World War II: Worst tragedy in human history

110M people mobilized for combat during massive war, with 60 countries around world involved

World War II: Worst tragedy in human history

World War II, beginning with the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany on Sept. 1, 1939, resulted in the death of nearly 80 million people, and is considered one of the greatest calamities in human history.

While the world had not yet even fully recovered from the devastation and misery caused by World War I, 20 years later, the racist, anti-Semitic German dictator Adolf Hitler's desire to make his country, ruled by Nazi ideology, into a world empire, caused the loss of millions of lives, genocide, war crimes, and atomic bombs.

By annexing Austria and Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland in 1938, Hitler was giving signals that he intended to attack Poland with a barrage of propaganda against the country.

The UK and France, which turned a blind eye to what Hitler did in 1933-1939, when he seized power in Germany, broke their silence in the face of the invasion of Poland and declared war on the Nazis on Sept. 3.

While this was taking place in Europe, Japan followed expansionist policies and declared war on China in 1937 and then on the Soviet Union in 1938, citing border tensions.

The Japanese attack on the US' Pearl Harbor in December 1941 caused the US to enter the war, after previously declaring that it would remain neutral.

After Italy's fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who allied himself with Hitler in 1936, attacked the British and French African colonies in 1940, the war spread to the Mediterranean as well as this continent

While Poland was divided by Nazi Germany and the USSR due to the non-aggression pact established between the two powers before the invasion of Poland, the Soviets took the pact as an opportunity and invaded and partially annexed Finland, most of the Baltic countries, and parts of Romania.

Invading many European countries, including France, in the meantime, Hitler turned on his onetime allies and attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, causing the war to expand towards Russia.

Axis and Allies

Two alliances were formed in World War II, a conflict in which more than 60 countries worldwide took part in directly or indirectly.

The Axis was led by Germany, Italy, and Japan, and the Allies were formed by the Soviet Union, China, Britan, and the US.

Across the world, 110 million people were recruited into combat during the war.

Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, and Portugal were not involved in the war, which spread to almost all countries in Europe, while Türkiye, which did not actually participate in the war, announced that it had joined the Allies in 1945.

The US, with advanced weapons and well-equipped manpower, sided with the alliance led by Britain, seriously strengthening the Allies' hand, but one of the most important turning points in the war was the battle of Stalingrad (now Volgograd) in southwestern Russia.

The war in Europe ended with the Nazis' unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945, after Hitler and his wife Eva Braun, stuck in Berlin with Soviet and Western troops entering, committed suicide on April 30, 1945.

However, after Japan, which did not accept the terms of the Allies, refused to surrender despite its losses, the US dropped the first and so far only atomic bombs ever used in warfare, on the city of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945 and on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, forcing Japan to surrender.

World War II ended with Japan's surrender on Sept. 2, 1945.

Nearly 80M died

While more than 80 million people lost their lives, the anti-Semitic Nazis massacred nearly 6 million Jews in an act of genocide.

During the six-year war, people with disabilities who were seen as objectionable by the Nazi ideology, as well as Romani people, who were not considered "pure race," were murdered.

During the war, Japan also engaged in massacres of the Chinese.

Nazi researchers did experiments on prisoners of war and civilians in concentration camps without using anesthetic, resulting in many people dying or being maimed.

In forced labor camps in the USSR’s Siberia region under the dictatorship of Josef Stalin, it is believed that many prisoners died from severe cold, malnutrition, or unsanitary conditions.

In postwar courts established in Germany and the Far East, senior Nazi and Japanese officials were tried and sentenced to life in prison or even death.

In the wake of the war, the United Nations was established, with five countries that won the war (China, France, Russian Federation, Britain, and the US) becoming permanent members of the Security Council.

Cold War

While European countries losing power and prestige following the war, the US and the Soviet Union came to the fore as two superpowers boasting the atomic bomb.

Many African colonies of European countries such as the UK, France, and the Netherlands revolted and declared their independence.

The world split into two poles as the ideological conflict between communist Russia and the capitalist US led to the start of the Cold War era.

This process, in which countries such as Germany and Korea were divided, ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

At the dawn of the Cold War, in 1949, the capitalist bloc led by the US established the international military alliance called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Meanwhile, against this alliance, eight socialist countries under the leadership of the Soviet Union signed the Warsaw Treaty Organization, also known as the Warsaw Pact.