London, England · April 13, 1939

Following the Nazi occupation of Czecho­slo­va­kia’s Ger­man-speaking Sude­ten­land in Octo­ber 1938 and the in­va­sion and in­cor­po­ra­tion of the rest of Czecho­slo­va­kia into the Reich in mid-March 1939, Great Brit­ain, France, Poland, Greece, and Roma­nia entered into mutu­al assist­ance pacts in case of a mili­tary in­va­sion by “a Euro­pean power,” meaning Ger­many. In early April 1939, the part­ners con­sisted of just Brit­ain, France, and Poland, al­though the three nations had not yet com­mitted them­selves to for­mal­izing the arrange­ment. On this date in 1939 Brit­ain and France guaran­teed the bor­ders of Roma­nia and Greece fol­lowing Italy’s in­va­sion of Al­ba­nia, pledging to lend “all sup­port pos­sible” where there were clear threats to the inde­pend­ence of either coun­try. On August 25, 1939, two days after the for­eign minis­ters of the Soviet Union and Ger­many had signed the Molo­tov-Rib­ben­trop non­ag­gres­sion pact, Brit­ain and Poland ini­tialed the Agree­ment of Mutu­al Assis­tance. The agree­ment con­tained pro­mises of mutu­al mili­tary assis­tance between the nations in the event either was attacked by some “Euro­pean country,” the name of which was spelled out in a sec­ret proto­col of the pact—Ger­many. The French govern­ment waited until Septem­ber 4, 1939, one day after de­claring war on Ger­many, to ratify a sec­ret proto­col to the 1921 Franco-Polish mili­tary alli­ance that had been signed the pre­vious May. After Ger­many’s con­quest of Poland (1939); the Low Coun­tries, Den­mark, Nor­way, and France (1940); Greece and Yugo­sla­via (1941); and the en­large­ment of the Axis Tri­par­tite Pact by Roma­nia, Hun­gary, and Slo­va­kia (Novem­ber 1940), Brit­ain stood prac­ti­cally alone against the Nazi bully. The single ex­cep­tion was Ger­many’s erst­while treaty part­ner, the Soviet Union, since June 22, 1941, the object of Adolf Hitler’s colos­sal and suici­dal mili­tary cam­paign in the east—Opera­tion Bar­ba­rossa. When Ger­many and Italy foolishly joined Japan in de­claring war against the United States in Decem­ber 1941, the pro­duct­ion, finan­cial, and pro­spec­tive mili­tary might of Amer­i­ca was thrown into the ba­lance against the Axis. Brit­ish Prime Minis­ter Winston Chur­chill expressed his relief at the turn of events, saying, “So we had won after all!”

Scenes of German Military Incursions in European Cities, 1940–1941, and Aftermath

German assault on Warsaw, 1939German assault on Norwegian village, 1940

Left: German forces enter Poland’s capital, Warsaw, late September 1939. The Ger­man occu­pa­tion of Poland was one of the most bru­tal epi­sodes of World War II, resulting in the deaths of roughly 20 per­cent of the coun­try’s 34.8 mil­lion in­hab­i­tants (1939 est.) and over 90 per­cent of its Jewish minority.

Right: German infantry attacking through a burning Nor­we­gian vil­lage 25 miles west of Lille­ham­mer, April 1940. In a coun­try that had a pop­u­la­tion of barely 3,000,000, the Wehr­macht garri­soned some 300,000 troops in Nor­way for the next five years in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the pup­pet govern­ment of Vid­kin Quis­ling. Out of an esti­mated 2,173 Jews in Nor­way in 1940, at least 765 died, 742 of them mur­dered in con­cen­tration camps.

Destroyed Rotterdam RR stationGerman troops in Paris, June 1940

Left: Rotterdam’s central Blaak railway sta­tion de­stroyed on May 14, 1940, during the Ger­man terror bombing of Rot­ter­dam (“Rot­ter­dam Blitz”), which killed 800–900 Dutch civil­ians and de­stroyed 25,000 homes. By the end of the war, 205,901 Dutch men and women had died of war-related causes. Over half were Holo­caust victims. Of the 140,000 Jews who had lived in the Nether­lands before 1940, only 30,000 (21 per­cent) sur­vived the war, a much lower per­cent­age com­pared with neigh­boring Belgium and France.

Right: German troops enter Paris, France, June 1940. Pro­tecting their home­land during the Battle of France, the French suffered 2.26 mil­lion casual­ties, of which 360,000 were killed or wounded. Pri­soners of war and deportee totals were around 1,900,000. Of this, around 240,000 died in cap­tiv­ity. By the time of their liber­a­tion, some 580,000 French had died out of a pop­u­la­tion of 35.5 mil­lion (1940). Of the 350,000 Jews who lived in France in 1940, up­wards of 90,000 died during the war, most (over 73,000) as deportees in Ger­man con­cen­tration camps.

Damaged street in Belgrade, 1941German reinforcements enter Athens, May 1941

Left: Damaged street in Yugoslavia’s capital, Belgrade, 1941. On April 6, 1941, Hitler mer­ci­lessly ordered the Yugo­slav capi­tal Bel­grade be bombed days after regent Prince Paul, who had initialed the Axis Tri­par­tite Pact the month before, was de­posed in a coup d’état and his young nephew Peter II pro­claimed of age. When the air attack was over, some 4,000 Bel­grade inhab­i­tants lay dead under the rubble. During World War II a little over one mil­lion Yugo­slavs out of a pop­u­la­tion of 13.9 mil­lion (1931 est.) became casual­ties (slightly more Par­ti­sans than col­lab­o­ra­tors), of whom 581,000 were civil­ian losses. Some 57,000 Jews, who made up less than one per­cent of the pop­u­lation, perished.

Right: German reinforcements enter Greece’s capital, Athens, May 1941. Greece’s civil­ian pop­u­la­tion of over seven mil­lion suffered horri­bly under Axis occu­pa­tion. In Athens alone more than 300,000 civil­ians died from star­va­tion, and tens of thou­sands more died in repri­sals by Ger­mans and their Greek col­lab­o­ra­tors. At least 81 per­cent (ca. 60,000) of Greece’s total pre­war Jewish pop­u­la­tion died during the occupation.

Last Free Greek Radio Transmission from Athens; Scenes of German Entry