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7, 8 et 9 mai 1945
Batailles pour la mémoire future

par Oleg KEN
Docteur en histoire
Université européenne de Saint-Petersbourg

Communication présentée au colloque international de Reims
Reims 1945-1962 et le rapprochement franco-allemand.
De la Capitulation à la Réconciliation

le 6 mai 2005

The Russian memory of the V- E and the victory over Germany is « un lourd héritage » indeed

Stalin's vision of the end of war : before the Reims surrender

Stalin's reaction to the Reims act

What caused Stalin's consternation ?

Stalin's response

The celebration of the victory

All following Russian narratives...

The Russian memory of the V- E
and the victory over Germany
is « un lourd héritage » indeed

   First, effective control over historical memory, especially when high politics is involved.There were no independent and influential communities of Russian history-minded intellectuals capable of challenging the master narrative of Soviet history on such a scale that to engage the Victory in their consideration. The dissident debates focused upon the issues on which the interests of the rulers and the society were visibly opposed, thus leaving the intricacies of the international diplomacy aside.

   These societal / intellectual weaknesses reinforced the effectiveness of political censuring of memoir accounts of the direct participants.
   General Ivan Susloparov who signed the Reims act, Ambassador Andrei Smirnov who prepared the text of the Berlin act, Ambassador Sergei Bazarov who was in charge of documentation at the Berlin ceremony, they all died between 1974 and 1985 leaving no written personal accounts. Oral history efforts were and remain marginal in the Russian scholarship and have never gone as far as to engage ordinary Soviets' perceptions of great power politics, at least of the controversy of 7, 8 and 9th May. We missed the time.

   Moreover, the task of healing and refining the historical memory demands the proper clarifications for which public access to the archives is indispensable.

   This brings us to the second factor, namely the continuity of the fundamental political philosophy. From the 40s on, the outcome of the Soviet-German war / Great Patriotic War of the Soviet people has been increasingly employed as the national ( complementary to the revolutionary ) legitimization of the Soviet system. Unleashed in mid-90s, the hunt for the national idea as the means to restore the dislodged Russian unity, reinforced this socio-political meaning of the Soviet-German war. Requirements of the guided democracy presuppose the treatment of Soviet policies and war efforts as distinct from the overall picture of the Second World War. The only legitimate link between the two phenomena now seems to be the Soviet contribution to the victory. This approach was recently manifested in the Russian denunciations of the concerns expressed by the Baltic countries.This February, at Bratislava, the Russian president explained that the Munich agreement fully justified the Soviet policy in 1939-1941. The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact had been concluded « to protect her [the USSR] interests and security on her western borders. […] And I would recommend to the latter days historians, or rather to those who want to rewrite history, to learn to read books [i.e. Soviet books] before they write or rewrite them ». The official news agency " RIA Novosti " responded by disseminating a story by Ambassador Valentin Falin, formerly the chief of the CPSU international department, now back in the saddle. The Western conspiracy against the Yalta, Falin tells us, included « la simulation ( instsenirovka ) of German capitulation in Reims », which was « in fact a separate deal ».

   The window of opportunities is largely closed, leaving us with very modest achievements of the 90s : the publication of the two military reports of May 10-11th and two review articles by Georgiy Kynin and Irina Morozova of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. In their article of 1995 Kynin and Morozova for the first time presented Russian readers with a generally accurate picture of the military surrender at Reims and its relation to the Berlin ceremony. In vain, however, I tried to discover how newly documents and studies affected the Russian master narrative and Russian public awareness - they have not.

   Partly, this may be due to the fact that newly released materials are very incomplete and, as often is the case, « do not speak for themselves » ; no professional discussions among historians followed. Such discussions, based upon very close and careful reading of the available evidence, are the more necessary because of the Bolshevik, especially Stalin's, hyper-sensivity to historical record. This went far beyond natural concerns of the democratic leaders and respective bureaucracies about their place in history or unwillingness to leave finger-prints. The theocratic dimension of the Soviet system ( the employment of citations as the final argument in the discussions of substance, fear of of deviating from the official Scripture ) had also other repercussions than purely secretiveness. Of greater importance for the historical memory was a skillful political engineering that should not be confused with invention of traditions or even with establishing them. It was not a creative exercise in public politics, but rather the technological enterprise on a grand scale to adjust the reality to a myth that would suit the long-term political goals.

   Stalin's strategy of political technology was that of designing the historical memory of this and next generations by a preventive purge of the history itself. This included censuring the knowledge of events that already happened and replacing those facts with events that should not happen at all. In Stalin's policy of spring 1945 the « real » diplomatic and military battles over the immediate interests were inseparable from less urgent but potentially more meaningful battle to provide for the solid legitimatization of the Communist system or a peculiar « Russian system » based on the primacy of the state and non-reflective national unity.

