Victory in Europe Day (V-E Day) May 8
Victory Day, Ex Soviet Republics May 9
Victory Day Poster in a Shop window in Russia
From 1939 to 1945, war between Nazi Germany and the allied nations raged across several fronts around the globe. Millions of men and women died, not only on the front lines, but also from starvation and inclement living conditions in their own homes. For Russia, this day is a haunting reminder of the 25+ million citizens who died directly and indirectly from the war that raged all around them, better known to them as “The Great War”. In Central and Western European countries, the air around Victory Day, which is most cases is not a public holiday, is not solemn in nature, but rather a day to give thanks for the freedoms that they enjoy because of the sacrifices given by their soldiers.
The First Moments of Victory Day 1945
News of the final surrender began circulating in the spring of 1945 with rumors emerging from the formative conference of the United Nations in San Francisco on April 28. By the evening of May 7, the world got what they desperately hoped for: the unconditional surrender by the Nazi German forces. German radio had broadcasted that General Gustav Jodi signed the official surrender at 2.41 a.m. local time in a small schoolhouse in Rheims, France, but allied forces chose to withhold the official announcement in their respective countries for 24 hours until the signing became official the next day. Once word finally broke of the surrender, it immediately prompted jubilation across the globe with church bells being rung in many communities. Winston Churchill, Britain’s wartime Prime Minister, declared a public holiday for the following day, leading to over a million people in London alone to pour onto the streets to celebrate.
Victory Day Celebrations in London when over a million people packed Picadilly Circus to celebrate the end of the war
For the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany’s surrender on the eastern front came in a separate signing late into the night at 11 p.m. in Berlin. This secondary signing allowed Soviet government officials to be present but meant that the time zone difference made it past midnight in Moscow. Because of this, the countries of the former Soviet Union celebrate Victory Day on May 9.
For countries in western & central Europe, former Czechoslovakia, and the Baltic countries, the holiday is observed on May 8, with Slovakia, Czech Republic, and France observing it as a non working public holiday. The majority of the former soviet countries still continue to celebrate the day, May 9, as a public holiday, and it is often the case where the largest celebrations are had. Russia, the largest of the former Soviet Block nations, holds a large military parade in its iconic Red Square in Moscow as hundreds of thousands of onlookers watch thousands of soldiers and hundreds of military vehicles roll down the streets in an elaborate display of military might.
See a video of lasts years parade:
While Victory Day in Russia is especially popular, it is a rather solemn occasion in other former Soviet countries, including Kazakhstan and Georgia, where it is more common to pay respects to the soldiers by laying wreaths/visiting the graves of those who have past, and less about current military potency of a nation.
To see exactly what has been done in the years past, here is a blog post about some of the promotions Kazakhstan does for its World War II veterans: