1.01.2015 - 31.12.2015 History

70 years ago World War II ended

Did you know that:
– Poland fought in the Second World War from day one without stopping?
– Polish soldiers entered Berlin alongside Soviet troops in April-May 1945?
– Poland had the 4th largest army (600,000 soldiers)?
– Polish soldiers fought on all the fronts in Europe and North Africa?
– Poland lost more than 5.5 million citizens and almost half of its pre-war territory?

To commemorate the end of the Second World War, the Polish Ministry for Foreign Affairs has prepared a special site which explores different facets of Polish involvement in the War: http://ww2.pl/en/ (or click on the image below)



For Poles, one of the most important moments in the war was the Warsaw Uprising which broke out on 1 August 1944 and lasted two full months, until the surrender on 2 October.

+++ Find out more about the uprising on our website
+++ Find out more about the uprising thanks to the virtual exhibition which was prepared by the Google Cultural Institute

photo Eugeniusz Haneman © Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego

At the very moment when the inhabitants of Warsaw were revolting, the First Armoured Division (Pierwsza Dywizja Pancerna), commanded by General Stanisław Maczek, was liberating Flanders! After participating in the Normandy campaign in the First Canadian Army, the Division moved towards the Belgian border and crossed Flanders (Ypres was liberated on 6 September) to reach the Dutch border (Breda was liberated on 29 October 1944).
In order to commemorate the liberation of Flanders by General Maczek’s troops, the Polish Institute, in collaboration with the Embassy of the Polish Republic in Brussels and 9 Flemish cities and municipalities, is organising the Polish days in Flanders (Dni Polskie we Flandrii). You can see the programme at www.culturepolonaise.eu/PL-VL.


+++ You can also read accounts from soldiers in Maczek’s army on the site www.naszeslady.be/fr (in French)


 

+++ Historian Piotr DŁUGOŁĘSKI invites you to read a text entitled ‘The end of the Second World War

In the spring of 1945, the victory of the Allies in the war against Nazi Germany was not threatened in any way. The only issue that remained to be decided was the date and whose armies would be the first to march into Berlin. The hour in which the act of surrender was signed was responsible for the fact that in Western countries the end of the war is commemorated on 8 May, while in Russia and many former Soviet states, victory over fascism is celebrated one day later.
On 30 April 1945, Adolf Hitler, before committing suicide, appointed Admiral Karl Dönitz as his successor. Even though this nomination had no formally legal effect, in practice it was up to Dönitz, as president of Germany and commander-in-chief of the Wehrmacht, to decide when to finally surrender.
Initially, Dönitz was not thinking about surrendering, but about an armistice on the Western Front while continuing fighting the Red Army. He wanted to gain time and to create conditions so that possibly the greatest number of German soldiers and civilians would find themselves on the territory occupied by Western Allies. Yet, events played out so fast that on 2 May Berlin surrendered and so did the German army in south Germany, Tirol, western Austria, Denmark, and the Netherlands three days later. Neither Dwight Eisenhower wanted to hear about a separatist peace and rejected German proposals.
As a result, on 7 May (at 2.41 am) at the headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force in the French city of Reims, the Act of Military Surrender was signed. On behalf of Germany, it was signed by (acting on authorisation of Dönitz) General Alfred Jodl and the German delegation also included Generals Wilhelm Oxenius and Hans-Georg von Friedeburg. On behalf of the Allies, the act was signed by US General Walter Bedell Smith and, as a witness, French General François Sevez. The Act of Military Surrender also carries the signature of Ivan Susloparov, who acted on behalf of the USSR.
Susloparov, informed by Western Allies about the planned signing of the act of surrender, immediately asked Moscow for instructions. However, no reply was sent, so the Soviet General fearing that the Soviet Union could be omitted from the Act of Military Surrender, decided to put his signature on the document. But Stalin had a different plan in mind. He recalled Susloparov to the USSR, demanded a repeat of the act of surrender and authorised Marshal Georgy Zhukov to place his signature on behalf of the USSR.
Since the document singed on 7 May provided for the possibility of signing a new “general” act, Western Allies agreed to sign another document. The ceremony had been planned for 8 May, but because of doubts about the participation of a representative of France, the signing was delayed until 22.43 hrs. On behalf of Germany it was signed by Wilhelm Keitel, Hans-Georg von Friedeburg and Hans-Jürgen Stumpff, while on behalf of Allies the act was signed by Georgy Zhukov (USSR), Artur Tedder (UK) and , as witnesses, Carl Andrew Spaatz (US) and Jean de Lattre de Tassigny (France).
It appears that Western Allies underestimated the propaganda effect of conquering Berlin and issues related to the signing of the act of surrender. Unlike Stalin who understood them very well and who would not accept the fact that the signing of the act of surrender was done in the territory of France. The act should be signed in Berlin that was conquered by the Red Army and a high ranking representative of the USSR should play a major role in it. Indeed, victory over fascism was to become an important element of Soviet policy in the years to come. In effect, the document signed on 7 May was called a “preliminary protocol of the surrender of the Third Reich” while the later document was considered officially binding. In addition the fact that the act of surrender was signed at 22.43 meant that according to Moscow time, the document was signed on 9 May at 00.43 hours. This has led to an odd situation, whereby in successive years Western countries commemorated the end of the war on 8 May, while in the USSR and its satellites, the victory over fascism was celebrated one day later.
In Poland, the issue was decided by decree of Bolesław Bierut dated 8 May 1945, which provided that “9 May, being the day of the end of military operations will constitute a National Holiday of Victory and Freedom.” In the Polish People’s Republic this initiative raised doubts – the act of surrender clearly carries the date 8 May and, in addition, it specifies that all active operations will cease on 8 May at 23.01 hours. Polish communist authorities tried to appease this dissonance by arguing that celebrations should be held on 9 May because it is the first day of freedom after the end of military operations.
Let us note that the signing of the act of surrender did not mean that military operations ceased automatically. In Europe the last German units surrendered as late as on 15 May (in Yugoslavia), while WWII finally ended with the surrender of Japan on 2 September 1945.

 

 
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