Refugees moving westwards in 1945. German Federal Archives/Wikimedia Commons.
12. Between 1945-50 more than 10 million ethnic German civilians were forcibly deported to Germany after the war from liberated countries, causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians
It is a common assumption for those who have not experienced war that when the fighting ends, life return to normality. However, simply because armed hostilities have ended does not mean the animosity and hate which provoked and underpinned the war has diminished, or that the damage caused by the war has been repaired; if anything, the losses suffered during the fighting creates even more intense emotions on either side. Due in no small part to the horrors inflicted by Nazi Germany on the peoples of central and eastern Europe during their wartime occupations, these nations subsequently sought to expel all those they considered to be “German” from their territorial borders. Finalized in the Potsdam Agreement in August 1945, the expulsion of ethnic Germans from Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary was approved.
As a result of this agreed punitive action, in the aftermath of the Second World War, the Allied powers collaborated to forcibly deport between 12 and 14 million ethnic Germans to the remains of their supposed homeland from neighboring European countries. Many of these individuals were not born in Germany, merely descending from ancestors who did, and did not support the activities of the Third Reich. Additionally, most of those deported were of a vulnerable condition, being those unable to be conscripted into military service for either the Axis or Allies, including women, young children, and the elderly; such peoples had little to no authority or say over the actions inflicted upon their neighbors by occupying German forces, but were punished nonetheless indiscriminately for it.
The consequences of the largest forced migration in history were devastating, with estimates placing the number of civilians who died as a direct result of this policy in excess of 500,000 and possibly as high as 2.5 million. Furthermore, many of those who survived transportation were housed in former concentration and internment camps and committed to compulsory labor on behalf of the Allies for the purposes of reparations – a serious atrocity which itself will be explored in greater depth later.
11. American troops killed dozens of unarmed and surrendering German soldiers at Dachau concentration camp
Dachau concentration camp, the first Nazi concentration camp in Germany and responsible for the deaths of approximately 32,000 people between 1933 and 1945, was liberated on April 29, 1945, by American soldiers belonging to 3rd Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Felix L. Sparks. During their approach the soldiers discovered 39 boxcars filled with more than 2,000 decaying corpses, finding more inside the camp complex including rooms stacked full of hundreds of naked bodies; according to contemporary accounts, the reaction to these discoveries ranged from vomiting, inconsolable crying, and immense rage among the Americans.
Lt. Col Sparks detailed the subsequent actions of his troops during the liberation of Dachau, confirming that German POWs were fired upon by a 19-year-old soldier nicknamed “Birdeye” manning a machine-gun in the belief they were attempting to escape and with Sparks himself relieving the man from his position. Lt. Col Sparks claimed that as a result of this shooting, committed in his account by only a single individual, 12 German soldiers were killed. It is widely believed Spark’s account does not detail the entirety of the unlawful massacre by Allied troops at Dachau on April 29, with Abram Sachar asserting that “some of the Nazis were rounded up and summarily executed along with the guard dogs” and JÃ¼rgen Zarusky estimating a total of closer to 50 POWs were murdered by several American soldiers; U.S. Army photographers have provided significant corroboration of these events, preventing absolute denial as occurred in other discussed war crimes.
However, despite the seeming justice of this unlawful action Commandant SS-HauptsturmfÃ¼hrer Martin Weiss, accompanied by the camp’s guards and SS garrisons, had fled before the advancing Allied forces, departing with 7,000 inmates on a forced march few would survive just days prior. Replaced by members of the Hungarian Waffen-SS, whose instructed purpose was to surrender the camp to the Allies without armed resistance, the men murdered by the Allies on April 29, 1945, were not, in fact, those personally responsible for the crimes they were killed in retribution for.
The Soviet Red Army, during the Invasion of Poland (1939). Wikimedia Commons.
10. The Soviet Red Army was described as an “army of rapists” due to the millions of sexual assaults they inflicted upon the liberated populations of Eastern Europe
Whilst the Red Army is commonly held in a poor account by Western popular opinion, due in part to the legacy of the Cold War, the specifics of their wartime atrocities is less widely understood; among these crimes, the mass rape and assault of civilians throughout Europe and Asia by Soviet soldiers must be acknowledged. Although extremely difficult to account for each instance, it has been estimated that the Soviet Army was responsible for the rape of at least 2,000,000 women and children in what has been considered the largest mass rape in history; many of these victims were assaulted as much as one hundred times by Russian soldiers, with at least 250,000 subsequently murdered after being subjected to repeated sexual assaults.
