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Historical context: June 1941 - January 1942

Updated: Sep 29, 2021

German army crossing the Soviet border, 1941. Phot. Johannes Hähle (1906-1944), Bundesarchiv Bild

Diary, part 2 – June 1941- January 1942

A whole new chapter of WWII opened with the German invasion of Soviet Russia on June 22, 1941, in operation “Barbarossa”. Hitler aimed to eliminate communism and create “Lebensraum” for the German population. Germany completely surprised Stalin’s military forces, but soon they regained control and have beaten back Axis forces. Much more important was the subsequent change of alliances. Until now, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were “incompatible allies” against Western Europe. After operation “Barbarossa” Germany and Russia became enemies while Russia and Western Europe became allies against Germany. Russia, alone, needed friends while Western countries needed Soviet manpower to beat Hitler. Anti-Hitler coalition grew stronger when on July 30, 1941, Polish government-in-exile and Soviet Russia signed a Sikorski-Majski Agreement (27.7.41., 30.7.41) which re-established diplomatic relations between countries after the Soviet invasion on September 17, 1939. Russia agreed to release Polish POWs held in Soviet camps and form with 40 000 men strong Polish Army in the USSR under general Władysław Anders.

Operation Barbarossa- The Axis Invasion of the USSR, June 22 - Dec. 5, 1941

Russian Front, 1941-1942

The USA was still hesitant to engage in war in Europe as its priorities concentrated in the Pacific area, limiting its support to anti-Hitler coalition to delivery of military equipment. Japan, taking advantage of the war in Europe, wished to overtake Dutch and British colonies in the Pacific, ultimately resolve conflict with the USA over China and strengthen its position in the area. On December 7, 1941, Japanese forces attacked the American naval base in Pearl Harbor forcing the USA to fully engage in war and officially join anti-Hitler coalition (08.12.41). In solidarity with Japan Germany and other Axis countries declared war on the USA (11.12.41). After Germany suffered its first defeats in Russia, the situation on the Eastern front stalled and then the Nazis started to back off. Germany capitulated at Stalingrad.

On January 20, 1942, at the conference in Wannsee near Berlin the Nazis decided on "the final solution of the Jewish question" marking the beginning of mass extermination of Jews in Europe.

German troops entering Charkov, October 1941. Phot. Johannes Hähle

The stricken USS-West Virginia, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 Dec., 1941

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