REIMS, France — Nazi commanders signed their surrender to Allied forces in a French schoolhouse 75 years ago this week, ending World War II in Europe and the Holocaust. Unlike the mass street celebrations that greeted this momentous news in 1945, surviving veterans are marking V-E Day this year in coronavirus confinement, sharing memories with loved ones in private, instead of in the company of comrades on public parade.
Associated Press reporters and photographers covered the war around the world, at great risk. Five AP journalists were killed, including correspondent Joe Morton, who was executed by the Nazis. On May 7, 1945, AP witnessed the Nazi surrender, and was the first to announce it to the Allied public, defying authorities who wanted to delay the momentous announcement.
Here are excerpts of AP news reports that day:
FLASH: ALLIES OFFICIALLY ANNOUNCED GERMANS SURRENDERED UNCONDITIONALLY
BULLETIN: Germany surrendered unconditionally to the Western Allies and Russia at 2:41 a.m. French time today.
REIMS, France: Germany surrendered unconditionally to the Western Allies and the Soviet Union at 2:41 a.m. French time today. (This was at 8:41 p.m. Eastern War Time, Sunday May 6, 1945).
The surrender took place at a little red schoolhouse that is the headquarters of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The surrender was signed for Germany by Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl. Gen. Jodl is the new chief of staff of the German Army.
The surrender was signed for the Supreme Allied Command by Lt. Gen. Walter Beddel Smith, chief of staff for Gen. Eisenhower. It was also signed by Gen. Ivan Susloparov of the Soviet Union and by Gen. Francois Sevez for France.
Joy at the news was tempered only by the realization that the war against Japan remains to be resolved.
The end of the European warfare, the greatest, bloodiest and costliest war in human history — it has claimed at least 40 million casualties on both sides in killed, wounded and captured — came after five years, eight months and six days of strife that overspread the globe.
Hitler’s army invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, beginning the agony that convulsed the world for 2,319 days.
Gen. Eisenhower was not present at the signing, but immediately afterward Gen. Jodl and his fellow delegate Gen. Adm. Hans Georg Friedeburg were received by the supreme commander.
They were asked sternly if they understood the surrender terms imposed upon Germany, and if they would be carried out by Germany.
They answered yes.
Germany, which began the war with a ruthless attack upon Poland, followed by successive aggressions and brutality in concentration camps, surrendered with an appeal to the victors for mercy toward the German people and armed forces.
After having signed the full surrender, Gen. Jodl said he wanted to speak, and received leave to do so.
“With this signature,” he said in soft-spoken German, “The German people and armed forces are for better or worse delivered into the victors’ hands.
“In this war, which has lasted more than five years, both have achieved and suffered more than perhaps any other people in the world.”
The great bells of St. Peter’s Basilica rang out over Rome soon after the Associated Press report that peace had come to Europe, while several Allied capitals proclaimed V-E holidays for today, and Tokyo announced continuation of “The Sacred War.”
Many of the world’s cities went wild at the news, and even neutral capitals were bedecked and filled with celebrating crowds. Masses of people gathered in front of loudspeakers and newspaper offices, which were frantically answering inquiries and rolling out extras.
Only in the unnatural calm of the European fronts was the news reported to have been taken soberly, by soldiers who had seen the fighting taper off in one sector after another for the past two weeks.
War-scarred London burst into jubilant celebration of the end of the war in Europe today, its millions of citizens unable to wait for the government’s official V-E Day proclamation tomorrow.
Millions surged into the streets, from Buckingham Palace to the sedate East End.
The Picadilly Circus, Whitehall and Westminster areas filled with a laughing, shouting throng. Some old-timers said the scene eclipsed those of the 1918 armistice.
Pubs were jammed, Champagne was brought up from deep cellars and long-hoarded whisky and gin came out from hiding.
The great bells of Big Ben tolled the hours of the historic day.
In Paris, which lived through four years of German occupation to become a base for Supreme Allied Headquarters, the French government announced a two-day holiday. France had special cause for satisfaction in having staged a comeback and won the right to share in accepting Germany’s surrender.
In Washington, crowds gathered in Lafayette Square across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House in anticipation of an announcement by President Truman to proclaim Allied V-E Day.
A dispatch from the United States 9th Army front said withdrawal of American troops toward a previously established line of demarcation between them and the Russians had begun, with the first-move evacuation of the Yanks from their bridgehead of the banks of the Elbe River. The Elbe became the temporary line between the Allied armies.
EDITORS NOTE: Edward Kennedy, then AP’s chief of bureau in Paris, was present at the surrender and was the first to report the end of the war in Europe to the United States and the world, bypassing the Allied political embargo.
The news was broadcast unofficially over German radio, but U.S. President Harry Truman and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had agreed to suppress news of the capitulation for a day, in order to allow Russian dictator Josef Stalin to stage a second surrender ceremony in Berlin.
Kennedy published anyway, angering U.S. authorities. The military suspended AP’s ability temporarily to dispatch any news from the European theater, and Kennedy was called home by AP and later fired.
AP issued a public apology in 2012, saying Kennedy “did everything just right,” because the embargo was for political reasons, not to protect the troops.
“The world needed to know,” AP’s then-President and CEO Tom Curley said. Kennedy “stood up to power.”