Routinely occurring after the liberation of cities and regions from Nazi occupation, notably Danzig, Silesia, Budapest, and Berlin, these actions were not limited to the Eastern Front, with 1,800 Japanese women and children in refuge at Gegenmiao Monastery brutally raped and murdered by the Red Army in August 1945 during the Soviet invasion of Manchuria. Reports from war correspondents support these events, with Vasily Grossman noting “Liberated Soviet girls quite often complain that our soldiers rape them” whilst Natalya Gesse witnessed the Red Army “raping every German female from eight to eighty.”
Justified by Stalin on the grounds that what does it matter “if a soldier who has crossed thousands of kilometers through blood and fire and death has fun with women or takes some trifle”, the Soviet Union adopted the position that women were spoils of war for the men to enjoy as a reward and who should be grateful for their liberation; the conduct was also encouraged as a method of psychological warfare against the enemy.
A German soldier clearing a mine near Stavanger, Norway, in August 1945, as part of his compulsory post-war labor. Wikimedia Commons.
9. The Allied powers used German POWs and repatriated civilians for slave labor after the end of the war.
As mentioned previously, millions of Germans, either as civilians or prisoners of war, were relocated in the aftermath of the Second World War, with many of those repatriated to Germany housed in former concentration and internment camps. With most countries suffering a shortage within their labor forces due to the losses sustained during wartime fighting, within these facilities, operated under the supervision of Allied soldiers, inmates were deprived of their freedoms and committed to compulsory forced labor for the benefit of the victorious nations.
Aware of the patent unlawfulness of using captured enemy soldiers and civilians for forced labor, a blatant violation of the Geneva Convention, the United States and Great Britain both devised a system under which prisoners were paid a virtually non-existent wage so as to avoid being categorized as slave labor; in England, the amount paid to laborers under this program was just a single shilling a day, less than one-seventh the typical wage for the working poor at the time. Inadequately fed, poorly clothed, housed in squalor, and required to work long hours, the triumphant and supposedly morally righteous Allies rebuilt large portions of their economies on the back of slaves in all but name.
8. The United States Army unlawfully executed 73 prisoners of war at Biscari, Sicily, in July 1943
In two separate instances on July 14, 1943, in what would become one of the largest illegal massacres committed by the Western Allies during the Second World War 73 prisoners of war, 71 Italian and 2 German, were executed by the American 180th Infantry Regiment at Biscari, Sicily.
The first massacre, occurring at approximately 10 a.m., was committed by Sergeant Horace West. After the capture of roughly 50 POWs during the seizing of a Sicilian airfield, in violation of his orders to “hold them for questioning” West requested the First Sergeant’s sub-machine gun declaring he was going to “kill the sons of bitches” and advised his comrades to “turn around if you don’t want to see it”. Shooting 35 surrendering prisoners at close range, a subsequent investigation discovered West stopped to reload and then walked through the bodies discharging a “single round into the hearts of those still moving”. Later in the day Captain John Compton and his company committed the second massacre at Biscari, executing 36 prisoners captured following an intense firefight; in retaliation for losses suffered by enemy snipers Compton ordered 11 of his men to carry out his unlawful instructions, stating he “didn’t want a man left standing when the firing was done”.
When informed of the event by General Bradley, General Patton noted in his diary he responded: “that it was probably an exaggeration, but in any case to tell the Officer to certify that the dead men were snipers or had attempted to escape or something, as it would make a stink in the press and also would make the civilians mad.” To his immense credit,Â· Bradley circumvented his superior and forced an investigation by the Inspector General, who concluded the prisoners had been unlawfully murdered and both West and Compton stood trial for their crimes. Unfortunately, Compton was acquitted, despite the Judge Advocate’s determination that his actions were unlawful, and although West was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, Patton was determined to protect the men responsible; West only served a year before being reinstated and returning to active duty, finishing the war with an honorable discharge. Subsequent historical investigations have produced evidence suggesting Patton himself instructed those participating in the Sicilian Invasion to only take prisoners in limited circumstances.
