German World War II Occupation Policies: Country Trends

Figure 1.--.

NAZI Germany as a result of military conquests, occupied mich of Europe with the exception of the Russian areas of the Soviet Union. German occupation policies varied wudely from country. There were two primary German objectives. First was to harness the occupied areas to the German war economy. Second was to persue German racial policies. These included the killing of all Jews and the dreastic reduction of the Slavic population in the East. When the two primary goals conflicted, the racialm policy was given priority. Thus when the drafting of German workers created a labor shortage in the Reich, the Germans cintinued the killing of Jewish workers, even skilled workers slaving in war plants. The actual German occupation policies varies from country to country because of the differentracial composition of the occupied areas. And the NAZI occicials in the occupied countries weregiven substantial latitude which caused a varierty of difference. Other variations occurred becauseof border changes and the different occupation authorities.

Albania (1943-44)

The Germans seized control after the Italian surrender (September 1943). The Germans dropped paratroopers into Tiranë before the Albanian guerrillas could seize the city. The Wehrmacht quickly droce the guerrillas back into the hills and to the south. The NAZIs announced plans to create a neutral Albania and proceeded to set up an Albanian puppet government, including police and military forces. The German approach in Albania was different than in most other occupied areas. This presumably reflects the rapidly deteriorating German military situation. Rather than dictate to the Albanians, they set up a government with a surprising degree of autonomy. And attempted to attract popular support by supporting populasr causes, especially union with Kosovo that had a substantial Albanian population. As a result the nationalist Balli Kombëtar units cooperated with the Germans in actions against the partisans (Communist resistance). In fact BK members were given prominent positions in the puppet givernment. The NAZIs to rule Albania created an Albanian National Committee. This Committe created a Regency that finctioned as a puppet government for Greater Albania created by the Italians.

Belgium (1940-44)

The German occupation was severe in World War I, but this time the Germans lived up to the Workd war I images. The German occupation policies were largely race based, thus the occupation while brutal and expoitive, did not aprroach the horrors of the east, except for the Jews. There was some collaboraion with the NAZIs, especially at first when it looked like the NAZis had won the War. Many view the King as a colaborationist, but his role is complicated to assess. Fascist groups open colaborated with the German occupation authorities. Hendrik de Man served as a front man for the Germans. He dissolved the Belgian Workers Party (June 1940). King Leopold III met Adolf Hitler in November 1940 at Berchtesgaden. He managed to arrange the release of 50,000 Belgian POWss and an improved food supply for occupied Belgium. Differences existed between the Flemish and Waloons. As in other countries, the Germans though in racist terms. The NAZIs saw the Flemish as more salvagble racial stock than the Wallonians. The NAZIs replaced the Belgian and Luxemburgian Franc with the German Reichsmark (1941). King Leopold showed great courage by subsequently refusing to administer his country under German control and lend any appearance of legitimacy to the NAZI occupation government. Leopold was held prisoner by the Germans until the end of the war, first in his castle at Laeken, Brussels, and later deep in Germany itself. Colaborationists organized Youth groups alpng the lines of the Hitler Youth.

France (1940-44)

The new French government in the unoccipied zone was formed at Vichy. Nominally neutral, Vichy assisted the NAZIs in their war effort. Marshall Petain who led the Vichy Government concluded that after the fall of France that Germany was the dominant power in Europe. He sought to carve out a place for France in thev new Europe. He believed that France could form a bridge between NAZI Germany and America and the rest ofvthe world. The Grerman victory had humiliated France, but France had fought. Vichy represented a loss of honor. Hitler had expected to fuel his war by exploiting the resources of the East. In fact, the German War effort was supported by exploiting the occupied countries of Western Europe--espcially France. Petaon and Vichy were at first fairly popular. This did not change until the Germns began to demand French workers for war work in the Reich. At the sane time the French became increasingly aware that German plundering was causing shortages and that the German military campaign had faltered in the East.

Greece (1941-44)

The Germans after defeating the Greeks and British, divided Greece into three occupation zones. The Germans zone included western Macedonia, Thessaloniki, a strip of land in eastern Thrace, the major Aegean Islands and Crete. The Bulgarians zone included eastern Macedonia and Thrace. The Italian zone included the Dodecanese Islands, the Ionian Islands, and a large section of mainland Greece including Athens. The Greek children were especially affected by the German occupation. In addition, the NAZI program of plundering the occupied countries resulting in large quantities of food being shipped from Greece to Germany. This caused a mass famine in Greece. The famine in Greece even reached Athens in the winter of 1941. The famine was a man-made event resulting from the German ability to contol distribution of food. The Germans viewed Greece and other occupied countries as a source of food and resources that could be used to support the War effort. It should vbe stressed that not all Germans involved in the occupation behaved crudely. German Occupation officials reported to Berlin that more food was needed for the Greek people. These requests were ignored by NAZI officials in Berlin. NAZI officials in some occupied countries were interested in remaking those socities on the basis of the National Socialist principles implemented in Germany. This seems not to have been a major factor in Greece. Certainly the rcial chasracteristics of the Greeks was a factor here. The German priorities in Greece were clearly food, raw material, and laborers to support the German War economy. [Mazower] The Occupation was a very difficult period for the Greek people. Actual starvation claimed the most lives. There were many executions, including resistance fighters and even more civilian hostages. Large numbers of Greeks were deported to Germany to work as slave alorers. Thousands of children starved. Asylos were set up for the thousands of displaced children. Because of German policies, however, resources were unavailable to deal with the crisis.

