The Defeat of Fascism in 1945 (4:19)
Weakened by his defeat against Russia, Hitler was besieged on all sides, but the defining blow was the Allied victory on D-Day (June 6, 1944) at Normandy. As the war drew to a close, Hitler killed himself and Mussolini was executed.
Complete Video Script
To finally defeat fascism — the alliance of Hitler and Mussolini — it took a massive and heroic allied effort led by Britain, America, and the Soviet Union.
Germany had seemed invincible. But after his ill-fated decision to invade the Soviet Union, Hitler was on his heels, and the tide was beginning to turn. From the frozen Eastern Front, the Soviet Red Army began closing in on Germany. From Britain, Allied planes bombed German cities. American troops swept up from the south, through Italy. Italian Partisans overthrow their fascist government, switched sides, and joined the Allies.
Defeating a totalitarian society like fascist Germany took total war, and victory came at great cost. To remember the final chapter of this story, we visit Normandy in France.
On June 6, 1944 — called "D-Day" — the Allies landed on the beaches of northern France and began fighting their way to Berlin. D-Day marked the biggest amphibious invasion in history. After a furious and bloody battle, they established first a beachhead, then a makeshift harbor, and the long battle to reach Berlin was underway.
The war raged on, even after it was clear that Germany would lose. Death camps sped up the mass murder. Millions of German civilians — as if hypnotized — continued to support their Führer. And great German cities like Hamburg and Dresden were destroyed under massive aerial bombardments — with huge civilian losses — as the Allies attempted to break the spirit of the German people who fueled the Nazi war machine.
Germany was overwhelmed as the combined military might of the Allies closed in on the Third Reich from the west, south, and east. Finally, the Nazi capital of Berlin was liberated by Soviet troops.
And both great fascist commanders met gruesome ends. In Italy, angry citizens turned on their dictator with fury — executing Mussolini by firing squad, then hanging his body upside-down for all to see.
And Hitler finished his life here in Berlin. Deep underground in a bunker below my feet, with his capital smoldering in ruins, the dictator committed suicide. Finally, in the spring of 1945, the war in Europe ended.
The death toll was staggering. In addition to the 6 million Jews killed the Nazis killed hundreds of thousands of so-called "undesirables," over a million political and religious prisoners, and nearly 9 million Soviet and Polish civilians.
With fascism defeated, many of its leaders and supporters had to account for their deeds. In Italy there were violent reprisals against former fascists, but few formal trials. In Germany, Nazi criminals had to face trial. The most famous were the Nürnberg trials, where 22 major Nazi criminals had to face justice from the Allied powers.
Europe's experiment with fascism left the Continent devastated, with entire societies needing to be rebuilt. Germany had to be reconstructed inside and out. Italy was left bloodied and weak. While Spain stayed out of the war and its dictator Franco would remain in power for the next decades, it also paid dearly — left isolated from the world community and behind the times.