7. The Scorched-Earth Policy of the Soviet Union resulted in untold misery and death for millions of innocent civilians
Whilst the scorched earth policy ordered by Hitler under the “Nero Decree” is widely known, with many Nazi commanders electing to refuse their Commander-in-Chief’s orders, less known is that the Allies ordered and performed similar destructive actions. Beginning from the initial days of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Russian officials begun a “partial” policy of scorched-earth to deny the advancing Nazi forces access to vital infrastructure and requirements; these actions included the collapsing of mines, the destruction of roads and bridges, the sabotaging of electrical generators, and removal of telegraph networks.
As the war continued Stalin announced a scorched earth policy for Ukraine, announcing “in the case of a forced retreat…all rolling stock must be evacuated, the enemy must not be left a single-engine, a single railway car, not a single pound of grain or gallon of fuel…All valuable property, including non-ferrous metals, grain and fuel that cannot be withdrawn must be destroyed without fail. In areas occupied by the enemy, guerilla units….must set fire to forests, stores and transports.” As part of this devastating policy, the Soviet Union shipped 6 million cattle, 550 large factories, 300,000 tractors, and 3.5 million skilled workers from Ukraine into the Russian Republic, whilst concurrently destroying nearly 5,000 trains, 607 railway bridges, and 915 warehouses of goods. Most critically, Stalin’s policy also targeted the country’s electrical infrastructure, destroying the Dniproophes Dam – the largest hydroelectric dam in Europe – in addition to countless power plants and vital industries.
The effects of the Soviet Union’s scorched earth strategy cannot be underestimated. With the destruction of food, industry, and power sources, the remaining civilian populations of German-occupied Soviet territories suffered immensely. An estimated 20 million Soviet civilians died during the Second World War, many of which were directly correlated to this deliberately strategic choice.
6. Western Allied soldiers raped tens of thousands of women across the European and Pacific theaters of war
It would be remiss to discuss the widespread rape of civilians during the Second World War without mentioning the role of Western Allied forces in this far-reaching atrocity; beyond the actions of the Soviet Red Army, the conduct of the United States military in both Europe and Asia warrants equal attention. Although “fraternization” with enemy women was forbidden under U.S. military codes, commanders routinely overlooked their soldiers engaging in such activities with one such officer recorded as offering the defensive counter-rebuttal that “copulation without conversation does not constitute fraternization”.
Whilst precise estimates are incalculable due to the lack of contextual reporting, historical analysis has placed the number of women raped by American servicemen just in Germany between 1945 and 1945 at over 11,000. Civilian women in France fared little better during their own liberation, with hundreds of women estimated to have been raped during the arrival of Allied forces in major metropolitan areas including Le Havre, Cherbourg, and Paris. U.S. military magazine Star and Stripes even tacitly encouraged such behavior, offering helpful French phrases such as “Are your parents at home” for soldiers to employ.
Not isolated to the European theater, the Pacific saw far higher rates of rape by the United States military against Japanese women, with one analysis of the invasion of Okinawa suggests as many as 10,000 women were raped on the island by U.S. Marines. Worst still, even after the Japanese surrender in August 1945 occupying American troops who remained behind continued to rape with impunity. Within the first ten days after the surrender, just in the Kanagawa prefecture of the KantÅ region of Japan 1,336 rapes were formally reported. In response to the high levels of rape by Allied soldiers, the Japanese government was compelled to establish the Recreation and Amusement Association, providing access to a network of dozens of military brothels forcibly employing 20,000 Japanese women as young as their early teens for sexual amusement of the occupying U.S. servicemen.
Life Magazine’s Picture of the Week, May 22, 1944: “Arizona war worker writes her Navy boyfriend a thank-you-note for the Jap skull he sent her”. LIFE/Wikimedia Commons.
5. U.S. soldiers fighting in the Pacific mutilated the bodies of deceased Japanese and collected their skulls as trophies
Whilst the collection of war trophies has historically been an aspect of military service, the mutilation of the remains of fallen enemy soldiers during World War II remains an unpunished yet unquestionable war crime committed by Allied forces in the Pacific. Despite the activity sickening many senior American officials, including President Roosevelt personally demanding the repatriation and proper burial of a letter-opener made from a Japanese soldier’s arm gifted to him by U.S. Representative Francis Walter, and the formal proscription of the behavior from 1942 onwards by the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet, American servicemen continued the collection of such trophies throughout the conflict; efforts continue to this day to properly return and intern the remains of Japanese war dead.
