Berlin, Germany · May 1, 1945

At 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. Krebs was part of the inner sanc­tum of Hitler’s un­real world in the last days of the Third Reich and was one of four people who had wit­nessed and signed the last will and testa­ment of Adolf Hitler two days earlier.

Under a white flag, Krebs, who could speak Russian, 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. Soviet dicta­tor 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 com­mitted sui­cide the next day. Goeb­bels and his wife were dead, too—sui­cides. Their charred remains, like those of Hitler and his wife, were dis­covered on the grounds out­side the Fuhrer­bunker. The next day, May 2, 1945, the Berlin garri­son headed by Gen. Helmuth Weidling surrendered.

On widely sepa­rated fronts large Ger­man forces began nego­ti­ating their sur­ren­der: in Den­mark, South­ern Germany, Italy, Hol­land, and Czecho­slo­vakia. As for the rest of Germany, Reich Presi­dent Doenitz’s top military brass sur­ren­dered 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, tears streaking his face, was Hitler’s chief mili­tary advisor Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl, whose rank was equi­va­lent to a U.S. four-star gene­ral; 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

German capitulation, Reims, May 7, 1945German capitulation, Berlin, May 8, 1945

Left: Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl, Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Com­mand, was the sole German signa­tory to the 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: On May 8, 1945, the signing cere­mony was repeated at Soviet military head­quarters in Karls­horst, Berlin, where the instru­ment of sur­ren­der was signed by Chief of the Gen­eral Staff of the Ger­man Armed Forces Field Marshal Wil­helm Keitel (center in pic­ture), Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov, and Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder, Gen. Eisen­hower’s repre­sen­ta­tive. 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