Second World War Term Paper

Pages: 13 (4304 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Military

European Resistance Movements in the Second World War glanced at the illuminated face on my wristwatch: a quarter to four! The sweat ran down me as I worked feverishly; the whole charge under the central beam, the fuse down -- and I after it. We had not a second to lose: the Germans might be back at any moment! An old raincoat served as a screen while I lighted the fuses.

Meanwhile, Kaare had set up the ladder against the outside of the pier, and it took him a fraction of a second to clamber up, stick his head over the edge, and report that all was clear. A moment later we were both on the bridge.

We left the ladder where it was and made off as quickly as we could up toward the Vekkero Road. For the first hundred yards we went cautiously, and silently. After that the only consideration was speed. Fourteen minutes later we stopped, panting, and listened expectantly. Not a sound! Kaare turned quickly to me and said: "You don't think we've got to do it again?" Before I could open my mouth to reply, the roar from Lysaker shattered the air (Olsen, 1952, p. 25).

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This account of two young men blowing up a bridge in occupied Norway, a bridge that was important to German troop and munitions transport, is one of thousands of acts of resistance that occurred during World War II in Europe. Most were carried out by "ordinary" people, citizens in countries like Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, France, Poland, Greece, Yugoslavia, and Albania, all the places occupied by Nazis. In these countries, so-called ordinary people felt called upon to resist in extraordinary ways. In some places, resistance was well organized with a hierarchal structure and a chain of command; in others, individuals simply saw a chance to undermine the enemy and took it.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Second World War Assignment

The underground was as important to defeating the Nazis as the Allied military forces were. The things resisters did, whether large or small, organized or unorganized, were always at great risk -- often under penalty of death. Naturally, the question arises, what did the European resistance movements in the Second World War achieve? Who were the people that resisted, what were some of their activities, and did their activities make an impact? The underground movements complimented military action, saved lives, raised morale, and gave the Allies vital information and sabotage that helped them win the war.

Who Were They?

In every occupied country some people had the courage to resist the enemy, and as time went on their numbers grew. Oluf Olsen (1952), for example, was only eighteen years old when Hitler invaded Norway. He was too young to realize the full implications, but he resented their presence. He recruited a friend and together they gathered information about German anti-aircraft equipment at the airport, took photos, and sketched the site. They had no training in how to blow up a bridge, but they tried anyway and succeeded in damaging one enough "to stop the transport scheduled to leave Oslo the same morning with reinforcements for the troops engaged in the county... To delay it for a day and a half, thus reducing the pressure on our Norwegian troops in those parts" (p. 26).

Although it was important work, the two wanted to do more, and eventually, they escaped across the North Sea to England in a leaky sailboat, nearly losing their lives in the crossing. From there Olsen went to Canada to be trained in Toronto as a pilot for the RAF. He served in this capacity until he got a chance to join the secret service. Training included telegraphy, meteorology, and "a thorough knowledge of what the Allies knew of the German Military and its dispositions in Norway" (Olsen, 1952, p. 120). He was dropped out of an airplane into Norway in 1942. Olsen's task was to organize a spy network and set up a secret radio station for reporting military activity, the exact times of ship arrivals and departures, and weather conditions back to England.

The kind of persons he chose to help him was important -- people who could keep their mouths shut no matter what and not crack under pressure -- people who could tolerate fear. "I would not let anyone work for me who was in other illegal organizations at the same time, for too many men and women were caught who possessed altogether too much information...." (p. 161).

A clerk, a customhouse official, and a businessman helped him obtain travel permits, passports, food and supplies. Operating a radio station meant continually moving about because the Nazis would pick up their transmissions and search for them. Olsen states:

As soon as the British were informed of the number of ships, their size and escort, what time they had weighed anchor, and their speed and course, they could decide whether it was worth while to make an attack immediately, or wait till they had got the whole convoy further along the coast.... Time after time convoys left the port; time after time they were attacked in practically the same place, where there was neither harbor nor shelter for a ship that became a casualty. Ship after ship was sunk; cargo after cargo failed to arrive at its destination (Olsen, 1952, pp. 190-191).

The impact of their work could hardly be estimated.

Not everyone worked within an organization. Some resisted individually. Perhaps the best example of individuals that worked alone were those who rescued and helped the Jews. Eva Fogelman (1994) interviewed 300 rescuers who hid Jews in their homes and took on supporting them until the end of the war. The penalty for harboring a Jew was death. Fogelman describes the extreme difficulties they encountered. For example, a 17-year-old girl in Poland hid five Jews in her apartment. If other residents in the building heard the toilet flushing too many times, they might suspect she was hiding Jews and report her, so she had to impose strict rules about noise. If anyone got sick, she was on her own, as medical attention was out of the question. She had to go around to many different stores to buy food -- only enough for one or two people in each place -- in order to avoid suspicion that she was feeding more than just herself. Even how potatoes were peeled was an issue because Polish women peeled potatoes in short straight strips whereas Jewish women cut one long spiraling peel. This same young girl accomplished the seemingly impossible task of moving the whole "family" to new living quarters with Nazi soldiers occupying a house directly across the street!

Everything was further complicated if a child lived in the house. A young woman, whose sister was only six years old, warned her sister everyday about "not telling" and not trusting anyone with information about their home. At one point, the Nazis took the little girl into custody, questioned her, and beat her -- in fact, she was crippled for the rest of her life by a vicious kick to the base of her spine -- but she didn't tell them anything about the Jews living at her house. Ordinarily, one does not think of children being part of the resistance, but Folgelman says there were many child heroes whose caregivers were forced to depend on them.

Fogelman (1994) describes some common characteristics of people who hid the Jews, characteristics that can be extended to those involved in resistance work in general. These characteristics explain in part, at least, why they did it when everyone else was too afraid.

She found that most of those she interviewed came from loving homes where certain values were instilled early. For example, they had seen altruistic behavior modeled in a parent or caregiver as they grew up. They had a deep-seated reverence for life and the need to preserve it. Surprisingly, religion did not play a big role in who helped and who did not -- some of the resisters were religious, but others were not. Some were atheists. All stated, however, that their consciences were strong. They said they couldn't live with themselves if they did nothing to help the Jews survive. All believed that individual action mattered. They had self-confidence and the ability to think and act independently of others -- with this came moral courage. Their parents had taught them tolerance by welcoming friends from different cultures into their homes; consequently, they were not afraid of people who were "different," and the Jews did not seem exotic or dangerous to them. Finally, and essential for any kind of resistance work, they had an ability to live with constant fear. They were able to tolerate not only the terror always with them, but also the daily deceptions of living a double life, one as a resistance worker and one as an ordinary "normal" citizen (Fogelman, 1994).

Resistance Activities

Resistance took many forms. In Greece, for instance, resistance included… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Second World War.  (2007, July 10).  Retrieved October 17, 2021, from

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"Second World War."  10 July 2007.  Web.  17 October 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Second World War."  July 10, 2007.  Accessed October 17, 2021.