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What was the Second World War?


World War II (WWII or WW2), also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries, including all of the great powers, eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. In a state of total war, directly involving more than 100 million personnel from more than 30 countries, the major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources.

World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China.

Tens of millions of people died due to genocides (including the Holocaust), premeditated death from starvation, massacres, and disease. Aircraft played a major role in the conflict, including in the strategic bombing of population centers, the development of nuclear weapons, and the only two uses of such in war.

When did World War II begin?

World War II began on September 1, 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland without a declaration of war. This was a clear violation of international law and a major turning point in the history of the 20th century. The German government justified the invasion by claiming that Poland was planning to attack Germany. However, there is no evidence to support this claim. In fact, Poland had been trying to negotiate a non-aggression pact with Germany in the months leading up to the invasion.

The invasion of Poland was a brutal affair. The Nazis killed over 6 million Polish civilians, including over 2 million Jews. They also destroyed much of Poland's infrastructure.

Two days later, on September 3rd, 1939, France and Britain declared war on Nazi Germany. This marked the official start of World War II.

The invasion of Poland was a watershed moment in history. It showed the world that Nazi Germany was willing to use aggression and violence to achieve its goals. It also led to the outbreak of World War II, which was one of the most destructive wars in human history.

World War II casualties: How many people died?

An estimated 60-75 million lives were lost during the Second World War, including roughly 20 million military personnel and 40 million civilians. Many perished due to deliberate genocide (Holocaust), massacres, bombings, disease, and famine. It's crucial to remember these stories. The infographic below provides an approximate breakdown of casualties by country (military and civilian). Hover over the dots for specific numbers. Military deaths refer to deaths of soldiers and other armed forces personnel, while civilian deaths include those of non-combatants, such as Jews, executed civilians, Roma and Sinti people, homosexuals, forced laborers and others.

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This website is a labor of love and tribute to the veterans and victims of World War II. It is not motivated by politics or financial gain, and aims to provide comprehensive and accurate information about the war.


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Adolf Hitler's rise to power

It began with Dietrich Eckart (acknowledged by Hitler as the spiritual co-founder of Nazism) who was born on March 23, 1868 in Neumarkt in der Oberpfalz, Bavaria. He was from a wealthy background, the son of a notary and lawyer. He lost his mother when he was still a child, his father a few years later. By the end of his teenage years, he found himself in a Bohemian lifestyle full of alcohol and drugs, which quickly depleted his father's fortune.

Eckart was a German anti-Semitic poet, playwright, journalist, publicist, and political activist. He also was a member of the Thule Society, a group of occultist nationalist and anti-Semitic activists located in Munich, Germany. Eckart saw in a flamboyant young man the new Messiah and helped to shape his political views, particularly his anti-Semitism and his belief in the need for a strong leader to unite Germany. That young man was Adolf Hitler.

Adolf Hitler, born on April 20, 1889, in Braunau am Inn, Austria, a constituent of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time, spent his formative years in the vicinity of Linz. In 1913, he made a significant transition by relocating to Germany. His role in World War I was distinguished, as he earned commendations for his service within the German Army. This crucible of conflict deeply influenced his perspective and aspirations.

The Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (DAP) or German Workers Party was officially founded on January 5, 1919, by Dietrich Eckart, Anton Drexler, Gottfried Feder and Karl Harrer, all from the Thule Society. In September 1919, Adolf Hitler joined the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or DAP. The DAP was a small, right-wing nationalist party that was opposed to the Treaty of Versailles and the Weimar Republic.

Hitler's oratorical talent far surpassed that of Drexler. Upon Hitler's recommendation, the DAP changed its name to the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP) or in English the National Socialist German Workers' Party popularly known as NAZI's. They adopted a 25-point program as its party agenda, crafted by Drexler, Hitler, and Gottfried Feder. Drexler was elected as the first chairman of the NSDAP, although Hitler emerged as the true leader (Führer) of the party. In 1921, Hitler became chairman and thereafter, Drexler's role within the party diminished significantly.

The Nazy party increases its power

As the Party evolved, Adolf Hitler took the reins and steered the trajectory towards an ominous and aggressive tone. The embodiment of this shift materialized with the establishment of the paramilitary Sturmabteilung (SA) in collaboration with Ernst Röhm. The party also tapped into public discontent over economic hardships, the Treaty of Versailles (after WW1)  and political instability. The interplay of religious affiliations and regional sentiments was evident, particularly as Catholic Bavaria held reservations against governance emanating from predominantly Protestant Berlin. Hitler initially perceived Bavaria as a fertile ground for revolution, a conduit to power.

