How does someone define the greatest heroes of WW2? The answer to that question is not that simple. Some people say that being brave in the World War was a hero’s attribute but mostly, this is not applicable in war. It is not easy to live when there is a terrifying possibility of your death every single day. One might think that having good skills with weaponry is a major attribute, but some of the World War 2 heroes never even picked up a firearm. So, who were the heroes of WWII? How does history remember them? You will find answers to all these questions in this article.
World War II was one of the most devastating moments in human history which started in 1939 and ended in 1945. It put countries in a conflict of unprecedented scale and destruction. The significance of this battle shaped the world order, politics, and society in a million ways.
Both sides lost an unbelievable number of people, but in the heart of the battle, heroes emerged from all sides. While there were a lot of well-known figures like Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, some of the heroes were lesser-known but still deserve recognition and credit.
One can not exaggerate the importance of acknowledging heroes from both sides because World War II was a struggle between good and evil. It was a complex web of alliances, ideas, and circumstances meaning that one must understand both sides’ perspectives as heroism can occur on both sides of borders. Both sides had their heroes who showed bravery, empathy, and sacrifice. In this article, you will learn about the different heroes in WWII.
During the difficult years of World War II, heroes developed among the Allied soldiers who demonstrated great bravery and selflessness.
1) Audie Murphy
Soldiers from Allied nations displayed unrivaled bravery in the heat of battle. Their bravery and determination created the foundation for the Allied troops. These courageous people continuously went above the call of duty, facing danger with intense determination.
One of the examples of such heroism is the legendary D-Day landing on the 6th of June, 1944. Allied soldiers assaulted the beaches of Normandy, enduring a hail of enemy fire. Their acts not only changed the course of the war but also demonstrated the remarkable bravery and sacrifice of the soldiers who participated.
Audie Murphy, the most decorated American combat soldier of the war voluntarily entered Auschwitz to gather intelligence. His name shines as a beacon of valor among the ranks of Allied forces. On the battlefield, his altruistic actions saved lives and turned the tide of fights. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for saving his company and causing significant enemy casualties by single-handedly repelling a German assault.
Although heroism was not just about the simple individual acts, it was about the unbreakable relationships of friendship that were forged on the battlefield. Soldiers relied on one another for support, and these strong bonds frequently resulted in acts of selflessness that saved lives.
2) Resistance Movements
In the center of occupied Europe, resistance movements developed as a representation of firm persistence. The daring spirit of resistance is embodied in the courageous actions of heroes like Jan Karski, who entered the Warsaw Ghetto to witness the Holocaust, or Nancy Wake, who was dubbed the “White Mouse” for avoiding the Gestapo.
The resistance was a tapestry created by people from several countries, including Violette Szabo of the British Special Operations Executive and Jean Moulin, the head of the French resistance. Their experiences vividly depict resistance to oppression and the tenacity of people who refused to be silent. Their bravery not only protected the values we uphold but also served as a timeless reminder that the human spirit can still shine brightly even during the worst of circumstances.
3) Witold Pileck
Polish officer and intelligence operative Witold Pilecki willingly agreed to be taken prisoner and held in Auschwitz to learn more about the concentration camp and plan resistance activities. He recorded the crimes perpetrated there and made escapes possible, giving the Allies crucial intelligence. He persisted in the fight against the Nazi dictatorship after his escape.
4) Virginia Hall
Both the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) employed American spy Virginia Hall. She worked in Nazi-occupied France, setting up networks of resistance, acquiring information, and aiding sabotage activities. She gave her artificial leg, which she nicknamed “Cuthbert,” a legendary persona. She was honored with many prizes for her contributions.
5) Dorothy Lawrence
Dorothy Lawrence, a British female journalist, disguised herself as a male soldier and enlisted in the British Army to cover the front lines of World War I. Despite not serving as a soldier in World War II, she showed guts and tenacity by going against the grain to cover the front lines.
World War II is often portrayed as a conflict between the Allied forces and the Axis powers, but it is important to acknowledge that not all individuals within the Axis nations supported the aggressive policies of their governments. In this section, you will get to know about the courage and principles of those who resisted from within, despite the great risks.
1) Claus von Stauffenberg
In Nazi Germany, a small group of people opposed Adolf Hitler’s cruel government. These heroes stood against totalitarianism and war by being motivated by their conscience and a commitment to justice.
Their opposition manifested itself in a variety of ways, including covert pamphlets to elaborate assassination attempts. These resistors’ stories, like those of Claus von Stauffenberg and Sophie Scholl, provide remarkable insights into the difficulties they encountered. They demonstrated their steadfast faith in a Germany free from the horrors of Nazism through their actions.
Claus von Stauffenberg was a German army officer who was involved in the assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944. To overthrow the Nazi government and put an end to the war, Stauffenberg conspired to assassinate Hitler with a group of officers and citizens. He was driven by a strong feeling of patriotism and the conviction that Hitler’s rule was leading to Germany’s downfall.