Not isolated to a single preferred body part, American servicemen are recorded as mutilating Japanese corpses for trophies including skulls, teeth, ears, noses, and arms. Historian James Weingartner concluded “it is clear that the practice was not uncommon”, an assessment echoed by Niall Ferguson who determined that “boiling the flesh off enemy skulls to make souvenirs was not an uncommon practice” among American GIs. So widespread was this behavior that nearly 60 percent of Japanese soldiers killed on the Mariana Islands were missing their skulls, indicating the “practice had started as soon as the first living or dead Japanese bodies were encountered”. In fact, it has been argued the appalling criminal behavior was mainstream and even celebrated within wartime American society, with LIFE magazine publishing in May 1944 a romantic picture of a young woman in Arizona with a Japanese “trophy skull” her boyfriend had sent her.
Expanding beyond just U.S. troops, although it should be noted who were responsible for the preponderance of said war crimes, during the Burma Campaign British soldiers were recorded as removing the teeth and collecting the skulls of Japanese fallen.
Canadian soldiers with a captured Hitler Youth flag at Friesoythe, 16 April 1945. Wikimedia Commons.
4. Canadian soldiers razed the German city of Friesoythe after the death of their commander in battle
In the closing days of the Second World War, on April 14, 1945, the Canadian Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders engaged German paratroopers in battle at the town of Friesoythe in northwestern Germany. Although ultimately victorious, during the fighting a small group of German soldiers flanked the Canadian positions and attacked the tactical headquarters of Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Wigle, a popular battalion commander of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders; after Wigle was killed in action by this maneuver, an incorrect rumor begun circulating among the surviving Allied soldiers that he was murdered by a German sniper in civilian clothing in violation of the rules of lawful engagement.
Incensed by the death of a popular officer and friend in such a presumed fashion, Major General Christopher Vokes reported to his superiors that Wigle was “sniped in the back” and that “I’m going to raze that goddam town”. Although the Allied soldiers had already begun burning Friesoythe in a spontaneous act of revenge, Vokes issued a formal order to “level the f*****g place” but “get the people the hell out of their houses first”. Using a combination of flamethrowers, Molotov cocktails, and grenades, over the next eight hours the city previously home to 4,000 German civilians was systemically destroyed; celebrated by the Allied soldiers, the war diary of the 4th Canadian Armoured Brigade proudly recorded that “when darkness fell Friesoythe was a reasonable facsimile of Dante’s Inferno”. It is estimated between 85-90 percent of the city was destroyed during the misguided reprisal, with a Canadian nurse writing a few days later that the only building left standing was a convent on the edge of the town.
A chamber containing the remains of victims from the KoÄevski Rog Massacre. Reuters.
3. Yugoslav Partisans were responsible for the executions of tens of thousands in the aftermath of the World War II
As previously mentioned, as part of the war settlement millions of persons were forcibly “repatriated” back to their former homelands; among these were thousands of individuals who had collaborated during the Nazi occupation and fled the advance of the Red Army. Upon their return, these people, encompassing but not limited to the Slovene Home Guard, non-Slavic collaborators, and Axis soldiers, along with their families, were systemically executed without formal charge or trial by Yugoslav Partisans. In total it is believed at least 70,000-80,000 people were killed in Yugoslavia following the Bleiburg repatriations, although this number remains difficult to confirm as discussion of the massacres remained strictly forbidden until after the fall of the Soviet Union and the locations of mass graves are still being identified.
One such massacre was the KoÄevski Rog massacre, occurring in late May 1945. In the wake of the armistice, the British repatriated more than 10,000 Slovene collaborators who had sought to retreat alongside the Germans. Under the oversight of Yugoslav leader Josef Tito, a close ally of British Intelligence during the war, an estimated 30,000-55,000 individuals, mostly former POWs, were summarily executed and buried in mass underground chambers sealed with explosives.
Similarly, the Barbara Pit massacre of May and June 1945 saw the mass executions of former collaborators, soldiers, and civilians by the 3rd Brigade of the Slovenian KNOJ (People’s Defense Corps of Yugoslavia) following the repatriations of supposedly displaced persons. Accounts of the massacre depict groups of 5-6 prisoners tied together with wire being forced to kneel above a mine shaft and systemically shot in the head; other accounts describe groups of 20-30 prisoners thrown in alive, with hand grenades dropped into the shaft after them. The entrances were enclosed in 400 cubic meters of concrete, preventing those still alive from escaping their eventual tombs. As of October 2017, 1,416 victims have been exhumed and reburied, although the total number is believed to be much higher.