Mein Kampf

When the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch (an attempt to pull off a military coup and overthrow the Weimar Republic)  in Munich failed, Hitler, Eckart, and new members Hermann Göring, Rudolf Hess, and Ernst Röhm were imprisoned in the prison at Landsberg, Germany. That episode that would profoundly impact Hitler's subsequent course. During this incarceration, Hitler wrote 'Mein Kampf', a testament encapsulating his personal worldview and societal perspective.

Recognizing the pitfalls of the failed coup, Hitler recalibrated his approach, opting for legal avenues rather than force to ascend to power. A common adversary emerged in the form of the Jewish populace, serving as a unifying rallying point for the NSDAP and its vision of all-encompassing conflict. Underpinning the party's platform were social Darwinist ideologies, extolling the superiority of the "Aryan" race and advocating for the suppression or eradication of perceived "inferior" races.

Hitler articulated in 'Mein Kampf' that the territorial expanse or "Lebensraum" for the Germanic people was insufficient. Moreover, the party envisioned a transformation of Germany's societal and economic fabric. The Jews were vilified, deemed as inferior, and consequently subjected to systematic exclusion. Subsequent to Hitler's ascension to power in 1933, the first steps were taken to marginalize Jews within German public life. Their freedoms dwindled, and legislative acts such as the Nuremberg Race Laws in 1935 stripped them of citizenship rights. Restrictions on marital and sexual relationships between Jews and non-Jews were imposed, casting a pervasive shadow.

From street fighters to political power

In the parliamentary elections of 1930 and 1932, the Nazi Party's representation in the Reichstag (German parliament) significantly increased. While they did not secure an outright majority, their growing influence made them a force to be reckoned with.

The Weimar Republic, established after World War I, faced challenges in forming stable coalition governments due to the fragmented political landscape. As traditional parties struggled to address economic and social issues, more extreme parties gained ground. In the context of this political turmoil, influential conservative and business figures believed they could use Hitler and the Nazis as a means to stabilize the government and counter the perceived threat of communism. These power brokers engaged in behind-the-scenes negotiations with Hitler and his associates.

January 30, 1933: President Paul von Hindenburg, pressured by conservative advisors, appointed Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany. The hope was that they could control and use the Nazis within a broader coalition government. This decision was based on the belief that they could harness Hitler's popularity for their own purposes while maintaining their influence.

The burning of the Reichstag

The Reichstag Fire was a fire on February 27, 1933, in which the German Reichstag building in Berlin largely burned down. The Dutch communist Marinus van der Lubbe was arrested, prosecuted and executed as the perpetrator. On January 10, 1934, after a four month long trial in Leipzig, he was beheaded by the guillotine.

Howerver, in 1955, SA man Hans Martin Lennings had a statement notarially recorded in which he claims that Van der Lubbe could not have set the fire. He drove the Dutchman to the Reichstag by car. Upon arrival, he and some colleagues noticed the smell of fire and light smoke. This indicates that the fire had already been started, probably by the Nazis themselves, way before Van der Lubbe arrived.

As a result of the fire, on March 23, 1933, the Nazi Party passed the Law for the Protection of the People and the State, granting the government extensive authority to quell opposition. This pivotal legislation marked a significant step towards the Nazi Party's establishment of absolute control over the state.

Hitler's political manifesto

Hitler writes mein kampf in the landsberg prison

Adolf Hitler embarked on writing Mein Kampf while incarcerated after his unsuccessful coup in Munich. The book was published in two volumes in 1925 and 1926 respectively.


Hitler becomes Chancellor

Anti Jewish poster from the German Ministry of Propaganda

Adolf Hitler and German President Paul von Hindenburg, pictured shortly after Hindenburg's invitation for Hitler to assume the position of chancellor in 1933.

The 'Kristallnacht'

In the wake of the expulsion of Polish citizens of Jewish descent residing in Germany, a pivotal moment unfolded when a 17-year-old named Herschel Grynszpan shot German diplomat Ernst vom Rath at the German embassy in Paris. This act was a direct response to the expulsion of Grynszpan's parents, who had called Germany home since 1911. Vom Rath succumbed to his injuries two days later, sparking tensions that led to hostility against the Jewish community within Germany.

The night of November 9 to November 10, 1938, marked a significant turning point as a notable anti-Jewish incident occurred. Termed Kristallnacht, or the "Night of Broken Glass," this episode earned its name from the fragments of shattered windows strewn across German streets. Synagogues, private homes, and businesses owned by Jewish individuals were targets of vandalism and looting that evening. Numerous buildings were set ablaze. The aftermath resulted in the apprehension and deportation of numerous Jews to concentration camps.

The 'Endlösung' or Final Solution

Known as the "Endlösung" or "Final Solution" for short, the National Socialists adopted this term in July 1941 to summarize their goal of systematically eliminating individuals they identified as Jews throughout Europe and beyond. This pursuit persisted until the Wehrmacht's unconditional surrender. The process began with the segregation of Jews in ghettos and culminated in the implementation of the Nazi policy labeled the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question."

