HISTORY OF VE-DAY
Seventy-eight years ago today, World War II ended in Europe with the acceptance by the Allies of unconditional surrender from Germany on VE-Day.
Or did it?
May 7, 1945, VE-Day
Adolf Hitler had committed suicide in his Berlin bunker a week earlier, on April 30, 1945, as I describe in my article on the liberation of Dachau.
At 2:41 AM on May 7, Allied General Dwight Eisenhower received the unconditional surrender of German General Alfred Jodi at Reims, France, in a red brick building at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). It stipulated that hostilities were to cease at 11:01 PM the next day, on May 8, 1945.
Reims is an old city with a history stretching back over two millennia and was an important eastern France city during the Roman Empire. Its Cathedral is renowned as the traditional site of the coronation of French kings going back to 496. Today, it is the gateway to the Champagne region. Along with nearby Épernay, it features many of the largest champagne houses. Years ago, I took a high-speed train ride from Paris 80 miles away to tour the Roman-built champaign caves of Reims.
Seventy-eight years ago, however, the Soviets did not recognize this as the official surrender because their representative in Reims lacked the authority to sign the document.
So May 7 was only recognized at the time by the British Commonwealth (though they celebrated it the next day); the rest of the Allies recognized it as a preliminary “military” surrender.
Or did they?
May 8, 1945, VE-Day
The ceremony was repeated in Berlin, Germany, where the surrender was signed by the Supreme German military commander Wilhelm Keitel and the Allied representatives. So the Allies celebrated VE-Day, or “Victory in Europe,” officially at 11:01 PM on May 8 (CET.)
May 9, 1945, VE-Day
At 12:01 AM, May 9, a new day was beginning in the Soviet Union (Russia) when the surrender became official in a different time zone farther west in Berlin. So, the Soviet Union and its satellites recognize “Victory Day” on May 9.
“There was no vodka in Moscow on May 10; we drank it all.”
That is why seventy-eight years ago, Victory in Europe occurred across three days in May… depending on where you lived.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian