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VE-Day: Germans sign unconditional surrender

May 8, 1945, was a day to celebrate. It was VE-Day, the long-awaited moment when the Allied forces triumphed over Nazi Germany to claim victory in Europe. But the joy brought by news of peace was dampened by the memory of fallen comrades and the ongoing war in the Pacific. From the liberation of Holland through the German surrender, celebrations in Canada and the servicemen's return, CBC Archives follows Canadians as the war ends in Europe.

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After nearly six years of war in Europe it comes to this: two empty chairs. The chairs, which sit at a long wooden table in a map-lined war room, are for two German commanders, who will sign three documents spelling out the unconditional surrender of Germany's land, sea and air forces. In the wee hours of May 7, 1945, at the Allied headquarters in Reims, France, the war in Europe is finally over.

The CBC's Gerald Clark is among the war correspondents who have been assembled to capture the historic moment. Allied officers enter the room, followed minutes later by General Alfred Jodl, German chief of staff, and Admiral Hans von Friedeburg of the German navy. In 20 minutes it's all over. Then, says Clark, "General Jodl walked away, and I saw on his face the look of a beaten Germany." 
. Negotiations leading up to the final surrender lasted over eight hours. On instructions from Hitler's successor, President Karl Doenitz, the German envoy General Alfred Jodl agreed to surrender his forces to the western Allies. However, Jodl refused to give up to the Soviets on the eastern front.
. The Allies then threatened not to accept any more surrenders on the western side, and to leave the Germans to the mercy of the Soviets. Backed into a corner, Jodl consented.

. "With this signature," Jodl said after signing, "the German people and armed forces are, for better or for worse, delivered into the victors' hands.In this hour I can only express my hope that the victors will treat them with generosity."
. After the surrender Jodl was arrested, charged with war crimes and put on trial at Nuremberg. "Before God, before history and before my people," he pled not guilty. The court found him guilty and he was executed by hanging.

. At 11:59 p.m. on May 8, 1945, another German surrender took place in Berlin. Soviet General Georgy Zhukov of the Red Army accepted the surrender of German forces on the eastern front from German Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel. The western Allies also signed the surrender agreement alongside the Soviets.

. Listen to an additional clip in which CBC correspondent Matthew Halton describes the surrender in Berlin.
. The Berlin surrender brought all fighting in Europe to an end.

. Reims, in northeastern France, was where SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) was located.
. Headed by U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, SHAEF was formed in late 1943 to coordinate the movements of all western Allied land forces in northwest Europe.
. SHAEF's first coordinated attack, shaped from an earlier Allied plan, was the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944. See the CBC Archives topic D-Day: Canadians Target Juno Beach.
Medium: Radio
Program: War Dispatches
Broadcast Date: May 7, 1945
Reporter: Gerald Clark
Duration: 6:03

Last updated: November 7, 2012

Page consulted on November 6, 2014

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