This policy was worked out by Nazi officials during the Wannsee Conference in Berlin on January 20, 1942. Regrettably, this course of action led to the Holocaust, a tragic phase marked by the systematic and extensive extermination of European Jews.

The Holocaust history

The history and therefore the definition of the Holocaust also known as the Shoah (Hebrew) is exceptionally complex. Basically it can be stated that it was the murder or genocide of the European Jews during world war 2.

“The other day I visited a German internment camp (Ohrdruf). I never dreamed that such cruelty, bestiality, and savagery could really exist in this world! It was horrible.

I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to “propaganda.””
Dwight D. Eisenhower visited Ohrdruf in April 15, 1945
Eisenhower visits Ohrdruf
On June 6 1944 D-Day, the invasion of occupied France, began

June 6 1944, D-Day Normandy

What was D-Day?

D-Day was the the Allied answer to occupancy and hostile regime of Nazi Germany with the end goal of putting an end to WW2. At 06:30 am on Tuesday June 6th, 1944 Operation Neptune or D-Day (amphibious assault) is unleashed along a 60 mile stretch of coast between the Cotentin Peninsula and the Orne River in Normandy, France. The invasion on the shores of Normandy were part of Operation Overlord (Allied invasion of Normandy).

Planning for D-Day

Planning for the operation began in 1943. Overlord was an Allied military operation of unprecedented scale, with an amphibious assault from Allied troops on the beaches combined with Allied airborne operations behind enemy lines inland. The Allies conducted a substantial military deception, codenamed Operation Bodyguard, to mislead the Germans as to the date and location of the main landings.

D-Day was originally planned for June 5

In the months leading up to the invasion, the weather was far from ideal and the operation had to be delayed 24 hours until June 6th, 1944. A further postponement would have meant a delay of at least two weeks, as the invasion planners had requirements for the phase of the moon, the tides, and the time of day that meant only a few days each month were deemed suitable.

The landings beaches in Normandy

The amphibious assault focused on five separate beaches in Normandy codenamed Omaha, Utah (American sector), Gold, Sword (British sector), and Juno (Canadian sector). At the end of the day small beachheads had been secured. It would turn out to be the turning point of World War 2 in western Europe.


156000
Allied troops
(estimated)
11590
Allied aircraft
(estimated)
6939
Allied vessels
(estimated)
4414
Allied casualties
(estimated)
50000
German troops
(estimated)
400
German aircraft
(on paper)
104
German vessels
(estimated)
6500
German casualties
(estimated)

Eisenhower's letter to the troops before D-Day, Normandy in WW2
Famous letter written by General Dwight D. Eisenhower to the troops who were about to embark on Operation Overlord.

D-Day, June 6th 1944
Dutch Prinses Irene Brigade cap badge
Every year on May 4th, The Netherlands remembers it's war victims
Dodenherkdenking
On 4 May each year, Holland stops to pay tribute to the fallen during Remembrance Day. A national ceremony takes place at Dam Square in Amsterdam, while other remembrance ceremonies take place in towns and cities around the country, as well as in Holland’s war cemeteries.
The Netherlands commemorates war victims
The Netherlands celebrates it's liberation

Liberation Day (Dutch: Bevrijdingsdag) is celebrated each year in the Netherlands on 5 May to mark the end of the occupation by Nazi Germany during WW2. It follows the Remembrance of the Dead (Dodenherdenking) on 4 May. Holland was liberated by Canadian forces, British infantry divisions, British I Corps, 1st Polish Armoured Division, American, Belgian, Dutch and Czechoslovak troops. Parts of the country, in particular the south-east, were liberated by the British Second Army which included American and Polish airborne forces (see Operation Market Garden) and French airbornes (see Operation Amherst). On 5 May 1945 the Canadian General Charles Foulkes and the German Commander-in-Chief Johannes Blaskowitz reached an agreement on the capitulation of German forces in the Netherlands in Hotel de Wereld in Wageningen. One day later the capitulation document was signed in the auditorium of Wageningen University.

The liberation of Deventer in April 1945
Liberation in Deventer 1945
Discover the real eyewitness stories told by the men and women who were there
The real stories of WW2
Another website about World War 2?

June 6th, 1944 (D-Day) was the starting point for this website back in 2000. This website is my personal 'one man' project and it started out based on the eyewitness accounts of the Allied and Axis troops of WW2 who fought on the beaches of Normandy during D-Day and in the Battle of Normandy. Over time and to be more complete, I added my focus on the Holocaust, concentration camps, aktion T4, the main battles without forgetting the war on the Eastern front, the Pacific and the rest of Europe. The historically accurate pages covering the complete WW2 history are made to educate readers about a conflict of this magnitude. This website can be used for education, personal interest as well as for research. I hope you take the time to explore my website. Thank you!

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