VE Day -- Victory in Europe Day -- is
celebrated to commemorate the end of World War II in Europe,
the day when Nazi Germany's surrender to the Allied Armies
in western Europe took effect: May 8, 1945. The Soviet government
on the other hand, proclaimed that Victory Day in the Great
Patriotic War -- as WW II is known in Russia -- would be celebrated
on May 9. The reason the end of World War II in Europe is
commemorated on different days is rooted in history.
President Truman at the White House on May 8,
1945, after reading his announcement to the nation
that Allied Armies had won unconditional surrender
from Germany. (AP photo)
Although American and Soviet troops had
linked up on April 25, 1945, at Torgau, Germany, on the
Elbe River, skirmishing with German forces continued in
On May 2, German forces in Italy and southern
and western Austria stopped fighting, and so it is only
natural for memorial ceremonies to be held on the 60th anniversary
of that day at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, which
is located in Nettuno, near Rome.
Germany surrendered unconditionally to the
Allies on May 7, 1945, and the Associated Press as well
as German radio reported Germany had surrendered, which
caused a certain amount of confusion around the world, with
word spreading that Truman and Churchill would soon have
something to say.
The military surrender agreement for the
German armed forces was signed at a schoolhouse in Reims,
France, at 2:41 a.m. local time on May 7, 1945, by Colonel
General Gustav Jodl, chief of staff of the German army;
Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith, chief of staff for
the Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower;
General Ivan Susloparov for the Soviet Union; and General
Francois Sevez for France. It was to take effect on May
8 at 11:01 p.m.
But this was a world war that stretched
over many time zones. As far as the U.S. government was
concerned, the final surrender document was signed at Reims,
France, at 8:41 p.m. Eastern War Time on May 6 (because
of the time difference of six hours between the United States
To complicate matters further, the document
signed at Reims was followed by another surrender ceremony
in Berlin the next day -- because the Soviet Union regarded
the Reims document as a surrender only on the Western Front.
German Field-Marshal Wilhelm Keitel submitted the capitulation
of the Wehrmacht to Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov in the
Red Army headquarters in Berlin-Karlshorst.
After some transatlantic discussion, it
was agreed that Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin would formally
announce the surrender simultaneously at 9 a.m. Eastern
War Time (Washington time) on May 8.
May 8, 1945, was settled on as VE Day for
the Allies. In Moscow, the Soviet government proclaimed
that Victory Day in the Great Patriotic War would begin
at midnight [12:01 a.m.] May 9.
In a nationwide address broadcast at 9 a.m.,
May 8 -- on what was then the new medium of television,
as well as on radio -- Truman officially informed his fellow
citizens that the war against Hitler was over. The speech
garnered the largest audience in broadcast history to that
date. "This is a solemn and glorious hour," Truman
said. "We must work to bind up the wounds of a suffering
world -- to build an abiding peace, a peace rooted in justice
and in law."
Churchill went on the air next, telling
his audience, "We may allow ourselves a brief period
of rejoicing, but let us not forget for a moment the toils
and efforts that lie ahead. Japan, with all her treachery
and greed, remains unsubdued."
Celebrants packed Times Square in New York
City and Piccadilly Circus in London, as well as many other
towns and cities around the world.
George Kennan, then the charge d'affaires
at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, describes in his Memoirs:
1925-1950 giving a speech from the embassy balcony, where
the Soviet flag hung beside the American. The crowd roared,
"Long live Truman," "Long live Roosevelt's
memory," and "Long live the great Americans."
Americans were "tossed enthusiastically into the air
and passed on friendly hands over the heads of the crowd,
to be lost, eventually, in a confused orgy of good feeling,"
In the end it does not matter on which day
the end of World War II in Europe is officially celebrated.
What matters is remembering why the war was fought, remembering
the war’s victims and heroes, remembering -- and thanking
-- those who fought and sacrificed.
World War II -- or the Great Patriotic War,
as it is known in Russia -- directly or indirectly cost
27 million lives in the various Soviet republics.
President Bush will commemorate the 60th
anniversary of VE Day at the Netherlands American Cemetery
and Memorial in Margraten, near Maastricht, on May 8. He
is then scheduled to travel to Moscow, where Victory Day
in the Great Patriotic War is celebrated on May 9.
President Bush has said he wants to attend
the memorial ceremonies in Russia to thank Russian veterans
for their sacrifices.
"The Russian veterans -- the people
of Russia -- went through an unbelievable period of time
of sacrifice," he said in an interview with Itar-Tass
in February, recalling "stories of courage and bravery
against the onslaught of the Nazis."
“Thank you for your sacrifice,”
President Bush said. “I’m looking forward to