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1945, the last year of World War II

3 min 29Approximate reading time

Six years after it started, World War II ended in 1945 with Nazi Germany surrendering in May and its leaders going on trial for war crimes in November.

Here is recap of key events that year.

- January 27: Auschwitz liberated -

Advancing Soviet soldiers on January 27 enter the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp near Krakow where the Nazis had exterminated 1.1 million people, one million of them Jews, since 1940. About 7,000 men and women are still alive.

The sprawling complex becomes a symbol of the Holocaust, the genocide of European Jews that is also known as the Shoah.

The Nazis 10 days earlier had started evacuating the camp, sending 60,000 prisoners to other camps to the west in so-called "Death Marches".

The first Nazi camp to be freed was Majdanek, near Lublin in Poland, on July 24, 1944. The last was Theresienstadt, near Prague, on May 8, 1945.

- February 4-11: Yalta conference -

With the prospect of Germany's defeat, the leaders of the "Big Three" Allied powers -- Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States -- meet in the Crimean seaside resort of Yalta from February 4 to decide the future of post-war Europe.

France's Charles de Gaulle is not invited.

Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin and Franklin D. Roosevelt decide to split defeated Germany and Berlin into four occupied zones, including one for France.

They agree that Germany should be demilitarised and pay war reparations, to set up an assembly of nations -- the future UN -- and that Nazi leaders should be tried for war crimes.

The Soviet Union also wins recognition of the Curzon Line giving it 40 percent of Polish territory.

- February 13-15: Dresden bombed -

Over three days in February, Britain and US planes rain several thousand tons of bombs on the eastern German city of Dresden, sparking a firestorm that destroys much of the centre.

Up to 25,000 people are killed in the raids, according to recent research, in an attack critics say was unnecessary as Nazi Germany is already effectively defeated.

- April 30: Hitler commits suicide -

As Soviet forces close in, Adolf Hitler kills himself in his Berlin bunker with a bullet to the head on April 30. He is with his newly-wed wife, Eva Braun, who also commits suicide by taking cyanide.

The next day Hitler's number two Joseph Goebbels and his wife commit suicide after killing their six children with cyanide.

Heinrich Himmler, head of the Nazi's SS paramilitary and an architect of the Holocaust, kills himself with cyanide in May while in British custody.

- May 8: Germany surrenders -

After Hitler's suicide and the fall of Berlin on May 2, Germany seeks to surrender.

Negotiations at Allied headquarters in the French city of Reims result in an act of surrender signed in the early hours of May 7 by German and Allied representatives.

It orders German troops to stop fighting on May 8 at 11:01 pm, Central European Time.

May 8 is also the day chosen by the Allies to officially proclaim victory over Nazi Germany.

The war, however, continues in Asia and the Pacific.

- July 17: Potsdam conference -

Leaders of the "Big Three" victors meet again at Potsdam, outside Berlin, from July 17 to finalise the accords intended to disarm, denazify and democratise Germany.

They confirm some of the decisions taken at Yalta, including on occupation zones and Nazi trials, and shift Poland's western border into Germany.

The Allies issue the Potsdam Declaration on July 26 that gives Japan an ultimatum to surrender.

- August 6 and 9: Hiroshima, Nagasaki -

On August 6 at 8:15 am, a US air force plane -- Enola Gay -- carries out the world's first ever nuclear attack, dropping a single bomb on the southern Japanese city of Hiroshima.

The city is devastated and turned into a furnace. About 140,000 people die in the explosion and -- by the end of the year -- from the uranium bomb's effects, according to generally accepted estimations. Tens of thousands more die later from injuries or radiation.

On August 9 at around 11:00 am, a US plane drops a plutonium nuclear bomb on Nagasaki, a city further south, leaving around 74,000 people dead by the end of the year.

The Japanese government concedes defeat and Emperor Hirohito informs the nation of its capitulation in a radio address on August 15.

The formal surrender document is signed on September 2 on the battleship USS Missouri anchored off Tokyo.

It brings World War II to an end. Between 40 and 60 million people had been killed, half of them civilians and including about six million Jews.

- October 24: UN created -

The United Nations is established on October 24, based on a founding charter agreed in San Francisco nearly four months earlier and signed by 51 nations.

With its headquarters in New York, the international body succeeds the League of Nations that had proved itself powerless to stop World War II.

The UN has an executive body, known as the Security Council, in which five permanent members -- the victors of the war Britain, China, France, the Soviet Union and the United States -- have a veto.

- November 20: Nazis on trial -

Nazi leaders go on trial in Nuremberg, southern Germany, on November 20 with 21 of them, including Hitler's designated successor Hermann Goering, charged with conspiracy, war crimes, crimes against peace, and -- for the first time in history -- crimes against humanity.

The trial lasts 218 days, delivering its verdict on October 1, 1946 of 12 death sentences; three terms of life in prison; two of 20 years in prison; one of 15 years; and one of 10 years.

On October 16, 10 of the defendants are hanged. Goering commits suicide a few hours earlier in his cell by swallowing a hidden cyanide capsule.

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