Victory in Europe Day, AKA Liberation Day, Victory Over Fascism Day, and More….

Victory in Europe Day celebrates the formal acceptance by the Allies of World War II of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces on Tuesday, 8 May 1945, marking the end of World War II in Europe. VE Day (or V-E Day in the United States) is observed by most Western European states on 8 May with several of the Channel Islands marking their various Liberation Days on 9, 10 and 16 May. Russia, Belarus, Serbia, and a number of other former Soviet bloc countries celebrate on 9 May, Israel also marks VE Day on 9 May, as a result of the large number of immigrants from the former Soviet bloc, although it is not a public holiday. The term VE Day existed as early as September 1944, in anticipation of victory. Other names for the anniversary include Victory Over Fascism Day, Liberation Day or simply Victory Day.

German Democratic Republic: 30th Anniversary of the Liberation from Fascism (Scott #1643), released on 6 May 1975.

Adolf Hitler, the Nazi leader, had committed suicide on 30 April during the Battle of Berlin and Germany’s surrender was authorized by his successor, Reichspräsident Karl Dönitz. The administration headed by Dönitz was known as the Flensburg Government. The German Instrument of Surrender was signed twice. The act of military surrender was first signed at 02:41 on 7 May in SHAEF HQ at Reims, by Alfred Jodl (chief of staff of the German OKW) for Germany, Walter Bedell Smith, on behalf of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, and Ivan Susloparov, on behalf of the Soviet High Command, in the presence of French Major-General François Sevez as the official witness.

Since the Soviet High Command had not agreed to the text of the surrender, and because Susloparov, a relatively low-ranking officer, was not authorized to sign this document, the USSR requested that a second, revised, instrument of surrender be signed in Berlin. Joseph Stalin declared that the Soviet Union considered the Reims surrender a preliminary document, and Eisenhower immediately agreed with that. Another argument was that some German troops considered the Reims instrument of surrender as a surrender to the Western Allies only, and fighting continued in the East, especially in Prague.

[Quoting Stalin:] Today, in Reims, Germans signed the preliminary act on an unconditional surrender. The main contribution, however, was done by Soviet people and not by the Allies, therefore the capitulation must be signed in front of the Supreme Command of all countries of the anti-Hitler coalition, and not only in front of the Supreme Command of Allied Forces. Moreover, I disagree that the surrender was not signed in Berlin, which was the center of Nazi aggression. We agreed with the Allies to consider the Reims protocol as preliminary.

A second surrender ceremony was organized in a surviving manor in the outskirts of Berlin late on 8 May, when it was already 9 May in Moscow due to the difference in time zones. Field-Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, chief of OKW, signed a final German Instrument of Surrender, which was also signed by Marshal Georgy Zhukov, on behalf of the Supreme High Command of the Red Army, and Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder, on behalf of the Allied Expeditionary Force, in the presence of General Carl Spaatz and General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, as witnesses. The surrender was signed in the Soviet Army headquarters in Berlin-Karlshorst. Both English and Russian versions of the instrument of surrender signed in Berlin were considered authentic texts.

The revised Berlin text of the instrument of surrender differed from the preliminary text signed in Reims in explicitly stipulating the complete disarmament of all German military forces, handing over their weapons to local Allied military commanders. This slightly modified document, considered the definitive German Instrument of Surrender, was signed on 8 May 1945 at 21:20 local time.

The German High Command will at once issue orders to all German military, naval and air authorities and to all forces under German control to cease active operations at 23.01 hours Central European time on 8 May 1945…

— German Instrument of Surrender, Article 2

Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel signing the unconditional surrender of the German Wehrmacht at the Soviet headquarters in Karlshorst, Berlin, on 8 May 1945. Photo taken by Lt. Moore (US Army); restored by Adam Cuerden. From the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the National Archives Identifier (NAID) 531290.

A number 3 double-decker bus slowly pushes its way through the huge crowds gathered in Whitehall to hear Churchill’s Victory speech and celebrate Victory in Europe Day on 8 May 1945. The crowd is a mix of service personnel, civilians and children. Behind the bus, people line the balconies of the buildings along the street, and in the background, Westminster Abbey can be seen. This is photograph D 24587 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.

