May 8th marks the 70th anniversary of the signing of Germany’s unconditional surrender in 1945. In the wake of Adolf Hitler’s suicide on April 30, 1945, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz was appointed President of the Third Reich in the final 20 days before surrender. Provisionally signed in Reims, France on May 7th, Germany’s full unconditional surrender was formally signed on May 8th in Berlin. The Chief-of-Staff of the German Armed Forces High Command, General Alfred Jodl, signed the unconditional surrender documents in Reims; while Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel signed in Berlin thereby surrendering to Soviet forces – then under the command of General Zhukov. By the time news of the surrender reached Moscow, it was May 9th. That is why Russia celebrates the end of WWII on May 9th.
In the immediate aftermath of Germany’s surrender, cataclysmic changes continued to plague Europe and the Pacific war which was still ongoing. Upwards of 2 million German who lived in territories captured by the Soviets were forcibly removed and most died fleeing their homes. A dramatic election defeat for Winston Churchill in the July 1945 General Election signaled a huge political shift in the United Kingdom, and an end to a defining era. In the Pacific, it would not be until August 15, with victory over Japan, that World War II would officially end.
I am reminded of a segment of President Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address, when he noted of the lives lost:
“We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
Globally, WWII cost anywhere between 65-70 million lives. Those numbers are staggering even by modern standards. VE Day will always be a muted affair, for as we celebrate victory over one of the 20th centuries most brutal ideologies (ironically marking the beginning of the Cold War, and a prolonged battle against another brutal ideology of the 20th century), we must humbly recognize the magnitude of destruction and loss that will define and redefine past and future generations to come. Victory can be many things. Defeating your enemy on the battlefield is desicive, yes, but victory is also an intellectual and moral battle that claims its victims from either side. Lest we forget.
For further information on Victory in Europe (VE) Day, please consult the links below.
Government of the United Kingdom – VE Day 70th anniversary
DW – Bundestag commemorates WWII on Victory in Europe Day
BBC – VE Day 70th anniversary marked with events across Europe
TIME – See Photos of Jubilant V-E Day Celebrations in New York City
An interesting read: THE U.S. ARMY IN THE OCCUPATION OF GERMANY 1944-1946
Whitehouse Weekly Address: Honoring the 70th Anniversary of V-E Day