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1940s In The News


this section is divided into 2 parts:


Events & Newsmakers
World War II, other top stories,
sports and names in the news

Life During The War
Life on the home front and
in the military during World War II


Events & Newsmakers

Top Stories


1944 circus fire
In Hartford, Connecticut, roughly 8,000 people were enjoying an afternoon performace by the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus. Just as the Wallendas were beginning their high-wire act, a fire broke out in the sidewall of the tent, sending the audience scrambling for the exits. Many people managed to get out, some by leaping from the back of the bleachers and climbing under the sidewall canvas. Many others were trapped in the rush of bodies down on the track.

The canvas top was waterproofed with a mixture of paraffin and gasoline, making it highly flammable. It took only ten minutes for the entire tent to burn up, and when it was all over, 167 people had died. While there were a handful of people who confessed to setting the fire, we'll probably never know what really happened.

Hartford History: The Circus Fire
The Day The Clowns Cried
Circus Fire 1944


Jewish persecution in Europe
Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party took control of Germany in 1933. Within a month, Hitler was setting up concentration camps, which were first used to hold political dissidents. Hitler's desire to create a pure, Aryan "Master Race" led him to classify certain groups as racially and biologically inferior, and soon they were being held in the camps, also.

The harshest treatment was reserved for the Jewish people. Throughout the 1930s, Jews were persecuted and stripped of their civil rights in an attempt to persuade them to emigrate. Many did flee Germany during this period, but many stayed behind.

When World War II began in 1939, Hitler began to gather up the Jews and hold them in the concentration camps until a plan could be devised to get rid of them. In Poland, Jews were forced to live in squalor in enclosed city districts called ghettos. Wherever the Nazi party was in control, Jews were required to wear the same yellow stars on their clothing that Jewish prisoners were forced to wear in the concentration camps.

Holocaust Timeline
Mapping The Holocaust
U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
The Holocaust History Project

the "final solution"
After Germany invaded Russia in 1941, German troops made it a practice to kill the Jewish and ethnic populations of each village they encountered. Hitler found this to be a difficult and inefficient way to deal with the situation, and he began to look for another answer.

He realized that a highly-organized system was already in place: the concentration camps. Why not deport the Jews to these camps and exterminate them there? The new policy went into effect in late 1941. In Poland, new camps were built exclusively to kill Jews, while the older camps were converted into extermination centers.

In the summer of 1942, the deportations began. Unsuspecting Jews believed that they were taking part in an eastern resettlement program. Some were told that they were going to labor camps.

The dark, filthy, sealed trains were actually taking them to concentration camps. After disembarking, those that were strong and healthy (mostly men) were chosen for forced labor. The rest were told that they would be inspected after taking a shower. They were herded into "showers," which were actually gas chambers that used carbon monoxide or hydrogen cyanide to kill the people locked inside. Some camps used vans that killed by diverting engine exhaust to an interior compartment.

After the gas was shut off, the Jews who had been spared were forced to remove and bury the bodies, clean the trains and vans, and sort through clothing and possessions for valuables.

Hitler's "final solution" was brutal and swift, and by 1943 most of the Jews who would ultimately die in the camps were already dead. This era became known as the Holocaust, and when it was over, six million Jews had died.

The extermination of the Jews in concentration camps lasted for about two years. In 1944, the Allies were winning, and it was time for the Nazis to obliterate all evidence of the "final solution." The labor squads were forced to exhume the bodies and cremate them. Camps that were on the verge of liberation were hastily dismantled and their prisoners were sent on forced marches to other camps.

As the Allies made their way into German-held lands, they liberated the camps they found there. It was at this time that the atrocities of the Holocaust were fully revealed.


Anne Frank

The Anne Frank Internet Guide
Anne Frank Center

When the Nazis took control of Germany in 1933, Anne Frank was four years old....and her family was Jewish. They fled Frankfurt and settled in Amsterdam, which was occupied by the Nazis in 1940. When the deportation of the Jews began in 1942, the Franks chose to hide, along with four others, in the secret annex of a warehouse. They remained there until 1944, when they were discovered and deported to the concentration camps.

All of the inhabitants of the annex perished in the camps, with the exception of Anne's father. Anne kept a diary during her two years in hiding, which was found by a family friend and published by her father. This story has been made into a play and several movies, and it gives a human perspective to the Holocaust tragedy.


In the 1860s, Japan embarked on a modernization program that would bring their society in line with the western world. By the 1890s, this program had given them an industrialized society and a powerful army. However, they had very few natural resources, and they began to invade neighboring countries in order to gain control of their steel, oil and rubber exports. Korea had been under Japanese control since 1910. Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931, China in 1937 and French Indochina in 1940.

In response, President Roosevelt froze Japanese assets and initiated a steel and oil embargo against Japan. Without these vital resources, Japan's industry and military would come to a screeching halt. They were determined to continue their expansion in the South Pacific, and they were determined to remove the United States as an obstacle.

In 1887, the United States Navy established a base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. By the 1940s, a majority of our warships were stationed there. The Japanese were hoping that one surprise attack would destroy our entire navy, and our spirit along with it.

In late 1941, the war in Europe had been raging for two years. Most Americans weren't sure how they felt about Hitler, Mussolini, socialism or fascism, and most of them didn't want to get involved in any war, whether it was in Europe or the South Pacific.

Ships In Pearl Harbor
Pearl Harbor Photo History
Remembering Pearl Harbor
USS Arizona & Pearl Harbor Remembered
USS Arizona
The Next Day: Americans Interviewed

Pearl Harbor
A date that will live in infamy....

December 7, 1941
U.S. Naval Intelligence had broken Japan's code....they were aware that the Japanese fleet had gone to sea, but the fleet's radio silence meant that no one knew exactly where they were.

Meanwhile, six Japanese aircraft carriers, 350 aircraft and 14 escort vessels quietly made their way from Japan to the Hawaiian Islands.

Approximately 100 ships were docked at Pearl Harbor. Our aircraft carriers were not among them....they had all been sent out on various missions. A popular conspiracy theory maintains that FDR knew about the attack, and deliberately moved 21 of our most modern ships away from Hawaii.

Early in the morning of December 7th, the harbor was bombed by two waves of Japanese aircraft. When it was over, 188 American planes and 18 ships had been destroyed or sunk. Most of the ships were salvaged and repaired, except for the Arizona, which still lies where she fell. 2,403 men were killed and another 1,178 were wounded.

The next day, Roosevelt declared war on Japan. Germany and Italy, who were allied with Japan, declared war on the United States three days later. America was in the war.

After Pearl Harbor, Americans wore red, white and blue enameled pins that said "Remember Pearl Harbor." It seems that Japan had underestimated our fighting spirit.

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Life During The War

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