Eastern Europe in World War II
IT IS DIFFICULT to generalize about the experience of East Europeans during the war. For the Czechs, war, in the sense of occupation, began in 1938; for the Poles, war, in every possible meaning of the word, began in 1939. Albania succumbed to foreign troops in 1939. Romanians and Hungarians saw their sons march off to the Eastern Front in 1941, but did not directly experience warfare and occupation until 1944. Yugoslavia was shattered in 1941, and its territories were occupied by the armies of four nations. Bulgaria, never controlled from the outside and only briefly a battleground in 1944, suffered least. To a very great extent, the peoples of Eastern Europe experienced what we in the West call the Second World War in very different ways.
Yet there are some general statements about the war that can be made. Certainly, the peoples of Eastern Europe died in far greater numbers than those of Western Europe. 1 This is true even if Germany is considered as part of Western Europe and whether one counts absolute figures or a percentage of the population. The same would be true of physical destruction: the type of fighting was very different from west to east. In France, Scandinavia, the low countries, Italy, and of course Britain, cities were not the focal point of battle; this was true even in Germany (with the exception of Berlin). The cities of the west did suffer from bombing, but as battered as London was, it would have seemed untouched to the residents of Warsaw. This was so because most of the cities of Eastern Europe suffered not only bombing but also the effects of artillery, street fighting, and from the work of the ubiquitous Nazi demolitions experts who destroyed, among other monuments, all of the bridges of Budapest.
The nature of human suffering was also different in Eastern Europe, for here it was primarily the civilians who died. The armed forces of Poland, Hugngary, Romania, and Yugoslavia took a dreadful beating,