VE-Day

Figure 1 Celebrating VE Day in London

Contents

HitlerStamp

Figure 2: Hexit

The War In Europe Ends

Plans for the end of the war

The demand for unconditional surrender of the Axis powers was raised by the Western Allies at the Casablanca Conference at the beginning of 1943. (19) Since unconditional surrender precluded ceasefire negotiations and partial surrenders, this proved to the Soviet Union that the Western Allies were ready to continue to wage the war against Germany by their side, so the Soviet Union agreed to this request. (19) With reference to this maximum demand, the Reich Ministry for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda spoke of a “war of annihilation against Germany” and tried to strengthen the will of the population to defend itself. (19) A surrender document prepared by the European Advisory Commission (EAC) was discussed at the Yalta conference. (19) Here it was decided to additionally include in the surrender conditions that the Allies would assume supreme governmental power in Germany. (19) It was inserted in the surrender that they would take the necessary steps to ensure future peace and security, including the disarmament, demilitarization and division of Germany. (19) The question of whether Germany should remain as a political entity or not was discussed, but remained without concrete results. (19) Although there was a protocol drawn up by the EAC on the future zones of occupation, a concrete plan for how the division of Germany was to be carried out was not linked to this. (19) For this reason, the “Three Powers” set up a “dismemberment committee” chaired by the British Secretary of State Anthony Eden, alongside the American and Soviet ambassadors John G. Winant and Fyodor Gussew, with the mandate to carry out the procedure for to investigate a dismemberment of Germany. (19) There would be further discussion as to whether a representative of France should be involved. (19) The division of Germany was controversially discussed by this body, which was based in London. (19)

Defeat on the battlefield

The term VE Day existed as early as September 1944, in anticipation of victory. (6) On March 7, 1945, the Western Allies—whose chief commanders in the field were Omar N. Bradley and Bernard Law Montgomery—crossed the Rhine after having smashed through the strongly fortified Siegfried Line. (7) The Allies had begun to overrun Germany from the west (7,14) as Russian forces advanced from the east. (14) On 25th April the Western and Russian armies met (7,14) at Torgau in Saxony (7) on the Elbe River. (14) By that time the German Army was all but destroyed. (14) On 30th April, 1945, Adolf Hitler, the (6,14) power-mad (15) Nazi leader (6,14) killed his dog, his new wife Eva and then (14) committed suicide (6,14) in his Berlin bunker. (14,20) Outside the Battle of Berlin was raging: (6,7) successive Allied bombing and a Soviet invasion had (11) reduced Berlin to ruins (7,11) a moonscape of smouldering debris, (although its nearby sister city of Potsdam survived in a more complete state, albeit with its population and buildings far from untouched. (11) Berlin was falling to the Russians (7,11) under marshals Zhukov and Konev. (7) German resistance collapsed. (7) Film showed civilians in Berlin, on foot, moving along the AVUS speedway between Berlin and Potsdam, the remains of the Potsdam Stadtschloss and stables, the relatively intact Nauener Tor, the burnt out Altes Rathaus, and Soviet troops marching past the Orangerie. (11) Refugees, civilians, and military personnel wandered among the ruins and newly positioned Cyrillic signs. (11) Bicycles and carts moved about. (11) Female Soviet Military Police directed traffic. (11)

