VE Day- 72 Years Later Richard J. Garfunkel

Victory in Europe Day, generally known as V-E Day, VE Day or simply V Day, was the public holiday celebrated on 8 May 1945 to mark the formal acceptance by the Allies of World War II of Nazi Germany‘s unconditional surrender of its armed forces. It thus marked the end of World War II in Europe. In a sense it ended over six hundred years of European civil wars from the days of the Hundred Years War (1337-1453). Europe finally collapsed in exhaustion, as the two great non-European powers, the United States and the Soviet Union had the power, the manpower and the will to fight this last world war to its just conclusion.

The term VE Day existed as early as September 1944, in anticipation of victory. On 30 April 1945, Adolf Hitler, the Nazi leader, committed suicide during the Battle of Berlin. Germany’s surrender, therefore, was authorized by his successor as Reich President, Grand Admiral Karl Döenitz. The administration headed by Döenitz was known as the Flensburg Government. The act of military surrender was signed on May 7th in Reims, France and on  May 8th in Berlin, Germany.

In the field, at his headquarters, Luneburg Heath, Germany, Field Marshall, Bernard Law Montgomery, Commander of the 21st Army Group, had been approached days before, on May 3rd, by a German delegation led by Grand Admiral von Friedeburg, now Commander in Chief of the German Navy. Montgomery demanded a surrender from Admiral von Friedeburg, who could not speak for the new German government. He returned, under escort to the German lines, with a message regarding Montgomery promise to continue pounding the Germans, for a message to Keitel and Doenitz.

Eventually, the next day, their delegation, led by von Friedeburg returned and signed the instrument of surrender of all German forces in northwestern Europe. This would set the stage the general surrender that would occur in the following days. Interestingly, Admiral Friedeburg presented a letter from Field Marshall Keitel wanting to withdraw three German armies from the Russian front and to surrender to him and his command of British and American troops. Montgomery stated, that this was unacceptable. Von Friedeburg said it was unthinkable to surrender to the Russians as they were savages and the German soldiers would be sent straight to work in Russia. Montgomery answered, “That the Germans should have thought pf all these things before they began the war, and particularly before they attacked the Russians in June, 1941!” Of course, this localized surrender in the West, would lead to a general surrender of all German forces to all of the Allied Powers, as delineated in the agreements crafted at the Yalta Conference.

In the early hours of May 7, 1945, the first formal signing of the surrender agreement took place.  The venue was, the Supreme Commander of SHAEF, General Eisenhower’s L–shaped war room. Its cramped 30 square foot room, in an old school house, with the walls covered with battle maps, was packed with war reporters, microphones and a Hollywood-style battery of film lights and news real cameras. The representatives of the Allied powers were assembled on one side of a large table. Which had been mover to accommodate the press. Four copies of the surrender documents, bound in plain gray paper covers, lay on the table. General Eisenhower, refused to deal with German officers directly, was not present. In the room, but waited in his office down the corridor, pacing up and down impatiently. General Walter Bedell Smith, Eisenhower’s Chief of Staff, asked General Alfred Jodl, Chief of the German General Staff, if all the point in the document were clear and whether he was prepared to sign. Two pens, owned by General Eisenhower one solid gold and one gold-plated were offered Jodl, and the signed, followed by Bedell Smith and General Susalaparov for the Soviets and General Sevez for the French. (Jodl would be sentenced to death at the Nuremburg Trials in October, 1946.)

Lt. Kay Summersby, General Eisenhower’s English WAC driver, secretary and confidante, watched the Nazis generals march into his office. She later recalled, they looked like, “the exact prototypes of film-land Nazis, sour-faced, glum, erect and despicable.”  General Eisenhower demanded, “Do you understand all the provisions of the document of surrender you have signed?” Jodl, replied “Ja!” Eisenhower then continued, “You will officially and personally be responsible if the terms of this surrender are violated, including the provisions for the German commanders to appear in Berlin at the moment set by the Russian High Command to accomplish formal surrender to that government. That is all!” After their departure, Eisenhower broke into an immense grim, posed for the cameras and recorded a short statement for the radio and sent a formal cable to the Combined Chiefs-of-Staff in Washington: “The Mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 02:41 local time, May 7, 1945.”