Upon the defeat of Germany, celebrations erupted throughout the western world, especially in the UK and North America. More than one million people celebrated in the streets throughout the UK to mark the end of the European part of the war. In London, crowds massed in Trafalgar Square and up the Mall to Buckingham Palace, where King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, appeared on the balcony of the palace before the cheering crowds. Princess Elizabeth (the future Queen Elizabeth II) and her sister Princess Margaret were allowed to wander incognito among the crowds and take part in the celebrations.

In the United States, the event coincided with President Harry Truman’s 61st birthday. He dedicated the victory to the memory of his predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had died of a cerebral hemorrhage less than a month earlier, on 12 April. Flags remained at half-staff for the remainder of the 30-day mourning period. Truman said of dedicating the victory to Roosevelt’s memory and keeping the flags at half-staff that his only wish was “that Franklin D. Roosevelt had lived to witness this day”. Later that day, Truman said that the victory made it his most enjoyable birthday. Great celebrations took place in many American cities, especially in New York’s Times Square.

Times Square in New York City.
HM King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret joined by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, London on VE Day.
Description: Churchill waves to crowds in Whitehall on the day he broadcast to the nation that the war with Germany had been won, 8 May 1945.

Tempering the jubilation somewhat, both Churchill and Truman pointed out that the war against Japan had not yet been won. In his radio broadcast at 15:00 on May 8, Churchill told the British people that: “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing (as Japan) remains unsubdued”. In the United States, Truman broadcast at 09:00 and said it was “a victory only half won”.

Both the Reims and Berlin instruments of surrender stipulated that forces under German control to cease active operations at 23:01 hours CET on 8 May 1945. However, due to the difference in Central European and Moscow time zones, the end of war is celebrated on 9 May in the USSR and most post-Soviet countries. To commemorate the victory in the war, the ceremonial Moscow Victory Parade was held in the Soviet capital on 24 June 1945.

During the Soviet Union’s existence, 9 May was celebrated throughout the USSR as Victory Day (День Победы) and in the countries of the Eastern Bloc. The celebration of Victory Day continued during subsequent years. The war became a topic of great importance in cinema, literature, history lessons at school, the mass media, and the arts. The ritual of the celebration gradually obtained a distinctive character with a number of similar elements: ceremonial meetings, speeches, lectures, receptions and fireworks.

In Russia during the 1990s, the 9 May holiday was not celebrated with large Soviet-style mass demonstrations due to the policies of successive Russian governments. Following Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, the Russian government began promoting the prestige of the governing regime and history, and national holidays and commemorations became a source of national self-esteem. Victory Day in Russia has increasingly become a celebration in which popular culture plays a central role. The 60th and 70th anniversaries of Victory Day in Russia (2005 and 2015) became the largest popular holidays since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The British Channel Islands have three Liberation Days: 9 May in Jersey and Guernsey; 10 May in Sark; and 16 May in Alderney. The Channel Islands had been occupied during World War II by German forces from 30 June 1940 until May 1945. They were liberated by British forces following the general German surrender.

In Denmark, 5 May is celebrated as Danmarks befrielse (Liberation Day) to commemorate the German forces that surrendered in Denmark. At 1830 British Double Summer Time on 4 May 1945 at Lüneburg Heath, south of Hamburg, Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery accepted the unconditional surrender of the German forces in the Netherlands, northwest Germany including all islands, in Denmark and all naval ships in those areas. The surrender preceded the end of World War II in Europe and was signed in a carpeted tent at Montgomery’s headquarters on the Timeloberg hill at Wendisch Evern. However, the island of Bornholm was not liberated on this date. Instead, the occupation continued until the Red Army liberated the island. Afterwards the USSR held control of the island for a time before it was rejoined with the rest of Denmark.

Bevrijdingsdag (Liberation Day) is a public holiday in the Netherlands celebrated each year on 5 May to mark the end of the occupation by Nazi Germany during World War II and follows the Remembrance of the Dead (Dodenherdenking) on 4 May. The nation was liberated by Canadian forces, British infantry divisions, the British I Corps, the 1st Polish Armoured Division, American, Belgian, Dutch and Czechoslovak troops. Parts of the country, in particular the south-east, were liberated by the British Second Army which included American and Polish airborne forces (see Operation Market Garden) and French airbornes (see Operation Amherst). On 5 May 1945 the Canadian General Charles Foulkes and the German Commander-in-Chief Johannes Blaskowitz reached an agreement on the capitulation of German forces in the Netherlands in Hotel de Wereld in Wageningen. One day later the capitulation document was signed in the auditorium of Wageningen University located next door. After liberation in 1945, Liberation Day was celebrated every five years. In 1990 the day was declared a national holiday when liberation would be remembered and celebrated every year.