The Flensburg Government

Figure 3 Keitel signs the SurrenderKeitel

With the death of Hitler and the fall of the Reich Chancellery, the end of the German Reich had already come before the capitulation, the double act of capitulation was only a “formal keystone”. (19) Because he was dead, the surrender of Germany was authorized by his replacement, President of Germany Karl Dönitz (6,7) [OR] Doenitz (14) The administration headed by Dönitz was known as the Flensburg Government. (6) During his brief spell as Germany’s president, Dönitz negotiated an end to the war with the Allies – whilst seeking to save as many Germans as possible from falling into Soviet hands. (20) A German delegation arrived at the headquarters of British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery at Lüneburg Heath, east of Hamburg, on 4th May. (20) There, Montgomery accepted the unconditional surrender of German forces in the Netherlands, northwest Germany and Denmark. (20) [OR] It made unsuccessful attempts to negotiate on May 6th, 1945. (19) Doenitz sent General Alfred Jodl to General Dwight Eisenhower’s Supreme Allied Headquarters in Rheims to seek terms for an end to the war. (14) By the decisions at Yalta the conditions of surrender could not be finalised until the Wehrmacht surrendered, so that no coordinated surrender document could be issued, and so a text was improvised by Eisenhower’s headquarters at the last moment. (19) While there was no talk of a division of Germany, paragraph 4 was added as a political reservation. (19) The latter said that this general declaration of surrender could be replaced by other general surrender conditions that could be imposed by the United Nations and on their behalf Germany. (19) The unconditional surrender of (1,2) Germany (1,17) [OR] German troops (2,6) i.e. all land, sea and air forces that were currently under German command (19) [OR] the Nazis (10) to the allied forces (5,6) in the persons of Lieutenant-General Walter Bedell Smith, chief of staff for (18) the Supreme Allied Commander General ((18,19) Dwight D. Eisenhower, and General Ivan Susloparov (18) for the High Command of the Red Army (19) of the Soviet Union (18,19) and General François Sevez for France, (18) was signed (1,6) at 02:41 (6,14) on May 7th (1,5) 1945 (2,5) in SHAEF (6,19) (= ‘Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Force’ (19,17) in a little red schoolhouse (17) at Rheims (1,7) [OR] Reims (6,7) by Nazi (17) General Alfred (2,14) [OR] Gustav (18) Jodl, (2,14) the German army’s chief of staff. (18) [OR] by Friedeburg, Keitel and Stumpff, (19) and on May 8th in Berlin, Germany (5,20) by Field Marshal William Keitel (20) on behalf of the German High Command (the OKW). (19) [OR] Germany (20) It was written in English, Russian and German, but only the English and Russian copies were authoritative. (19) It stipulated that (13,14) the OKW would order German forces to stop all fighting (19) at 23:01 (CET), 8th May 1945, just an hour before midnight, (13,14) effectively ending World War II in Europe. (2,5) [OR] German military leaders signed surrender documents at several locations in Europe (9,15) for example in Berlin and in eastern Germany (9) on May 7th, (15) [OR] 8th (9) capitulating to each of their victorious foes. (15) German forces were to remain in their positions and to deliver all their weapons and equipment to the local Allied commanders or to the officers to be determined by them. (19) Damage to the material to be delivered, such as the sinking of ships or aircraft, was prohibited. (19); 

Premature Celebration

The news of Germany’s surrender was not surprising. (20) It had been anticipated for some time and people across Britain were on standby to start celebrating the end of the war. (20) Two early reports of a German surrender had primed people for celebration. (18) The first, on 28th April, was erroneous. (18) Celebrating had started across North America on 7th May. (18) The announcement that the war had ended in Europe was broadcast to the British people over the radio late in the day on 7th May. (20) This was premature. (18) The BBC interrupted its scheduled programming with a news flash announcing that Victory in Europe Day would be a national holiday, to take place the following day. (20) Newspapers ran the headlines as soon as they could, and special editions were printed to carry the long-awaited announcement. (20) The news that the war was over in Europe soon spread like wildfire across the world. (20) The headline reads “Germany Quits”. (20) Many people in Britain didn’t wait for the official day of celebration and began the festivities as soon as they heard the news on 7 May, (20) After years of wartime restrictions and dangers – from food and clothes rationing to blackouts and bombing raids – it was understandable how eager they were to finally be able to let loose and enjoy themselves. (20) Colourful bunting and flags soon lined the streets of villages, towns and cities across Britain. (20) On the eve of VE Day, bonfires were lit, people danced and the pubs were full of revellers. (20) but this subsided when people learned it had not been confirmed. (18) A national holiday was declared in Britain for 8th May 1945. (20) Germany’s partner in fascism, Italy, had switched sides in 1943, though many Italians continued to fight alongside their German comrades in Italy. (15)

GIs

Figure 4: GIs read about peace

The First VE Day

On 8th May (1,6) a slightly modified unconditional surrender document from the one agreed in France (6) was signed in Berlin (1,6) ratifying it. (1) The surrender would come into effect at midnight. (5) The 8th May therefore spelled the day when German troops throughout Europe finally laid down their arms. (9) It had been decided for reasons of protocol that the declaration of the surrender would take place in Berlin on 8/9. (19) The Allies had thus originally agreed to mark 9th May 1945 as V-E day, (14,18) but eager western journalists (14) [OR] Germany (18,19) broke the news of Germany’s surrender prematurely, (14,20) thus signalling the premature celebration. (14) [OR] The first free newspaper in post war Germany, the Aachener Nachrichten announced the unconditional surrender on May 8th, 1945 with the title “The war is over!” (19) The Flensburger Nachrichten also announced the capitulation of Germany’s newspapers on that day. (19) Upon the defeat of Germany, celebrations erupted throughout the western world, especially in Great Britain and North America. (13) Among the first Canadians to celebrate were the sailors on naval and merchant ships on the Atlantic, and soldiers and airmen based in Europe. (18) Their long ordeal would soon be coming to an end, although many would still be tasked with providing security to occupied Germany, and bringing aid to the Netherlands, where the Dutch were desperate for emergency food and medical supplies distributed by Canadian forces. (18) Across the Netherlands, Canadians were cheered and welcomed as heroes. (18)

Churchill speaks

In Britain (3,12) it was without any doubt Churchill’s day. (12,20) Britain’s Prime Minister had been a major driving force behind the Allies’ victory over Nazi Germany and, now that peace had come, the British people were keen to celebrate it with him. (20) In the morning, he had gained assurances from the Ministry of Food that there were enough beer supplies in the capital and the Board of Trade announced that people could purchase red, white and blue bunting without using ration coupons. (20) There were even commemorative items hastily produced in time for the celebrations, including ‘VE Day’ mugs. (20) Some restaurants had special ‘victory’ menus, too. (20) That first VE Day began with (3) his broadcast officially announcing the end of war in Europe: (3,10) Tempering the jubilation somewhat, Churchill pointed out that the war against Japan had not yet been won. (13,20) In his radio broadcast at 15:00 on the 8th, (13,20) Churchill told the British people that: “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing (13,20) but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead.” (20) He knew that the war was not over: Japan still had to be defeated. (13,20) Later on, Churchill appeared on the balcony of the Ministry of Health building in central London and gave an impromptu speech. (20) Huge, cheering crowds gathered below and he declared, ‘This is your victory.’ (20)[OR] “My dear friends, this is your hour”. (12) The crowd shouted back, ‘No – it’s yours!’ (20) he continued: “his is not victory of a party or of any class. It’s a victory of the great British nation as a whole. The lights went out and the bombs came down. But every man, woman and child in the country had no thought of quitting the struggle.” (12)

