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At the End of War

Updated: Feb 13, 2023

Parisians greet U.S. and Free French troops entering Paris, August 25th, 1944

The notations in Andrzej Bobkowski’s diary Szkice piórkiem (Wartime Notebooks)

end on 25 August 1944 with the liberation of Paris. In the background of the last month of his notes, he recorded the beginning of the Warsaw Uprising, with its fate still undetermined.

The Warsaw Uprising capitulated on October 2 1944. What followed was the destruction of nearly 80% of city’s entire infrastructure: Hitler’s revenge for the uprising.

Battle front lines against Germany - October 1, 1944

· White: Axis territory

· Black: Axis gains within the previous two weeks

· Pink: Allied territory

· Red: Allied gains within the previous two weeks

· Grey: Neutral Nations

Looking back, while 1943 seemed to be a turning point in the fate of the war, 1944

a harbinger of the approaching end of the war, 1945 proved to be a year of definitive resolutions shaping the post-war world order. In many parts of the world, military situation reached the point of culmination.

In Eastern Europe, Soviet army crossed the border of Poland advancing towards Berlin and in January 1945 it „liberated” (according to Soviet nomenclature) Warsaw. On its way, it also liberated Nazi concentration camps on the Polish soil: Majdanek near Lublin and Auschwitz-Birkenau near Kraków; uncovered the destruction of Łódź ghetto and other German atrocities. The Red Army brought to Poland not only its soldiers, but also a new civil government, PKWN (Polski Komitet Wyzwolenia Narodowego - Polish Committee of National Liberation), established in Moscow and Soviet-loyal, which imposed communist rule in the “liberated” country. A similar fate awaited the Baltic States and other countries on the Red Army’s way. On 7 April 1945 Soviet forces entered Vienna and two weeks later they reached the outskirts of Berlin.

At the same time, the Allied forces in the West were also advancing towards Berlin: beginning the offensive to the Rhine River, the RAF and USAAF conducted the firebombing of Dresden, took Köln, Hanover and other cities. The Allied forces also liberated concentration camps located in Germany: the Bergen-Belsen north of Hanover, the Dachau near Münich, and others. On 23 April 1945, with the Red Army already reaching Berlin and with the defeat imminent, Heinrich Himmler offered Germany’s surrender to the United States and Great Britain fearing the Soviets’ revenge for the Nazi atrocities. On April 28, Italian partisans executed Mussolini, and soon after German forces in Italy surrendered too. On April 30, Hitler, hiding in a bunker under his headquarters in Berlin, committed suicide, swallowing a cyanide capsule and shooting himself. The Germans surrendered unconditionally on May 7, at Rheims, France, and on 8 May 1945 Europe celebrated victory, marking V-E Day.

1. Along a road at the Bergen-Belsen camp shortly after the entrance of the Allied 21st Army on April 15th, 1945 . George Rodger-Time & Life Pictures

2.The female barracks at Bergen-Belsen.

3. British soldiers hand out food to former prisoners upon liberating the camp.

4. Female German guards move the dead into a mass grave while British troops supervise them. Liberation day at the camp. George Rodger-Getty Collection

5. Forty-eight camp staffers were tried and 11 of them, including SS commandant Josef Kramer, were sentenced to death by a British military court. Roger Viollet-Getty Images

6. SS doctor Klein was accused of aiding in the deaths of thousands of men, women and children. He's seen here standing by a mass grave, confronted by a former prisoner, soon after the camp liberation.

Corbis - Getty Images

Some of the crucial conditions of the post-war Europe were defined at the meetings

of “The Big Three” (the three Allied powers: Great Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union): in February 1945 at the Yalta Conference and in July 1945 at the Potsdam Conference. During the meeting at Yalta in the Crimea, Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill confirmed that the Polish eastern border would follow the Curzon line, which meant annexation by the Soviet Union of 1/3 of the Polish pre-war territory; in return, Poland would receive territorial compensation in the west from Germany. It was also agreed that after the war Germany would undergo demilitarization and denazification to provide the safeguards against a potential military revival of the country. Nazi war criminals were to be put on trial and Germany would pay war reparations.

Other defining decisions taken at Yalta concerned the Far East. Of particular importance for the United States was the Stalin’s pledge to enter the war against Japan sometime after the defeat of Germany. In return the Soviet Union would receive South Sakhalin Island,

the Kurile Islands and other territorial concessions. Outer Mongolia would continue to be independent of China, but China would regain sovereignty over Manchuria. With these concessions the United States hoped to keep Japanese imperialism under control, but eventually it turned into Soviet domination over the region.

At the conference in Potsdam the three leading Allies agreed on the postwar peace.

By then Stalin was negotiating from a much stronger position. The Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) were forcibly re-incorporated into the Soviet Union, while the Red Army occupied Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania. Stalin asserted that such control was crucial for the future security of the Soviet Union and claimed Eastern Europe as a legitimate sphere of Soviet influence. The Germany's eastern border (and the Poland’s western border) would be shifted to the Oder-Neisse line. (Unfortunately for Poland this border settlement was only provisional, with the formal delimitation of the Polish-German border to be defined by a separate peace settlement. The issue remained unresolved until 1990, when the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany was signed). Furthermore, the Soviet-backed PKWN was recognized as the legitimate government of Poland, and the Big Three withdrew their recognition of the only legal Polish government-in-exile.

1. Allied leaders - British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Soviet premier Joseph Stalin - at the Yalta Conference held at the Livadia Palace (a former residence of the tsar Nicholas II), February 1945.

2. At the conference table at Yalta. Library of Congress

3. Joseph Stalin, US President Harry Truman, and Winston Churchill at the Potsdam Conference near Berlin, July 1945. U.S. Army Photo

Other important Potsdam decisions included: the division of Germany into the four occupation zones, to be administrated by the three Allied powers and France); war reparations to be paid by Germany; and establishment of the United Nations. Aimed to create the enduring world peace, these provision eventually did not fulfill their hopes, and within months of the Potsdam conference, the Cold War emerged.

On the Asian front, the year of 1945 was also marked by crucial events. The American forces captured Iwo Jima, then Okinawa. In an effort to force the surrender of the Japanese enemy, on 6 August 1945 the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and on August 9 another one on Nagasaki. On 2 September 1945 Japan surrendered.

World War II was over.

1. US Marines capture Mount Suribachi during The Battle of Iwo Jima, February 1945. Joe Rosenthal, AP (Pulitzer Prize winning photo & one of the most reproduced photographs).

2. Soviet soldiers raise their flag in victory over the rooftops of Reichstag, on April 30th, 1945, during the Battle of Berlin. Sovfoto-UIG

August 6th, 1945, an American B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped the atom bomb over Hiroshima, wiping out 90% of the city. Roger Viollet-Getty Images

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