Commemorating Victory in Europe Day in France

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Victory in Europe Day takes place on the 8th of May 1945. It commemorates the victory of the Allies over Germany. This was the end of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich and the Second World War. In fact, this date marks the unconditional surrender of the armed forces of Nazi Germany. English speakers call this day the “VE Day” (Victory in Europe Day) while France refers it to le 8 mai 1945 or Jour de la Victoire en Europe.


From the Liberation of Paris to the end of WW2

The Germans had occupied Paris and the north half of France from the 22nd June 1940.

Four years later, the Liberation of Paris took place from the 19th August 1944 to the surrender of the Wehrmacht on the 25th August 1944.

Liberation of Paris. De Gaulle walking down the Champs-Elysées, 26 August 1944 © Roger Viollet

Liberation of Paris. De Gaulle walking down the Champs-Elysées, 26 August 1944 © Roger Viollet

But la Libération de Paris was not the end of the German occupation in France, nor the end of the war.

It would last another 10 months.


The 1945 capitulations of May and September

Signature of the German Surrender 7 May 1945 - Victory in Europe Day

Signature of the German Surrender 7 May 1945

The 7th of May 1945, German Marshal Alfred Jodl signed the German Army surrender in a high school in Reims. This place then sheltered the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force.

Journalists from the West quickly spread the news of the surrender and celebrations began. However, fights were still raging on the eastern front. Germans signed another surrender act with the Allies in Berlin.

German Marshal Alfred Jodl signing the surrender of German armies in Reims on the 7th May 1945 - Victory in Europe Day

German Marshal Alfred Jodl signing the surrender of German armies in Reims on the 7th May 1945.

The Musée de la Reddition in Reims has on display the act of military surrender signed on the 7th May 1945. The original document was written in English and signed in the same premises of the museum.

German Instrument of Surrender signed in Reims 7 May 1945 - Victory in Europe Day

German Instrument of Surrender signed in Reims 7 May 1945

Victory in Europe Day: the second capitulation

On the 8th of May, the belligerents signed a second capitulation in a villa in Eastern Berlin.

Representatives from the USSR, Great Britain, France and the USA had arrived just before midnight.

The Russian marshal Georgi Joukov opened the ceremony.

Marshal Wilhelm Keitel led the German representatives. It is him who signed the capitulation act at 11.01pm (central European time).

Consequently, due to the time difference, the surrender took place the 9th of May for the soviets and the allied central-oriental countries.

VJ Day

The official capitulation of Japan (“V-J Day“, Victory over Japan Day) occurred on the 2nd of September 1945. On that day when the Minister of Foreign Affairs Mamoru Shigemitsu signed the surrender documents on the USS Missouri bridge in the Tokyo bay. This was the end of the second World War.


Victory in Europe Day: the 8th May in France

French authorities have made the 8th of May a commemorative public holiday since 1953.

In 1959, French President Charles De Gaulle suppressed the 8th May as a public holiday. In order to be in correct terms with Germany, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing (French president from 1974 to 1981) also suppressed the commemoration of the Allies victory in 1945.

Finally, in 1981, François Mitterrand requested the restoration of the commemoration of the 8th May. The newly elected French president also made it a public holiday again.

Victory in Europe Day in France today

Nowadays, most French people respect and commemorate this public holiday. Shops are closed and most of the families remember this symbolic day bringing flowers to the city War Memorial.

This is the case in Paris where the French President and officials lay wreaths on the tomb of the Unknown soldier at the Arc de Triomphe. 

Also, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris is adorned with a giant French flag under its arches. The Tricolour often stays there until Bastille Day.

Victory in Europe Day - at the Arc de Triomphe © French Moments

Victory in Europe Day – at the Arc de Triomphe © French Moments

In 2015 France celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Peace Treaty with a great number of commemorations and events.

The 75th anniversary of VE Day in France took place on 8th May 2020. These were rather special commemorations as they were strictly limited due to the pandemic.

President Macron at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Arc de Triomphe) on 8 May 2020

President Macron at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Arc de Triomphe) on 8 May 2020


 

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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. In 2014 he moved back to Europe from Sydney with his wife and daughter to be closer to their families and to France. He has a background teaching French and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations and a degree of Economics and Management.

4 Comments

  1. la signature de l’armistice (1) a eu lieu le 11 novembre 1918 à Retondes. Elle marque l’arrêt des combats de la première guerre Mondiale mais pas de la guerre.
    (1) c’est à dire pause ; à ne pas confondre avec signature de la paix

  2. Thank you for this thoughtful article. We are expats who, having only recently moved to Paris, are very aware of the history of that time all around us. We take the time to read the numerous plaques of commemoration (in our neighborhood and in every arrondissement , and beyond Paris) … trying to I magine how awful that time was… that the same streets we walk on have such a history. Your article is a very nice way to pay respect.

    • Thank you very much for your comment! There’s so much history to explore and learn in Paris, this is a fantastic city to discover! 🙂

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