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, on the west side of 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 cease­fire or truce 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 seemed to be a ploy to gain Soviet recog­ni­tion of the new Doenitz govern­ment and clearly side­stepped the Allies’ demand for Nazi Germany’s uncon­di­tional sur­render. Krebs was given a dead­line of 10:15 a.m. for Goebbels to uncon­di­tionally sur­render Germany, after which Berlin would be “blasted into ruins”—as if the Reich capital wasn’t already in ruins. When the dead­line passed with­out an answer, the Soviets unleashed a “hurri­cane of fire” on the remains of the city center.

Having no authority to modify Goebbels’ terms, Krebs returned to the Fuehrer­bunker empty-handed and, in despair, com­mitted sui­cide using his Luger pistol 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 60-year-old Gen. Helmuth Weidling surren­dered, though spora­dic 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 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: 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) and by 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. The signa­tures of Col. Gen. Hans-Juergen Stumpff and Adm. Hans-Georg Friede­burg appear on oppo­site sides of Keitel’s. 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