Yesterday while many in the US were celebrating Mother’s Day on May 8, it was also the anniversary of an important date in history: Victory in Europe, or VE-Day. However, if you have been following the tragic news from the Ukraine War, you may have noticed that Russia planned a major parade and speech for VE-Day, today, May 9. Why are there two different dates marking that one event?
To find out, you’ve come to the right place!
But first, (as is often the case), we need some historical context.
- Hitler had invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, thus starting the horror known as World War II.
- By April 1945, more than five, bloody years later, the combined Allied armies were closing in on Nazi Germany from multiple sides like a vise. The massive Soviet Red army was coming in from the East. The US, British, and Canadian forces were nearly finishing a nine-month slog that had begun with the D-Day landings in June 1944 and were coming in from the South and West.
- Since Berlin had been Hitler’s capital, it was an important military and symbolic goal. By April 30, with Soviet tanks only a few blocks away from Hitler’s underground bunker headquarters, the madman took his life.
- During the first few days of May, some of the remaining Nazi leaders tried to carry on the war, but it was soon evident to all that they had lost the war and that the Allies were victorious. At 2:41 a.m. on May 7, Nazi General Alfred Jodl signed the Nazi surrender documents at a schoolhouse in Reims, France, that was serving as the Supreme Allied Headquarters. However, the document stipulated that all Nazi forces were to stop fighting and lay down their arms by 11:01 p.m. the next day. Thus, May 8 is celebrated as VE-Day in most of the world.
- However, since Moscow lies far to the east of Germany, it was and still is in a different time zone, ahead of Central Europe. So, 11:01 p.m. May 8 in Berlin was already May 9 in Moscow, if just barely. (source) Hence, the Russians have celebrated the fall of fascism and the end of WWII on May 9 ever since.
Now you know!
If you’d like a deep dive into the history of Berlin — starting with the chaotic seizure of the city in April 1945 by the Russians, then its division into 4 occupied zones, and eventually into East and West Berlin, read the fascinating book Checkmate in Berlin by Giles Milton.
To learn more about VE-Day, please read this blog post.
The freedoms and high standard of living we enjoy today are not products of accidents or chance, but we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to that generation that fought in and led WWII, the cohort we now call “The Greatest Generation.” The reasonable response on our part should be a deep sense of gratitude and a determination to protect those liberties and pass them on.