CBC Digital Archives

VE-Day countdown: A toast at Torgau

Day by day, the news got better as the Second World War wound down in Europe. Sixty years ago, CBC Radio brought home reports of retreating Germans, freed prisoners of war, captured spies and surrender in Italy. But with the end of hostilities came dark news of hellish concentration camps, starving civilians and a rocky future for U.S.-Soviet relations. CBC Archives counts down the days to victory in Europe.

May 1, 1945: TORGAU, Germany -- The banner at the banquet says it all: "Long live the victory of the freedom-loving peoples over Germany." One day after the rumoured death of Adolf Hitler, the Russians have rounded up vodka and caviar for a party at a German chateau. The CBC's Matthew Halton describes the endless toasts as Soviet and U.S. generals, their staffs and a contingent of war correspondents celebrate victory.
• With the Russian Red Army closing in on him, Adolf Hitler committed suicide in a Berlin bunker on April 30, 1945. He had shot himself in the head. His wife, Eva Braun, who died with him, had poisoned herself with cyanide.
• Braun was Hitler's longtime mistress. They were married just one day before committing suicide.
• SS officers doused the bodies of Hitler and Braun with gasoline and burned them in the garden of Hitler's Chancellery, or official residence.

• According to A.E. Powley's book Broadcast from the Front, Marcel Ouimet was also at the banquet. Ouimet was a Radio-Canada reporter who filed reports in French and English throughout the war. Prompted by a Russian colonel to follow the national custom of emptying one's glass with every toast, Ouimet obeyed. By the end of the meal, five hours later, he had downed 27 shots of vodka.
• The banquet also featured entertainment by an orchestra and Cossack dancers.

• Powley's book also recounts events of the following morning. A number of correspondents present at the banquet discovered that they were missing watches, lighters and other small personal items. When Matthew Halton found two Russian red stars in his pocket, his colleague Marcel Ouimet concluded they were souvenirs: "I suspect that at one point we were in a mood for exchanging," he told Powley.

• In his memoir The Sound of War, reporter Peter Stursberg wrote that the CBC has a collection of war recordings unrivalled in the English-speaking world.
• After the war, a young CBC staffer named Norman DePoe sifted through thousands of 12-inch audio discs and selected about 500 for preservation.
• In the late 1950s the discs were transferred to tape and moved to the National Archives in Ottawa.
Medium: Radio
Program: War Dispatches
Broadcast Date: May 1, 1945
Reporter: Matthew Halton
Duration: 4:06
Photo: National Archives of Canada / PA-168707

Last updated: April 18, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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