Remembering VE Day After 70 Years

On May 8, 1945, the world rejoiced with news that World War II was over. Six long years of war in Europe had finally come to an end with Germany signing a declaration of unconditional surrender to the Allied Forces. Governments around the world declared May 8 Victory Europe Day (VE Day).

The official announcement of the surrender was delayed for a day so that word could travel to combating forces all over Europe. It was also decided to name May 8 Victory Europe Day (VE Day) in order to give all of the Allied forces the chance to declare it at the same time. The papers of surrender were signed on May 7, to become effective on May 8.

VE Day: The Beginning of the End
With Berlin falling down around him, Hitler committed suicide on April 30. In his will, he disowned second in command, Heinrich Himmler and Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring. In their place, he named Admiral Karl Dönitz as president of Germany and Joseph Goebbels as new chancellor. Goebbels, however, committed suicide the day after, leaving Dönitz in sole charge of Germany.

The documents of unconditional surrender were signed in Reims, France. German General Alfred Jodl was ordered by Dönitz to travel to Reims to accept the unconditional surrender offered by the Allied forces there. After a particularly devastating defeat, Dönitz could see the end was inevitable.

Before the surrender at Reims, there were several other surrenders throughout Europe that lead to VE Day. On April 29, a German general surrendered in Italy and on May 2, nearly 1,000,000 men in Italy and Austria unconditionally surrendered to Harold Alexander, a British General. Also on May 2, the Battle of Berlin concluded and German forces gave over the city to the Soviet Army. German forces north of Berlin gave over to Allied Forces there as well. Additional surrenders took place in Denmark, the Netherlands, Bavaria and North West Germany as German forces laid down their arms and German U-boats and other naval forces were ordered home.

The World Rejoices and Mourns as Well on VE Day
Millions took to the streets to celebrate the end of the war in Europe and begin the VE Day commemoration. The Prime Minister of Britain, Winston Churchill, made the official announcement from 10 Downing Street, simply stating that the world could allow a brief time of rejoicing, but it should not forget the hard work that lay ahead.

World War II was the most deadly of all wars in written history. More than 60 million people died in the war, which comprised 3% of the population in 1939. Civilian deaths alone are also estimated to have been up to 38 million, including those who perished from disease and hunger. Deaths in the military were up to 25 million, with as many as 5 million who were prisoners of war.