A group of 307 Japanese POWs who surrendered during the last 24 hours of the Battle of Okinawa, June 1945. Wikimedia Commons.
2. Allied soldiers often refused to accept the surrender of Japanese troops, instead of engaging in the widespread and unlawful executions of POWs
Whilst the atrocities committed by the Japanese against POWs during the Second World War is common knowledge, the conduct of Allied soldiers towards Japanese prisoners is less so. Due to the horrific nature of the combat which occurred in the Pacific theater, front-line Allied troops grew to intensely hate their Japanese adversaries, which, in conjunction with propaganda exploiting the belief that Allied soldiers got little mercy from the Japanese, resulted in the mass preference to ignore their government’s stated commitments to uphold the Geneva Convention and to execute rather than accept the surrender of Japanese troops; it has also been suggested this was a strategic choice among U.S. senior officers, who “opposed the taking of prisoners on the grounds that it needlessly exposed American troops to risks” from Japanese soldiers feigning surrender to launch suicide attacks.
As a result of this attitude, by late 1944 the ratio of Japanese prisoners to dead reached 1:100 and despite efforts, including an extensive educational program and offers of ice cream by the U.S. military to encourage adherence to international law, at the Battle of Okinawa in April-June 1945 it remained a repeatedly observed practice to refuse quarter. By the end of the war the Japanese Government’s POW Information Bureau estimated just 42,543 Japanese had successfully surrendered to the Allies, contrasted with military deaths amounting to 2.1-2.3 million; to place this figure in context, 93,941 Americans were POWs just under German control in Europe during World War II.
Not isolated to American soldiers, historian Mark Johnson has detailed how “the killing of unarmed Japanese was common” at the hands of Australians fighting in the Pacific. In spite of attempts by Australian military command to take prisoners, “it often proved difficult to prevent [the soldiers] from killing captured Japanese before they could be interrogated” and the 1943 diary of Eddie Stanton, stationed at the time at Goodenough Island, near Papua New Guinea, reported that “Japanese are still being shot all over the place…Nippo soldiers are just so much machine-gun practice”. Major General Paul Cullen subsequently detailed how the killing of Japanese prisoners during the Kokoda Track Campaign was not uncommon, accounting that at the battle of Gorari “the leading platoon captured five or seven Japanese and moved on to the next battle. The next platoon came along and bayoneted these Japanese.”
1. The indiscriminate American bombing campaign against mainland Japan resulted in catastrophic civilian casualties and suffering
Whilst Allied air raids on the Japanese home islands were untenable for the majority of the Second World War and limited to small-scale missions such as the Doolittle Raid of April 1942, by mid-1944, with the deployment of the B-29 Superfortress, the strategic bombing campaign begun in earnest; the campaign expanded considerably from February 1945, after the Mariana Islands became available as a launch base for said bombing operations. Designed to soften up mainland Japan for the planned ground invasion, scheduled to begin October 1945, between January 1944 and August 1945 the U.S. dropped 157,000 tons of bombs on Japanese cities.
Whilst responsible for the successful annihilation of Japanese industrial output, crippling an already diminished armament production, the bombing campaign was also responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. An estimated 300,000-900,000 civilians were killed in U.S. bombing raids on Japanese mainland cities, a figure including the nuclear bombings which this author believes should be regarded as a separate issue to the wider bombing campaign. Moreover, the use of incendiaries, such as napalm, resulted in catastrophic and lasting damage to the targeted cities, with approximately 40 percent of the urban areas of the 66 cities subjected to Allied bombing destroyed and resulting in 15 million Japanese homeless from a population of 70 million.
Worthy of particular mention as a singular atrocity, the firebombing of Tokyo on March 9, 1945, far surpasses the more infamous bombing of Dresden a month prior. Dropping napalm combined with petroleum jelly, the raid resulted in the destruction of more than 40 square kilometers of the capital city and the deaths of more than 100,000 civilians; some of these victims were literally melted by the resultant inferno, with General LeMay later remarking that had the Allies lost the war he would have been charged with war crimes for authorizing the operation.