The World Since 1914
Part 5—1943-1945 World War II—Its Fierce and Fiery End
RAY remembers how as a young schoolboy in the early 1940’s he and his brother used to settle down in front of the radio in their California home every night to listen to the ten o’clock news. The time difference between there and Europe enabled them to hear reports of that night’s bombing raids over Germany. For these two youngsters it became a nightly ritual to try to locate Essen, Berlin, Stuttgart, Hamburg, and other German cities on the large European map spread out on the floor before them.
Meanwhile, German youngsters were learning about the war in a more immediate way. Their nightly ritual was that of trying to sleep in the dreary confines of air-raid shelters. For the second time in less than 30 years, Germany was being systematically forced to its knees. A German newspaper later wrote: “What had been feared until then was now apparent—at the latest during the winter of 42/43: Germany could no longer win a war already long lost.”
Fire From Heaven
The Allied bombs falling like fire from heaven helped convince the Germans that defeat was inevitable. Estimates are that during the war almost one out of every five housing units in the country was either destroyed or so severely damaged as to be uninhabitable. Over a million civilians were killed or seriously wounded, and between seven and eight million were made homeless.
As long as news from the war fronts was good and as long as people were not being forced to spend their nights in air-raid shelters, most of them were willing to go along with Hitler and his policies. But, as Süddeutsche Zeitung explains, “when the bad news began piling up, there came a turning point.” A German secret service report dated August 9, 1943, admitted that the air war was having consequences. People “faced with the seemingly insoluble problem of personal existence,” it said, were now raising the hitherto unasked “question of why?” Underground movements designed either to overthrow Hitler or to force him to sue for peace got fresh support. Several unsuccessful attempts were made to assassinate him, including the well-known one on July 20, 1944.
Behind closed doors expressions of dissatisfaction became more frequent, often revealed in the form of humor. For example, as the story went, a man from Berlin and one from Essen were discussing the extent of bomb damage done to their respective cities. The Berliner said that the bombardment of Berlin had been so severe that windowpanes were falling out of the houses for five hours after the raid was over. To this the Essener replied: “That’s nothing. After the raid on Essen, pictures of the Führer were flying out the windows for two weeks!”
As the expected Allied invasion of Europe drew nearer, the Allied bombing offensive, termed “Pointblank,” was intensified. In fact, it continued to the very end of the war, one of the war’s most controversial bombing raids not taking place until February 1945. The German newspaper Stuttgarter Zeitung reports: “At first Berlin was considered as target. Then it was decided to choose a city that until then had remained practically untouched . . . , the city of Dresden. . . . The extent of destruction, in anticipation of Hiroshima, made this raid different from all the others.” The Illustrierte Wochenzeitung adds: “Dresden, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, became a dead city. No other city in Germany was so systematically bombed to pieces.”
Compare the two eyewitness descriptions of this bombing raid in the accompanying box. Then ask yourself: Could anything more graphically point up the cruelty and madness of war?
Thus, long before the days of “star wars,” it was already apparent that the heavens held dangers other than simply those of inclement weather. How reminiscent of what Christ Jesus prophesied about the last days: “And there will be fearful sights and from heaven great signs. Also, there will be signs in sun and moon and stars.”—Luke 21:11, 25; compare Revelation 13:13.
A Secret Weapon Fails to Bring Peace
After driving the Axis powers out of North Africa, the Allies invaded Sicily in July 1943. In September they moved onto mainland Italy itself. The Italian government, which in the meantime had deposed Mussolini, capitulated. In October it even declared war on Germany, its former partner.
Toward the end of that same year, Hitler, foreseeing an invasion from the west, pulled back some of his troops in the east. It was imperative that he maintain control of the northern French and Belgian coasts. From there he intended to launch what he hoped would turn the tide of battle once again in his favor—a secret weapon!
What could it be? Supposedly it was capable of wiping out a city the size of London within a remarkably short time. The rumor making the rounds in December 1943 was that people living in western sections of Germany had been told to make preparations for a stay of 60 hours in their air-raid shelters. Then after the secret weapon of reprisal had accomplished its purpose, they could exit into a world of Nazi-dictated peace.
But early on the morning of June 6, 1944, before Hitler’s secret weapon was operational, Allied landing troops stormed onto the French beaches of Normandy. Hitler’s armies were now confronted from the east, the west, and the south. A week later, on June 13, Hitler struck with his promised secret weapon. In reality it was composed of two weapons. One was a flying bomb called the V-1 missile, and the other, called the V-2 rocket, was a forerunner of modern long-range ballistic missiles. The “V” stood for the German word Vergeltungswaffen, meaning “weapons of reprisal.” From then until the following March, they were sent crashing into Britain and Belgium, causing over 23,000 serious casualties, including several thousand deaths. But it was soon apparent that Hitler’s secret weapon offered too little too late.
It was also obvious that Hitler would blame his defeat on others. Among the last words he wrote were the following: “My trust has been misused by many people. Disloyalty and betrayal have undermined resistance throughout the war.” He underlined this conviction by expelling from the party and from office his former comrades Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler, whom he now considered traitors. Actually, it was Hitler himself, according to German journalist and prize-winning author Sebastian Haffner, who was the “deliberate traitor.” The extent and seriousness of Hitler’s atrocities against other nations or groups dare not be minimized, but “when viewed objectively,” says Haffner, “it was Germany that Hitler damaged by far the most.”
Hitler, now in his Berlin bunker, committed suicide on April 30, 1945, in the midst of the fierce fighting going on for control of Berlin. In accordance with his instructions, he was cremated in the garden of the chancellery. Up in smoke went both Hitler and his grandiose delusions.
