Life During World War II

Resistance groups

 Even though most of the population supported the rulers in the Axis countries, many people were against them. Resistance groups emerged in almost all the countries that the Axis occupied. These groups worked together in an attempt to overthrow the ruling parties and dictators. They published and distributed illegal newspapers to inform the population. They rescued Allied pilots who were shot down and gathered information about the enemy. Bombing bridges and important roads was also a part of their work.

Some of the work of these groups turned out to be very important in the war. The French resistance helped the Allies during the Normandy invasion in 1944. Yugoslavia had the most effective groups of all. Partisans drove the Germans out of Yugoslavia in 1944.

Even in Germany itself, there was a small underground group that was against the Nazis. In 1944 , a group of German army officers planted a bomb that was to kill Hitler. The bomb exploded near the Fuehrer, but he escaped with minor injuries.

Those who worked against the Nazis risked a lot. If they got caught, they were almost always killed. Sometimes the Germans gathered hundreds of civilians and shot them as an act of revenge.


Meeting of a French resistance group



All the nations that were in the war used propaganda to help support their ideas. Radio broadcasts reached many people. Films and posters were also used . In Nazi Germany, Joseph Goebbels controlled the media. He wanted to convince people all over the world that Germany was the most powerful nation and that the Germans had the right to rule the world.

Many Germans listened to radio programs of the Allies. The BBC broadcast news programs to the mainland to inform the people of the real situation of the war.


Nazi propaganda poster shows Hitler Youth

Image:  Ludwig Hohlwein, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Life in Germany

Germany's early victories started to make people believe in the war. There was enough food and clothing during the first years, and goods came in from the countries that the Nazis occupied. But the situation changed by 1942. The army was defeated on the Russian front and there were fewer reports of victories to cheer people up. The Allies bombed German cities and towns day and night. Yet, the people continued to work for the war.

Everyone was afraid of Hitler’s secret police, the Gestapo. They arrested everyone that was against Nazi beliefs in Germany and other countries.


Life in the United States

In the United States and Canada, most people supported the war. They hated the Nazis and wanted to defeat the Axis powers, especially the Japanese, who bombed Pearl Harbour. America produced an enormous amount of weapons for the war. Old factories were turned into weapons industries, car factories began producing tanks and aircraft.

Millions of women started working in the war production after the men had left for Europe. They worked in shipyards and aircraft factories and replaced men on farms.



American woman working in a factory during World War II

Life in the Soviet Union

Life was especially difficult in the Soviet Union, where intense fighting went on for four years. Stalin ordered his retreating soldiers to burn down everything in their way, so that they didn’t leave anything behind for German soldiers to use. But this also caused great problems for the Soviet population. Millions of civilians died of starvation and diseases.

  • act of revenge = something you do to punish someone who has harmed you
  • Allies, Allied = countries that fought against Germany and Japan in World War II
  • arrest = if a person is taken to a police station because they may have done something against the law
  • attempt = try
  • Axis = the countries that fought together against the Allies in World War II (Germany, Japan, Italy and others)
  • BBC = British Broadcasting Corporation
  • belief = idea
  • broadcast = here: to send out a message over the radio
  • civilian = a person who is not a soldier in a war
  • convince = make people believe that what you tell them is right or true
  • defeat = to win against somebody or another country
  • disease = illness
  • distribute = give out, send
  • effective = useful, helpful
  • emerge = come up, are created
  • enemy = the country you are fighting against
  • enormous amount = a lot, a large number of
  • escape = get away from
  • especially = above all
  • even though = while
  • front = line that separates you from your enemy
  • gather = (1) collect
  • gather = (2) bring together
  • Gestapo = the secret police force in Germany during the Nazi period
  • goods = things that are produced so that they can be sold
  • illegal = against the law , not allowed
  • intense = strong, heavy
  • invasion = when an army of a country enters another country and takes control of it
  • mainland = here: continental Europe
  • media = radio and the newspapers; television did not exist in those days
  • minor = small
  • Nazi = short word for National Socialist
  • officer = someone who is in a high position in the army
  • overthrow = bring down , put an end to
  • partisan = soldier of a group who fights against the army of his country
  • plant = place, put 
  • population = the people who live in a country
  • propaganda = information that is wrong, tells lies or only a part of the truth
  • publish = print information on paper
  • radio broadcast = a program on the radio
  • replace = to take the place of
  • rescue = save, set free
  • resistance = an organization that secretly fights against an enemy that controls their country
  • retreating = moving back
  • rule = govern
  • rulers = people who are in control of a country
  • secret = something that only a few people know about
  • shipyard = a place where ships are built or repaired
  • soldier = person who fights for their country in a war
  • starvation = suffer or die because you do not get any food
  • support = (1) help, assist
  • support = (2) to be in favour of ...
  • tank = a heavy military car that moves on a metal belt. It has a large gun on its top
  • victory = to win against someone
  • weapon = things that you use to fight against someone, like a bomb , knife or a gun
  • yet = but