Meanwhile the crimes the axis had so long fought to

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Meanwhile the crimes the Axis had so long fought to conceal were coming to light. Every day brought news of some large-scale atrocity or revealed years of bottomless despair — even now, historians examining newly discovered archives are finding evidence that the Axis occupation was much worse than had been previously imagined. When the three-year siege of Leningrad was at last broken, it was learned that more than a million people had died of starvation; they’d killed their house pets for food, and before the end there were pervasive rumors of cannibalism. The collapse of the Japanese empire revealed famine throughout China; more than ten million people in provinces once controlled by the Japanese were dying or dead. And in April 1945 the line of German defenses finally shrank back far enough that the death camps were discovered by Allied troops. “A crime beyond the imagination of man,” the first news reports called it. People who thought they’d been permanently numbed to horror found they were wrong. But by then the Holocaust seemed almost lost in the universal destruction. The deaths are still being counted. In the decades after the war it was believed that between 15 million and 20 million people had died in the war, but historians now believe the real number was at least three times higher, and some recent estimates (based on studies of newly declassified archives in Russia and China) put the total at close to 75 million. The extent of the material damage was incalculable. The civilian economies of Europe and Asia were a shambles. Most industries not related to war production had been shut down or destroyed outright. Basic commodities were unobtainable, even on the black market. Roads and bridges throughout two continents had been blown up, ports had been wrecked, and commercial shipping had stopped. The submarine war had sent rivers of oil into the ocean — a torrent that made the great postwar spills look like irrelevant trickles; oil from torpedoed tankers was washing up on beaches all over the world. Nobody knew enough to care about environmental damage in those days; what mattered to them was that their essential fuel source had become as rare as gold. The unavailability of fuel was what finally broke the last German armies still fighting in the field. The Japanese government, its supply of oil cut off, had ordered civilians to dig up every pine tree on the home islands so that a synthetic oil could be distilled from the roots (it didn’t work). Food too was desperately scarce — not only because the armies had commandeered so much of the supply, but because the war had ruined agricultural production in much of the world. There had been rationing for years on all sides. “Hitler butter” was what the Germans had called their foul-smelling margarine substitute, the only kind available; the British had learned to expect the promising-looking morsels of beef in their stew to have the unique, disgustingly sweet taste of horse meat. But even these delicacies vanished in the war’s final fury. Hundreds of millions of acres of farmland were left fallow or destroyed
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