During the Second World War, millions of people were forced to live under foreign occupation. They faced hard choices between resistance, acquiescence or collaboration.

Germany’s early victories subjected much of Europe to Nazi occupation. The experience of occupation varied widely between and within national populations. Jews faced persecution across Europe, while abduction to forced labour was widespread.

Resistance could range from guerrilla warfare or sabotage, to distributing anti-Nazi literature. Resistance was extremely hazardous; reprisals were brutal and indiscriminate. Some chose to collaborate, co-operating with and even joining German armed forces. After liberation, a person’s social status could be profoundly affected by their choice to resist or collaborate during the war.

Final Stages of the German War: Briançon

Five French soldiers stand in a group lower left, with the town of Briançon visible on the mountain side in the background.
© IWM Art.IWM ART LD 5250
Final Stages of the German War: Briançon: this sector was held by men of the Maquis, aborted into the 1st French Army, 1945, by Anthony Gross.

In early 1945, the War Artist's Advisory Committee sent Gross to draw the main crossing points of the Allied armies along the frontier from Nice to Hanover. In February, Gross travelled to the South of France by train then hitch-hiked northwards via the Alps. 

Among the French First Army he encountered on his way were the Chasseurs Alpins standing guard in Briancon, Menton and Mont Blanc. View Final Stages of the German War: Briançon on IWM Collections Online

Resistance movements provided the Allies with saboteurs and vital intelligence. Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the American Office of Strategic Services smuggled agents and equipment into occupied areas. These operations, often supporting groups with particular political or national aspirations, created post-war political ambiguities.

Life under Axis occupation

A group of French refugees, including three children, sit in a good vans that they had to travel. They are leaving their occupied towns of France for the unoccupied territory when the Germans came.
© IWM KY 12965B
Thousands of French people left the occupied towns of France for the unoccupied territory when the Germans came. A group in the goods van they had to travel.

In the early parts of the Second World War, the Axis powers, Germany and Japan, made rapid conquests of land in Europe and East Asia. 

At the height of Axis expansion, there were an estimated 675 million people under their control - around 175 million in Europe under the Germans and around 500 million in East Asia under the Japanese.

Though all of these people were under occupation, their experiences varied widely depending on where they were and who they were. 

Visit our YouTube channel page to watch Daily life under German and Japanese occupation

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