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Europe at the End of the War

This map is part of a series of 16 animated maps showing the history of Europe and nations since 1945.

Germany’s surrender on 8 May 1945 marked the end of World War II in Europe and victory for the Allies led by the United States, the USSR and Great Britain.

But the continent was in a terrible state; Europe had been destroyed, more than 30 million people had died, including nearly 6 million Jews as victims of the genocide organized by the Nazis. Everywhere, there was a desire for a fresh start, a new world based on stronger political structures and more ethical foundations. In June 1945, the Conference of San Francisco adopted the UN Charter and Nazi leaders were tried and condemned for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Nuremburg trials.

The victorious Allies held a number of conferences in order to decide on the reorganization of territory, including the Yalta conference in February 1946 and the Potsdam Conference in July and August of the same year.

- Having surrendered, Germany was now under occupation and had lost its sovereignty.  The country lost some of its territory, in particular to the east where its border now ran along the Oder-Neisse Line.  Austria was separated from Germany and also placed under occupation.

- Taking advantage of its role in the victory, the Soviet Union extended its borders further to the west.  The Baltic countries were annexed and Poland was reconstituted, but inside new borders that were redrawn further to the west.

- Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia were also reconstituted, the former lost Carpathian Ruthenia and the latter was enlarged by the acquisition of Istria.

- Hungary returned to its pre-1938 borders.

- Bulgaria’s territory now included Southern Dobruja, which was originally part of Romania.

- Italy lost Istria and had to give up its conquests in Albania and Greece.

- France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Norway re-established their pre-war frontiers.

In contrast to the situation at the time of treaty negotiations in 1919 and 1920, re-drawing frontiers meant that large groups of people were displaced in order to overcome the problem of national minorities.

- Several million Germans were forced to leave the regions of Silesia, Eastern Prussia and Pomerania (which were now part of Poland), as well as Bohemia and other parts of Central Europe.

- One and a half million Poles were transferred out of territories in the east, now under Soviet control, to areas previously inhabited by Germans to the west of the country.

- Hungarians had to leave Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia and move to Hungary.

- Italians were forced out of Istria.

Nevertheless, several countries still found themselves confronted by difficulties with national minorities: large groups of Hungarians remained in Yugoslavia and especially in Romania, and there were many minorities within the USSR’s new borders.

The reorganization of frontiers, together with the liberation of occupied countries, led to the holding of new elections, as agreed at the Yalta Conference. But re-establishing democracy proved to be less simple: in the West, Spain and Portugal were still controlled by extreme right-wing dictators while, in Eastern countries under Soviet influence, democratic structures were quickly swept aside.

Much weakened by the war, the European countries lost their influence, leaving the USA and USSR to develop into super-powers. Almost immediately, the two Great Powers were at loggerheads.