the enemy in any way—industrial complexes, supply and transport systems—was to be destroyed as the army retreated.

The order was generally ignored.




German Instrument of Surrender

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The German Instrument of Surrender was the legal instrument that established the armistice ending World War II in Europe. It was signed by representatives of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, the Allied Expeditionary Force and Soviet High Command on May 7 and May 8, 1945. The date is known in the West as Victory in Europe Day.

Surrender ceremony

General Alfred Jodl signing the capitulation papers in Rheims.

The Instrument of Surrender was signed at Rheims, France, at 02:41 hours on 7 May 1945. The signing took place in a red brick schoolhouse that served as the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). It was to take effect at 2301 hours Central European time on 8 May, 1945.

The unconditional surrender of the German armed forces was signed by Generaloberst Alfred Jodl, on behalf of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (German language: High Command of armed forces) and as the representative for the new Reich President, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz. Walter Bedell Smith signed on behalf of the Western allies, and Ivan Susloparov on behalf of the Soviets. French general François Sevez signed as the official witness.

Although this act of surrender was recognized by all parties as binding, it was nevertheless followed by an act of ratification on May 8, which was agreed at the time of the May 7 signing (see text below). Only during the Cold War was the first surrender in Rheims hushed up or reduced to a preparatory protocol.


It is agreed by the German emissaries
undersigned that the following German officers will
arrive at a place and time designated by the Supreme
Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force, and the Soviet
High Comand prepared, with plenary powers, to execute
a formal ratification on behalf of the German High
Command of this act of Unconditional Surrender of the
German armed forces.

Chief of the High Command
Commander-in-Chief of the Army
Commander-in-Chief of the Navy
Commander-in-Chief of the Air Forces.
Representing the German High Command
DATED 0241 7th May 1945

Rheims, France

Berlin ceremony

Marshal Georgy Zhukov reading the German capitulation in Berlin.
Seated on his right is Arthur Tedder, Marshal of the Royal Air Force.

A second Act of Military Surrender was signed shortly after midnight Central European time on May 8 at the seat of the Soviet Military Administration in Berlin-Karlshorst, now the location of the German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst.

This ratification was a response to both Soviet and British concerns. The Soviets desired a signature in the presence of the Soviet Supreme Commander (Major General Susloparov, who had accepted the May 7 surrender for the Soviets, was only liaison officer at the Western Headquarters). The British wanted the surrender to be signed by the highest military and civilian representatives of the German Reich, in order to avoid a repeat of the "stab in the back" legend which had been cultivated by the Germans after World War I because the armistice had been signed only by a civilian politician and an unknown general. (Jodl, who signed in Rheims, was an officer without the power of command). Since the Dönitz government was not recognized, it was agreed to have the May 7 act ratified with the signatures of the commanders in chief of the Wehrmacht, army, air force and marines, who were brought to Karlshorst, the seat of the Soviet Supreme Commander. The representatives of the Western Headquarters, the United Kingdom, France and the United States entered the dining room of the officers' mess in Karlshorst shortly before midnight. The German delegation, which had been flown in from Flensburg to Tempelhof in a U.S. airplane, entered the room shortly after midnight after Marshal Georgy Zhukov, the Soviet representative, had opened the ceremony. The ratification of the German Act of Unconditional Surrender was signed around 00.15 o'clock, after its regulations had already been in effect for over an hour (23:01 Central European Time).


Soviet Union: Marshal Georgy Zhukov on behalf of the Supreme High Command of the Red Army
United Kingdom: Air Chief Marshal Arthur William Tedder as Deputy Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force,
United States: General Carl Spaatz, Commanding United States Strategic Air Forces, as witness
France: General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, Commanding First French Army, as witness
Nazi Germany:
Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg as Commander-in-Chief of the navy (Kriegsmarine)
Colonel-General Hans-Jürgen Stumpff as the representative of the air force (Luftwaffe)
Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel as the Chief of Staff of the German Armed Forces and as representative of the army (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht)

Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel signing the ratified surrender terms for the German military in Berlin.

Text of the Instrument of Surrender

Only this text in English is authoritative

Act of Military Surrender

1. We the undersigned, acting by authority of the German High Command, hereby surrender unconditionally to the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force and simultaneously to the Soviet High Command all forces on land, sea, and in the air who are at this date under German control.

2. The German High Command will at once issue orders to all German military, naval and air authorities and to all forces under German control to cease active operations at 2301 hours Central European time on 8 May and to remain in the positions occupied at that time. No ship, vessel, or aircraft is to be scuttled, or any damage done to their hull, machinery or equipment.

3. The German High Command will at once issue to the appropriate commanders, and ensure the carrying out of any further orders issued by the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force and by the Soviet High Command.

