The End of the World War II In Europe
The End of the World War II
In 1945, Soviet troops were marching westward toward Berlin, while Allied troops approached it from the southeast. In April, the Soviets were the first to march into Hitler’s capital city, where they took brutal revenge on the people. Unable to face the loss of his power, or to contemplate the punishment and public humiliation he would undergo as the loser of the war, Hitler commit- ted suicide on April 30. Germany surrendered a week later, ending the war in Europe.
As the British and American troops marched eastward, liberating Austria and Poland, they discovered the concentration camps where millions of Jews and other “non-Aryans” of central and eastern Europe, notably the migratory Sinti and Romany peoples, had been rounded up for slaughter in a deliberate massacre of innocents known to history as the Holocaust.
Since the camps were in their own backyards, and since their own friends and neighbors had been dragged away and imprisoned in them, a fair number of Europeans, especially Germans and Poles who lived nearby, were more or less aware of the camps and their significance. Across Europe, many courageous individuals helped to hide their Jewish friends or aid them in other ways. How- ever, no nation made any official attempt to put a stop to what was happening. Historians continue to debate the leaders’ reasons, with explanations ranging from deep-seated racism to the belief that the survival of Europe as a whole was a more urgent priority than protecting the inmates of the camps.
The Allied troops, particularly the Americans, were unprepared for what they found when they liberated the camps. The prisoners had been shorn of their hair and starved to two-thirds or one-half their normal body weight; registration numbers were tattooed on their arms; exhaustion and disease had robbed them of all their vitality. There was large-scale cremation equipment at some camps, and massive common graves at all of them. There were huge, neatly sorted piles of human hair, gold dental fillings, eyeglasses, clothing, and shoes. Almost all the camp guards had committed suicide or fled in terror of the approaching Allied armies.
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