On the night of May 8th 1945, representatives of the victorious Allies finally received the official surrender of the armed forces of Nazi Germany, in a former army officers’ canteen, in the leafy Berlin suburb of Karlshorst.
Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov, who had led the 1st Belorussian Front into Berlin in April 1945 would attend on behalf of the Supreme High Command of the Soviet Red Army, with Marshal Arthur Tedder of the Royal Air Force, representing the Allied Expeditionary Force.
Three representatives of the armed services of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) had arrived earlier in the day from the western German city of Flensburg by plane – when finally met by the Allied representatives at 10pm they would engage in over two hours of deliberations until the instrument of surrender was finally signed at 00:16 on May 9th (Central European Time).
This meeting would take place only six days after the end of the Battle of Berlin – on May 2nd 1945 – when Commander of the Berlin Defence Area, Helmuth Weidling, had organised the surrendered of the city with Soviet General Chuikov.
Conspiciously missing from all of these events was the leader of Nazi Germany – Adolf Hitler – who had ended his life in his Führerbunker on April 30th.
Hitler’s absence would not be the only remarkable detail to this momentous historical event. In-fact, none of the notorious Nazi Party personalities would partake in the surrender process.
Instead it would be the military leaders; Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel as the Chief of the General Staff of the German Armed Forces (Wehrmacht); General-Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg as Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy (Kriegsmarine); and Colonel-General Hans-Jürgen Stumpff as the representative of the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) – who would sign the definitive act of unconditional surrender.
Their arrival earlier in the day, from Flensburg, had not only been due to the location of the surviving remnants of the Nazi government – led by Navy Admiral Karl Dönitz. But because the surrender of Nazi forces in Karlshorst on May 8th 1945 was not the first time that an instrument of surrender had been signed between the Allies and Nazi forces to end war in Europe.
One day earlier, at the headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force in the French city of Rheims, the unconditional surrender of all German armed forces had in-fact already been signed by Colonel General Jodl, Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command – announcing an immediate cease-fire and a surrender to go into effect at 23:01 on the night of May 8th.
The first signing in Rheims, however, would be conditional on a further ratification by higher ranking German military officers – thus the meeting in Karlshorst was determined necessary.
And the former Nazi capital of Berlin significantly chosen as the location.
The stained glass window on display in the staircase of the Deutsch-Russische Museum is a depiction of the Soviet War Memorial in Berlin's Treptower Park. The statue commemorates the actions of Sergeant of Guards Nikolai Masalov, who during the Battle of Berlin is said to have risked his life under heavy German machine-gun fire to rescue a three-year-old German girl.
This final signing was also considered an important precaution to counter any lingering sentiment that the Nazi war machine had been anything but conclusively defeated – and that unlike at the end of the previous World War, a further Dolchstoßlegende (‘stab-in-the-back legend’) would not be allowed to spread. Beyond the destruction of Hitler’s regime on the battlefield, the necessity to underline the absolute defeat of the ideology of National Socialism meant that the end of the war in Europe was never going to be straightforward.
The three men summoned to Karlshorst to ratify this earlier agreement – Keitel, von Friedeburg, and Stumpff – were considered, as Commanders in Chief of the three branches of the German Armed Forces as officers with actual power of command over the German military. Unlike the armistice to end the First World War – which was signed in the forest of Compiègne by a representative of the German government named Matthais Erzberger.
Landing at Tempelhof Airport in the south of Berlin, the German delegation were driven past the site of the earlier surrender of the Nazi capital – at Schulenburgring 2 – before arriving in Karlshorst, a drive of around 30 minutes on a normal day – although this was no normal day.
The signing ceremony would last around 45 minutes – and be conducted under the flags of the four victorious powers (Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union, and France).
Closing the function, Soviet Marshal Zhukov proposed a toast to the victory of the anti-Hitler coalition, followed by similar affirmations from British Air Marshal Tedder, French General General de Tassigny and US General Spaatz. Although a huge banquet would be prepared for all of the representatives in attendance, the members of the German delegation would not be provided with any alcohol.
Following the partition of Berlin into four occupation zones – Karlshorst and this former pioneers’ school would end up under Soviet control. The latter to serve as the headquarters of the Soviet Military Administration until 1949. In 1967, the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution, a “Museum of the Unconditional Surrender of Fascist Germany in the Great Patriotic War 1941-45” was opened in the building. Initially intended for members of the Soviet armed forces it would eventually open its doors to civilian visitors.
In its present form – the Deutsch-Russisches Museum (German-Russian Museum) dates back to the 1990s and the agreement made by the Soviet armed forces to leave Germany by 1994 – providing the opportunity for the museum to be re-dedicated as a collaboration between institutions in both Germany and Russia. With representatives from five Russian and five German museums serving on the museum’s Science Advisory Board and responsible for the redesign and restructuring of the museum.
While the former army officers’ mess used for the 1945 surrender is presented (using replica material) as the centrepiece in the museum there are further sections detailing different aspects of the most brutal war that European powers have ever waged against each other. The museum is eager to celebrate the successful collaboration between German and Russia academics and institutions signalling the lasting friendship between the two countries that so fiercely fought each other during the Second World War.
Intentional or not, it says a lot about the end of the ideologies that both countries previously wielded – National Socialism and Marxist-Leninist-Stalinism.