Hungary (1944-45)

Adminral Horthy with the Red Army advancing toward Hungary, attempted to reach an armistice with the Allies. A furious Adolf Hitler decided to occupy Hungary, exasperated with Hungarian duplicity. He concluded that this was the only way of precenting the Hungarians from withdrawing from the War and signinging a separate peace and to ensure that Hungary continued to support the war effort and the to get his hands on the surviving Hungarian Jews. Kallay eluded the Germans and took asylum in the Turkish embassy. Hitler engineered the appointment of Hungaian Fascist Dome Sztojay, as prime minister. The new government began arresting political opponens, banned labor unions, and resumed the deportation of Jews. The attempt to assasinate Hitler (Julyb1944) caused some confusion. Admiral Horthy replaced Sztojay with General Geza Lakatos and stopped the deportation of Jews from Budapest (August 1944). Budapest at the time had the only significan population of Jews that had not yet been deported.

Italy (1943-45)

Hitler was not fooled by the Badoglio's assurances that Italy would continue the War. The NAZIs also treated Italy differently than the Allies, Hitler ordered Italy occupied by the Wehrmacht which quickly moved south. The German move into Italy seriously depleting the country's strategic reserves. Coming on the heels of the defeat at Kursk, the power of the Whermacht was seriously eroding, but still capable of executing an effective delaying action in the rugged teraune of mountaneous Italy. After Badoglio announced the Armistice (September 8), the NAZIs moved quickly to seize control and disband the Italian Army. The NAZIs gave the Italians soldiers the choice of fighting with the Germans or interment. The Italian Army for the most part did not resist the Germans. The NAZIs killed thousands of Italian soldiers who did not fully cooperate at this time. Large numbers were interned and deported to the Reich.

Latvia (1941-45)

The Wehrmscht's Army Group North (AGN) was part Barbrossa's of a three pring assault on the Soviet Union. AGN drove into Lithuania on the onset of Barbarossa. Its orders were to drive through the former Baltic Republics and the major cities of Russian SFSR (Pskov and Novgorod). Lenningrad was the ultimate objective. AGN was composed of the 16th and 18th Armies and 4th Panzer Group. AGN penetrated Lithuania in only a fews days and was soon in Riga. The Germans reached Riga (July 1). The battle soon passed to the east where the front line became stabilized around Lenningrad. Many Latvians greeted the Germans as liberators and hoped that they would be able to reinstitute an independent republic, but the NAZIs did not permit the reserection of indepedent Lithuania. Latvia became part of the NAZI Reichskommissariat Ostland. The NAZIs made Riga the capital of Ostland. The Holocaust began almost immediately after the Germans seized control.


NAZI Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941). Within only a few days, the Germans had occupied Lithuania. Lithuanians attempted to reinstitute an independent republic, but the NAZIs did not permit the reserection of indepedent Lithuania.

Luxenbourg (1940-45)

The NAZIs almost immediately began to violate the assurances provided the Grand Duchy about its independence. Gustav Simon, Gauleiter of Coblenz-Trier had the Grand Duchy added to his jurisdiction (July 25, 1940). (A Gauleiter was a NAZI govenor.) From the beginning, Simon’s primary goal was to assimilate Luxembourg into the Reich. The NAZIs banned political parties, except for the Volksdeutsche Bewegung (VDB), a Nazi front group formed by Professor Damian Kratzenberg. The VDB’s goal and philosophy was embodied by its slogan, "home to the Reich". The VDB enrolled 84,000 members, a considerable number of people in Luxembourg. Most joined to ensure they could keep their jobs. The actual integration of Luxembourg into the Reich was carried out in a series od small steps. The Gestapo took charge of police functions from the gendarmery (August). German was made the official language in government offices. French had been the official language for 800 years and Letzebergesch, the local dialect. The speaking of both were banned. Children were most affected by changes in the schools. German was introduced as the official language of instruction in all schools. All publications including daily newspapers could only be published in German. Luxembourgers with French sounding names had to change them. There were also major economic changes. Luxembourg had a customs union with Belgium and used Belgian Francs as the official currency. The NAZIs incorporated the Grand Duchy into the German customs area. German Reichmarks replaced Belgian Francs and German currency. Foreign exchange controls were introduced.


