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60th Anniversary of the Allied Victory in Europe

President Bush to celebrate VE Day in Netherlands, Victory Day in Russia

Posted: May 2, 2005   Special feature items:     > The End of the War in Europe
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> Eyewitness to History: Recollections of VE Day 1945

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)
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.

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 various places.

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 and France).

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," Kennan wrote.

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 the celebrations.”



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