This blog is part of a monthly series on Shaped providing teachers for Grades 6–12 with downloadable world history classroom resources and discussion topics.
From 1939 to 1945, World War II claimed at least 50 million lives worldwide, making it the bloodiest conflict—as well as the largest war—in history.
It began on September 1, 1939, when Germany, under the control of the dictator Adolf Hitler, invaded Poland. Hitler came to power by promising to restore Germany to greatness after its defeat in World War I and set out to expand Germany’s territory by conquering other countries in Europe. When Germany invaded Poland, Britain and France declared war on Germany.
Early in the war, the United States maintained a policy of neutrality. However, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took steps to oppose the Axis powers, which included Germany, Japan, and Italy. The U.S. provided food, oil, ships, planes, and weapons to the Allied Powers—Britain, China, the Soviet Union, and the French forces that continued to fight against the Axis after France’s surrender to Germany. The U.S. officially entered the war in December 1941 after Japanese forces attacked its naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Several days later, Germany declared war on the U.S.
World War II was more than an international struggle against tyranny; it also exposed the cruelty of which human beings are capable. During the war, Germany carried out the Holocaust, the extermination of six million Jews—men, women, and children—solely because of their religion. The full extent of the Holocaust was not known until the Allies defeated Germany and liberated the concentration camps where Jews and other people being targeted for extermination were held. As a World War II lesson plan, have students look at this timeline (with a supplemental enrichment activity available for download as a PDF). Then, distribute the accompanying resources: a section of a pamphlet issued by the Office of Civilian Defense (primary source enrichment activity) and a writing enrichment activity focusing on photographs of war damage.