Crowds

VEDayCrowds As he spoke (10) crowds filled the streets (3,10) from Trafalgar Square up to Buckingham Palace, (10,13) in celebrations which continued for nearly two days. (3) More than one million people celebrated in the streets (13,14) in London (14) [OR] throughout Great Britain to mark the end of the European part of the war. (13) Various events were organised to mark the occasion, including parades, thanksgiving services and street parties. (20) Communities came together to share the moment. (20) The streets of the UK and the United States served as stages for (12,14) for some of the most uplifting and inspiring (12) scenes of euphoria (12,14) ever witnessed. (12) The young service men and women who swung arm in arm down the middle of every street, singing and swarming over the few cars rash enough to come out, were simply happy with an immense holiday happiness. (12) The joy of the day broke down normal social conventions, and people spoke to and embraced those whom they had never met before. (20) They were the liberated people who, like their counterparts in every celebrating capital that night, were young enough to outlive the past and to look forward to an unspoilt future. (12) Music was provided by gramophones, accordions and barrel organs, and revellers sang and danced to the popular tunes of the day. (20) The number of ‘extraordinarily pretty young girls’, who presumably remained hidden on working days inside the factories’ and government offices, was astonishing. (12) London’s St Paul’s Cathedral held ten consecutive services giving thanks for peace, each one attended by thousands of people. (20) By lunchtime, in the Circus, the buses had to slow to a crawl in order to get through the tightly packed, laughing people. (12) American sailors and laughing girls formed a conga line down the middle of Piccadilly and cockneys linked arms in the Lambeth Walk. (12) It had a flavour of its own, an extemporaneousness which gave it something of the quality of a vast, happy village fete as people wandered about, sat, sang, and slept against a slimmer background of trees, grass, flowers, and water. (12) Licensing hours were extended so that people could toast the end of the war with a drink (or two), and dance halls stayed open until midnight. (20) Not everyone celebrated VE Day. (20) For those who had lost loved ones in the conflict, it was a time to reflect. (20) Amidst the street parties and rejoicing, many people mourned the death of a friend or relative, or worried about those who were still serving overseas. (20) For many of the widows the war had produced, the noise and jubilation as people celebrated VE Day was too much to bear and not something they could take part in. (20) There was also an air of anti-climax. (20) The hardships of the war years had taken their toll on many people and left them with little energy for rejoicing. (20) In Britain, the strain of air raids, the strictures of wartime life and the impact of rationing all left their mark on a weary population who knew there were more difficulties yet to endure. (20)

Royal Participation

RoyalFamilyThe British Royal Family also played a central role in London’s victory celebrations. (20) Huge numbers of people surged down The Mall to Buckingham Palace. (20) Thousands of King George’s subjects wedged themselves in front of (12) Buckingham Palace chanting (3,12) ceaselessly (12) ‘we want the King’ (3,12) and cheering themselves hoarse (12) when they were rewarded (3,12) where King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and their daughters, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, soon appeared on the balcony to wave to the cheering crowds. (12,20) In total, the King and Queen made eight appearances on the balcony, (20) and at one point were joined by Winston Churchill. (13,20) When the crowd saw Churchill there was a ‘deep, full-throated, almost reverent roar’. (12) While the King and Queen were waving to the crowds for the last time that evening (20) Princess Margaret and her sister Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth II, were (10,13) allowed to wander incognito (13,14) in the party-like atmosphere (20) among the crowd taking part in the celebrations. (10,13) Princess Elizabeth later recalled, ‘We stood outside and shouted, “We want the King”… I think it was one of the most memorable nights of my life.’ (20) At nine o’clock in the evening (3) the King broadcast to Britain (3,20) and the Commonwealth. (3) He praised his subjects’ endurance and called for a lasting peace. (20) He also paid tribute to those who could not join in the celebrations, saying: ‘Let us remember those who will not come back…let us remember the men in all the services, and the women in all the services, who have laid down their lives. (20) We have come to the end of our tribulation and they are not with us at the moment of our rejoicing.’ (20) The VE Day celebrations continued well into the night. (20) The largest crowds in Britain were in the capital, but people all around the country took part in the parties, singing and dancing. (20) Many bonfires and fireworks were lit to mark the occasion. (20) An estimated 50,000 people were crowded around Piccadilly Circus by midnight. (20)

