<p>German troops march into <a href="/narrative/6033">Paris</a>. <a href="/narrative/4997">France</a>, June 1940.</p>

German Invasion of Western Europe, May 1940

German troops overran Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and France in six weeks starting in May 1940. France signed an armistice in late June 1940, leaving Great Britain as the only country fighting Nazi Germany. Germany and collaborating authorities soon initiated anti-Jewish policies and laws in occupied western Europe.

Key Facts

  • 1

    Nazi Germany had been at war with Great Britain and France since September 3, 1939, but little fighting took place on the western front until May 1940.

  • 2

    German military strategy involved invading the neutral Low Countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) in order to invade France.

  • 3

    The conquest of western Europe brought hundreds of thousands of Jews under German control.

German invasion of western Europe, 1940The campaign against the Low Countries and France lasted less than six weeks. Germany attacked in the west on May 10, 1940. Initially, British and French commanders had believed that German forces would attack through central Belgium as they had in World War I, and rushed forces to the Franco-Belgian border to meet the German attack. The main German attack however, went through the Ardennes Forest in southeastern Belgium and northern Luxembourg. German tanks and infantry quickly broke through the French defensive lines and advanced to the coast.

German Invasion of Western Europe, May 1940 - Photograph Belgium and the Netherlands surrendered in May. More than 300,000 French and British troops were evacuated from the beaches near Dunkirk (Dunkerque) across the English Channel to Great Britain. Paris, the French capital, fell to the Germans on June 14, 1940.

As part of the armistice agreement France signed with Germany on June 22, Germany occupied northern France and all of France's Atlantic coastline down to the border with Spain. A new French government was established in the town of Vichy, which was in the unoccupied southern part of France. The Vichy government, under Marshall Henri Petain, declared neutrality in the war between Germany and Great Britain, but was committed by the armistice provisions to cooperation with Germany.

The Germans viewed the defeat of Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) as a prerequisite for an invasion of the British Isles. When the German air force failed to win air superiority over southeastern England in 1940, Hitler postponed the invasion until the spring of 1941. After the first operational order for the German invasion of the Soviet Union was issued in December 1940, the German invasion of Great Britain was postponed indefinitely.

German Invasion of Western Europe, May 1940 - Historical Film Footage

Critical Thinking Questions

  • Investigate how Jews were treated in these countries before WWII.
  • How many Jews were now at risk in the countries Germany invaded in 1940?
  • What was the relationship between the progress of the war and the mass murder of Europe’s Jews?

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