Something Worse Than Dresden
Meanwhile, in the war against Japan, the Allies were making substantial gains. Their plan of island-jumping their way to the Japanese mainland was simple. But carrying it out was difficult and, besides, extremely costly. Moreover, it was estimated that invading the home islands themselves would mean at least half a million Allied dead and probably even more Japanese. If there was just some way to end the war more quickly! Would the secret weapon being developed by the United States succeed in doing so?
Just prior to the outbreak of World War II, Albert Einstein had informed the U.S. president that German scientists were experimenting with the possibility of harnessing atomic energy for weapons. Should they succeed in accomplishing this, he warned, they would wield tremendous power that could be used militarily in achieving their goals. To offset this danger, the U.S. War Department activated a plan in 1942, later known as the Manhattan Project, with the goal of developing an atom bomb.
On July 16, 1945, for the first time, such a bomb was successfully exploded in New Mexico. It was too late to use this secret weapon in Europe but not so in Asia.* So, on August 6 an atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, and three days later one on Nagasaki. If the Dresden attack had been controversial, how much more so these two attacks! Some argue they were justified, probably in the long run saving hundreds of thousands of lives. Others have suggested, however, that a test explosion over an unpopulated area might have been sufficient to force Japan into surrendering. At any rate, realizing the situation to be hopeless, Japan capitulated. The war was over—really over!
Answering the Question “Why?”
Those considered by the Allies to be principally responsible for the outbreak of the war and its continuation were tried for war crimes. Those convicted were punished.* Truly, Nazism had perpetrated some of the most horrible atrocities in all history. But what factors may have led up to all of this? Speaking about the rise of Nazism, Professor Walther Hofer, Swiss historian, contends that “the all too simple answers to historical questions are generally distorted; they are especially so in this case.” He goes on to explain: “Without the intense after-effects caused by the total war and military milieu experienced from 1914 to 1918, National Socialism’s ideology and rule would have been inconceivable.”
This supports the contention that the catastrophic world conditions that have existed for most of this century can be traced back to what happened between 1914 and 1918. According to Bible chronology, this was the time when “the one called Devil and Satan, who is misleading the entire inhabited earth,” was ousted from his heavenly position of unopposed rulership over the nations. “He was hurled down to the earth,” says the Bible writer, who then warns: “Woe for the earth . . . , because the Devil has come down to you, having great anger, knowing he has a short period of time.”—Revelation 12:9, 12; compare 11:18.
World War I was an expression of the Devil’s anger, as was World War II. Thus he is the root cause of both wars and of all the misery they produced. It is understandable that some people find it difficult to suppress feelings of anger toward the Germans because of Auschwitz, or toward the Japanese because of Pearl Harbor. On the other hand, some feel anger toward the British because of Dresden, or toward the Americans because of Hiroshima. National as well as personal hatreds die a hard death. But they must not control the thinking of Christians, who, more appropriately, will direct their feelings of anger toward Satan the Devil.
Soon God’s Kingdom will destroy the Devil and solve all mankind’s problems. This is the good news that Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose ranks grew from 71,509 in 1939 to 141,606 in 1945, wanted to preach in an expanded way now that World War II was over. “Deceptive Prosperity Amid a Peace That Was Not” would not prevent them from doing so. Read about it in our next issue.
Had Hitler held out for another three months, Germany might have had the dubious distinction of being the first country to be hit by an atom bomb.
Of the 22 top Nazis tried at the Nuremberg trials, 12 were sentenced to death; only 3 were acquitted; the others were given prison terms ranging from ten years to life.
[Box on page 17]
One Massive Sea of Flames
“The whole city of Dresden was trembling. Incendiary bombs were spewing gasoline and phosphorus like rain. Flames leaped from the buildings onto the streets, setting the asphalt on fire and making the streetcar tracks red hot. It was one massive sea of flames four kilometers [2.5 mi] wide and seven kilometers [4.5 mi] long. Seventy thousand persons were burned alive, torn apart by bombs, crushed by falling walls, suffocated by smoke. The tremendous fire storm that ensued tossed everything into the air—furniture, yes, even people were swirling around in spirals of fire. At the old marketplace, there was a water tank three meters square [10 ft]. Half-crazed people were springing into the water for protection, where they drowned or suffocated; few came out alive. Only charred corpses were recovered. It was impossible to keep up with burying the dead; they were simply stacked in piles, covered with gasoline, and set on fire; the piles burned days on end. Our house was thoroughly gutted. We also lost our beloved Josie and her little five-year-old boy.”—Dresden residents H. and S. M.
“From the air the city looked very beautiful, lighted . . . in the center by fires of different colors. . . . It really did not strike me as being all that horrible, because of its gruesome beauty.”—Unidentified Royal Air Force bomber pilot
[Box on page 20]
Other Items That Made the News
1944—Pope asks warring nations to spare Rome from
1945—United Nations organization established to maintain
international peace and security
CARE (Cooperative for American Relief to Everywhere) founded
to send food, clothing, and medicines to Europe as black
During the last months of World War II, 13 additional
countries, 7 of them in South America, declare war on
Woman suffrage becomes law in France
Bloodless revolution overthrows 15-year rule of Getúlio
Vargas, president of Brazil
[Pictures on page 18]
German V-1 missile (right) and V-2 rocket (below) as used in World War II
Imperial War Museum, London
[Picture Credit Line on page 19]
U.S. Air Force photo