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1942 - Holocaust

The Holocaust - the systematic extermination of Jews (and other minorities), a culmination of Nazi anti-Semitism and persecution which saw widespread killings, roundups, incarceration in ghettos and finally deportation to death camps

From the beginning of the war in 1939, until the summer of 1941, tens of thousands of Jews were murdered due to the effects of the German occupation policy. Upon the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the Nazis introduced the plan for the systematic murder of European Jewry known as "the Final Solution of the Jewish Problem".


Beginning on June 22, 1941, death squads (Einsatzgruppen) consisting of SS and German police, in conjunction with German army units, began the systematic annihilation of the Jews of Eastern Poland and the Soviet Union- at first mainly men, but later women and children too. In the southern regions of the occupied Soviet Union tens of thousands of Jews were murdered by Romanian army units.


In the autumn of 1941, the systematic murder of Jews began in Yugoslavia. Alongside the death squads there were cases where local antisemites also took part in the killing. Meanwhile, the Nazis began planning to extend their annihilation policy to additional areas throughout Europe.


The first extermination camp, Chelmno, began operating in December 1941 where hundreds of thousands of Jews from Western Poland (the Wartegau, which had been annexed to Germany), were killed.

The Wannsee Conference held in Berlin in January 1942 served as a milestone in the evolution of the Final Solution. Senior Nazi officials discussed the implementation of the Final Solution in its Pan-European context with various agencies coordinating actions in order to set it in motion.

Three extermination camps were built in the "Generalgouvernement" area (occupied Poland): Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka.  Beginning in 1942, Jews from all over Europe were deported mainly to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camps. This complex became the primary site for the annihilation of European Jewry after the other extermination camps were closed. Activity at Auschwitz reached its peak in the summer of 1944, where hundreds of thousands of Jews from the Lodz Ghetto, Slovakia, and especially Hungary were murdered there.


The heaviest deportations took place during the summer and fall of 1942, when more than 300,000 people were deported from the Warsaw ghetto alone. Fed up with the deportations, disease and constant hunger, the inhabitants of the Warsaw Ghetto rose up in armed revolt.


The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising from April 19-May 16, 1943 ended in the death of 7,000 Jews, with 50,000 survivors sent to extermination camps. In late 1943, Jews from regions who had survived the previous deportations were sent to their death, primarily to the Majdanek extermination camp.


The last victims of the Final Solution were about a quarter of a million Jewish camp prisoners who died on the death marches. These marches were the mass evacuation of prisoners from Poland and the Baltic states to Germany due to the Red Army's advance.

Though the Nazis tried to keep operation of camps secret, the scale of the killing made this virtually impossible. Eyewitnesses brought reports of Nazi atrocities in Poland to the Allied governments, who were harshly criticized after the war for their failure to respond, or to publicize news of the mass slaughter.


Further Reading


US Holocaust Memorial Museum - The Final Solution

The Atlantic - The Holocaust

Jewish Virtual LibraryThe Holocaust: The Final Solution

British Library - Voices of the Holocaust

1942 - Norh African Campaign

North African Campaign -  a see-saw campaign across the deserts of North Africa finally saw General Montgomery  inflict a decisive defeat on the Axis forces in the Battle of El Alamein 

Control of the eastern Mediterranean was seen as vital to Britain's interests. A large garrison of British and Commonwealth troops was based in Egypt. Its main role was to defend the Suez Canal and protect Britain's oil supplies from the Persian Gulf. On 11 June 1940 Italy's Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, declared war on Britain and France. Seeking to expand their African Empire, on 13 September the Italians invaded Egypt from their colony Libya.

After a limited advance the Italians halted and set up a series of fortified camps around Sidi Barrani. In December 1940 General Wavell's Western Desert Force of 36,000 men attacked the Italians. A mobile armoured force outflanked the Italians at Beda Fomm and pursued them 840 km back to Libya. Wavell's offensive ended at El Agheila on 7 February 1941 with the destruction of nine Italian divisions and the capture of 130,000 men.

