May 8, 1945: Hostilities in Europe end.
On May 7, 1945, German representatives signed the German Instrument of Surrender in Reims, France. Shortly before midnight on the same day, a second surrender was signed in Berlin (a location chosen by the Soviet representatives), and on May 8, 1945, one minute after midnight, hostilities in Europe were officially over. By the time the war in Europe ended, millions of people (civilians and soldiers alike) had lost their lives to what is still the deadliest conflict in human history. The Soviet Union, where much of the bloodiest fighting took place, saw an estimated 24 million of its people die, a number that, on its own, made up nearly half of the total death toll. The United Kingdom, Italy, France, and the United States each suffered several hundred thousand military deaths over the course of a few years of fighting. And Germany, though the indisputable aggressor of the war, had ultimately lost millions of civilians to it as well.
In his announcement of Germany’s unconditional surrender, Karl Dönitz, the Third Reich’s last head of state, addressed the imminent crisis of Germany’s postwar future. As the rest of the world celebrated his country’s defeat and subjugation, he stated:
All of us have to face a difficult path… We must walk it by making the greatest efforts to create a firm basis for our future lives. We will walk it unitedly. Without this unity we shall not be able to overcome the misery of the times to come. We will walk it in the hope that one day our children may lead a free and secure existence in a peaceful Europe.
Meanwhile, Winston Churchill delivered a number of speeches to the people of the United Kingdom. In one, he addressed a crowd from a balcony and declared: “God bless you all. This is your victory!”, to which the people below replied “No - it is yours.”