VE Day May 8 1945: What kind of European Victory?
â€œI wasnâ€™t one of those idealists who couldnâ€™t imagine how anything could go on without the FÃ¼hrer, or couldnâ€™t see it going on at all; people like Magda Goebbels, who obviously drew the logical conclusions from her own view of the world.â€
Today, May 8, marks seventy years since the end of the Second World War on the European front, though the war in the Pacific was to continue until September 2, 1945. It is important to remember the significance of “VE” for the Allied powers as a day of commemoration and remembrance of those who gave up their lives, and also as a day to remember the landscape of devastation in continental Europe. As more conflicts, genocides and wars have occurred since that point, May 8 1945 stands as a reminder of the devastation war causes the home front and soldiers.
As many different European countries as there are, all have different stories of what happened on VE Day to mark their commemoration of the end of the war. France along with Great Britain, celebrated the end of the war as victors. In Great Britain, for example, celebratory parties took place in various parts of the country. In Manchester, on May 8 a thanksgiving service at the local cathedral was held, while parties and bonfires were held by locals. The Manchester Guardian recounts: “Manchester throughout yesterday afternoon preserved a restrained expectancy, which gave way to a little flag-waving and a few street cheers only when the news of the unconditional surrender of Germany reached the waiting public in print form. A little later flags began to unfold from the tops of high buildings.”
In London, the Daily Express on Tuesday 8 May gives listings of events happening that eager participants may wish to take part in–including dancing in parks and bonfires. On the other hand, cinemas are closed for the evening, the paper remarks. From the night of May 7 until the early hours of May 8 “tens of thousands” celebrated in London’s Piccadilly: “they sang; they danced round where Eros used to be; it was London’s West End on its greatest night for nearly six years.”
Compared to these joyous celebrations, Germany was occupied by the Soviets on the east and by France, the United States and Britain on the west to ensure total surrender. Newspapers were rampant on finding Hitler’s body, as were the Soviets. In Berlin, German women were raped by Soviet soldiers. In the anonymous memoir Eine Frau in Berlin (Eng. Translation: A Woman in Berlin), the writer recounts: “But our country is despondent, our people are in pain. We’ve been led by criminals and gamblers, and we’ve let them lead us, like sheep to the slaughter. And now people are miserable, smoldering with hate.” . The number of rapes, the unraveling chaos in Germany and the lack of sustenance are memories of the immediate aftermath of the war.
Although seventy years has passed since VE Day, it should still be considered a day of reflection for those of us who did not witness this conflict first-hand. In seventy years, it sadly appears that we have failed to learn from previous mistakes, either genocide, fascism, or total war (albeit we know that atomic bombs are extremely dangerous!).
Recommended books on the aftermath of World War II: