Berlin, Germany • May 1, 1945
A little before 4 a.m. on this date in 1945 in Berlin, the new Chief of German Army General Staff Gen. Hans Krebs was shown into the tactical headquarters of Lt. Gen. Vasily Chuikov, commander of the Soviet Eighth Guards Army, near Tempelhof airport. A denizen of one of the bunker rooms under the Old Reich Chancellery, Krebs was part of the inner sanctum of Adolf Hitler’s unreal world in the last days of the Third Reich and was one of four people who had witnessed and signed Hitler’s last will and testament two days earlier.
Under a white flag, Krebs, who had picked up Russian during his years as a military attaché in Moscow, carried the request of Reich Chancellor (and former Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda) Joseph Goebbels for a mutually satisfactory surrender now that Hitler was dead by his own hand and a new German government under Reich President (not Fuehrer) and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz was being organized in Northern Germany with Hitler’s approval. Soviet premier Joseph Stalin considered the request and spat out “Nyet” because Goebbels’ offer sidestepped the Allies’ demand for Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender. Krebs was given a deadline of 10:15 a.m. for Germany’s unconditional surrender, after which Berlin would be “blasted into ruins”—as if it weren’t already in ruins.
Having no authority to modify Goebbels’ surrender terms, Krebs returned to the Fuehrerbunker empty-handed and, in dispair, committed suicide the following day. Goebbels and his wife were dead, too—suicides. Their charred remains, like those of Hitler and his wife of less than 40 hours, Eva Braun, were discovered on the grounds outside the Fuehrerbunker. The next day, May 2, 1945, the Berlin defense garrison headed by Gen. Helmuth Weidling surrendered, though sporatic and suicidal fighting, mostly by small SS units not under Weidling’s control, spilled over to the next day and the day after that.
On widely separated fronts large German forces began negotiating their surrender: in the Netherlands, northwest Germany, and Denmark to Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery at Lueneburg Heath east of Hamburg on May 4, 1945, as well as in Southern Germany on May 5, Italy, and Western Austria, the latter two military commands on April 29. As for Germany itself, Reich President Doenitz’s government surrendered the country twice—on May 7 to the Western Allies at Reims, France, and on May 8 to the Soviets in Berlin. Signing the instrument of surrender in Reims was Hitler’s chief military advisor Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl, tears rolling down his face; in Berlin it was Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Col. Gen. Hans-Juergen Stumpff, and Adm. Hans-Georg Friedeburg. Adm. Friedeburg, who signed the surrender document at Lueneburg Heath and was also a witness to the signing at Reims, committed suicide two weeks later. Jodl and Keitel were tried by the postwar International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in Bavaria, sentenced to death, and hanged as war criminals on October 16, 1946.
German Capitulation, May 7 and 8, 1945
Left: Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl, Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command, signed the German Instrument of Surrender at Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Supreme Headquarters in Reims, France, on May 7, 1945. Gen. Ivan Susloparov, the Soviet Military Liaison Mission Commander at Eisenhower’s headquarters, acted as a witness for the Soviet Union. Caught off guard—Susloparov had no instructions from Moscow—Soviet leader Joseph Stalin insisted that the German surrender should have been accepted only by a top military officer of the Soviet Supreme command, that it should have been signed only in the German capital, and that the Reims protocol should be considered preliminary.
Right: Stalin harbored suspicions that German units might continue fighting in the east even after Jodl had surrendered German military forces to the Western Allies at Reims on May 7. Thus, late in the evening of May 8, 1945, the German signing ceremony was repeated at Soviet military headquarters in Karlshorst, a relatively undamaged eastern suburb of Berlin, where the instrument of surrender was signed in a banquet hall under bright klieg lights by Chief of the General Staff of the German Armed Forces Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel wearing the Nazi Party golden badge of service to Hitler (photo), Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov, Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder, Gen. Eisenhower’s representative, and French general Jean de Lattre de Tassigny. The Allies closely examined the German delegation’s certificate of authority from Reich President Doenitz to sign the surrender document. Keitel used his own fountain pen to sign five copies of the document that would surrender Germany to Allied control, for none of the other participants deigned to lend him theirs. May 8 is known in the West as Victory in Europe Day (VE Day), whereas in post-Soviet states VE Day is celebrated on May 9 because Keitel signed the surrender document after midnight Moscow time. In Germany, May 8 is known as the “Day of Capitulation” (“Tag der Kapitulation”). Among themselves Germans sometimes refer to the day as “Stunde Null,” a recognition of their country’s clock being set back to “zero hour.”
Contemporary Newsreel Account of German Capitulation in Berlin, May 8, 1945