World War 2 Research Assignment Guidelines

World War II, or the Second World War, was the global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations — including all of the great powers — eventually forming two opposing military alliances, the Allies and the Axis. It was the most widespread war in history, with more than 100 million military personnel mobilised. In a state of "total war," the major participants placed their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities at the service of the war effort, erasing the distinction between civilian and military resources. Marked by significant events involving the mass death of civilians, including the Holocaust and the only use of nuclear weapons in warfare, it was the deadliest conflict in human history, resulting in 50 million to over 70 million fatalities. The Peace Palace Library's collection on World War II is focused on aspects of international law: the laws of war, international humanitarian law, international criminal law (war crimes, crimes against humanity, crimes against the peace and security of mankind, genocide, aggression, the Nuremberg and Tokyo Trials), war reparations and the politics of its memory.

This Research Guide is intended as a starting point for research on World War II. It provides the basic materials available in the Peace Palace Library, both in print and electronic format. Handbooks, leading articles, bibliographies, periodicals, serial publications and documents of interest are presented in the Selective Bibliography section. Links to the PPL Catalogue are inserted. The Library's Classification scheme → History: World War II and subject heading (keyword) World War II are instrumental for searching through the Catalogue. Special attention is given to our subscriptions on databases, e-journals, e-books and other electronic resources. Finally, this Research Guide features links to relevant websites and other online resources of particular interest.

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    This week’s compelling guest blog compares the fields of Conflict Studies with Genocide Studies, its intriguing differences and similarities and the general lack of cross-pollination between them, even though they both deal with questions of collective violence and individual participation in violence. The author, Kjell Anderson, is a jurist and social scientist and works in both fields of Conflict Studies and Genocide studies.

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  • Former Nazi Officer's Plea for Mercy Rejected

    The mercy plea of Oskar Gröning, a 96-year-old former Nazi officer, has been denied. On July 15, 2015, Mr Gröning, who is also called the ‘bookkeeper of Auschwitz’, was condemned of being “guilty of aiding and abetting murder in three hundred thousand legally concurrent cases”, referring to the 300,000 murders that took place in the Nazi death camp Auschwitz during the Second World War. During the trial of 2015, Oskar Gröning expressly admitted moral guilt, but not criminal guilt.

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  • Air Warfare and International Law: A Bibliographic Overview

    All armed conflicts are covered by the basic rules and principles of the laws of war, wherever the theatre of operations might be, land, sea or air. Although some treaty and customary law specifically refers to certain aspects of aerial warfare, no specific regulation of modern air warfare has yet been adopted. Nevertheless, it is clear that the general principles and rules of international humanitarian law apply. We have created a bibliographic overview on this topic intended as a starting point for your research.

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  • The Emerging Legal Regime of Wrecks of Warships

    The status in international law of operational warships has been long established. In contrast, the status of such vessels after they have sunk has been, and remains, a matter of considerable uncertainty. The 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides no rules whatsoever relating to sunken warships nor to wrecks more generally. However, over the last decades, technological advances have led to the discovery of many new wreck sites, fuelling commercial interest in these wrecks. As we have seen in our previous blog, illegal scavenging of war wrecks has caused significant upset among governments, war veterans and historians who want to preserve the final resting place of sailors who went down with their ships.

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  • Java Sea: Dutch, British and U.S. WW II Shipwrecks destroyed by Illegal Scavenging

    An international investigation has been launched into the mysterious disappearance of Dutch Second World War shipwrecks which have vanished from the bottom of the Java Sea off the coast of Indonesia. In a press statement on 15 November, the Dutch Defence Ministery has confirmed that the wrecks of two of its warships that sank in 1942, the HNLMS De Ruyter (see photo) and HNLMS Java, have completely gone, while large parts of a third, the HNLMS Kortenaer, are also missing. The Dutch Defence Ministry immediateley launched an investigation as to what happened to the wrecks, suggesting the wrecks may have been illegally salvaged for the scrap metal market.

