- Historic Sites
The Last Days Of The Third Reich
Forty years ago, a tangle of chaotic events led to the death of Hitler, the surrender of the Nazis, and the end of World War II in Europe
April/may 1985 | Volume 36, Issue 3
At 2:29 A.M. ten Allied representatives entered the war room, followed five minutes later by General Smith. They took their places around three sides of the old examination table, seated on cheap white chairs commandeered from the German army. Before each place was a name card, a pad, and a pencil. In the middle of the table was a large, black, double pen holder and a microphone for recording the historic moment. Silence settled over the war room.
Six minutes passed. General Strong appeared in the doorway. With him were General Jodl, Jodl’s aide, Maj. Friedrich Wilhelm Oxenius, and Admiral Friedeburg. The three Germans marched up to the table, stood at attention, clicked their heels, and bowed. No salutes were exchanged. General Jodl’s eyes looked glazed. General Smith wordlessly gestured the Germans to the three empty chairs opposite him. They sat facing a huge map showing the almost completed subjugation of their homeland.
General Smith’s flat voice broke the silence. The surrender document, he informed Jodl, was before him. The Act of Military Surrender was starkly simple, five short paragraphs, four of them consisting of one sentence each. General Strong, standing behind Jodl, read the surrender in German, seemingly for the benefit of the enemy, but actually for the cameras.
Smith next asked Jodl if he was ready to sign. Jodl gave a brief nod. Jodl picked up the gold-plated pen that Captain Butcher had set in front of him. He signed Jodl in bold letters. Butcher immediately retrieved the pen. Jodl also had to sign a supplementary document. Butcher handed him his own Schaeffer pen. Strong then placed the surrender document before General Smith, who signed it with the solid gold pen that he returned to his pocket to give to’Eisenhower.
Next to sign was the Soviet representative, General Sousloparov, and, lastly, Gen. François Sevez, for France.
General Smith had signed both for the United States and Britain in his capacity as representative of the Combined Chiefs of Staff, which commanded all Western Allied military forces. Thus no British signature appeared on the surrender document of an enemy that the British had fought for nearly six years.
General Jodl rose, his face drawn. “I want to say a word,” he said in English. On his tunic the Knight’s Cross and Iron Cross glistened, and his well-pressed uniform showed hard wear. He switched to German. “With this signature the German people and the German Armed Forces are, for better or worse, delivered into the hands of the victors.… In this hour I can only express the hope that the victor will treat them with generosity.” Strong translated. Otherwise, Jodl’s statement was received in silence.
General Smith led Jodl down the hall to the office of the supreme commander, where, for the first time, Eisenhower was to come face-to-face with a leading Nazi.
General Smith got up and led Jodl down the hall to the supreme commander’s office, where, for the first time, Dwight Eisenhower was to come face-toface with a leading Nazi.
Eisenhower stood erect and unsmiling. He wore his service dress uniform. Jodl saluted him. Eisenhower did not return the salute. If the victor of Europe felt any profound emotion at this moment, he concealed it utterly. He asked Jodl in a toneless voice if he understood the provisions of the surrender. Strong translated. Jodl answered yes. Eisenhower went on in the same cold manner: “You will, personally and officially, be held responsible if the terms of the surrender are violated, including its provisions for German commanders to appear in Berlin at the moment set by the Russian High Command to accomplish formal surrender to that government. You will get details of instructions at a later date. You will be expected to carry them out faithfully. That is all.” In the silence that followed, Jodl saluted again, made a quick bow, and left the room. As soon as he was gone, Elsenhower broke out in the famous ear-to-ear grin. He invited the photographers in as he posed with the signature pens held aloft in a “V for victory” sign.
At eight-thirty that morning, an alarming message arrived from Moscow. No one in the presumably atheistic Communist regime had been available over that Russian Orthodox Easter weekend to approve the surrender document. Consequently, the Soviet response had not arrived in Reims until six hours after the signing had taken place. The note was blistering. Sousloparov was instructed not to sign the instrument of surrender. Furthermore, the Russians wanted only one signing to take place—in Berlin. The Red Army chief of staff, Gen. I. A. Antonov, virtually accused Elsenhower of arranging a separate peace with the Nazis so that the Western Allies could then make war against the Soviet Union. Most alarming to the Russians was an inconceivable omission in the Act of Military Surrender. The document made no mention of the laying down of arms by the Germans.
That evening, the luckless General Sousloparov was recalled to Moscow. Col. John Counsel! described his sudden departure from the officers’ mess in Reims: “the jocund, upright figure now an old man, sagging at the knees, his face drained of all color, his eyes expressionless.”