   This paper is a belated effort to reconstruct and discuss the Kremlin's political maneuvers in the last days of the European war.

Stalin's vision of the end of war :
before the Reims surrender

   During three days, April 27-29, Churchill forwarded five messages to Stalin. Two of them dealt with the prospects for the German surrender. There seemed to be no any document of capitulation signed by the Germans, he wrote, instead the four powers should issue the declaration to this effect. The document in question had prepared by the European Advisory Commission by July 25, 1944 and was subsequently approved by the Soviet, British and US governments. On the 30th of April, Stalin replied that he had « no objections against the publication of the Four Powers Declaration that would fix the defeat and unconditional capitulation of Germany, in case », he added enigmatically, « there would be no the central power that acted in an organized way ». It looked like Stalin was content with the surrender of German forces in Italy on the previous day as the model to be applied in the West, provided the Soviets will be duly informed. And they were, especially after the exchange of bitter reproaches over the negotiations in Berne in March 1945.

   The Russian takeover of Berlin and the creation of the Doenitz government had not changed the Soviet perspective on the capitulation of Germany. The Soviet representative at the European Advisory Commission quickly supported the insertions of words « République Française » throughout the Declaration of the defeat of Germany, thus overcoming the last formal obstacle to its proclamation.

   On the 6th of May, soon after the Lueneburg surrender of the North-West group to Montgomery, Stalin promptly agreed with Truman and Churchill on the synchronization of their respective announcements of the Victory Day in Europe. He tacitly agreed ( at least, he voiced no displeasure ) with Truman's idea that the date should be suggested by the Supreme Commander of Allied Expeditionary Force. The Soviets did what they could to speed up the capitulations on their front by accepting an honorable surrender of the Breslau garrison. The German generals were even allowed to retain their personal cars and drivers, etc. On May 6th, the Breslau agreement came into force and 42,000 officers and men laid down their arms.

Stalin's reaction to the Reims act

    This benevolent mood in Moscow changed overnight, and it was the night when the Reims act had been signed. Stalin reacted as if the signing of the instrument of surrender came out of the blue. That was not the case. The chief of the Operational Department of the Red Army Staff, Sergey Shtemenko maintains in his memoirs that Ivan Susloparov, the Head of the Soviet military mission at the Eisenhower headquarters kept the Kremlin au courant of every development there. Experienced military diplomat, General Susloparov felt no danger in Eisenhower's communication on the preparation for the signing the instrument of unconditional surrender on all fronts. Shtemenko account, based obviously on Susloparov's own recollections, tells that Susloparov and Eisenhower smiled happily to each other while discussing the details. The draft document was wired to Moscow on May the 6th ; exact time is unknown, but, according to Susloparov's estimations, there was enough time for taking the decision in Moscow and communicating it back to Reims before the agreed time, 2.30 of May 7th. The directive that reached the Soviet mission at the Allied headquarters a few hours afterwards categorically forbade « to sign anything ».

   Stalin's own explanation of his negative attitude is known only from two memoir sources published in late 1960s. Both General Shtemenko, summoned to Stalin cabinet along with the chief of the General Staff and members of the government, and Marshal Zhukov who received Stalin's call in Berlin retold Stalin's statements that the capitulation at Reims had been wrong because it had been signed at the wrong place. He made no comments on the terms of capitulation, instead putting the stress on the fact that « the main burden of the war fell upon the Soviet peoples, not the allies ». Stalin even informed Zhukov that the instrument of surrender was signed only « before » the Supreme Command of the allied forces, thus calling off the signature of the Soviet official representative and misinforming his deputy over the factual circumstances. According to Shtemenko, in the presence of members of the Soviet government Stalin also « made a remark that the allies had organized a one-sided agreement with the Doenitz government. This agreement is more like a disagreeable collusion ( niekhoroshiy sgovor ). […] From such " capitulation " one can expect bad consequences ».

   Considerations of prestige certainly played some role in this reaction, but we should not overlook other factors :

      1/ Stalin had showed no interest in signing any instrument of surrender. There is no evidence that foresaw any symbolic ceremony with a German participation. Before May 7 this theme did not appear in his conversations with the generals ( at least it is conspicuously absent in the Soviet documentation available ). « To finish the fascist beast off » was the watchword of Stalin's order of May 1st.

