Context – Battles of the European Theatre (1943-1945):

U.S. soldiers in Nuremberg, Germany- April 1945.

The year 1943 begins with the dramatic surrender of the German Sixth Army to Soviet forces.  Forbidden by Hitler to retreat, The 6th Army of the Wehrmacht becomes the first field army to be entirely destroyed by the enemy during the urban campaign of the Battle of Stalingrad.  At this battle alone, the Russian Army loses more men than the United States lost during the entire war.  Allied victories continue, with the surrender of German forces in Tunisia in May, ending the North African campaign.  During the rest of 1943, Allied forces battle for control of Italy and Southern Europe as Soviet Armies close in on the Nazi’s eastern front.
On June 4, 1944, the Allies liberate Rome.  Two days later, D-Day begins.  At the end of July, the Allied forces break out of the Normandy beachhead and begin a push towards Paris, which they liberate at the end of August.  In October, US forces return to the Philippines, as promised.  December of 1944 marks the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge, the final struggle towards Berlin.
In January 1945, the Soviet army begins its push west through Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and finally Vienna on April 13.  On April 16, Soviet forces encircle Berlin.  Fourteen days later, Adolf Hitler kills himself.  By May 9, the European war is over.  It is in this chaotic environment, in which Germany is quickly partitioned between Allies, that the Monuments Men begin their race to recover, restore, and return the cultural treasures of a continent.

Website: World War II Archives (http://www.wwiiarchives.net/servlet/action/campaigns/0)

Contains many primary source documents about the battles and campaigns going on in the background of the work of the MFAA, as well as timelines and photographs.

Book: Hastings, Max. Armageddon: the Battle for Germany, 1944-1945. New York: Vintage Books, 2005. Print.

Hastings’ excellent book focuses specifically on the last eight months of the war in Europe, as Western Allies and the Soviets fought through Germany.  It looks at the heavy damage inflicted by Allied bombers, the bitter winter fight in the forests of Germany, and the war crimes committed by the Red Army in the push for Berlin.

Website: World War II Timeline from the United States Holocaust Museum

This simple timeline from the USHMM provides an excellent overview of the course of the war, from the rise of Naziism to the surrender of Japan.

world-war-2-deaths

World War II casualties by country.