Abroad

Figure 5 Halifax

The news that the war was over in Europe quickly spread around the world, and people of the British Empire and the Allied countries wanted to celebrate the defeat of Nazi Germany. (20) In towns and cities across the world, people marked the victory with street parties, dancing and singing. (20) In France, Charles De Gaulle1 announced the end of the war in Europe; (17) huge crowds went to Paris to celebrate. (17,20) An eyewitness recalled: ‘On the Champs Elysees they were singing ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,’…in the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe in the Place de l’Etoile, there was hardly any place to breathe and no place at all to move.’ (20) Canadians had been at war since September 1939. (18) Over the course of the Second World War, the country’s economy had been transformed, a generation of young men had been mobilized to defeat the Axis powers, and since 1942 a debate over conscription had divided both Canadians and the government of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. (18) By the spring of 1945, Canadians had waged war against a relentless enemy on the North Atlantic, at Dieppe, Hong Kong and Normandy, in the air over Germany, and most recently, in the Netherlands and the Rhineland. (18) More than a million Canadians had served in the armed forces — 42,000 had been killed and tens of thousands more were wounded or awaiting liberation in prisoner of war camps. (18) The country was in an expectant mood — eager for victory and ready for peace. (18) When confirmation of the peace reached Canada at 9 a.m. EDT on 8 May, celebrations resumed, in many places even more fervently than the day before. (18) At home in Canada, massive crowds filled city streets. (18) Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, who was in San Francisco on 7th May attending the founding conference of the United Nations, wrote in his diary: “This has been a good day — a happy day … one in which the burden has been greatly lightened from the knowledge that Nazi militarism has, at last, been destroyed.” (18) In a radio address the next day, he told Canadians, “You have helped to rid the world of a great scourge.” Halifax

(18) In cities and towns across Canada, a war-weary nation expressed its joy and relief at the news. (18) There were parades, band concerts, tickertape dropped from the sky by aircraft, and spontaneous singing, dancing and exuberance. (18) Offices, stores and some factories closed for the day, while other factories remained open, churning out war material for the ongoing battles in the Pacific. (18) Canadian students also left their classrooms to take part in the festivities, or to attend special religious services of thanksgiving. (18) In towns and cities and rural villages there were prayers and tears of relief, as well as music, happy shouting and, for the most part, good-natured partying. (18) “The silencing of the guns in Europe,” said The Globe and Mail, “brought release from bondage of the spirit. (18) Many cities had prepared for the surrender announcement by ordering that liquor stores and drinking establishments be closed when the announcement came. (18) The charged atmosphere and large crowds could lead to unrest. (18,20) In Halifax (18,20) and Dartmouth (18) the celebrating got out of hand, (18,20) among the large concentration of military personnel stationed there. (20) resulting in the VE-Day looting and rioting. (18) In Halifax, Canada, riots broke out Thousands of soldiers, sailors and civilians looted liquor stores – which had been closed for the VE Day holiday – and the resulting riots and vandalism resulted in several deaths. (20) Widespread looting, violence and vandalism were seen in both cities, which were equally exhausted by their wartime role. (18) The events marred an otherwise joyful day for most Canadians. (18) Canada’s third war in less than half a century was nearing its end. (18) In the U.S., (10,13) massive celebrations took place (13,20) in many American cities, (13) especially in New York’s Times Square: (13,20) over 500 thousand people joined in (19) and 15,000 police were mobilised to control the crowds. (20) President Harry (10,13) S. (20) Truman was celebrating his (10,13) 61st (13,14) birthday on V-E Day, (10,13) and said that the victory had made it his most enjoyable birthday, (13) although the victory was tempered with (20) the recent death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (10,13) who had died (10,13) of a cerebral haemorrhage (13) one month (10) [OR] less than a month (1,13) earlier, (10,13) on 12th April (13) before the end of the war. (10) Roosevelt had led the country through the war years (20) and helped create the alliance between Britain, the Soviet Union and the U.S., which made it possible to defeat Nazi Germany. (10) Truman dedicated the victory to him. (10,13) He said that his only wish was “that Franklin D. Roosevelt had lived to witness this day”. (13) Flags remained at half-mast for the remainder of the 30-day mourning period. (13,20) Truman broadcast at 09:00 and said it was “a victory only half won”, echoing Churchill’s note of caution in pointing out that (13) the war against Japan had not yet been won. (13,18) In Australia, the celebrations were also tinged with a sombre mood. (20) The war in the Far East and Pacific was still being fought, and many Australians were serving overseas. (20) But there were scenes of rejoicing in many cities, and services were held in churches around the country to give thanks for the war ending in Europe. (20) Your historian reports that on that day he was two years, six months and a day old; his parents lifted him up to the window of his house on the east side of the Malvern Hills, from which he saw the unforgettable sight of the anti-aircraft searchlights at the Government Scientific Research establishment2 down in the Severn valley below making a vast V-sign in the air. (Ipse dico)