4. This act of military surrender is without prejudice to, and will be superseded by any general instrument of surrender imposed by, or on behalf of the United Nations and applicable to Germany and the German armed forces as a whole.

5. In the event of the German High Command or any of the forces under their control failing to act in accordance with this Act of Surrender, the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force and the Soviet High Command will take such punitive or other action as they deem appropriate.

Signed at Rheims at 0241 France on the 7th day of May, 1945.

On behalf of the German High Command. Alfred Jodl

in the presence of

On behalf of the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force. Walter Bedell Smith

On behalf of the Soviet High Command. Ivan Sousloparov

Major General, French Army (Witness)

Francois Sevez

The instrument of surrender signed at Reims May 7, 1945.



Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov

Marshal Georgy Zhukov

Soviet marshal

born Dec. 1 [Nov. 19, Old Style], 1896, Kaluga province, Russia
died June 18, 1974, Moscow

marshal of the Soviet Union, the most important Soviet military commander during World War II.

Having been conscripted into the Imperial Russian Army during World War I, Zhukov joined the Red Army in 1918, served as a cavalry commander during the Russian Civil War, and afterward studied military science at the Frunze Military Academy (graduated 1931) as well as in Germany. He rose steadily through the ranks, and as head of Soviet forces in the Manchurian border region he directed a successful counteroffensive against Japanese forces there in 1939.

During the Winter War, which the Soviet Union fought against Finland at the outset of World War II, Zhukov served as chief of staff of the Soviet army. He was then transferred to command the Kiev military district and in January 1941 was appointed chief of staff of the Red Army. After the Germans invaded the Soviet Union (June 1941), he organized the defense of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) and was then appointed commander in chief of the western front. He directed the defense of Moscow (autumn 1941) as well as the massive counteroffensive (December 1941) that drove the Germans’ Army Group Centre back from central Russia.

The Supreme Commanders on June 5, 1945 in Berlin:
Bernard Montgomery, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Georgy Zhukov and Jean de Lattre de Tassigny.


In August 1942 Zhukov was named deputy commissar of defense and first deputy commander in chief of Soviet armed forces. He became the chief member of Joseph Stalin’s personal supreme headquarters and figured prominently in the planning or execution of almost every major engagement in the war. He oversaw the defense of Stalingrad (late 1942) and planned and directed the counteroffensive that encircled the Germans’ Sixth Army in that city (January 1943). He was named a marshal of the Soviet Union soon afterward. Zhukov was heavily involved in the Battle of Kursk (July 1943) and directed the Soviet sweep across Ukraine in the winter and spring of 1944. He commanded the Soviet offensive through Belorussia (summer-autumn 1944), which resulted in the collapse of the Germans’ Army Group Centre and of German occupation of Poland and Czechoslovakia. In April 1945 he personally commanded the final assault on Berlin and then remained in Germany as commander of the Soviet occupation force. On May 8, 1945, he represented the Soviet Union at Germany’s formal surrender. He then served as the Soviet representative on the Allied Control Commission for Germany.

Marshal Zhukov and Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky during the Victory Parade, June ,1945 in Moscow

Upon Zhukov’s return to Moscow in 1946, however, his extraordinary popularity apparently caused him to be regarded as a potential threat by Stalin, who assigned him to a series of relatively obscure regional commands. Only after Stalin died (March 1953) did the new political leaders, wishing to secure the support of the army, appoint Zhukov a deputy minister of defense (1953). He subsequently supported Nikita Khrushchev against the chairman of the Council of Ministers, Georgy Malenkov, who favoured a reduction in military expenditures. When Khrushchev forced Malenkov to resign and replaced him with Nikolay Bulganin (February 1955), Zhukov succeeded Bulganin as minister of defense; at that time he was also elected an alternate member of the Presidium.

Zhukov then undertook programs to improve the professional calibre of the armed forces. Because this effort involved a reduction in the role of the party’s political advisers and, consequently, in the party’s control of the army, his policies brought him into conflict with Khrushchev. Nevertheless, when a majority of the Presidium (called the “anti-party” group) tried to oust Khrushchev, Zhukov provided the airplanes that transported members of the Central Committee from distant regions of the country to Moscow, thus shifting the political balance in Khrushchev’s favour (June 1957). As a consequence, Zhukov was promoted to full membership in the Presidium (July 1957). But Khrushchev could not tolerate the marshal’s persistent efforts to make the army more autonomous; as a result, on Oct. 26, 1957, Zhukov was formally dismissed as minister of defense and a week later was removed from his party posts. Remaining in relative obscurity until Khrushchev fell from power (October 1964), Zhukov was later awarded the Order of Lenin (1966) and allowed to publish his autobiography in 1969.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



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