Unfortunately, Edward Kennedy, Chief of the Paris Bureau of the Associate Press, broke the rules, by relaying the news of the surrender, before the official announcement and the news broke all over Britain and America, before it was officially announced. Therefore the official announcement was pushed ahead to the next day, thus May 8, 1945

Eventually, the Soviets were apprised of the signing, and Major-General Suslaparov, who had signed the May 7th document on his own, and without the consent of Marshal Stalin, the “official” surrender, with all the Allies was re-scheduled for Berlin the next day and it was chaired by short, stern and dynamic Marshal Georgy Zhukov. With Eisenhower’s representative, the British Air Marshall Arthur Tedder, American General Carl Spaatz and the Soviet Representative from the Kremlin Andrei Vyshinsky, who even Zhukov had to defer to, the proceedings opened. As this meeting convened, an arrogant, tall German officer, in smart field gray, entered. Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel, with all his medals and decorations steeped stiffly to the table, jerked up his silver –headed baton in a curt salute and was seated. According to Eisenhower’s aided Captain Harry Butcher, “Keitel was still arrogant and defiant and seemed to survey the room like he might the terrain of a battlefield.” Keitel, looked around and said, “The French are here too!” Vyschinsky heard him mutter when he set eyes on the French general de Lattre de Tassigny, “That’s all we need!” In contrast, German General Friedenburg look morose with deep rings round his eyes! (Two weeks later he would commit suicide.) Eventually, with all the bluster and demands, Keitel wanted to make, he had signed, the war was now officially over and there were at least 25 toasts by the victors to Stalin, Eisenhower, Churchill, Roosevelt and Truman, victory and Allied friendship. By five o’clock, most of the banquet guests were good and drunk. Some of the Russians were under the table and three generals had to be carried out. (Keitel would be sentenced to death at Nuremburg and Doenitz would receive a prison sentence.)

From the diary of Harold Nicholson- “At 3 pm comes the news that an hour ago Schwerin von Krosigk (Foreign Minister under the Donitz government) has spoken on the wireless from Flensburg (the town where the Doenitz rump government was set up). He said the Germany was obliged to surrender unconditionally, crushed by the overwhelming might of her enemies.” Ben and Vita (Vita Sackville-West and his son) and Nicholson climb their turret stairs to ties the flag to ropes and hoist it in the soft south-west breeze. “It looks proud and gay after five years of confinement.” He heads to London to where the news of Schwerin’s broadcast has spread. “…there are flags everywhere!”

President Harry S Truman, broke the news to reporters at 8:30 am. At 9:00 from the Diplomatic Reception Room where Roosevelt had so often broadcast to the country, he spoke to the largest radio audience yet recorded. “This is a solemn but glorious hour. I only wish Franklin Roosevelt had lived to witness this day….We must work to finish the war. Our victory is but half-won…” May 8th, was President Truman’s sixty-first birthday. He had been president for three week and four days! The day before, Mrs. Roosevelt had moved out of the White House and the Trumans had moved in. He stated, I call upon every American to stick to his post until the last battle is won.”

Eleanor Roosevelt, on the occasion of VE Day wrote, Admiral William D. Leahy, FDR’s long-time Chief of Staff. “Dear Admiral Leahy: My thoughts are with you today. I know Franklin would want to clasp your hand and congratulate you for all you have done to make this victory possible. Please accept my deepest appreciation and respect, and my affection good wishes.”  Very sincerely yours Eleanor Roosevelt.

Churchill, after hearing the final news, felt free to announce the end of the war to the British people in a broadcast from the Cabinet room at 10 Downing Street, at 3pm London time on May 8th. “Advance Britannia!” He concluded rousingly, “Long live the cause of freedom! God save the King!” That afternoon Britain’s war leader made a triumphant entry into a packed House of Commons; later he appeared with the Royal Family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace and treated a similar multitude to an impromptu speech at Whitehall. “This is your victory, he told the throng, “it is the victory of the cause of freedom in every land. In all our long history we have never seen a greater day than his. God bless you all!”