The surrender process

On May 8th 1945, while the Allies celebrated the end of Adolf Hitler’s Reich, formally recognising the end of the Second World War in Europe, (14) Dönitz’s plan was partially successful and millions of German soldiers surrendered to Allied forces, thereby escaping Soviet capture. (20) However, fighting had not quite ceased: (9) Pockets of German-Soviet confrontation would continue into the next day. (9,10) German and Soviet forces confronted each other in Silesia on May 9th. (9,10) The Soviets lost 600 more soldiers3 before the Germans finally laid down their arms. (9,10) in Prague, Germans surrendered to their Soviet antagonists, after the latter had lost more than 8,000 soldiers, and the Germans considerably more; in Copenhagen and Oslo; at Karlshorst, near Berlin; in northern Latvia; on the Channel Island of Sark—the German surrender was realized in a final cease-fire. (9) The main concern of many German soldiers was to elude the grasp of Soviet forces, to keep from being taken prisoner. (9) About 1 million Germans attempted a mass exodus to the West when the fighting in Czechoslovakia ended, but were stopped by the Russians and taken captive. (9) The Russians took approximately 2 million prisoners in the period just before and after the German surrender. (9) Meanwhile, more than 13,000 British POWs were released and sent back to Great Britain. (9) While the war was coming to an end, survivors of the concentration camps continued to suffer. (10) When they returned home and found their former lives destroyed and their communities gone forever. (10) Many survivors lost their entire families and had no home to return to.

VEDayJerusalem
Figure 6 VE Day in Jerusalem

(10) For members of the Allied forces who were still serving overseas on VE Day, the  occasion was bittersweet. (20) Although it meant victory in one theatre, the war was not yet over in the Far East and Pacific. (20) The battle conditions there had been some of the toughest of the war. (20) In May 1945, thousands of Allied servicemen were still fighting in the Far East and thousands more were held as prisoners of war in terrible conditions. (20) The atomic bomb and (18) victory against the Japanese in the Pacific were only four months away. (18,20) The final months of the war in the Pacific saw heavy casualties on both sides, but ultimately ended in victory for the Allies. (20) Japan’s leaders agreed to surrender on 14th August and the act of surrender was signed on 2 September. (20) [OR] Japan didn’t surrender until August 15th, 1945. (10,14) This was known as V-J Day. (14)

