May 9 holds a special place for Russia and several Eastern European states in the annals of history. It’s a day of celebration, a momentous occasion when grandiose military parades showcase the might of the Kremlin. This is Victory Day, a day that commemorates the defeat of Nazism. 

However, it’s not just any date; it’s a date that differs from the one celebrated by the Western world, and its origins are steeped in historical intricacies. In this article, we delve deep into the historical events and circumstances that led to the celebration of Victory Day on May 9 in Russia and why it remains a significant and unique occasion.

The End of an Era: Hitler’s Suicide and Nazi Germany’s Imminent Collapse

Our journey into this historical narrative begins on April 30, 1945, when Adolf Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany, committed suicide in his bunker amid the Battle of Berlin. By that time, the fate of Nazi Germany was essentially sealed. The Western and Eastern Fronts had reached German territory, and the collapse of the Third Reich was only a matter of days away.

“The Realm of the Dead” – A World Torn Apart

The Second World War, often described as a conflagration that destroyed the old continent, left Europe scarred and traumatized. It was a war marked by the totalitarianism of the Soviet Union and the fascism of Nazi Germany. The historian Timothy Snyder aptly referred to it as “The Realm of the Dead” in one of his masterpiece books about the war.

A Continent’s Reflection

Decades have passed since the end of this humanitarian tragedy, but its scars still linger in the collective memory of Europe. The continent, now united in the pursuit of peace, looks back at the defeat of Nazi Germany as a reminder of the horrors of war, striving to avoid a repetition of its bloody past. Russia, too, reflects on this day, but its significance has faded in the West, while for Russians, it remains a moment of great celebration.

A Date Discrepancy: May 8 vs. May 9

The crux of the matter lies in the fact that the West and Russia celebrate the defeat of Nazism on different dates. While the Western world commemorates Victory Day on May 8, Russia, along with some former Soviet states and satellite nations, does so on May 9. But why this difference?

The Western Announcement: May 8, 1945

The surrender of Nazi Germany was officially announced by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, American President Harry S. Truman, and General Charles de Gaulle on May 8, 1945. The surrender document was signed on May 7, 1945, at 2:41 a.m. in Reims. 

The signatories included General Dwight Eisenhower, German General Alfred Jodl, the representative of the German High Command, and Admiral Karl Doenitz, who briefly assumed leadership of the German state after Hitler’s suicide. This significant act occurred in front of the Allied Forces and the Soviet High Command.

Stalin’s Ire and the Red Army’s Role

However, this announcement did not sit well with Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union. He was infuriated that the capitulation act was signed in Reims rather than Berlin, which was under the control of the Red Army. The original document was counter-signed by the Soviet side, but this did not satisfy Stalin.

As a result, Germany was forced to sign the capitulation once more, this time in Berlin on May 8, 1945. The signatories included Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg and General Hans Stumpff for Germany, Marshal Zhukov on behalf of Stalin, and Marshal Tedder representing Great Britain. Generals Carl Spaatz (USA) and Jean de Lattre de Tassigny (France) witnessed this historic event.

Time Zone Complexity

Why Does Russia Celebrate Victory Day on May 9?

One might wonder why the celebration in Russia occurred on May 9 when the Capitulation Act was signed on May 8 in Berlin. The answer lies in the intricacies of time zones. The second capitulation act was signed at midnight on May 8. Due to the time zone difference, it was already May 9 in Moscow at the time of signing. Thus, May 9 became the date associated with Victory Day in Russia.

A Dual Celebration

Interestingly, May 9 also holds significance for the European Union, albeit with a different connotation. On May 9, 1959, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Robert Schuman, delivered the famous Schuman Declaration, a cornerstone in establishing the European Union. So, while the West commemorates Victory Day on May 8, the European Union marks May 9 as a day with a different historical context.

The Ongoing Echoes

In conclusion, Victory Against Nazism Day stands as a symbolic division between the West and Russia, reflecting the years that followed and the emergence of the Cold War. These divisions have left lasting echoes, impacting the relationship between Western Europe and Russia to this day.

As we reflect on this historical divergence in celebrating Victory Day, it’s essential to remember the sacrifices made during World War II and the importance of peace and unity in our world today. May 9 remains a day of commemoration, reflection, and celebration, reminding us of the significance of historical events and their enduring impact on our shared human experience.

In a world shaped by the lessons of the past, the celebration of Victory Day on May 9 in Russia is a testament to the resilience of nations and their unwavering commitment to preserving the memory of those who fought and sacrificed for a better future.