For six years the entire land had endured a total blackout after sunset. Now all the public buildings were brilliantly lit with floodlights. All over the country huge beacons burst into flames one after another, stretching mile after mile until it seemed the very hills were on fire.

Allied soldiers on the front in Germany and France often sat in silence, thinking about their lost comrades. There were few celebrations that night and soldiers had to report to duty the next day!

Let us also not forget that in France, the Fascist leaning, anti-Semite, Marie Le Pen was defeated. Maybe, the French had memories of Vichy traitors like Petain and Laval and thought they did not want to go down that road once again. But, understand she received 35% of the vote and here in the United States, we have neo-fascists and racists in our Congress, and advisors to the President in people like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka.



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A lifelong New Yorker, who now lives full-time in Palm Beach County, Richard was raised in Mount Vernon, New York and he was educated in the Mount Vernon public schools He graduated from Boston University with a BA in American History. After spending a year on Wall Street as a research analyst with Bache & Co., he joined a manufacturing and importing firm, where over the next twenty-five years he rose to the position of chief operating officer. After the sale of that business, Richard entered into the financial services field with Metropolitan Life and is a Registered Representative, who has been associated with Acorn Financial Services which is affiliated with John Hancock Life Insurance Company of Boston, Ma. Today, he is a retired broker who had specialized in long-term care insurance and financial planning. One of Richard’s recent activities was to advise and encourage communities to seek ways to incorporate “sustainability and resiliency” into their future infrastructure planning. After a lifetime in politics, with many years working as a district leader, which involved party organizational work, campaign chair activity and numerous other political tasks, Richard has been involved with numerous civic and social causes. In recent years, Richard served in 2005 as the campaign coordinator of the Re-Elect Paul Feiner Campaign in Greenburgh, NY and he again chaired Supervisor Feiner’s successful landslide victory in 2007. Over the next few years, he advised a number of political candidates. He has served as an appointed Deputy Supervisor of the Town of Greenburgh, with responsibilities regarding the town’s “liaison program.” He was a member of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board of the Town of Greenburgh, NY. Richard has lectured on FDR, The New Deal and 20th century American history in the Mount Vernon schools, at the Westchester Council of Social Studies annual conference in White Plains, and at many senior citizen groups, which include appearances at the Old Guard of White Plains, the Rotary Clubs of Elmsford and White Plains, and various synagogue groups around Westchester. In the winter of 2006 Richard was the leader of the VOCAL forum, sponsored by the Westchester County Office of Aging, which addresses the concerns of Westchester County’s Intergenerational Advocacy Educational Speak-out forums for senior citizens. Richard has given lectures for the Active Retirement Project, which is co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Center on the Hudson, the Greenburgh Hebrew Center, and other groups around Westchester County. Richard also is the founder and Chairperson of the Jon Breen Memorial Fund, that judges and grants annual prizes to students at Mount Vernon High School who submit essays on public policy themes. He also sponsors the Henry M. Littlefield History Prize for the leading MVHS history student. Richard serves on the Student College Scholarship Committee of Mount Vernon High School. In past years Richard chaired and moderated the Jon Breen Fund Award’s cablecast program with the Mayor and local and school officials. Richard has been a member of Blythedale Children’s Hospital’s Planned Giving Professional Advisory Board, and was a founding member of the committee to re-new the FDR Birthday Balls of the 1930’s and 1940’s with the March of Dimes’ effort to eliminate birth defects. Their renewal dinner was held at Hyde Park