Second World War: fatalities per country 1939-1945
Civilian deaths and atrocitiesIt is believed that 60 to 67 percent of all deaths were civilian fatalities, largely resulting from war-related famine or disease, and war crimes or atrocities. Systematic genocide, extermination campaigns, and forced labor, particularly by the Germans, Japanese, and Soviets, led to the deaths of millions. In this regard, Nazi activities alone resulted in 17 million deaths, including six million Jews in what is now known as The Holocaust. Not only was the scale of the conflict larger than any that had come before, but the nature of and reasoning behind this loss make the Second World War stand out as one of the most devastating and cruelest conflicts in history.
Problems with these statisticsAlthough the war is considered by many to be the defining event of the 20th century, exact figures for death tolls have proven impossible to determine, for a variety of reasons. Countries such as the U.S. have fairly consistent estimates due to preserved military records and comparatively few civilian casualties, although figures still vary by source. For most of Europe, records are less accurate. Border fluctuations and the upheaval of the interwar period mean that pre-war records were already poor or non-existent for many regions. The rapid and chaotic nature of the war then meant that deaths could not be accurately recorded at the time, and mass displacement or forced relocation resulted in the deaths of many civilians outside of their homeland, which makes country-specific figures more difficult to find. Early estimates of the war’s fatalities were also taken at face value and formed the basis of many historical works; these were often very inaccurate, but the validity of the source means that the figures continue to be cited today, despite contrary evidence.
In comparison to Europe, estimate ranges are often greater across Asia, where populations were larger but pre-war data was in short supply. Many of the Asian countries with high death tolls were European colonies, and the actions of authorities in the metropoles, such as the diversion of resources from Asia to Europe, led to millions of deaths through famine and disease. Additionally, over one million African soldiers were drafted into Europe’s armies during the war, yet individual statistics are unavailable for most of these colonies or successor states (notably Algeria and Libya). Thousands of Asian and African military deaths went unrecorded or are included with European or Japanese figures, and there are no reliable figures for deaths of millions from countries across North Africa or East Asia. Additionally, many concentration camp records were destroyed, and such records in Africa and Asia were even sparser than in Europe. While the Second World War is one of the most studied academic topics of the past century, it is unlikely that we will ever have a clear number for the lives lost in the conflict.