- key dates
Soviet forces launch a massive offensive from bases on the Vistula and Nida Rivers in central Poland. The offensive clears Polish soil of German troops and brings Soviet forces to the Oder River in Germany, at one point less than 100 miles from Berlin.
As Soviet troops approach, SS units begin the final evacuation of prisoners from the Auschwitz camp complex, marching them on foot toward the interior of the German Reich. These forced evacuations come to be called “death marches.”
Soviet troops liberate Auschwitz, finding approximately 7,000 prisoners left behind in the main camp and its subcamps.
The 70th motorized infantry brigade of the Soviet Army liberates Gross-Rosen concentration camp.
Soviet troops accept the surrender of the last German and Hungarian units fighting in encircled Budapest, Hungary.
US troops cross the Rhine River at Remagen, Germany, leaving no more natural barriers blocking the advance into central Germany.
The 4th Armored Division and the 89th Infantry of the Third US Army liberate Ohrdruf, a subcamp of Buchenwald. After visiting Ohrdruf a week later, General Dwight D. Eisenhower orders careful documentation of the atrocities perpetrated in the Nazi concentration camps, so that no one in the future could deny that they had committed these atrocities.
As British troops advance, the Gestapo hangs 20 Jewish children, who had been exploited for medical experiments, in a basement of the Bullenhuser Damm School in Hamburg, Germany.
The SS evacuates prisoners from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp by forced marches. On April 22, units of the First and 47th Polish Armies liberate about 3,000 inmates remaining in the camp.
Soviet troops encircle Berlin. One day earlier, Adolf Hitler had announced to his top leaders that he would remain in Berlin.
At Mauthausen, SS functionaries kill 1,441 sick inmates in the gas chambers.
Soviet and American troops meet at Torgau, Germany.
SS functionaries murder 33 members of the Upper Austrian Socialist Party Communist Party organizations in the gas chamber at Mauthausen concentration camp—the last gassing operation in the Third Reich.
Hitler commits suicide in his bunker in Berlin.
Soviet troops liberate over 2,000 prisoners at Ravensbrück. In April, before Soviet troops reached the camp, SS authorities had murdered between 5,000 and 6,000 prisoners in the gas chamber at Ravensbrück.
Late April–early May
The partisan resistance movement, under Communist leader Josip Tito, liberates the Jasenovac concentration camp in Croatia.
German units in Berlin surrender to Soviet forces.
British forces liberate the Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg, Germany.
German armed forces surrender unconditionally in the West on May 7 and in the East on May 9. Allied forces proclaim May 8, 1945, to be Victory in Europe Day (V-E Day). Soviet forces proclaim May 9, 1945, as the day the war ended.
Soviet forces enter and liberate the camp-ghetto Theresienstadt.
Soviet forces liberate Stutthof concentration camp, near Danzig.
United States special envoy Earl Harrison makes a public report to President Truman on the treatment of Jewish displaced persons (DPs) in Germany. Following World War II, several hundred thousand Jewish survivors are unable or unwilling to return to their home countries. Harrison's report contains a strong indictment of Allied military policies, underscores the plight of Jewish DPs, and leads eventually to improved conditions for them in the US zone of occupied Germany.
Japan surrenders. World War II officially ends.
The International Military Tribunal (IMT), made up of US, British, French, and Soviet judges, begins a trial of 22 major Nazi leaders at Nuremberg, Germany.
US President Truman issues a directive giving preference to displaced persons for immigrant visas under existing US immigration quota restrictions.
Critical Thinking Questions
- How did the Germans continue to persecute and murder Jews even though the war was nearing conclusion?
- What challenges did survivors face in the DP camps?
- What challenges did the Allies face in establishing and supervising DP camps?