Hitler realised that he would have to support the Italians and on 11 February 1941 Major-General Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps landed at Tripoli. The British won some spectacular victories over the Italians, but found the Germans a much tougher nut to crack.

Logistics were a key factor in the desert war. Throughout the campaign both sides found that the further they advanced, the harder it was to keep their forces supplied. Both suffered shortages of fuel at crucial moments. Rapid advances were often followed by equally rapid retreats. Rough terrain and constant sand abrasion on engines made vehicles break down. Troops had to survive extremely high daytime temperatures and very cold nights. Disease also took a toll on the troops, who were constantly irritated by millions of flies attracted by food, human waste and dead bodies.

Not only did the Germans have in Rommel a daring and imaginative commander, but also for several months their tactics proved superior to those of the British. The main problem for the British was the lack of co-operation between their armour and infantry, which resulted in them fighting almost separate battles. The result was that the infantry did not receive the support it might have done and the armour frequently fell victim to co-ordinated enemy attacks.

On 24 March 1941 Rommel attacked, cutting off the British 3rd Armoured Brigade. Wavell's force had already been weakened by the transfer of troops to Greece and East Africa. By 13 April the British had been forced back to the Egyptian frontier, leaving the 9th Australian Division besieged in Tobruk. They held out, but after two attempts to relieve Tobruk failed, Wavell was replaced as Commander-in-Chief Middle East by General Auchinleck.

On 18 November 1941 Auchinleck launched Operation Crusader, surprising Rommel as he was launching an offensive of his own against Tobruk. After several days of confused tank battles around Sidi Rezegh, Rommel advanced towards the Egyptian frontier, hoping to cut off the British. The Germans had outrun their fuel supplies and their attack ground to a halt, enabling the British to drive them back. Tobruk was relieved on 7 December and Rommel was forced to fall back on El Agheila.

In January 1942 Rommel attacked again. The British were overextended and had not replaced their earlier losses. Rommel was able to advance beyond Benghazi.

From early February to late May 1942 Rommel was halted by the heavily mined British defensive line, which ran from Gazala in the north to Bir Hacheim in the south. At the end of May 1942 the Germans launched a fresh offensive and, after two weeks of heavy fighting, broke through. They captured Tobruk and pushed the British back into Egypt.

In July 1942, Auchinleck Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery took over command of the 8th Army. Montgomery exuded confidence and rapidly restored the army's flagging morale, and ensured that his army was properly supplied.


In late August 1942 Rommel made a last effort to break through but short of fuel and supplies, was repulsed at Alam Halfa. For nearly two months Montgomery continued to train and re-equip his army.

By October 1942 he enjoyed a significant advantage in men, artillery, tanks and aircraft. He was ready to mount an offensive of his own. On the night of 24 October 1942, under cover of a 600-gun barrage, the 8th Army attacked the Axis positions. After ten days of bitter attritional fighting, the heavily defended German line was breached.


On 4 November 1942 Montgomery's armour broke through and the pursuit of the defeated Germans and Italians began. Tobruk and Benghazi were soon retaken and by 23 November the British were back at El Agheila. By March 1943 the 8th Army had taken Tripoli and crossed into Tunisia.

Meanwhile, on 8 November 1942, the Allies had landed in French North Africa. The invasion force, codenamed Operation Torch, was commanded by General Dwight Eisenhower and included the British 1st Army. After their initial resistance, the Vichy French agreed to a ceasefire. The Allies advanced into Tunisia, but the Germans reacted quickly and succeeded in blocking the route to Tunis at Kasserine.

Eisenhower was forced to consolidate his forces and develop his lines of communication so they could support a major attack in tandem with the 8th Army. This was done despite ongoing German resistance and by 20 March 1943 the advancing 8th Army had linked up with Eisenhower.

The pressure on the Axis perimeter around Tunis increased and on 7 May the Allies entered the city. Five days later 250,000 German and Italian troops surrendered. The battle for North Africa was over.


Further Reading


World War II Database - The Desert War

History of War - North African Campaign (1940-43)

The Atlantic - The North African Campaign

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