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European History during World War II

During World War II, Europe was divided and frontiers changed. However, social, economic and cultural changes were also a part of the experience.

The impact of the war on European history is difficult to determine. It is thought that it played a significant role in determining the political complexion of Europe.


Spain was one of the most closely-watched countries in Europe during World War II. Despite its close proximity to Germany, fascist Spain remained officially neutral.

This was partly due to Franco's efforts to prevent Germany from joining the Axis, but it also happened to be in the best interest of Spain. Hitler wanted Spain to openly join the war in 1940, but Franco stalled.

It was also because of the anti-communist sentiment in Spain, which had been resurging after Germany and France defeated Poland and Russia, respectively. Stalin was determined to retaliate against Franco, but Truman and Churchill persuaded him to drop the idea.


Austrians were loyal supporters of the German government in the early years of World War II, but this support began to erode after Nazi Germany’s defeat at Stalingrad. By 1943, Austrian nationalists were becoming increasingly anti-German and anti-Nazi.

In order to protect itself from Allied bombing and devastation, the Austrian government put on a wartime footing, suspended parliament and crownland legislatures indefinitely, placed civil rights on hold, and introduced strict wartime censorship. The government jealously guarded its national prerogatives, but other governments also adopted dictatorial wartime measures.


During the Nazi occupation of Poland, more than 5.2 million Polish citizens died. This equates to a loss of about two thirds of the country's population.

Despite the fact that Poland fought valiantly against the Germans, its economy, politics and society collapsed. The resulting repressions and deprivation affected all areas of public life, such as culture, education and infrastructure.

The occupying regime specifically targeted Polish Jews for extermination and expropriation of all their assets. While restitution claims for property are being filed by Holocaust survivors and their descendants in Poland, a national comprehensive private property restitution law has not yet been passed.


France was a key player in World War II. Its colonies and cities served as bases for resistance efforts against Nazi occupation.

The German invasion of France occurred in April 1940. Although British and French troops held out against the Germans for six weeks, they were eventually beaten back.

Marshal Henri Petain established a collaborationist government in Vichy. This authoritarian state replaced the Third Republic and came to be known as Vichy France.


During World War II, the United Kingdom was the only nation that stood alone in its attempt to defeat Hitler. Its Royal Air Force fought back with a massive campaign of bombing, which hampered German air superiority and helped defend Britain against an invasion from Germany.

British society was also impacted by the war. Many people became unemployed, which forced social reforms at home such as rationing.

The British government made great efforts to keep the population fed and morale high at home. They encouraged farmers to utilise unused land and grow food in public parks and gardens as part of the “Dig for Victory” campaign.

Soviet Union

The Soviet Union was a new country created by Lenin in 1922. It was a multinational state that had a single political system and was founded on the communist ideology of Marxism-Leninism.

It was led by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and had its own supreme Soviet legislature. The CPSU leadership could change the constitution at will, as it did many times throughout its history.

The CPSU also controlled the Soviet economy, which was a nationalized one that emphasized industry and production. The Soviet Union fought the Germans in World War II and aided postwar reconstruction in Eastern Europe. It also played a major role in the Cold War, which began after the war and continued until 1991.

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