When the Second World War came to an end in 1945, large tracts of Europe and the Far East were in ruins. The territorial ambitions of pre-war Germany, Italy and Japan had been crushed. Their wartime allies, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, were mauled and defeated. The captive nations, most cruelly Poland and Yugoslavia, had suffered terrible repression. In every country under German rule, the Jews had been singled out for physical annihilation. Under Japanese rule, captive peoples had been denied their rights and dignity, murdered in large numbers, and, as the war ended, had taken up the struggle for independence from European colonial rule. The British and French Empires in Asia and Africa had been shaken. China, the world’s most populous country, having been ravaged by almost ten years of savage conflict, was on the brink of revolution. India, the world’s second most populous country, while insisting on independence from Britain, was soon to break up into two nations, one mainly Muslim, the other predominantly Hindu. Dutch rule in the Far East was under attack. United States rule in the Philippines was coming to an end.

Compounding this turmoil, the ending of the war had seen the creation of a new ideological divide. The victorious western Allies, led by the United States, found themselves face to face across an Iron Curtain with the victorious eastern Allies in the orbit of the Soviet Union. A new war, the Cold War, had come into being. The NATO and Warsaw Pact powers, headed respectively by the United States and the Soviet Union, faced each other across a continuous line of minefields, barbed wire and watchtowers stretching, as Churchill told the British parliament, ‘From Stettin on the Baltic to Trieste on the Adriatic’. The atomic bomb that had brought Japan to surrender became, in even more powerful forms, the gravest threat to humanity, and, as it emerged, the guarantee that nations would hesitate before unleashing such a destructive weapon.

The Second World War had ended in victory for some and defeat for others; it had ended in the despair created by widespread destruction, and in the hopes of millions for a world in which personal and national sufferings would become a thing of the past.

The victorious nations had fought for different ideals, some for liberating those who had been defeated and subjugated, others to establish their own new order; all had also fought for self-preservation. The victors and vanquished had passed through the worst torment and pain they could inflict upon each other. As the post-war era began, they faced the task of rebuilding their lives, while often still grieving over the loss of loved ones in the conflagration that had just ended. This atlas portrays many aspects of that suffering, and also the courage and perseverance that had been shown throughout the war. These qualities were still needed after 1945, and are still needed today, if, from the rubble and the human suffering, a more civilised human society is to be achieved, with more peace, more national contentment, and a life of less fear.

Sixty-three years after the harsh guns of the Second World War fell silent and the fearful silhouettes of the bombers of all the warring nations disappeared from the skies, sixty-three years after the wounded, the prisoners of war and the surviving captives in concentration camps began to return home, much of humanity is still hoping for a world without war.

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