The NAZIs occupied the Netherlands for 4 years. The Dutch for racial reasons were not one of the occupied countries targeted by the NAZIs for destruction. Children were still affected. Dutch Jews were arrested as were Dutch politicans that were anti-NAZI as well as Ressiastance members. Jewish children were the least likely to survive. Many children had fathers or brothers interned as POWs. Some parents and relatives were drafted for slave labor in Germany. Many Dutch government and cultural institutions, however, were allowed to function as long as they did not interfere with occupation policies. Unlike countries in the east, the schools, for example, were allowed to continue opoerating. A Dutch reader who was a schoolboy at the time tells us that during the occupation, "We were not bothered by their propaganda at school, but the teachers learned to keep their mouths shut in regards to the occupying forces. The general atmosphere was very anti-German and more anti-Nazi, but the Germans did not try to 'educate' Dutch children like they did in their own country." Of course if the War had gone differently, the NAZIs would have made major changes in Dutch schools along the lines of their own education ststem. I was a boy during the German occupation of the Netherlands (1940-45). Despite the German attitudes toward the Dutch racially, the Netherlands and Dutch children still endured severe privations during the War. A Dutch reader who was a boy during the War writes, "We suffered terribly and nearly died of starvation. I could write a book about it. We did not live far from a village, Putten, where the entire population was killed as a reprisal for the murder of some high ranking Germans in that area. As far as I know Putten was the only place in Holland where women and children were shot. But nearly every occupied country had its "Putten", Ouradour in France, Lidice in Czechoslovakia come to mind." [Stueck]


The German World War II occupation of Norway began wih the invasion of the neutrl country (April 9, 1940) and lasted until the liberation following the German surrender (May 8, 1945). Except for Polaand, Norway and Demarrk were the two countries occupied by the NAZI for the longest period. The character of the occupation, however, was very different because of the NAZI racial policis which saw the Nordic population of Norway and Denmark as having racial value. Norway was continuously occupied by the Wehrmacht during this period and for reasons known only to Hitler, it was proportionally the most heavily garrisoned country in the NAZI Empire. The Reichskommissariat Norwegen (Reich Commissariat of Norway) became the civil authority throughout the occupation. The Reichskommissariat worked with the collaborationist Quisling puppet government. Qisling entered the English language as synnomnous with traitor. Iinically, Quisling was frustrated that the Germns did not give him the power he sought. Thre were other NAZI-sympathizers, but not many. King Haarkon and the legitimate government managed to escape to Britain and set-up a government-in-exile in London. The NAZI occupation authorties appointed leaders and local officals. Quisling's pro-NAZI Nasjonal-Samling (NS) colleagues were appointed to head labor unions and other organizations. The Germans banned all political parties except the NS. They Reichskommissar Terboven ordered several important security operations. He imposed martial law on Trondheim in the north. He destroyed the village of Telavåg. NAZI authorities considered Norway to be a rich source of Nordic breeding stock. There were no organized kidnappings that we know of, but some sources say that Norway was not imune to occasional NAZI kidnappings. More importantly, there were extensive liasons between the large number od German soldiers and Norwegian girls. Norway is a small country. It also had a small Jewish population. The Jewish population in 1940 totaled about 2,100 people, about 1,500-1,600 were Norwegian citizens. Quisling immeiately fter the Germam invasion launched actions agains the country's Jres.


The NAZI occupation of Czechoslovakia had been brutal. The ocupation of Poland was savage. The NAZIs were determined to destroy every vestage of Polish national culture in an effort to wipe out the very idea of Poland. Their plan was to destroy the entire Polish intelegencia and reduce Poland to a kind of ignorant labor pool of mannual laborers for German industry and agriculture. The NAZIs began the process even while figting was still going on. Some children were actually shot, but many more died in the mass expulssions of Poles and Jews living in the areas of Poland annexed to the Reich.


Soviet Union

The NAZI program for Lebensraum in the east was not just to acquire territory. The plans for that territory was monsterous beyond belief. NAZI policies in the East were not carefully planned. This is because Hitler did not create a clear administrative structure. There were competing ministeries and officials as well as the SS involved. These agencies had often different attitudes toward policies in the East. As a result, the barbarities that occurred were no the result of a carefully executed plan. While other agencies were involved, the real power lay with the SS. The plan was to reduce the population of Poles and Russians in these territories through outright murder and forced expulsions. Some would remain to serve as slave laborers. Many would be killed outright. Millions more would be expelled or "evacuated" with the understanding that large numbers would die in the process. The goal was to make the east ethnically German. Here Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler had the responsibility for persuing this effort. He appears to have assigned his deputy Reinhard Heydrich to coordinate this effort and essentially the SS's entire eastern operations.


Yugoslavia was one of the worst killing fields of World War II. The actual pattern varied from reguon to region. The fate of occupied Yugoslavia varied signidicantly from region to region. Here there were variations which depended on whether they were occupied by the Germans or Italians. Also the ethnicity and religion were factors as well as the politicalmorientation of local authorities. The Croats with a strong Fascist movement were treated lightly by the NAZIS. Yugoslavia with the pent up natioanlist feelings before the War fueled by NAZI genocidal occupation policies became perhaps the greatest killing field of World War II. Perhaps no other European nation except Poland suffered more and tragically it was the Yugoslavs themselves more than the Germans that did much of the killing.


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Created: 8:13 PM 4/19/2011
Last updated: 7:06 PM 11/2/2016