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What It Was Like In The Room When Nazi Germany Surrendered To End WWII In Europe
In the early morning hours of May 7, 1945, the remnants of Nazi Germany's military leadership signed an unconditional surrender to Allied forces.
When the news broke the next day, soldiers and civilians around the world heralded Victory in Europe Day — the Soviet Union would mark Victory Day on May 9 — exuberant about the end of nearly six years of war that had destroyed much of Europe.
When German and Allied military officials gathered again in Berlin near midnight on May 8 to sign surrender documents, the atmosphere in the room was laden with emotional and political weight.
The Germans, characteristically severe, went through the proceedings in a mix of resignation and resentment, while the Soviets, Americans, and other Allies were relieved at the war's conclusion.
All of them were uncertain what would come next.
Historian Antony Beevor's sweeping history of the final months on the eastern front, "The Fall of Berlin 1945," captured the mood in the room as victors and vanquished gathered to bring their conflict to an end:
"Just before midnight the representatives of the allies entered the hall 'in a two-storey building of the former canteen of the German military engineering college in Karlshorst.' General Bogdanov, the commander of the 2nd Guards Tank Army, and another Soviet general sat down by mistake on seats reserved for the German delegation."
"A staff officer whispered in their ears and 'they jumped up, literally as if stung by a snake' and went to sit at another table. Western pressmen and newreel cameramen apparently 'behaved like madmen'. In their desperation for good positions, they were shoving generals aside and tried to push in behind the top table under the flags of the four allies."
The German delegation then entered the room — its members looking both "resigned" and "imperious."
In this image provided by the U.S. Signal Corps, three high German officials emerge from a room after Germany's unconditional surrender terms were formally ratified in Berlin, May 9, 1945. Left to right: Col. Gen. Paul Stumpff, Luftwaffe commander; Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, German army commander (raising sword); and Gen. Adm. Hans von Freideburg (rear), commander of the German navy.Photo via Associated Press
Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, commander of the Nazi armed forces during the final days of the war, "sat very straight in his chair, with clenched fists," Beevor wrote. "Just behind him, a tall German staff officer standing to attention 'was crying without a single muscle of his face moving.'"
Gen. Georgy Zhukov, a senior Soviet commander during the war's final days, stood to invite the Germans "to sign the act of capitulation." Keitel, impatient, gestured for the documents to be brought to him. "Tell them to come here to sign," Zhukov said.
Keitel walked over to sign, "ostentatiously" removing his gloves to do so, unaware that the representative for the chief of Stalin's secret police, the NKVD, was lingering just over his shoulder.
"'The German delegation may leave the hall,'" Zhukov said once the signing was complete, Beevor wrote, adding:
"The three men stood up. Keitel, 'his jowls hanging heavily like a bulldog's', raised his marshal's baton in salute, then turned on his heel. As the door closed behind them, it was almost as if everybody would in the room exhaled in unison. The tension relaxed instantaneously. Zhukov was smiling, so was [British Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur] Tedder. Everybody began to talk animatedly and shake hands. Soviet officers embraced each other with bear hugs."
"The party which followed went on until almost dawn, with songs and dances. Marshal Zhukov himself danced the Russkaya to loud cheers from his generals. From inside, they could clearly hear gunfire all over the city as officers and soldiers blasted their remaining ammunition into the night sky in celebration. The war was over."
The chaos of the war had ceased, but for Soviets and Germans other hardships were to come.
Looking north from 44th Street, New York's Times Square is packed Monday, May 7, 1945, with crowds celebrating the news of Germany's unconditional surrender in World War II.Photo via Associated Press
Zhukov, long a confidant of Stalin, earned glory for his command during the war, but he would soon find himself on the outs with the mercurial Soviet leader.
Keitel would face war-crimes charges, including crimes against humanity. He was convicted and hanged in October 1946. Like other Nazi leaders who were hanged, Keitel's body didn't drop with enough force to break his neck. He dangled at the end of the hangman's rope for 24 minutes before dying.
Germans, many of them under the yoke of the Soviet Union, would struggle to rebuild both physically from the war and emotionally from their encounter with Allies forces — Soviet soldiers in particular. Berlin, buffered by two weeks of intense urban fighting, was shattered.
The Soviet Union's drive for political vengeance and economic advantage lead it to hobble or strip much of East Germany's infrastructure and resources.
More from Business Insider:
- It's been more than 75 years since one of World War II's worst atrocities — the Bataan Death March
- Hitler's Nazi military base in the Arctic was just discovered by Russian scientists
- Nazi Germany couldn't import coffee — so it turned to meth instead
- This man broadcasted Nazi propaganda over British radio to millions of people throughout World War II
- Nazi Germany said this anti-war movie was 'cinematographic enemy number one'
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