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Timeline: The War in Europe and its Aftermath

1933 - 1945 | 1946 - 1949  


January 30: Adolf Hitler becomes chancellor of Germany.

Portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt March 4: Franklin D. Roosevelt is inaugurated president of the United States.

March 20: Nazis open their first concentration camp at Dachau, Germany. The Nazis round up Jews, Gypsies, Communists, Christians, homosexuals, the mentally ill, and other Nazi enemies and send them to camps for forced labor.

May 10: At the urging of Nazi Minister of Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, university students across Germany build huge bonfires and burn books written by Jews and Nazi political opponents.


American athletes march onto the field at the Olympic stadium in Berlin, 1936 August 1-16: The Olympic Games take place in Berlin. Hitler hopes to use the competition to advance the Nazi cause and showcase the German "master race." The German dictator leaves the stadium when African American track star wins four gold medals.


Germans pass by the broken shop window of a Jewish-owned business that was destroyed during Kristallnacht November 9-10: Nazis burn synagogues and loot Jewish homes and businesses in nationwide pogroms called Kristallnacht ("The Night of Broken Glass"). Nearly 30,000 German and Austrian Jewish men are deported to concentration camps.


Portrait of Adolf Hitler August: Hitler and Soviet premier Joseph Stalin sign a non-aggression pact and secretly plot to divide Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe between them.

September: Employing blitzkrieg ("lightning war") tactics, Germany invades Poland, which is unprepared for the ferocity of Germany's attack. When efforts to negotiate a withdrawal fail, Britain and France declare war on Germany. World War II begins.


Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great Britain May: Winston Churchill becomes prime minister of Great Britain.

June: The Nazis capture Paris. France surrenders to the Nazis.

July 10: The Battle of Britain unfolds in the skies over England. Germany launches destructive bombing raids on London and other cities, but by the end of October British Royal Air Force pilots have made 25 air raids on Berlin and are shooting down many more German planes over London.


Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt August: In secret meetings on warships off of Newfoundland, Churchill and Roosevelt craft the Atlantic Charter, which pledges "the final destruction of Nazi tyranny," and supports "the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live."

December 7: Japan launches a surprise attack on the U.S. Naval fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Roosevelt asks Congress to declare war on Japan the following day, December 8.

December 11: Germany and Italy declare war on the United States.


January 1: In Washington, D.C., representatives of 26 countries issue the "Declaration by United Nations," a pledge to defeat the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan).


January 14-24: At the Casablanca Conference, Roosevelt and Churchill demand the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers.

Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill on the portico of the Russian Embassy in Teheran, 1943 November 28-December 1: Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin convene in Tehran, Iran, to discuss the German invasion of Italy. It is the first time all three have met.


June 6: Over 160,000 Allied troops and 30,000 vehicles land on a 50-mile stretch of fortified French coastline in the D-Day invasion.

Franklin D. Roosevelt and Henry Morgenthau Jr. in Ithaca New York August: U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau submits a plan for post-war punishment of Nazi leaders to President Franklin Roosevelt. He proposes shooting them upon capture and de-industrializing Germany.

November 27: Secretary of War Henry Stimson and Secretary of State Cordell Hull submit a joint memorandum, "The Trial and Punishment of European War Criminals," to President Roosevelt. The proposal, which advocates for the investigation and trial of Nazi war criminals, draws upon the ideas of Colonel Murray Bernays, who has proposed prosecuting the Nazi regime as a conspiracy.

December 16: Germany strikes back at the Allies in the Battle of the Bulge. It will be the Nazis' last major military offensive; within five months Soviet forces will take Berlin.


February 4-11: At the Yalta Conference, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin declare, "It is our inflexible purpose to destroy German militarism and Nazism and ... to bring all war criminals to just and swift punishment."

Portrait of President Harry Truman April 12: While on vacation in Warm Springs, Georgia, President Roosevelt dies of a cerebral hemorrhage. Vice President Harry Truman is sworn in as president.

April 30: Adolf Hitler commits suicide in his bunker below Berlin.

May 2: President Truman appoints Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson as Chief U.S. Counsel for the prosecution of Nazi war criminals.

May 6: Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring surrenders to the Allies. Housed in a castle in Kitzbühel, Austria, Göring is first toasted with champagne, then transferred to Bad Mondorf in Luxembourg, where indicted Nazi leaders are held before transfer to Nuremberg.

May 7: Germany surrenders unconditionally. World War II in Europe ends.

May 23: British tanks enter Flensburg, Germany, where troops capture several Nazis who will be tried at Nuremberg, including Navy Chief Karl Doenitz; Army Chief Alfred Jodl; Head of Armed Forces High Command Wilhelm Keitel; Protector of the Eastern Occupied Territories Alfred Rosenberg; and Reich Minister of Armaments and Munitions Albert Speer. Heinrich Himmler, SS chief and the most powerful surviving Nazi leader, commits suicide.

Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson June 18: Robert Jackson departs Washington, D.C., for London to work out the logistics of a war crimes trial. The Allies decide to use the adversarial system of law favored by the Americans and British, rather than the inquisitive system favored by the French and Soviets. They agree to prohibit the defense that the criminals were simply following orders, but to allow its consideration in sentencing.

June 26: Representatives of 50 countries who had declared war on Germany and Japan meet in San Francisco to sign the United Nations charter and "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind."

July 5: In the wake of the Nazis' unconditional surrender, the Allies create the Allied Control Council, under which the United States, Soviet Union, United Kingdom, and France assume control over Germany. The Allies partition Germany into four zones of military occupation: American, British, French and Soviet. The city of Berlin is divided along similar lines.

July 7: Jackson visits Nuremberg, once the site of major Nazi rallies, and recommends the Palace of Justice for the upcoming trials. Largely undamaged by Allied bombing, the building contains 20 courtrooms and a prison with room for 1,200 inmates. The Soviets suggest that the trials take place within their zone of occupation in Berlin. They compromise: the trial will open in Berlin and unfold at Nuremberg.

Winston Churchill, Harry Truman, and Josef Stalin during the Potsdam Conference July 25: Two months after the surrender, Churchill, Stalin, and Truman meet in Potsdam, Germany to discuss the fate of Germany. Both the United States and Russia want their own economic and political systems to prevail in the areas their soldiers have liberated. Churchill is replaced by a Conservative, Clement Atlee, at Potsdam after he and the Labour Party are defeated in general elections in Britain.

Pilot Paul Tibbets of the Enola Gay waves from his cockpit before takeoff August 6: Following President Truman's order, the B-29 bomber Enola Gay, piloted by Paul W. Tibbetts, drops the uranium atomic bomb code-named "Little Boy" on Hiroshima, Japan, killing 80,000 civilians and injuring 140,000. Three days later, the B-29 bomber "Bockscar", piloted by Charles Sweeney, will drop a second bomb, "Fat Man" on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, killing 42,000 persons and injuring 40,000.

August 8: The Allies sign the London Charter, which forms the International Military Tribunal (I.M.T.) and lays the ground rules for the prosecution of Nazi war criminals. Allied crimes are not eligible for consideration.

August 12: The Germans being held in Luxembourg are flown to Nuremberg, where they are locked up in a prison next to the Palace of Justice.

September 2: Japan surrenders. World War II ends.

American member Francis Biddle prepares for the trial of war criminals at Nuremberg September: President Truman names former attorney general Francis Biddle as the American judge at Nuremberg. John Parker, a federal judge from North Carolina, is appointed as the U.S. alternate.

October 14: British representative Sir Geoffrey Lawrence is elected president of the I.M.T., making him lead judge for the proceedings.

October 19: The I.M.T. indicts 24 Nazi leaders on four counts: conspiracy to wage aggressive war, crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

October 25: Nazi defendant Robert Ley, former chief of the German Labor Front, commits suicide before the trial begins.

November 20: At 6 a.m. the defendants are awakened, fed oatmeal and coffee, shaved, and issued court clothing -- uniforms without insignias for soldiers and suits and ties for civilians. At 9 a.m. they are brought through a covered walkway from the prison to an elevator that opens onto the prisoners' dock in the courtroom, where they take their places on wooden benches in the order listed on the indictment. At 9:30 a.m. the courtroom doors open to 250 journalists. A half hour later, the eight judges enter and the I.M.T. convenes for the first time.

Hermann Goering enters the defendants' dock at the trial of war criminals at Nuremberg November 21: The defendants enter pleas of not guilty. Göring wants to make a statement, but the judges prevent it. Jackson delivers his opening statement, calling the trial "one of the most significant tributes that power has ever paid to reason."

November 29: The prosecution introduces film shot by Allied photographers in the liberated concentration camps of Dachau, Buchenwald, and Bergen-Belsen. The graphic footage of Nazi horrors causes weeping in the courtroom. Defendants Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hans Frank, and Walther Funk appear shocked by what they see. Former Reichsbank president Hjalmar Schacht turns his back to the screen. Göring appears unmoved. He later laments, "... they showed that awful film, and it just spoiled everything."

December 11, 1945: American prosecutors offer into evidence The Nazi Plan, a 45-minute film that includes footage from German propaganda films, including Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, and scenes of shocking atrocities.

December 13: The prosecution introduces grisly evidence from the Buchenwald concentration camp, including tattooed human skin (favored by the commandant's wife for table lamps and other household furnishings) and the shrunken head of an executed Polish worker, which was used as a paperweight by camp commander Karl Koch.

December 18: The prosecution introduces evidence to prove the criminality of seven German organizations: the Nazi Party leadership; the German High Command; the Schutzstaffel (SS) or Protective Squadron; Sturmabteilung (SA) or Storm Troopers; the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) or Security Service; the Reich Cabinet; and the Gestapo.

1933-1945 | 1946-1949  

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