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  • New (E-)book: Historical War Crimes Trials in Asia

    Torkel Opsahl Academic EPublisher (TOAEP) in Brussels has published a new (e-)book : Historical War Crimes Trials in Asia edited by Daqun Liu and Binxin Zhang. The TOAEP furthers the objective of excellence in research, scholarship and education by publishing worldwide through the Internet. The publisher has four publications series: the Publication Series, the Policy Brief Series, the Occasional Paper Series and the Law of the Future Series. The Peace Palace Library wishes to thank the Torkel Opsahl Academic EPublisher for donating all books on print.

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  • From The Hague to Nuremberg: Our Visit to Nuremberg

    From Sunday 8 November 2015 to Tuesday 10 November 2015, Sophie Brinkel, Candice Alihusain and Fé de Jonge, visited the city of Nuremberg in Germany. This city is internationally known for the war crimes trials that took place in Nuremberg after the Second World War, from 1945 to 1949. These trials encompassed both the International Military Tribunal, which was created by the Allied forces, and the subsequent Nuremberg Trials, organized by the USA authorities.

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    Today it is exactly seventy years ago the Warsaw Uprising began on Godzina W at 17.00 hours. It was part of a greater resistance operation Akcja Burza meaning Operation Tempest but often referred to in English as Operation Storm. The idea of national armed rising was there from the moment the Armia Krajowa the largest organisation in the Polish Resistance, formed after the German Occupation of Poland in 1939. The Polish resistance movement, consisting of the Armia Krajowa and affiliated organisations even became the largest underground resistance movement in Europe.

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    On June 6th, 2014, Heads of State and dignitaries from France, Great Britain, Canada, the United States and other Allied countries will gather on Sword beach, Normandy with a contingent of the last living veterans to remember the liberation of France. They will honor the sacrifice made, and heroism shown by men and women in uniform and by French civilians on D-Day and during the Normandy Battle on land, sea and in the air. With deep gratitude for the liberators the Heads of State attending will once again solemnly confirm their bond of friendship and their common steadfast pursuit for a more peaceful world.

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    On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Dutch Restitutions Committee, an International Symposium titled ‘Fair and Just Solutions? Alternatives to Litigation in Nazi-looted Art Disputes, Status Quo And New Developments’ was held in the Academy Building of the Peace Palace on November 27, 2012.

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  • Dresden 1945: An Allied War Crime?

    Since 1945, the bombing of Dresden is considered by many as a violation of international law and as a crime against humanity, even though positive rules of international humanitarian law were absent at the time. The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, were among the first formal statements of the laws of war and war crimes in the nascent body of international law. However these conventions, adressing the codes of wartime conduct on land and at sea, were adopted before the rise of air power. Despite repeated diplomatic attempts (→ The Hague Rules of Air Warefare 1922/1923) to update international humanitarian law to include aerial warfare, it was not done before the outbreak of World War II. The absence of positive international humanitarian law does not mean that the laws of war did not cover aerial warfare, but there was no general agreement of how to interpret those laws. The aerial bombardment of Dresden does not only raise the question as to whether or not it was an Allied war crime, but it also makes a moral appeal to prevent total war against civilian populations. It’s memory is kept alive.

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  • German War Reparations (WW I) Financially Ended

    Nearly 92 years after the official end of World War I, Germany made its final reparations-related payment for the Great War on October 3, thereby ending the conflict financially. The German newspaper Die Welt discovered a last installment for the Londoner Schuldenabkommen of 69,9 million euro’s in the German budget. Not being a direct reparations settlement but rather the final sum owed on bonds that were issued between 1924 and 1930 and sold to foreign (mostly American) investors, but then never paid.

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  • Participate in the Project >> Getting Started

    Sample Interview Questions For Veterans

    Here are questions to use when interviewing veterans who served in the United States armed forces during World War I, World War II, and the Korean, Vietnam, and Persian Gulf wars.

    A separate set of questions is available elsewhere for use when interviewing civilians (see also Sample Interview Questions for Civilians).

    Tips for a Successful Interview

    • Every interview should contain several segments. Dividing an interview into segments allows for gathering important details while nurturing memory. In the case of the Veterans History Project, we are hoping to capture recollections of life experiences and of the most memorable moments in wartime. We also hope these interviews will shed light on how the veteran's service influenced his or her postwar life.
    • It is important to let the veteran tell his or her own story. The questions below were developed to provide general guidance only, so don't feel obliged to ask all the questions we are suggesting or to limit yourself to these questions.
    • Have the veteran complete the Biographical Data Form in advance of the interview. You will notice that some of the questions may not apply to the person you are interviewing. To avoid asking those questions, review the Biographical Data Form before the interview. It will help you ask the most relevant questions.
    • Feel free to share a few general questions with the participant beforehand. Often interviewees are more comfortable if they know what kinds of questions you might ask.
    • Prepare yourself for the interview by reading about the war(s) the veteran served in and by reviewing maps and atlases. Please refer to the bibliographies and research tips elsewhere in this Project Kit or ask a local librarian for help in identifying appropriate books, articles, and other resources.
    • See the Interviewing and Recording Guidelines for additional tips.

    Students Aaron Palmer and Eddy Albrecht interview veteran Jim Cunningham from Sioux Valley VFW Post 1750, Iowa. Photo Courtesy of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

    Segment 1: For the Record:

    Make an introductory announcement at the start of each audio or video recording. Record on tape the date and place of the interview; the name of the person being interviewed; his or her birth date and current address; and the names of the people attending the interview, including the interviewer and his or her institutional affiliation or relationship to the interviewee and the name of the camera or recording operator if different than the interviewer. Ask the veteran what war(s) and branch of service he or she served in, what was his or her rank, and where he or she served.

    Segment 2: Jogging Memory:

    Were you drafted or did you enlist?
    Where were you living at the time?
    Why did you join?
    Why did you pick the service branch you joined?
    Do you recall your first days in service?
    What did it feel like?
    Tell me about your boot camp/training experience(s).
    Do you remember your instructors?
    How did you get through it?

    Segment 3: Experiences:

    Which war(s) did you serve in (WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf)?
    Where exactly did you go?
    Do you remember arriving and what it was like?
    What was your job/assignment?
    Did you see combat?
    Were there many casualties in your unit?
    Tell me about a couple of your most memorable experiences.
    Were you a prisoner of war?
    Tell me about your experiences in captivity and when freed.
    Were you awarded any medals or citations?
    How did you get them?
    Higher ranks may be asked about battle planning. Those who sustained injuries may be asked about the circumstances.

    Segment 4: Life:

    Ask questions about life in the service and/or at the front or under fire.

    How did you stay in touch with your family?
    What was the food like?
    Did you have plenty of supplies?
    Did you feel pressure or stress?
    Was there something special you did for "good luck"?
    How did people entertain themselves?
    Were there entertainers?
    What did you do when on leave?
    Where did you travel while in the service?
    Do you recall any particularly humorous or unusual event?
    What were some of the pranks that you or others would pull?
    Do you have photographs?
    Who are the people in the photographs?
    What did you think of officers or fellow soldiers?
    Did you keep a personal diary?

    Segment 5: After Service:

    Appropriateness of questions will vary if the veteran had a military career.

    Do you recall the day your service ended?
    Where were you?
    What did you do in the days and weeks afterward?
    Did you work or go back to school?
    Was your education supported by the G.I. Bill?
    Did you make any close friendships while in the service?
    Did you continue any of those relationships?
    For how long?
    Did you join a veterans organization?

    Segment 6: Later Years and Closing:

    What did you go on to do as a career after the war?
    Did your military experience influence your thinking about war or about the military in general?
    If in a veterans organization, what kinds of activities does your post or association have?
    Do you attend reunions?
    How did your service and experiences affect your life?
    Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview?

    Thank the veteran for sharing his or her recollections.

    Please be sure that the veteran, interviewer, and photographer (if any) sign the appropriate release forms found in the Project Kit.


    The questions above were developed by the Veterans History Project team working in consultation with the American Folklife Center and the Oral History Association. Special acknowledgment is extended to Donald A. Ritchie, associate historian, United States Senate, and author of Doing Oral History (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1995).


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