Did Nazi Germany Surrender on May 9?

Two pages with 234 words.

Did Nazi Germany Surrender on May 9?

Two pages with 234 words. This was the act of unconditional surrender that German General Alfred Jodl, number two in the Wehrmacht, signed 77 years ago. He did so at 0241 hours on May 7, 1945 in the war room of the Allied headquarters in Reims, France (now a museum), after he had been driven there the day before. Was the war in Europe over?

This surrender, signed before the Western Allied command, was not well received by Stalin, who demanded that it be countersigned at the Soviet headquarters in Karlshorst, Berlin (also converted into a museum). On May 8, 1945, at 11:01 p.m., the ceremony was repeated. Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, head of the armed forces (who, like Jodl, would end up hanged months later after the Nuremberg trials), signed a new capitulation before the representatives of the three allied powers plus France, which was allowed to be present at the act . This time yes, the war in Europe was over.

The victory celebrations were planned for May 9, the day after the ratification of the capitulation. In fact, US General Eisenhower had given the order that the 17 journalists who were present at the ceremony did not spread the news until the signing in Berlin.

However, the Associated Press agency correspondent in Paris, Edward Kennedy, convinced that the embargo was not due to military but political reasons, decided to bypass the blockade and communicate the news on the same day 7. As a consequence, the world learned of the end of the war a day earlier than planned, and Kennedy was fired from the agency (in his memoir Ed Kennedy's War he explains all the details).

The spontaneous celebrations did not wait. As the news spread, thousands of people began to take to the streets of Paris and London. Churchill tried to get Stalin to give up the second firm. "It will seem that the only ones who don't know are the governments," he telegraphed to Moscow. But the Soviet leader stood his ground. Finally, they agreed that the Western Allies would celebrate Victory Day on May 8, and the USSR the following day.

May 9 would end up being the official date for Victory Day celebrations in Russia and the countries of the Soviet orbit (although most moved it forward to May 8 when the USSR disintegrated). The reason is that, when the surrender was signed, after eleven o'clock at night, in Moscow, given the time difference, it was after midnight. To unite the two dates, the United Nations General Assembly decided in 2004 to declare May 8 and 9 as Days of Remembrance and Reconciliation for those who lost their lives in World War II.

Victory in Europe Day (VE Day in the Anglo-Saxon sphere) was celebrated on May 8 in the main cities of Europe and North America. In London, more than a million people packed Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square. After listening to Churchill's radio statement over the loudspeakers, they moved to Buckingham Palace, where the Prime Minister and the King and Queen, George VI and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, came out to greet.

Also present were the two princesses, Isabel and Margarita, who later joined the street celebrations anonymously. "It was one of the most memorable nights of my life," the future Elizabeth II would recall in a BBC interview in 1985. Balls and banquets were organized throughout Britain, and bonfires crowned by the figure of Hitler were burned. The most repeated gesture was the victory vee popularized by the Prime Minister.

In Paris and New York there were also massive celebrations. The Champs Elysées and Times Square were filled with thousands of people eager to share their enthusiasm for the end of the war. However, each city lived differently.

In the French capital, the explosion of joy was so great that the party lasted for two days, until Thursday night. Although, as the newspaper Libération reported, “it was the young people who felt exuberant. Among the older generations, there was an air of indefinable melancholy."

In New York, on the other hand, with flags flying at half-staff for the recent death of President Roosevelt, the celebration was more subdued. The bloody battle that was taking place those days in Okinawa, one of the costliest in lives of the Pacific war, weighed too heavily on the population's spirit. Both Churchill and President Truman, who happened to have his birthday on the same day, recalled in their speeches that there was yet another war to be won.

The next day it was Moscow's turn. The news of the German surrender arrived at dawn, so Red Square began to fill with people very early. Salutes were fired, fireworks were launched, and the large searchlights, which had been used during the war to spot enemy aircraft, illuminated the city as night fell.

The celebrations of the Great Patriotic War, as it is known in Russia, became official several weeks later. On June 24, an impressive military parade presided over by Stalin was organized. Under torrential rain, the various units of the Red Army passed one by one in front of Lenin's mausoleum. The parade ended with the soldiers throwing the banners captured from the German army at the foot of the grave.

Victory Day is still celebrated today. In France it is a national holiday. Parades are organized, veterans are honored and the fallen are remembered. In Great Britain it is also commemorated, but it is not a public holiday. Only on special occasions (as it was on the 75th anniversary), the traditional May Day party (Early May Bank Holiday) is moved to the 8th and events are organized to celebrate the victory.

In the United States, however, May 8 is not celebrated. Initially it was commemorated on September 2, Victory over Japan Day (VJ Day), but now it is only officially celebrated in the state of Rhode Island, due to the significant number of casualties suffered by the sailors of its naval base. Memorial Day (last Monday in May) and Veterans Day (November 11) are the two national holidays in which veterans and fallen in different wars are honored.

Interestingly, the country where Victory Day is currently celebrated with the most splendor is one of the least traditional. Until 1965, there was no official celebration on May 9 in Russia. Neither Stalin nor his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, were in favor of giving too much political weight to the military. As of that year, it began to be celebrated, although the parades were only organized on important anniversaries.

With the fall of the USSR, the commemorations also declined. The great promoter of the current celebrations was Vladimir Putin. Since his arrival in the government in 1999, Victory Day has become one of the most important holidays in Russia. A mixture of popular celebration (fireworks), tribute to the fallen (the march of the Immortal Regiment) and display of military muscle (the great parade) that this year coincides with the war in Ukraine after Russian troops crossed the border last February 24.

Today, in a speech in Moscow's Red Square, Putin took advantage of the event to justify the invasion of the neighboring country due to an alleged NATO attack on Crimea and evoke the triumph of World War II to urge victory in Ukraine.

The content of this article was published on the History and Life channel of La Vanguardia on May 8, 2020.