Italy’s Liberation Day (Festa della liberazione), also known as the Anniversary of Italy’s Liberation (Anniversario della liberazione d’Italia), Anniversary of the Resistance (Anniversario della Resistenza) is celebrated each 25 April to commemorate the end of Nazi Germany occupation during World War II and the victory of the Resistance in Italy. The date was chosen by convention, as it was the day of the year 1945 when the National Liberation Committee of Upper Italy (CLNAI) officially proclaimed the insurgency in a radio announcement, propounding the seizure of power by the CLNAI and proclaiming the death sentence for all fascist leaders (including Benito Mussolini, who was shot three days later). By 1 May, all of northern Italy was liberated, including Bologna (21 April), Genoa (23 April), Milan (25 April), Turin and Venice (28 April). The liberation put an end to twenty-three years of fascist dictatorship and five years of war. It symbolically represents the beginning of the historical journey which led to the referendum of 2 June 1946, when Italians opted for the end of the monarchy and the creation of the Italian Republic, which was followed by the adoption of the Constitution of the Republic in 1948.

In Poland, 8 May is known as Narodowy Dzień Zwycięstwa (National Victory Day) but is not currently a public holiday. In the UK, VE Day is not an annual public holiday because of the proximity of the May Day bank holiday on the first Monday in May. In 1995 and 2020, the bank holiday was moved from the preceding Monday to the 8 May to commemorate the 50th and 75th anniversaries of VE Day, respectively. However, the commemorative events scheduled for this year’s observance have been largely cancelled due to the Coronavirus COVID-19. Many organizations are using the slogan “Celebrate at Home.”

Many of the stamps issued in 2020 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II have rather festive designs, recalling the general mood of the period with generally bright colors depicting scenes of the joyous post-liberation atmosphere. I have added posts about many of these New Issues on my sister blog, Philatelic Pursuits, but I am still seeking a few more out (better quality images are needed for the many of the new Russian stamps, for example). While I have not yet been able to purchase any of these (big lockdown in my home province, not to mention worldwide slow down of postal services), I do have some favorites already.

United States: Surrender at Reims (Scott #2981f), issued on 2 September 1995.

For today’s stamp to illustrate the end of World War II, my initial idea was to use Scott #934 depicting the liberation of Paris but realized I had already used it on this blog! It remains one of my favorite stamps of the war.  My second choice was Scott #2981f showing the signing of the German instrument of surrender at Reims but then I remembered East Germany #1643 featuring the iconic image generally known as “Raising a Flag over the Reichstag” (Знамя Победы над рейхстагом in Russian). It makes one half of a bookend as I will probably use a stamp showing the raising of the U.S. flag over Iwo Jima for my post in September marking the end of the war with Japan.

Other than the minimal information contained in the Scott catalog entry — issued by the DDR on 6 May 1975 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of “liberation from fascism”, this is a 50-pfennig souvenir sheet from a set of four stamps perforated 14 x 13½ — I could find no further details about this issue. Google was not my friend today!

Taken during the Battle of Berlin on 2 May 1945, the photograph portrayed on the stamp was reprinted in thousands of publications and came to be regarded around the world as one of the most significant and recognizable images of World War II. Owing to the secrecy of Soviet media, the identities of the men in the picture were often disputed, as was that of the photographer, Yevgeny Khaldei, who was identified only after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It became a symbol of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany.

The Battle of Berlin was the final major offensive of the European theatre of World War II and was designated the Berlin Strategic Offensive Operation by the Soviet Union. Starting on 16 April 1945, the Red Army breached the German front as a result of the Vistula–Oder Offensive and rapidly advanced westward through Germany, as fast as 30–40 kilometres a day. The battle for Berlin lasted from late 20 April 1945 until 2 May and was one of the bloodiest in history.

