Study Guide

World War II People

  • Adolf Hitler

    Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) was the dictatorial leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party, or Nazi Party, commanding German forces throughout World War II. A fanatic nationalist, miltarist, racist, and anti-Semite, Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933 and quickly transformed Germany into a totalitarian fascist state. 

    His efforts to build a territorially larger and ethnically purer fatherland for the German people ended in world war and Holocaust. Hitler retained power in Germany until his suicide just before Germany's surrender in 1945.

    In September 1938, leaders of France and Great Britain met Adolf Hitler to discuss his demands, ultimately granting the German leader control over the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. In return, Hitler promised to leave the rest of Czechoslovakia alone, and to abandon all further ambitions of territorial expansion. 

    When Hitler broke his pledge and took the rest of Czechoslovakia and then invaded Poland in 1939, France and Great Britain declared war. Hitler's forces invaded Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg, and defeated France within the first year of war. Ultimately, however, Nazi Germany would fall to Allied forces, surrendering on May 2nd, 1945, one day after Adolf Hitler's suicide.

  • Benito Mussolini

    Benito Mussolini (1883–1945) was the fascist prime minister of Italy, with dictatorial powers, from 1922 until he was overthrown in 1943.

    In May 1938, Mussolini promised to fight alongside Adolf Hitler in any war against the democracies of the world. His armies, however, poorly led and ill-prepared for war, were defeated quickly by Allied forces. Italian resistance to his dictatorship ultimately led to his fall from power and to his death.

    Mussolini was overthrown in 1943, and in April 1945, Italian insurgents captured the ex-dictator, murdered him, and mutilated his body—a disgraceful end for a man who considered himself to be the savior of the Italian nation.

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt

    Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) was the 32nd President of the United States and the only chief executive to be elected to more than two terms in office. Roosevelt held the presidency from 1934 to 1945, leading the United States through the Great Depression and World War II. His legislative program, the New Deal, greatly expanded the role of the federal government in American society.

    Franklin Roosevelt served as President of the United States for all but four months of World War II, leading the country through one of the most consequential periods in its history. Under Roosevelt's leadership, the nation rebounded from the devastating surprise attack at Pearl Harbor in December 1941, nearly achieving victory in both Europe and the Pacific by the time Roosevelt suddenly died of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12th, 1945. 

    He was succeeded by his vice president, Harry S. Truman. All in all, Roosevelt was one of the most influential presidents of all time.

  • Hermann Goering

    Hermann Goering (1893–1946) was a German military leader who became a prominent leader in the Nazi Party and second in command of the Third Reich government after Adolf Hitler. 

    After World War II he was convicted for the role he played in the Nazi Holocaust and was sentenced to death by hanging. Before his scheduled execution, he committed suicide by ingesting poison.

    In March 1938, Hermann Goering, marshal of the Third Reich and Hitler's second in charge, warned all Jews to leave Austria, one of the first steps toward what would become the Nazi "final solution to the Jewish Question," or the Nazi Holocaust, which ultimately murdered six million European Jews.

  • Joe Louis

    Joe Louis (1914–1981), an African-American boxer also known as the "Brown Bomber," defeated German boxer Max Schmeling in 1938, defending his world heavyweight title and, for many Black and white Americans, earning a major victory for the United States in a clash of civilizations. During the war, Louis joined the army where he served in an all-Black Jim Crow regiment.

    In June 1938, German boxer Max Schmeling traveled to New York to face his rival, African-American boxer Joe Louis. In their pre-fight coverage, American reporters cast Schmeling as a Nazi villain, despite the fact that Schmeling had never officially pledged his support for the Nazi regime. Louis knocked Schmeling out before a crowd of 70,000, signaling for many Americans the first great blow to the Hitler regime.

  • Winston Churchill

    Winston Churchill (1874–1965) served as the Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955. He led Britain's fight against Nazi Germany in World War II. Churchill was a talented orator, giving many stirring speeches to boost national morale during the war. A close friend of American presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, Churchill hoped to join the Americans in building a postwar order that limited Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's ability to dominate European affairs.

    In January 1943, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Casablanca, Morocco to plan attacks on all war fronts, to invade Sicily and Italy, to send forces to the Pacific, and to better aid the Soviet Union.

  • Dwight D. Eisenhower

    Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969), a Republican, was the popular 34th President of the United States, serving two terms from 1953 to 1961. Prior to his presidency, Eisenhower was a lifelong military man, commanding the D-Day invasion while serving as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II.

    In the winter of 1942, General Eisenhower led U.S. troops to defeat Axis forces in North Africa. Eisenhower also prepared U.S. military forces in England for the D-Day invasion of German strongholds in France.

  • Joseph Stalin

    Joseph Stalin (1878–1953) served as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee from 1922 until his death in 1953. Initially, Stalin's role in the committee was limited, but he gradually accumulated power and became the Party's leader and absolute ruler of the Soviet Union. Under his leadership, the Soviet Union played a major role in the defeat of Hitler's Germany during World War II.

    Several years into World War II, Russian dictator Joseph Stalin demanded the immediate assistance of the Allied nations, believing—rightly so—that his nation bore the brunt of the war against Germany. Stalin realized that without help, Germany would triumph. 

    President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill agreed to limited cooperation with Stalin, concluding that Nazi Germany was, in fact, far worse a threat than communist Russia. In return, Stalin pledged his aid in the war against Japan once Germany had been defeated.

  • Harry S. Truman

    Harry S. Truman (1884–1972) became the 33rd President of the United States upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in April 1945. Truman, who had only a high-school education and had been vice president for just 82 days before FDR's sudden death, inherited the monumental task of leading the United States through the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War

    Truman—who was, while in office, one of the least popular presidents in modern American history—won a surprising second term by defeating Republican Thomas Dewey in the election of 1948. Many historians today rate Truman's performance much more positively than his constituents did at the time.

    So, Truman served as President of the United States and, therefore, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States during the final months of World War II. Under his command, the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs—the first to be used in warfare—on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, effectively ending the war. For many Americans, Truman's legacy as the nation's leader centers on these controversial decisions.