Victory Day: Hitler’s Jaw in a Cigar Box: Why May 9 Ended One War and Started Another | International

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General Alfred Jodl, who would end up being convicted at Nuremberg and executed in 1946, signed the unconditional surrender of Germany to the Allies in the French city of Reims in the early hours of May 7, 1945. It would take effect at 11:01 p.m. of May. At that time, World War II would officially end in Europe, in Asia the surrender of Japan did not come until August. But the Cold War had already begun. The distrust between the countries that had defeated Nazism was already very high at that time, so much so that they did not even agree on the moment in which the end of the war should be celebrated. In fact, Stalin demanded that a second surrender be signed in Berlin before Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov, which did not take effect until May 9. That is why Russia commemorates her victory in the so-called Great Patriotic War on Monday, while the rest of the allied countries celebrated it on Sunday.

“Churchill sent a telegram to Stalin to explain that, since crowds had already gathered in London, the celebration of Victory in Europe Day would take place on May 8 in the United Kingdom, just like in the United States,” he explains. Antony Beevor in his book The Second World War (Past and present). “Stalin showed his discontent that his troops were still fighting on numerous fronts. The victory celebrations, Stalin replied, would not begin in the USSR until May 9.”

Europe is experiencing one of its most dangerous moments since then, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and threats from the Kremlin that it could resort to its nuclear arsenal, while Russian leaders toy with the idea that a third world war could break out. It is by no means the first time that the Second World War has been used to justify present-day atrocities —Serb nationalists during the Yugoslav conflicts of the 1990s tried to resurrect all the ghosts of an alleged fascist threat—, but it is disturbing to what extent point Russian President Vladimir Putin not only uses May 9 for his propaganda and to vindicate his invasion of Ukraine, but also replicates Stalin’s obsessions: to maintain control over the countries that he believes should remain under the Russian orbit and the accusations of Nazism against their enemies to justify any brutality.

Soviet soldiers celebrate the end of World War II in Berlin on May 9, 1945.Laski Diffusion (Getty Images)

The discussion around the celebrations of May 8 or 9 may seem like a detail, but it reflects what the atmosphere was then among the victors of the conflict: everyone knew that a new war was about to begin, if it had not already begun. , this time without battles, although with a lot of violence, for the division of the world. Stalin and the rest of the allies had divided Germany and Europe by areas of influence. The USSR was not going to take long to impose communism in all those States that it considered should be part of its sphere of influence.

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Nothing reflects the buried confrontation between the allies at the end of World War II like what happened to the few remains that Soviet troops found of the body of Adolf Hitler, who had committed suicide on April 30. As his body was burned with gasoline at the door of the bunker, only part of the dictator’s jaw and two dental bridges could be recovered, which Soviet agents took to Moscow in a cigar box in the midst of a thick secret ordered by Stalin. in his book Berlin: The Fall, 1945 (Chair), Beevor recounts that Zukhov, who had commanded the Battle of Berlin, never found out that remains of Hitler’s corpse had been recovered. In fact, until the 1990s, with the perestroika, It was not known that the Soviets had taken those remains of the Nazi dictator, nor that they had been destroyed in the sixties.

Beevor thus explains the Soviet dictator’s reasons for hiding such important information: “Stalin’s system needed the presence of both external and internal enemies, because he feared lowering the tension. When the real corpse of the Führer was found, orders immediately came from the Kremlin forbidding anyone to say a word about it. It is clear that Stalin’s strategy was to associate the West with Nazism by pretending that the British or Americans were hiding the Nazi leader. In fact, rumors were already circulating that he had escaped.” Putin, like Stalin, has also accused the Ukrainian government of being Nazis who deserve to be defeated.

Flowers on a Soviet military monument in Berlin, this Sunday, on the occasion of the commemoration of the end of World War II.
Flowers on a Soviet military monument in Berlin, this Sunday, on the occasion of the commemoration of the end of World War II.CLEMENS BILAN (EFE)

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