Reims, France May 7, 1945

Five days after the suicide of Adolf Hitler on April 30, 1945, Adm. Hans-Georg von Friede­burg, an emis­sary from Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz, arrived in the French cathe­dral town of Reims, head­quarters of Gen. Dwight D. Eisen­hower, Supreme Com­mander Allied Exped­i­tionary Force, looking pale and tired. For the second time in less than a week Friede­burg was tasked with opening sur­render nego­ti­ations on behalf of Doenitz, Reich Presi­dent of the rump Nazi state centered on Flensburg, close to the Danish border in Northern Germany. With Eisen­hower’s con­cur­rence the first surren­der nego­ti­a­tions with the Friede­burg dele­ga­tion occurred on May 3–4 near Germany’s Luene­berg Heath in the presence of British Field Marshal Ber­nard Law Mont­gomery, comman­der the Allies’ 21st Army Group. The partial sur­ren­der applied only to German armed forces in Holland, Northwest Germany, and Denmark.

In Reims Friedeburg began, Eisen­hower remarked later, “playing for time” so that the Germans could move as many of their men and pieces of equip­ment as pos­sible behind Anglo-Amer­i­can lines and away from Soviet lines in East­ern Europe. Indeed, as many as 210,000 German troops had streamed into British and Amer­i­can lines in the last couple of days. Friede­burg was brought up short when Eisen­hower’s repre­sen­ta­tive and chief of staff, Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, made it plain that the Allies would only accept uncon­di­tional sur­render on all fronts. Doenitz com­plied with the demand, em­powering Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl, Chief of the Opera­tions Staff of the Armed Forces High Com­mand (Ober­kommando der Wehr­macht, or OKW), to sign on this date, May 7, 1945, in Reims formal papers of sur­render of all German land, sea, and air forces in Europe. After affixing his signa­ture, 54‑year-old Jodl ad­dressed his audi­ence, saying: “At this hour, we [he meant the ­German nation and German Armed Forces] can only hope that the vic­tors will be gene­rous.” Eisen­hower coolly responded that “the German Supreme Com­mander will appear for the sur­render to the Russians at the time and the place that the Russian High Command will designate.”

Following the signing ceremony Eisen­hower in­formed the Allied War Office in London: “The mis­sion of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 0241, local time, May 7, 1945.” The next day in Berlin, May 8, 1945, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, head of the entire OKW, along with repre­sen­ta­tives of the German Navy and Air Force, signed a second uncon­di­tional sur­render docu­ment in Berlin-Karls­horst. Present were Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov, signing on behalf of the Supreme Com­mand of the Red Army; Deputy Supreme Com­mander Allied Expedi­tionary Force British Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder, signing as Gen. Eisen­hower’s repre­sen­ta­tive; and French Gen. Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, who signed as a witness. When Keitel saw the French dele­ga­tion, he exclaimed, “What? The French too?”

Because Doenitz’s and Jodl’s communi­ca­tion links with and even author­ity over German troops in the field were chal­lenging, even dubious, at this junc­ture, some fighting con­tin­ued. Certain tank regi­ments, fanat­ical Waffen-SS units (which had the most to lose from the victors), and Hitler Youth simply refused orders to lay down their arms. But the fact remained, the war in Europe was officially over after nearly 5‑1/2 years and after the deaths of between 65 and 85 mil­lion com­bat­ants and non­com­bat­ants. (The higher figure represents the mil­lions who died from war-related dis­ease and famine.) The German Reich Adolf Hitler had vowed would endure a thousand years had lasted a pitiful and extremely painful dozen.

The German Instrument of Surrender, May 7, 1945

German unconditional surrender, Reims, France, May 7, 1945. Backs to camera are Hans-Georg von Friedeburg (left), Alfred Jodl, Wilhelm OxeniusGerman unconditional surrender, Reims, France, May 7, 1945. Oxenius (left), Jodl (signing), Friedeburg

Left: In the early hours of Monday, May 7, 1945, Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl, Chief of the Oper­a­tions Staff of the Armed Forces High Com­mand, along with two other German offi­cers, gathered in the 30-ft by 30-ft map room of the head­quarters (a former school building) of Gen. Dwight D. Eisen­hower, Supreme Allied Com­mander in Europe. The three German offi­cers (backs to the camera) were flanked on three sides of the large table by U.S., British, French, and Soviet officers, who watched Jodl sign the German Instru­ment of Surren­der, which ended World War II in Europe. Also watching were 17 reporters from the news pool. One micro­phone and one film camera recorded the surrender.

Right: A strong opponent of general surrender, Jodl, Chief of Staff in Reich Presi­dent Adm. Karl Doenitz’s govern­ment (suc­cessor regime to Hitler’s), signs the docu­ment of uncon­di­tional sur­render as ordered by Doenitz minutes before in a radio message. On Jodl’s left is Adm. Hans-Georg von Friede­burg of the Ger­man Navy, and on the right is Jodl’s aide and trans­lator, Maj. Wilhelm Oxenius. Friede­burg, who was in Berlin the next day to sign the second Ger­man Instru­ment of Sur­ren­der at Soviet military head­quarters, com­mitted sui­cide on May 23, 1945, when a British team arrived at Doe­nitz’s head­quarters in Flens­burg, North­ern Ger­many, and arrested mem­bers of his Nazi govern­ment. Jodl, like OKW chief Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, taken into custody on May 11, was tried by the post­war Inter­national Mili­tary Tri­bu­nal at Nurem­berg and sentenced to death. Jodl and Keitel were hanged as war criminals on October 16, 1946.

German Instrument of Surrender, May 7, 1945

Above: Jodl signed the “Act of Military Surrender” in Reims, France, at 2:39 a.m., the first of two sur­ren­der docu­ments signed by the German mili­tary. At the same time Jodl signed Eisen­hower’s copy of the sur­render docu­ment, he signed three more, one each for Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and France. Over Jodl’s signa­ture are the words, “On behalf of the German High Com­mand,” not (and this became signi­fi­cant later) as a repre­sen­ta­tive of the legal head of state, Reich Pre­si­dent Doe­nitz. (The Allies never con­sidered Hitler’s ves­tig­ial Nazi regime at Flens­burg a “govern­ment,” but merely a rem­nant of the German mili­tary high com­mand.) Under Jodl’s signa­ture in capital letters are the words, “IN THE PRESENCE OF.” Then appeared the signa­tures of Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, Eisen­hower’s chief of staff, who signed on behalf of the Supreme Com­mander Allied Exped­i­tion­ary Force; Ivan Souslo­parov, who signed on behalf of the Soviet High Com­mand; and François Sevez, a Major General in the French Army, who signed as witness.

Contemporary Newsreel Account of Repeat German Surrender Ceremony the Next Day in Berlin, May 8, 1945, VE Day