Social Implications

NS ideology, while propagating the "racial purity", was very divisive. A number of population segments - ethnic minorities such as Jews and Gypsies (if and how far Germany's Jews qualified as an ethnic minority is another question) were separated from society. These and other groups of outsiders, the latter including the disabled as well as homosexuals, were discriminated against and faced a policy of systematic extermination (see chapters HOLOCAUST and EUTHANASIA).
This NS policy during the war was extended to the occupied territories. If the Nazi organizations still had a few scruples at home in Germany, they dropped them with the occupation of Poland, where the extermination camps (AUSCHWITZ, MAJDANEK, TREBLINKA, SOBIBOR) were built.
While Gypsies and the disabled were outsiders before the Nazis took power, most of Germany's Jews were assimilated. Many had a university education and prestigious jobs; Jews played an important role in Germany's arts, at Germany's universities, in the jurisprudence, to a lesser extent in politics. Some of them were areligious or had converted to christianity; there were many couples in which one partner, according to Nazi terminology, qualified as an "Aryan", the other as a "Jew", "Half-Jew" etc. The process of separating such a highly integrated population group from society was difficult, involved many steps.
While this process took years in Germany, it was quickly implemented in the occupied territories. In many countries, such as the Netherlands (where many Jews were hidden by gentile friends), in Denmark (where almost the entire Jewish community was shipped to Sweden by the resistance) and France (where many Jews were helped to escape to Lisbon via Spain). In Poland the Jewish minority counted to 11 % of the pre-war population, the larger part not being assimilated. In Poland's gentile population a feeling of approval of the concentration of Jews in Ghettoes and their deportation to Labour Camps met with some approval - the real purpose of the camps was not advertised. When the Jewish population in the Warsaw Ghetto rose in arms in 1943, they were supported by the Polish resistance.

On the Allied side, again troops from the colonies had to be deployed at the various fronts. France especially, having lost everything but French Equatorial Africa, had to redefine it's colonial policy; the colonies' inhabitants were promised political emancipation after the war.
Compared to World War I, the U.S. had to invest considerably more in World War II, both in terms of money and men. Black regiments had served in the U.S. Army since the U.S. Civil War; yet they were distrusted by their own command, suffered from racial discrimination. During World War II, the TUSKEEGEE AIRMEN proved that they were as capable as white pilots to take on functions which required education, responsibility, discipline and valour. Many African-American soldiers returned from the war with the purple heart. Such decorations were to open doors for them hitherto closed.

On both sides of the war, women again had to be employed in the economy, at a massive scale. After the war, WOMEN SUFFRAGE was introduced in the countries of southern Europe (France, Italy etc.). Young women found it increasingly difficult to find a husband - healthy young men were in short supply, as many had fallen in battle, had returned as invalids or had been taken prisoner.
The war had, more than in any other phase of history until then, brought people in contact with foreigners - with forced workers, occupation troops, allied expeditionary corps etc. The result was a considerable number of international marriages, contributing to immigration to the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa.
The disproportion between nubile young men and women in the war generation resulted in a change of social behaviour : while it was hitherto expected of women to remain passive and wait for a young man to approach her, after the war women became more active, engaged in "husband-hunting".

VIDEOS The Tuskegee Airmen, 1995, cc; I Was a Male War Bride, 1949, cc

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Last revised on February 20th 2002

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