May 8, 2020, marks 75 years since Victory in Europe (V.E.) Day. This was the day when war with Germany was officially over, and Adolf Hitler finally surrendered. The war with Japan would continue for almost another four months, but V.E. Day would signify the day when the Allies could start reliving their lives.
World War II was a war between the Allies (the U.S., Great Britain, and Russia) and the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan), as well as a host of other nations. Though it took place from 1940 to 1945, the U.S. joined the war in 1941, after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
During World War II, soldiers and people at home, especially in Europe, had their lives transformed. Food was rationed, access to regular activities was limited, and daily routines faced upheaval – from heading to shelters as German planes dropped bombs indiscriminately, to nightly blackouts and curfews. Luckily, life in the United States faired well by comparison. Even so, American factories started making equipment for the war, food was rationed, and families were split up as soldiers went off to fight.
When Germany surrendered, there were enormous celebrations across Europe and in America. As President Harry S. Truman enjoyed his 61st birthday, he wrote to Winston Churchill, saying, “With warm affection, we hail our comrades-in-arms across the Atlantic.” He considered it to be a “great birthday present.”
There were also private celebrations, as people realized their lives could now continue with a little less fear, a little less hopelessness.
A Train Stop
On May 8, 1945, a train controlled by SS officers stopped on its way to Theresienstadt concentration camp. A 16-year-old Polish boy, Arek Hersh, described what happened:
“We came to a railway station in a place called Roudnice, a few miles from Theresienstadt. After a few minutes we were ordered to get off the train…
I saw that on the other side of the transport a Czech policeman was giving boys some bread and meat. One of the Ukrainian SS guards also saw this, and he turned his rifle round to get hold of the barrel to hit one of the starving boys in the head. A Czech policeman saw what was happening and drew his revolver. He pointed it at the SS guard and said, ‘If you touch this child, I will shoot you.’ I saw the SS guard immediately put his rifle down and walk away: An SS guard taking orders from someone else.
It was difficult to comprehend that we had survived. I remember how we asked one another what we felt at that moment, as if to make sure it wasn’t just a dream.”
And so, today we can honor V.E. Day as a victory against the brutality of Hitler’s regime, and as a celebration of freedom and liberty for all.