Erected in 1894, the Reichstag’s architecture was magnificent for its time. The building contributed much to German history and was considered by the Red Army to be the symbol of their fascist enemy. However, to the Nazis, the Reichstag was a symbol of democracy and representative government; consequently they had left it closed and damaged since the infamous Reichstag fire in 1933. Instead of being a center of fascist power, the Reichstag had been closed down for 12 years, essentially the entirety of the Nazi reign, with subsequent meetings of the Reichstag convening at the nearby Kroll Opera House instead.

Painting depicting the Soviet assault on the Reichstag, Berlin, Germany, during the final days of the Second World War in Europe, April/May 1945.

Despite this, the Reichstag was arguably the most symbolic target in Berlin. The events surrounding the flag-raising are murky due to the confusion of the fight at the building. On 30 April there was great pressure from Stalin to take the building, in time for the International Workers’ Day, 1 May. Initially, two planes dropped several large red banners on the roof that appeared to have caught on the bombed-out dome. Additionally, a number of reports had reached headquarters that two parties, M. M. Bondar from the 380th Rifle Regiment and Captain V. N. Makov of the 756th might have been able to hoist a flag during the day of 30 April. These reports were received by Marshal G. K. Zhukov, who issued an announcement stating that his troops had captured the Reichstag and hoisted a flag. However, when correspondents arrived, they found no Soviets in the building, but rather they were pinned down outside by German fire. After fierce fighting both outside and inside the building, a flag was raised at 22:40 on 30 April 1945, when 23-year-old Rakhimzhan Qoshqarbaev climbed the building and inserted a flag into the crown of the mounted female statue of “Germania”, symbolizing Germany. As this happened at night, it was too dark to take a photograph. The next day the flag was taken down by the Germans. The Red Army finally gained control of the entire building on 2 May.

On 2 May 1945, Yevgeny Khaldei scaled the now pacified Reichstag to take his picture. He was carrying with him a large flag, sewn from three tablecloths for this very purpose, by his uncle. The official story would later be that two hand-picked soldiers, Meliton Kantaria (Georgian) and Mikhail Yegorov (Russian), raised the Soviet flag over the Reichstag, and the photograph would often be used as depicting the event. Some authors state that for political reasons the subjects of the photograph were changed and the actual man to hoist the flag was Aleksei Kovalev. However, according to Khaldei himself, when he arrived at the Reichstag, he simply asked the soldiers who happened to be passing by to help with the staging of the photoshoot; there were only four of them, including Khaldei, on the roof: the one who was attaching the flag was 18-year-old Private Kovalev from Kiev, the two others were Abdulkhakim Ismailov from Dagestan and Leonid Gorychev (also mentioned as Aleksei Goryachev) from Minsk. The photograph was taken with a Leica III rangefinder camera with a 35mm f3.5 lens.

Soldiers raising the flag of Soviet Union on the roof of Reichstag building in Berlin, May, 1945. Original photograph by Yevgeny Khaldei. This version of the photograph was significantly altered for propaganda purposes; additional smoke was added for dramatic effect, and a wristwatch was removed from the lower soldier’s wrist, as it would imply that he had been looting.

The photo was published 13 May 1945 in the Ogonyok magazine. While many photographers took pictures of flags on the roof, it was Khaldei’s image that stuck.

After taking the symbolic photo, Khaldei quickly returned to Moscow. He further edited the image at the request of the editor-in-chief of the Ogonyok, who noticed that Senior Sergeant Abdulkhakim Ismailov, who is supporting the flag-bearer, was wearing two watches, which could imply he had looted one of them, an action punishable by execution. Using a needle, Khaldei removed the watch from the right wrist. Later, it was claimed that the extra watch was actually an Adrianov compass and that Khaldei, in order to avoid controversy, doctored the photo to remove the watch from Ismailov’s right wrist. He also added to the smoke in the background, copying it from another picture to make the scene more dramatic.

The last offensive of the European war was actually the Prague Offensive on 6–11 May 1945, when the Red Army, with the help of Polish, Romanian, and Czechoslovak forces defeated the parts of Army Group Center which continued to resist in Czechoslovakia. There were a number of minor battles and skirmishes involving small bodies of men, but no other large scale fighting that resulted in the death of thousands of people.

Big Ben, lit by floodlights, on VE Day 8 May 1945.

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