77 years ago, on May 8, 1945, WWII ended in Europe. Germany’s act of surrender, ending six years of struggle, did not mean, however, that the continent was freed from authoritarian rule as Central Europe fell under the control of the USSR for half a century.
In early 1945, the military and political situation of the Third Reich seemed to determine its fate. The great Soviet offensive, launched in June 1944, resulted in Germany losing a huge part of Central Europe, and its losses in equipment and men were impossible to replenish.
On April 20, 1945, Adolf Hitler celebrated his last birthday in the bunker beneath the Reich Chancellery. On that day the first Soviet artillery shells fell on the city. Five days later, the ring of encirclement around the Third Reich’s capital was finally closed, and Soviet artillery began shelling the city.
Hitler and his wife committed suicide on April 30. On the evening of the same day, the Soviet flag flew over the Reichstag. Only the units occupying the heavily fortified buildings resisted, but they too were forced to capitulate in the following days.
By virtue of Hitler’s will of April 28, the former Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, took over as Chancellor after his death. On the evening of May 1, he and his wife, who had earlier poisoned their six children, also committed suicide. The post of Reich President, restored after eleven years, was assumed by Admiral Karl Dönitz.
Surrender of the Reich
On May 4, Dönitz agreed to the surrender of all German forces in northern Germany. At the same time, his envoy met with General Dwight Eisenhower and tried to start negotiations for a surrender to the Western Allies. On May 8, the Act of Surrender was signed in Berlin. The prepared document contained the same conditions for the unconditional surrender of German troops as had been agreed the previous day in Reims.
In the capitals of Western Europe, preparations were underway among the leaders to declare the day of victory. These were thwarted by Joseph Stalin, who demanded that the surrender be solemnly signed again in the capital of the collapsing Reich under his control.
The Act of Surrender of the Reich came into effect at 11.01 pm. CET. In the USSR it was already 1.01 am, hence the one-day difference in victory day celebrations between the Western countries and the Soviet Union and modern Russia.
The formal surrender of the Reich did not end the fighting in some parts of Europe still controlled by remnants of Wehrmacht and SS forces. It was not until the evening of May 9 that the SS troops laid down their arms before the advancing Soviet troops.
Despite the surrender of all German forces, the Reich government was still operating in Flensburg. It was not until May 23 that the British decided to arrest its members. The existence of the Dönitz government was of particular concern to Moscow, as Stalin believed that it was part of the Western Allies’ preparations for aggression against the USSR and its satellites. On June 5, 1945, the Allied Control Council took power over Germany, thus ending the history of the Third Reich.
The war in the Far East ended with the unconditional surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945. The greatest conflict in history claimed over 50 million victims, including 5.6 to 5.8 million Polish citizens, according to estimates of the Polish Institute of national Remembrance (IPN).
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