What it was like in the room when Germany finally surrendered to end WWII in Europe

In the early morning hours of May 7, 1945, the remnants of Nazi Germany’s military leadership signed an unconditional surrender to Allied forces.

When the news broke the next day, soldiers and civilians around the world heralded Victory in Europe Day — the Soviet Union would mark Victory Day on May 9 — exuberant about the end of nearly six years of war that had destroyed much of Europe.

When German and Allied military officials gathered again in Berlin near midnight on May 8 to sign surrender documents, the atmosphere in the room was laden with emotional and political weight.

The Germans, characteristically severe, went through the proceedings in a mix of resignation and resentment, while the Soviets, Americans, and other Allies were relieved at the war’s conclusion.

All of them were uncertain what would come next.

Historian Antony Beevor’s sweeping history of the final months on the eastern front, “The Fall of Berlin 1945,” captured the mood in the room as victors and vanquished gathered to bring their conflict to an end:

“Just before midnight the representatives of the allies entered the hall ‘in a two-storey building of the former canteen of the German military engineering college in Karlshorst.’ General Bogdanov, the commander of the 2nd Guards Tank Army, and another Soviet general sat down by mistake on seats reserved for the German delegation.”

“A staff officer whispered in their ears and ‘they jumped up, literally as if stung by a snake’ and went to sit at another table. Western pressmen and newreel cameramen apparently ‘behaved like madmen’. In their desperation for good positions, they were shoving generals aside and tried to push in behind the top table under the flags of the four allies.”

The German delegation then entered the room — its members looking both “resigned” and “imperious.”

Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, commander of the Nazi armed forces during the final days of the war, “sat very straight in his chair, with clenched fists,” Beevor wrote. “Just behind him, a tall German staff officer standing to attention ‘was crying without a single muscle of his face moving.'”

Gen. Georgy Zhukov, a senior Soviet commander during the war’s final days, stood to invite the Germans “to sign the act of capitulation.” Keitel, impatient, gestured for the documents to be brought to him. “Tell them to come here to sign,” Zhukov said.

Keitel walked over to sign, “ostentatiously” removing his gloves to do so, unaware that the representative for the chief of Stalin’s secret police, the NKVD, was lingering just over his shoulder.

“‘The German delegation may leave the hall,'” Zhukov said once the signing was complete, Beevor wrote, adding:

“The three men stood up. Keitel, ‘his jowls hanging heavily like a bulldog’s’, raised his marshal’s baton in salute, then turned on his heel. As the door closed behind them, it was almost as if everybody would in the room exhaled in unison. The tension relaxed instantaneously. Zhukov was smiling, so was [British Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur] Tedder. Everybody began to talk animatedly and shake hands. Soviet officers embraced each other with bear hugs.”

“The party which followed went on until almost dawn, with songs and dances. Marshal Zhukov himself danced the Russkaya to loud cheers from his generals. From inside, they could clearly hear gunfire all over the city as officers and soldiers blasted their remaining ammunition into the night sky in celebration. The war was over.”

The chaos of the war had ceased, but for Soviets and Germans other hardships were to come.

An aerial (oblique) photograph taken from a De Havilland Mosquito of the RAF Film and Photographic Unit showing badly damaged buildings in the area between Friedrich Hain and Lichtenberg, Berlin. | Royal Air Force

Zhukov, long a confidant of Stalin, earned glory for his command during the war, but he would soon find himself on the outs with the mercurial Soviet leader.

Keitel would face war-crimes charges, including crimes against humanity. He was convicted and hanged in October 1946. Like other Nazi leaders who were hanged, Keitel’s body didn’t drop with enough force to break his neck. He dangled at the end of the hangman’s rope for 24 minutes before dying.

Germans, many of them under the yoke of the Soviet Union, would struggle to rebuild both physically from the war and emotionally from their encounter with Allies forces — Soviet soldiers in particular. Berlin, buffered by two weeks of intense urban fighting, was shattered.

The Soviet Union’s drive for political vengeance and economic advantage lead it to hobble or strip much of East Germany’s infrastructure and resources.

TOP ARTICLES
This vehicle is bristling with weapons to shoot down Kim Jong-un's aerial menace

Whether the plane is carrying bombs, rockets, missiles, or some of Kim Jong-un's goons, the Hybrid BIHO will make sure they never get through.

That time two luxurious ocean liners fought an intense old-time naval battle

The German ship Cap Trafalgar disguised itself as the HMS Carmania to lure and destroy British merchant ships. Its first victim was the real HMS Carmania.

This is the dummy's guide to the rail gun

Designed to double the muzzle velocity of all naval artillery weapons to hypersonic speeds up to Mach 6, the Navy's rail gun system uses advanced technology that is a pain in the butt to understand

This is what Sikorsky thinks should replace the Blackhawk

The Defiant is fast, it can carry a lot of troops, and it's armed to the teeth.

How one vet learned to actually appreciate his deployment to Iraq

This veteran believes God used the Iraq war to fulfill Biblical prophesies, and he's written a four part series to explain it.

Combat Controller receives Air Force Cross for valor in Afghanistan

Air Force Staff Sgt. Richard Hunter was awarded the Air Force Cross Oct. 17 for actions during an eight-hour firefight in Kunduz Province, Afghanistan.

This is what Iran will do if the US pulls out of the nuke deal

President Trump is threatening to back out of the Iran nuclear deal — in direct opposition of the other five countries involved. Here is what Iran thinks.

Why Hollywood prescribes pot to its veteran characters with PTS

A new Netflix comedy takes a lighthearted look at the growing use of medical marijuana to treat veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress.

Does this picture show the US covertly moving SEALs into Korea?

The USS Michigan stopped in Busan for a "routine port visit," but pictures of the event suggest a more clandestine purpose that may involve US Navy SEALs.

How ISIS became a 'pathetic and a lost cause' after the fall of Raqqa

Special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, Brett McGurk tweeted photos of a mass ISIS surrender.