The Second World War began on 1 September 1939 with the German invasion in Poland and ended in August 1945 with surrender of Japan. That global military conflict involved all of the great powers and most of the world’s nations. There were two opposing alliances: the Allies (USSR, Great Britain, USA etc.) and the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan). Second World War in Europe was fought on three fronts: Eastern, Western and Italian. The most bloody and devastating fights were on the Eastern front. The war ended with the total defeat of the Axis powers.
Shortly after the outbreak of the war Hitler’s Germany managed to put under its control large part of continental Europe. The Nazis planned to impose on Europe the so-called New Order. This envisaged the formation of single economic community with Reichsmark being the basic monetary unit within German-dominated territories. In order to win the war, Germans expropriated and exploited every country conquered. A lot of people from all over occupied Europe were forced to work in Germany – for example at the end of 1944 about 400 000 Dutch were forced to work in Germany. In an attempt to increase industrial productivity in the German heartland some factories in the German-occupied territories were dismantled and taken away. Other factories produced what Germans demanded. One of the France’s largest automobile manufacturing concerns Renault produced armaments for the Hitler’s war efforts. For that reason the company was nationalized after the liberation of France. Škoda manufactured tanks that were largely used by the Wehrmacht in the military campaigns against Poland, France and USSR. Since 1942 Germany began a large-scale predatory exploitation of the agriculture, which was especially acute in Eastern Europe. The worst effects of occupation were felt in the occupied parts of USSR, Poland, Greece, France, the Netherlands and Belgium.
At the end of the war general outlook of Europe was bleak. Human losses were enormous. According to various estimations war-related deaths were between 45 and 70 million – four times more than the casualties from the First World War. About 66 per cent of these were civilian deaths. Roughly 3 per cent of the entire pre-war population of all combatant countries died as a result of the war. In Europe only there were about 42 million dead, 15 million of them in Western Europe. Some countries suffered disproportionally more casualties than others. In Germany, Austria and Hungary 8 per cent of the pre-war population died, in USSR – 11 per cent, in Poland – 19 per cent etc. Millions more were the wounded, sick and disabled. The lower-bound estimation of the direct military expenditures is more than 1 trillion US dollars. It is impossible to estimate the value of the property damage, pensions to wounded and other veterans, interest of the war-induced national debts etc.