Subsequent VE Day celebrations

Victory in Europe Day (VE Day) (1,2) or just V-Day, (6,15) as some early reports in the West had it, (15) marks and celebrates the official end of the fighting in Europe, the (5,6) defeat (9,14) and unconditional surrender, (5,6) of Germany (14) and its war machine, (9) Nazism (9,11) the end of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich, (7,14) and the return of peace. (5) It is celebrated on May 8th every year (1,2) in many countries throughout Europe, (5,6) including Great Britain, Western Europe, the United States and Australia (15) and in North America, where it is called V-E Day. (6,10) Cities in the UK and the US, as well as formerly occupied cities in Western Europe, put out flags and banners, (9) although it is not a public holiday in the US. (17) In France banks and most businesses are closed. (17) Supermarkets are closed or close early. (17) There is no school and the buses and trains run on a special holiday schedule. (17) Depending on which city you are in, you might see parades, flags, wreaths and flowers to commemorate soldiers lost to the war and victims of the Holocaust. (17) In Paris, there is usually a special celebration along the Champs-Elysees attended by Veterans and the French President complete with a military parade and a wreath-laying ceremony at the tomb of the unknown soldiers which lies directly beneath the Arc de Triomphe. (17) Other nations have opted to celebrate it on other days. (5) Celebrations in certain countries are named after Victories over Fascism or Occupation depending on the nation. (5) In Russia, (4,6) Belarus, (6,13) Ukraine, (13) Armenia, Latvia (17) Serbia and several former Soviet bloc countries (6,13) In the Soviet Union and states of the former USSR it is called simply Victory Day. (4,15) It is not ‘Victory in World War II Day: (4,17) by a decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of May 8th, Russia celebrates ‘Victory Day’ on May 9th in recognition of the victory of the Red Army and the Soviet people over Nazi Germany in (4) “The Great Patriotic War”. (4,17) It is not celebrated on May 8th, either. (4,13) The celebration was postponed to the 9th (9,13) because that was the date originally agreed by all the allies, but the others brought it forward because journalists had (14) released the news prematurely (14,18) [OR] because Stalin wanted his own ceremony (20) [OR] because on that day the Soviets lost 600 more soldiers in Silesia before the Germans finally surrendered. (9) [OR] because midnight on 8th would be already 9th May in the USSR, (13,20) [OR] because Soviet and Russian leaders refused to recognise the 7th May 1945 unconditional surrender document (13). There was a radio broadcast salute from Stalin himself: “The age-long struggle of the Slav nations… has ended in victory. (9) Your courage has defeated the Nazis. (9) The war is over.” (9) A Russian poet wrote that ‘This Victory Day smelled of gunpowder. This is a holiday with grey hair at the temples. This joy has tears in his eyes.’ (8) Since 1965, Victory Day in Russia has been a public holiday. (4) On Victory Day, military parades and fireworks are held in many cities, and in Moscow there is an organized procession to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with a wreath-laying ceremony. (4) Festive processions and fireworks are held in large cities. (4) In the 2010s, processions with portraits of veterans – “Immortal Regiment” became widespread. (4) President Vladimir Putin has called it the country’s “biggest holiday”. (17) Israel also marks VE Day on May 9th, too, as a result of the large number of immigrants from the former Soviet bloc, although it is not a public holiday. (6) Due to the time difference, VE Day in New Zealand was officially held on 9th May. (20) The country’s leadership wanted to delay the national holiday until peace in Europe had been announced by Winston Churchill. (20) New Zealanders therefore had to go to work on 8th May and wait until the following day to celebrate. (20) New Zealand continues to celebrate on the 9th. (15) In Germany May 8th is a public holiday, but they call it “Liberation Day” to celebrate liberation from the Nazi government and Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich, (17) although it is controversial whether the surrender meant defeat or liberation for the Germans. (19)

Results of the War

Figure 7: Kyffhäuser myth

ThorWith the Berlin Declaration of June 5, 1945, the four victorious powers assumed supreme governmental power in Germany. (19) Together with the military capitulation, the political consequence of which it was, this formed the basis for the four-power status, according to which the Allies remained responsible for “Germany as a whole” until German reunification on October 3, 1990. (19) Despite Churchill’s crucial wartime role, the British public did not vote him back into power in the July 1945 General Election. (20) Instead, Clement Attlee’s Labour government had control of the country in the immediate post-war years. (20) The end of the war foreshadowed the fall of the British Empire and (20) the onset of the Cold War. (18,20) 70 million people fought in WWII. (10) The Soviet Union lost 7.5 million soldiers, the most of any country involved in the war. (10) Other major players in the Allied powers saw massive casualties as well. (10) The U.S. lost 400,000, Great Britain lost 330,000, and China lost 2.2 million. (10) Among the Axis powers, the German army saw 3.5 million casualties, Italy lost 77,000 and Japan lost 1.2 million. (10) It had thus taken an enormous toll only on the men and women in uniform, but also the non-combatants – civilians caught up in the misery, bloodshed, and discriminate slaughter – the collapse of infrastructure, and the ruination of some of Europe’s greatest cities. (11) For people in Britain, the end of the fighting didn’t mean an end to the impact of the war on their lives. (20) Although many things slowly began to return to normal, it took time to rebuild the country and shortages were still felt: clothes rationing lasted until 1949 and food rationing remained in place until 1954. (20) Peace brought its own problems. (20) The huge economic cost of the war resulted in post-war austerity in a practically bankrupt Britain and the far-reaching political effects of the conflict ranged from the fall of the British Empire to (20) the onset of the Cold War (18,20) in which Canada played a new role as a middle power of the NATO alliance. (18) For Otwin Massing, the theory that the German empire would continue to exist after 1945 within the limits of 1937 is a “modern German Kyffhäuser myth”. (19) The then Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker described the day of capitulation in his much-cited speech on May 8, 1985 as “Day of Liberation from the inhuman system of National Socialist tyranny”. (19) He took over parts of the history of the GDR, where May 8 was celebrated as the day of liberation. (19) Various historians disagree with this interpretation. (19) With regard to the mass rape by soldiers of the Red Army, Henning Köhler also points out that the aim of the victorious powers was not to liberate Germany. (19) Rather, the capitulation is “the most complete defeat, the greatest debacle in German history”. (19) Hans-Ulrich Wehler also believes that it is understandable that “from the point of view of most German contemporaries the defeat and its consequences were perceived as a depressing catastrophe”, but at the same time emphasized that it was “undeniable” that “May 1945 was a liberating one.” (19) For Churchill, nothing would match his period as wartime prime minister – he later wrote that everything afterwards was ‘all anti-climax’. (20)