on January 30, 2003. Richard is currently an active contributor to the Roosevelt Institute, which is involved in many pursuits which included the opening of the Henry A. Wallace Center at Hyde Park, and the Eleanor Roosevelt – Val-Kill Foundation. In 2007, he proposed to the City of Mount Vernon an effort to develop an arts, educational, and cultural center as part of a downtown re-development effort. Richard was a team partner with the Infrastructure & Energy Solutions Group. IEFG which has developed innovative strategies for the 21st Century. Richard hosted a weekly program on WVOX-1460 AM radio, called “The Advocates,” which was concerned with “public policy” issues. The show, which was aired from 2007 until May 15, 2013, has had amongst its guests; Representative Charles Rangel, Chairperson of the House Ways and Means Committee, Mr. Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, along with hundreds of others. All the 300 shows are archived at Richard currently gives lectures on Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR and the Jewish Community, The New Deal, FDR and Douglas MacArthur, 20th Century American Foreign Policy Resulting in Conflict, and Israel’s Right to Exist. Richard lives in Boynton Beach, Fl, with his wife Linda of 44 years. They have two married children. Their daughter Dana is a Rutgers College graduate, with a MS from Boston University, and is the Assistant Director of Recruitment at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Their son Jon is an electrical engineering graduate of Princeton University and a senior software architect at NY/Mellon Bank in NYC. Richard J. Garfunkel Recent Appearances: KTI Synagogue, Rye Brook, NY- Long Term Care & Estate Conservation- Anshe Shalom Synagogue, New Rochelle, NY- Long Term Care- American Legion Post, Valhalla, NY- Long Term Care and Asset Protection- Doyle Senior Ctr, New Rochelle, NY-Long Term Care and Asset Protection- AME Methodist Ministers, New Rochelle, NY, LTC and Charitable Giving- Profession Women in Construction, Elmsford, NY, LTC and Business Benefits- Kol Ami Synagogue- White Plains, NY, Long Term Care and Disability - Beth El Men's Club-New Rochelle, NY-Long Term Care-Is it Necessary- Greater NY Dental Meeting Javits Ctr, NY, NY- LTC and Disability- IBEW Local #3 , White Plains, NY, Long Term Care and Asset Protection, Health Fair -Bethel Synagogue, New Rochelle, NY-LTC and Disability, Heath Fair- Riverdale Mens Club CSAIR- Riverdale, NY- LTC- Life Weight Watchers of Westchester and the Bronx-LTC and Tax Implications Sunrise Assisted Living of Fleetwood, Mount Vernon, NY-LTC Sprain Brook Manor of Scarsdale-LTC- November 15, 2001 Sunrise Assisted Living of Stamford, Connecticut, February 2002 Kol Ami Synagogue, White Plains, NY, February, 2002 The Old Guard Society of White Plains, NY, April, 2002 The Westchester Meadows, Valhalla, NY August, 2002 Kol Ami Synagogue, White Plains, NY, October, 2002 JCC of Scarsdale, Scarsdale, NY, November, 2002 The Westchester Meadows, Valhalla, NY, January, 2003 The Rotary Club of White Plains, NY January, 2003 The Westchester Meadows, Valhalla, NY April, 2003 Westchester Reform Temple, Scarsdale, NY January, 2004 Mount Vernon High School, Mount Vernon, NY March 2004 Kol Ami/JCC of White Plains, NY November, 2004 The Westchester Reform Temple, Scarsdale, January 2005 The Sunrise of Fleetwood, Mount Vernon, April, 2005 The Woodlands of Ardsley, assisted living, November, 2005 The Woodlands of Ardsley, assisted living, December, 2005 The Woodlands of Ardsley, assisted living, January, 2005 Rotary Club of Elmsford, April, 2006 Kiwanis Club of Yonkers, June, 2006 Greenburgh Jewish Center, November, 2006 Temple Kol Ami, White Plains, February, 2007 Hebrew Institute, White Plains, March, 2007 Temple Kol Ami, White Plains, NY, April, 2007 Westchester Meadows. Valhalla, November, 2007 Hebrew Institute. White Plains, November, 2007 Art Zuckerman Radio Show- January, 2008 JCC of the Hudson, Tarrytown, February, 2008 Matt O’Shaughnessy Radio Show, March, 2008 WVOX –Election Night Coverage, November, 2008 WVOX – Inaugural Coverage, January 20, 2009 The Advocates-host of the WVOX Radio Show, 2007- 2010 Rotary Club of Pleasantville, February, 2009 Hebrew Institute of White Plains, May, 2009 JCC Hudson, Tarrytown, December, 2009-10-11-12 Brandeis Club, Yonkers, March 25, 2010

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