2) Sophie Scholl
On the other hand, Sophie Scholl belonged to the White Rose, a non-violent resistance organization in Nazi Germany that was mostly made up of college students and their instructors The White Rose distributed anti-Nazi content, called for resistance to Hitler’s authority, and urged Germans to reflect critically on the crimes committed by the regime to peacefully fight the regime.
Sophie Scholl has become an enduring icon of moral and intellectual opposition to the Nazis due to her courage and unwavering dedication to speaking out against the government, even at the risk of her own life.
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3) Chiune Sugihara
During World War II, Japanese citizens faced moral dilemmas and serious consequences as they resisted their government’s expansionist policies and aggressive actions in a militaristic society.
These dissenters frequently experienced isolation and persecution because of their beliefs. Their experiences shed insight into the psychological conflict between fidelity to the state and a sincere desire for harmony and human dignity. The diverse range of opposition in Japan is exemplified by notable personalities like Chiune Sugihara, who saved thousands of Jewish immigrants, and the “Fourteen Holy Helpers,” a group of Christians who opposed the dominant Shinto religion.
Chiune Sugihara was a Japanese diplomat based in Lithuania during World War II. He played a vital role in saving thousands of Jewish immigrants. As Nazi troops swept throughout Europe in 1940, numerous Jewish refugees applied for visas to flee persecution and find safe havens. Sugihara disobeyed strict orders from the Japanese government not to grant visas to Jewish refugees by issuing thousands of transit permits to Jews, enabling them to travel through Japan to other locations, including Curacao, a Dutch province.
Sugihara put in a lot of effort, spending hours each day manually signing visas, even though the Japanese consulate was closing and diplomatic staff were leaving Lithuania. His acts are commonly referred to as “The Japanese Schindler” about Oskar Schindler, who rescued Jews during the Holocaust and is credited with saving an estimated 6,000 Jewish lives.
4) The Fourteen Holy Helpers
The “Fourteen Holy Helpers” refers to a group of Catholic saints who were thought to have exceptional intercessory power during difficult times. This phrase was symbolically used to refer to a group of Christians who opposed the Japanese government’s state Shinto religion during World War II.
These people, including numerous priests and a bishop, refused to take part in religious rituals and celebrations sponsored by the government to promote nationalism and allegiance to the Japanese Empire. Instead, they stayed faithful to the Vatican and continued to practice their Catholic faith covertly. Their resistance to the state’s religious demands was a brave act, considering the enormous pressure to follow official orders during the war. The “Fourteen Holy Helpers” offered a type of spiritual opposition to the wartime government by upholding their religious principles and customs.
Their story serves as a tribute to the enduring strength of faith and people’s willingness to defend their religious beliefs in the face of pressure from the state.
Civilians Caught in the Crossfire
As World War II raged on, the tumult of war forced civilians in both Allied and Axis countries into its midst. In this section, you will get to know about the dramatic effects of the struggle on common people, examining their tales of fortitude, camaraderie, and sacrifice in the face of disaster.
World War II significantly changed the lives of civilians in allied countries. From rations and air raids to the worries associated with having loved ones serving on the front lines, the war presented unparalleled difficulties. It is impossible to emphasize the financial, social, and psychological cost to civilians.
1) Anne Frank
A Jewish girl known as Anne Frank became an exemplary symbol of the plight of civilians caught in the crossfire of World War II. She and her family fled the Nazis’ persecution of Jews by hiding in an attic in Amsterdam. Anne kept a journal while she was hiding, writing down her ideas, aspirations, and worries. The Frank family tragically became known and was sent to detention camps. Just a few weeks before Bergen-Belsen was liberated in 1945, Anne passed away there. Her journal, titled “The Diary of a Young Girl,” is still a moving illustration of what civilians went through throughout the war.
2) Irena Sendler
Polish social worker Irena Sendler reportedly saved the lives of around 2,500 Jewish children during the war. She actively participated in an underground organization that assisted Jewish youngsters in escaping the Warsaw Ghetto and securing new identities and safe homes. Sendler placed information about them in jars that she buried beneath an apple tree to ensure that the real names and locations of the children could be discovered if they survived. Her selfless actions played a pivotal role in safeguarding the future of numerous Jewish children.
3) Corrie Ten Boom
During the Nazi occupation, Corrie ten Boom and her family, devout Christians in the Netherlands, actively aided in hiding and rescuing Jews and members of the Dutch resistance. They constructed a concealed room within their house to shelter the refugees. In 1944, authorities arrested Corrie and her sister Betsie, and subsequently, they were transported to the Ravensbrück detention camp. Despite the harsh circumstances, they persevered in providing consolation and hope to their fellow prisoners. Corrie ten Boom’s post-war memoir, “The Hiding Place,” vividly recounts her family’s experiences and their unwavering commitment to saving lives during the conflict.
4) Sadako Sasaki
Life for civilians in Axis nations was similarly marked by disruption. The natives bore the weight of a war economy, the loss of loved ones, and the devastation caused by bombings. State-controlled narratives often concealed the true extent of suffering.
Stories of common people who rejected the official narrative of their governments began to surface amid the turmoil. These people carried out acts of charity, resistance, and compassion, frequently at the risk of their lives. Their actions demonstrate the human spirit’s tenacity in the face of adversity, whether it was by hosting refugees, helping prisoners of war, or rebelling against repressive regimes from within.
