By Betsy Osborn - Warrior Maven Contributor
People flooded the streets, waved banners and mauled American troops, as Allied forces liberated Paris. Having endured years of death, disaster and genocide, many Europeans and Americans could have only dreamt that such a day would arrive.
On May 8, 1945, America and its allies breathed a collective sigh of relief as the bloodshed and suffering of war in Europe was finally behind them. While conflict in the Pacific would continue for another three months, Hitler was dead, as were his plans for a Thousand Year Reich. Victory in Europe, at last, was realized.
Victory was never certain, as the Allies engaged in deadly air-to-air combat against Luftwaffe, and ground forces fought their way through Nazi Panzer divisions and armored columns of divisions. The combat, since the June, 1944 D-Day Invasion, had greatly intensified—many lives were lost.
By the beginning of April, the Allied forces had begun to see signs that the war was in its final days. It was also at this point that the Allies finally became aware of the magnitude of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis at concentration camps such as Ohrdruf, discovered by American troops on April 4th.
According to a book titled The Day the War Ended: May 8, 1945 - Victory in Europe, author Marin Gilbert explains that the discovery of the camps horrified Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower, and he quickly alerted Congress of the grim discovery.
Throughout April, Allied forces liberated camps and sent remaining German troops scurrying.
According to Gilbert, “On April 21, the Germans evacuated the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen, 18 miles north of Berlin, marching the inmates towards the Elbe. One of the marchers, the Czech-born Kurt Cierer, then 19, recalled, ‘We could tell the end of the war was coming; all along the way we saw signs that the German Army was crumbling.’”
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Dr. Robert Oliver, Air Force Historical Support Division, told Military.com that, as the grip of Allied forces tightened around Germany, the constriction and isolation created too much for Hitler to face. He committed suicide on April 30, 1945. On May 7th, Hitler’s successor, Karl Donitz, signed the unconditional surrender of the Germans, to take effect on May 8, 1945, the date now known as Victory in Europe Day (VE Day).
Over five years of death and destruction had taken an unimaginable toll. As news of the German surrender spread, spontaneous celebrations erupted all over the world. The New York Times headline of the day read, “End of the Ugly Dream.”
Mollie Panter-Downes, an English novelist, described the scene in London: “American sailors and laughing girls formed a conga line down the middle of Piccadilly…They were the liberated people who, like their counterparts in every celebrating capital that night, were young enough to outlive the past and to look forward to an unspoilt future.”
In New York City, massive crowds gathered in the streets, waving flags. President Harry Truman dedicated the celebrations to his predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had died only a month earlier.
World War II would continue in the Pacific until August of 1945, but VE Day signaled change, relief and a sense of hope for a world beleaguered by war.
--- Betsy Osborn is a Warrior Maven contributor --
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