Victory in Europe

Unconditional Surrender

Today we commemorate VE-Day – or Victory in Europe day.

On May 7th, 1945, the German forces unconditionally surrendered to the Allied forces, ending the reign of the Third Reich (Nazi Germany) involvement in WWII, which they started six years prior.

The German High Command surrenders at American Headquarters in Reims, France, May 7th, 1945. Colonel General Alfred Jodl is seated third from right(Public Domain)


Dwight Eisenhower as General of the Army

Dwight D. Eisenhower (Public Domain)

While the war would not officially end until the Japanese surrendered on September 2, 1945, this event was largely considered to be the biggest milestone on the road to victory.

Despite its name (Victory in Europe), United States General and Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces Dwight D. Eisenhower played a key role in negotiating the terms of surrender. Although not present at the actual surrender, Eisenhower provided the framework for the Allies’ demands when the Germans surrendered to representatives from France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States on May 7, 1945.


Alfred Jodl (Public Domain)

General Alfred Jodl, Chief of Staff of the German Army, originally proposed terms of surrender that were favorable to the Germans: Germany would give up fighting against the Allies on the Western front but continue to fight against the USSR on the Eastern Front. Ultimately, Jodl hoped that the Allies would join the remnants of the German army to fight the USSR.

But Eisenhower remained firm and unrelenting. He demanded the unconditional surrender of all Germans on both fronts, which meant that the US would not fight with Germany against the USSR.


Einsenhower’s firm position was largely motivated by the “indescribable horror” he witnessed during his visits to the German concentration camps.

General Dwight Eisenhower and other high ranking U.S. Army officers view the bodies of prisoners who were killed during the evacuation of Ohrdruf, Germany, while on a tour of the newly liberated concentration camp. (Public Domain)


He firmly believed that the German high command were war criminals who deserved swift punishment.

Not ending the war swiftly meant prolonging the horrors Eisenhower “wouldn’t even want to begin to describe.”

As a result, Eisenhower prevented another war and ensured that the war against the Germans would reach a swift conclusion.

Jodl (second from left) at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal in the Palace of Justice Courtroom on November 27, 1945. (Public Domain)


A little over a year later, Jodl was sentenced to death at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg for crimes against humanity.







The war, which started when the Hitler-led German army invaded Poland in 1939, waged for six bloody years and involved more than fifty nations across the globe.

And victory for the Allies was far from inevitable. It required a steadfast commitment to the principles and freedoms the Allied forces were fighting to defend—and a recognition of what’s at stake if we lost.

VE Day in downtown Baltimore; note the ticker tape (Preservation Maryland)


In America, that dedication and sacrifice created what’s commonly called the “Greatest Generation”. Born between 1901 and 1927, this generation came of age during the great depression and fought and defeated both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Their many sacrifices for our country remind us of the importance these principles have held throughout history.

As Tom Brokaw said in his book The Greatest Generation, “All of us, no matter our age, are shaped by the events of our time. I say this, knowing today the hardships and sacrifices continuing to be made by our men and women in uniform. The lessons from my generation remain the same: Discipline. Responsibility. Humility. Loyalty.”

At the Jack Miller Center, we strongly believe that the study of our founding principles and history can keep us committed to a love of American and the freedoms she represents. Sharing those principles begins in the classroom with a strong civic education. Help us protect those values and move our country forward.

Elliott Drago serves as the JMC’s Resident Historian and Editorial Manager. He is a historian of American history and the author of Street Diplomacy: The Politics of Slavery and Freedom in Philadelphia, 1820-1850 (Johns-Hopkins University Press, 2022).

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