A young Japanese girl named Sadako Sasaki suffered the effects of World War II as a civilian caught in the crossfire. Sadako was diagnosed with leukemia in 1955 at the age of 11, and she believed that the radiation exposure from the atomic bomb detonated in Hiroshima when she was only two years old was to blame for her illness. Sadako set out to fold 1,000 origami cranes while she was ill because she thought that, according to a Japanese folktale, doing so would give her a wish, which was for peace and recovery. Even though she died before completing the assignment, her narrative serves as a heartbreaking reminder of the destructive effects of war and represents the innocent lives harmed by it.
5) Chichijiro Fujima
Japanese conscientious protestor Chichijiro Fujima’s narrative vividly illustrates the moral dilemma that people in Axis countries confronted throughout World War II. As a devout Christian, Fujima refrained from engaging in violent acts and actively opposed Japan’s militaristic pursuits. His refusal to support the war effort resulted in his imprisonment and the imposition of harsh penalties. His experience offers valuable insight into the challenges encountered by individuals who dissented from their government’s policies and ideologies, particularly in a culture deeply influenced by wartime propaganda.
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The Forgotten Heroes
Despite their extraordinary contributions, some heroes from World War II remain unrecognized. The following section will unveil the stories of these unsung heroes, from noncombatants who saved lives on both sides to the remarkable children who assumed unexpected roles in the conflict.
Non-combatant unsung heroes emerged from the midst of World War II’s tragedy. Nurses and doctors tended to the injured and comforted the dying while often working in dangerous situations. Humanitarian groups like the Red Cross, regardless of their affiliation, tirelessly provided aid and relief to people harmed by the war.
1) The Red Cross
The Red Cross played a crucial role in mitigating the suffering brought on by the war during World War II. To ensure conformity with the Geneva Conventions, the organization made direct contact with belligerent states and oversaw the treatment and living conditions of Prisoners of War (POWs). Their diplomatic efforts and POW camp inspections intended to ensure the humane treatment of prisoners, with a focus on providing them with access to healthcare and letting them communicate with their families. Regardless of nationality, the Red Cross operated hospitals and medical facilities close to active combat zones to offer crucial medical treatment to the injured. They also planned blood donation drives to support military health care.
2) Jack Lucas
World War II placed heavy burdens on children who were forced into unanticipated jobs. Some started acting as messengers, passing crucial information between enemy lines or even resistance organizations. While several people dealt with the difficulties of loss and displacement, others joined youth organizations. These young heroes’ tenacity is nothing short of amazing. Their capability to adapt to the extreme conditions of battle while displaying bravery much beyond their age is a monument to the power of people to persevere under pressure.
Jack Lucas was one of the youngest Marines to receive the Medal of Honor during World War II. He misrepresented his age when enlisting in the Marine Corps at the age of 14. He took part in the Battle of Iwo Jima, jumping onto two live grenades to protect his fellow Marines. He received the highest military accolade bestowed upon a nation for his extraordinary bravery and selflessness.
3) Jan Kubi and Jozef Gabk
Slovak resistance members Jan Kubi and Jozef Gabk were instrumental in Operation Anthropoid, a plot to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, a senior Nazi official and one of the perpetrators of the Holocaust. In their early twenties, Kubi and Gabk assassinated Heydrich in 1942 with much difficulty but at a high cost. They chose to fight to the death rather than be captured, and the Gestapo ultimately found them and killed them in a deadly gunfight.
4) George “Butch” Hulse
During World War II, George Hulse was a combat medic in the American Army. He was only a teenager at the time. He saved the lives of several wounded soldiers during the Battle of Leyte in the Philippines in 1944 while coming under severe enemy fire. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery and medical expertise.
World War II included all the world’s major countries. It was the most catastrophic war in history where millions of lives were wasted. In the heat of battle, history saw a diverse range of heroes, each with their own unique stories. From soldiers to innocent children, the world witnessed countless stories on both sides of the war. There are a lot of heroes of WW2 that most people do not know about. But this article covered their acts of bravery and commitment to justice. It portrayed the remarkable children of war and often-forgotten non-combatant heroes who played unexpected roles.
Their stories are more than just historical stories; they serve as enduring illustrations of the courage, compassion, and resiliency of the human spirit. In remembering these heroes, one must also acknowledge the human cost of war. There was a great deal of suffering, loss, and destruction throughout World War II. But it also produced those who showed incredible heroism in the face of hardship. Their experiences encourage us to consider the enormous effects that war has on people and civilizations.
Who Was the WWII Female Hero?
Rosie the Riveter served as an icon for numerous American women who entered labor during World War II, particularly in fields like manufacturing and factory work where men often predominated. She made a significant contribution to the war effort at home by generating essential military supplies.
Who Is the Unlikely World War II Hero?
Desmond Doss is the unlikely war hero who, while serving as a doctor and a conscientious objector in World War II, saved many lives on the front lines without ever holding a weapon. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his extraordinary bravery in the face of danger.