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Looking back: Victory in Europe Day

Victory in Europe Day is the day celebrating the formal acceptance by the Allies of World War II of Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces on May 8, 1945, marking the end of World War II in Europe.

Adolf Hitler, the Nazi leader, had committed suicide on April 30 during the Battle of Berlin and Germany’s surrender was authorized by his successor, Reichspräsident Karl Dönitz. The administration headed by Dönitz was known as the Flensburg Government. The act of military surrender was first signed at 2:41 a.m. on May 7 in SHAEF HQ at Reims, and a slightly modified document, considered the definitive German Instrument of Surrender, was signed on May 8 in Karlshorst, Berlin at 9:20 p.m., local time.

“The German High Command will at once issue orders to all German military, naval and air authorities and to all forces under German control to cease active operations at 23.01 hours Central European time on 8 May 1945.” — German Instrument of Surrender, Article 2

Upon the defeat of Germany, celebrations erupted throughout the western world, especially in North America and the United Kingdom. More than one million people celebrated in the streets throughout the U.K. to mark the end of the European part of the war. In London, crowds massed in Trafalgar Square and up the Mall to Buckingham Palace, where King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by their daughters and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, appeared on the balcony of the palace before the cheering crowds.
Churchill went from the palace to Whitehall where he addressed another large crowd: “God bless you all. This is your victory. In our long history, we have never seen a greater day than this. Everyone, man or woman, has done their best.”

In the United States, the event coincided with President Harry Truman’s 61st birthday. He dedicated the victory to the memory of his predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had died of a cerebral hemorrhage less than a month earlier, on April 12l Flags remained at half-staff for the remainder of the 30-day mourning period. Truman said of dedicating the victory to Roosevelt’s memory and keeping the flags at half-staff that his only wish was “that Franklin D. Roosevelt had lived to witness this day.” Later that day, Truman said that the victory made it his most enjoyable birthday. Great celebrations took place in many American cities, especially in New York’s Times Square.

Tempering the jubilation somewhat, both Churchill and Truman pointed out that the war against Japan had not yet been won. In his radio broadcast at 3 p.m., May 8, Churchill told the British people that: “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing (as Japan) remains unsubdued.” In America, Truman broadcast at 9 a.m. and said it was “a victory only half won.”
 
 
 

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