As many as 50 million people died during World War II. Less than 500,000 were Americans, which still is an immense tragedy, even if it is not near the larger figure. Among the primary reasons for this is that no part of the war was fought on U.S. oil. For countries where parts of the war took place, the numbers of terribly high.
To find the country that suffered the most civilian deaths during World War II, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed casualty figures from The National WWII Museum, Britannica, the museum Centre Européen Robert Schuman and World War II Database. We combined the different sources’ estimates and ordered countries by the lower estimate of civilian deaths due to military activities (as much as was clear). Total deaths include military deaths and civilian casualties from other war-related causes, such as famine and disease. Estimates can vary widely between sources.
Terror bombing by the German Luftwaffe leveled cities such as Rotterdam and Athens. When the Allies gained air superiority, they laid waste to German and Japanese cities. In Japan, the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey discovered that 30% of the urban population had lost their homes.
There also were ideological reasons for higher population deaths in World War II. Deaths as a percentage of the population by some estimates exceeded 10% in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and the Soviet Union. These nations had high Jewish populations that were killed in the Nazi quest to exterminate the Jews. Germany killed millions of non-Jewish Slavic people in Eastern Europe, believing that they (like the Jews) were subhuman. Other countries, such as Greece and Yugoslavia, suffered high civilian deaths due to German reprisals against partisan activity.
In the Pacific, Japan, fueled by nationalist ambitions to dominate the region, brutally occupied countries such as Burma, the Philippines, Dutch East India and large parts of China. It was in China that Japan committed one of the worst crimes against civilians during the Nanjing Massacre, in which Japanese soldiers killed an estimated 150,000 male “war prisoners” and massacred an additional 50,000 male civilians.
The country that suffered the most civilian casualties in World War II was China. Here are the details:
- Civilian deaths: 7,357,000 to 17,000,000
- Military deaths: 1,310,000 to 4,000,000
- Total deaths: 15,000,000 to 20,000,000
- Estimated population 1939: 517,568,000
- Deaths as percentage of population: 2.9% to 3.9%
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