World War 2 is historically recognized as beginning in September of 1939 with Germany’s invasion of Poland, although Japan had been at war with China since 1937. The launch of Europe into war, however, ultimately embroiled the world’s greatest powers in the conflict, resulting in World War 2.
Adolf Hitler, the head of the Nazi Party, was elected Chancellor of Germany in 1933. Prior to the military invasion that instigated World War 2, Hitler had slowly been rebuilding Germany’s army and infrastructure, which was devastated after the First World War. He also began eroding the rights of Jews in Germany and devising his plan to take over Europe and eradicate the Jewish people entirely.
After Hitler invaded Poland, France and England declared war on Germany, but did not offer sufficient support to thwart Hitler’s Nazis. In May of 1940, Germany invaded many more European countries, including France and Holland, and many of them fell to Nazi forces within weeks. By the end of September in 1940, the major power players of World War 2 had divided into two groups: the Allies, including England, France, Poland, and the U.S., and the Axis powers, comprised of Germany, Italy, and Japan. With the attack on Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor by Japanese bombers in 1941, the Americans were drawn into the fray against both in the Pacific and in Europe.
It is estimated that between 50 and 70 million people died during World War 2. When Allied troops finally advanced into German territory, they discovered what Hitler had termed his “final solution” for the Jews: concentration camps in which millions of Jews had been systematically murdered.
World War 2 in Europe ended in May of 1945. The United States’ war with Japan did not end until August of that year when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, two Japanese cities. World War 2 was the first and only time nuclear weaponry had been used in warfare, and World War 2 holds the unenviable distinction of resulting in more deaths than any other human conflict in history.