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Heritage Civilization and the Jews
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Europe/Near East/North Africa
1925 to 1998


In the wake of World War I, the map of Europe was redrawn. Carved from the vanquished Russian and Austro- Hungarian empires were new entities: the Soviet Union, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Yugoslavia. The rise of nationalism in the Near East and Africa led to intensified struggles for independence from colonial overlords, and Iraq and Saudi Arabia were among the first to win independent statehood.

Stunned by the rapid political and social transformations, many people shared a feeling that the world was spinning out of control. Others enthusiastically embraced the spirit of radical change and explored new paths in the arts, sciences, and political thought. The 1920s were an unstable but astonishingly creative period in Europe.

By the 1930s, however, a worldwide economic depression had intensified discontent and insecurity. Fascist dictators gained power in Germany and Italy by promising a return to order and tradition. In Germany, Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party blamed Jews for modernity's ills and embarked on an anti-Semitic campaign that included stripping Jews of their civil rights. Hitler also adopted expansionist policies, annexing Austria and the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia in 1938. Germany's invasion of Poland in 1939 sparked the beginning of World War II, whose tentacles soon reached into almost every corner of the globe.

By the end of the war, in 1945, more than ten million people, most of them civilians, had been killed, and much of Europe lay in ruins. Hardest hit were the Jews. Nazi Germany's genocidal campaign, which has come to be known as "the Holocaust," resulted in the murder of six million Jews, or one-third of all Jewish people, and the irrevocable destruction of most centers of European Jewish life.

In the wake of the war the great powers of Europe -- France, Germany, and Great Britain -- were severely weakened, and the Soviet Union and the United States became leading world powers, vying with each other for global dominance. The Arab states of the Near East were liberated from European colonial influence, and a new Jewish state, Israel, came into existence.

The late 20th century has witnessed a further decline of imperial power in the region as client states of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe broke away and rejected the Communist model. The Soviet Union itself dissolved in 1991, leaving a power vacuum with repercussions that were still being felt at the end of the century. Bloody ethnic conflicts erupted in some of the former Eastern bloc countries, but the general trend has been toward increasing political and economic cooperation among the many countries of Europe through the mechanisms of the European Community (EC).




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