FRESCI

Foreign and Military

A three-fold world war: VE Day brought an end to one of its parts. Europe was defeated, particularly the two former imperial powers Britain and France. Russia and the USA were now superpowers. 600 Russian soldiers died in Silesia. Fighting was coming to an end in Burma.

Religion and Ideas

It has been suggested that the different design of World War I memorials reflected the confusion over what the First World War had been about. In this piece in VE Day the words ‘Nazism’ ‘racism’ ‘Communism’ ‘imperialism’ and ‘democracy’ did not occur in any of the sources. The people, we are told, celebrated ‘the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany and its war machine, the end of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich, and the return of peace.’ In Russia VE day was just celebrating ‘a victory of the Red Army and the Soviet people’. We must recognise, however, that the thoughts of the revellers had taken another direction, because in July a Socialist government was elected.

Economic

Mention is made of the disruption to the British economy caused by the war, but apart from the physical damage done to Berlin, not of that caused in any other country. Britain’s obsolete coal, iron and steam economy had done wonders in the war but needed rethinking. No mention made of the American funding which enabled us to survive after 1941. On 25th July the Labour victory in the 1945 election was announced. 27 days later, on 21 August 1945, Lend-Lease was terminated. This caused a severe economic crisis. A loan was then negotiated to cover the shortfall, which included a provision that sterling must be convertible, which caused another crisis. This was why “Although many things slowly began to return to normal, it took time to rebuild the country and shortages were still felt: clothes rationing lasted until 1949 and food rationing remained in place until 1954.”

Social and Cultural

Pubs and clubs opened late. Clothes and food rationing remained in place. Many houses had been destroyed by bombing. There were still workhouses, but few state secondary schools. The fact that the minds of many people will have been looking forward to the possibility of implementing the welfare proposals already announced in the Beveridge Report is evidenced by the landslide victory of the Labour Party in July’s election. Eleven days after VE Day there was a Test Match at Lords between England and Australia.

Constitutional and Legal

There had not been an election since 1935, the one due in the Autumn of 1939 having been postponed because of the war. The Emergency Powers (Defence) Act 1940, allowing the confiscation of property and detention without trial, was still in force and remained so until 1959. Legal wrangling over precise definition of surrender terms.

Individual and Random

Churchill’s Day’; was it VE Day? Antics of the crowds. King’s broadcast. Princesses in the crowd. Drunken soldiers rioted in Halifax Nova Scotia. It was President Truman’s 61st Birthday. Your historian reports that on that day his parents lifted him up to the window of his house on the east side of the Malvern Hills, from which he saw the unforgettable sight of the anti-aircraft searchlights at the Government Scientific Research establishment down in the Severn valley below making a vast V-sign in the air.

Bibliography

VEDayBiblio

1 Gaule (sic)

2 Now ‘Qinetic’

3 Wikipedia says that Konev was able to declare the offensive phase of operations over by 31 March, but the same article admits there was fighting on May 8th.

 

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