      2/ For experienced Soviet propagandists news about the Reims surrender hardly presented a serious problem. They could be easily mixed with the much publicized German surrender in Breslau, Pomerania and eventually Courland and Prague. After all, by taking Berlin the Soviets already won a European cup. ( Zhukov even claimed that the Berlin operation was planned in such a {bloody} way in order to cut the « allies » off Berlin ). Surrenders were events that spoke more about the disintegration of the (post-)Hitlerite state than about the military glory of the Soviet Union. In the end, in the public perception and historical memory all these partial defeats and capitulations could be superceded by the joint Declaration on the behalf of United Nations, military parades in Moscow and Berlin etc.

      3/ In terms of practicalities, Soviet interests were loyally observed in the text of the Reims act.

What caused Stalin's consternation ?

   Or, if we consider his reaction to the surrender at Reims natural - why Stalin had been demonstrating his compliance with the Western attitude to German surrender until the fateful night of May 7th ?

   Here one should return to the discussions at the Crimean conference, and in particular to the session of February 5th when the issue of German capitulation was discussed by the three heads of governmnts. Stalin proposed to finalize the discussions held in Tehran and in London on the initiative of the President Roosevelt about the dismemberment of Germany. As we know, by the beginning of 1945 both the US and British governments lost much of their previous interest in imposing this scheme as they were becoming growingly aware that this solution would commit additional financial resources and manpower to the continent and would make pacification of Europe in the long run even more difficult. From February 1944 until the February 1945 no one of the three governments attempted to raise this issue again while Moscow cautiously voiced her doubts as to the wisdom of dismemberment. Then, on February 5th, Stalin unexpectedly took the lead.

The Soviet record demonstrates that Stalin's new attitude to the problem of dismemberment was intimately connected with the question of dealing with the German government and, potentially, with defining the political meaning of unconditional surrender.

Dismemberment of Germany and terms of capitulation
Yalta discussion of february 5, 1945

   At the meeting of the foreign ministers that was to design the exact formula, Molotov demanded an explicit statement that dismemberment was not only the right of the allied government, it was their agreed policy in the interest of European security. His counterparts refused. The compromise that Molotov reluctantly accepted upon consultations with Stalin was found outside the official meeting. The ministers inserted the word « dismemberment » in the previously agreed paragraph 12 (a) that mentioned the complete disarmament and demilitarization among the steps that the allied governments would deem requisite for future peace and security. The decision on the new version of article 12 (a) of the document on the defeat of Germany was approved by the leaders and fixed in the official protocol of the Yalta Conference. The Soviets and the Americans considered any further official confirmation of the changes by the governments superfluous, Churchill expressed his confidence that HM Government would agree with this decision.

   The following day, Molotov discreetly called for the creation of a dismemberment committee in London that would than refer its decision to the enlarged EAC. At the March meeting of the Eden committee the Soviet Ambassador Fedor Gusev refused to support the draft guidelines for the work since they left the door open for the committee to make recommendations against the dismemberment. Gusev asked Molotov to sanction Gusev's own draft that specified the tasks of the committee, including the decision on the kind of political systems to be established in individual German states. Molotov felt necessary to explain the ambassador that the Englishmen and Americans, who had taken the initiative to dismember Germany, now wished to put responsibility upon the Soviets in order « to blacken our state in the eyes of world public opinion ». Molotov instructed the Ambassador to make the declaration that the Soviet Government understood the Yalta decision as a possible recommendation in case other means of securing future peace would be insufficient. As a result the draft programme for the Eden committee was most agreeably approved and that was the end of its work. This volte-face left the allies with the instrument of surrender to which all three government ( and then the French ) had to adhere while no one wished to confirm that this instrument expressed its official policy.

   Thus, the Soviet insistence at Yalta was motivated by tactical considerations rather than by a strategic vision of dismembered Germany. Available evidence suggests that Stalin's plan was :
   1/ to make the Western Governments bound to the official policy of dismemberment
   2/ to make their contacts with a German Government conditional upon the early declaration on the policy of dismemberment.
   3/ to avoid the responsibility for dismembering Germany.

   Churchill understood the situation fully well, and it is in this light that one should see his statement to Stalin of April 27-28 that now there would be no any document of capitulation to be signed by the Germans and the four powers should take care to finalize the Declaration on the defeat and unconditional surrender of Germany.

   On his part, Stalin discarded the Borman-Goebbels request for an armistice at Berlin in order to bring the new Government to Berlin in order that it made decision on the terms of surrender ( this offer was communicated to the Russians by the same Hans Krebs whom Stalin had hugged in public four years before April 1941 ). Soviet accounts of the Berlin negotiations differ. By rejecting ( or simply under-appreciating ? - see Zhukov's account of his phone talk with sleepy Stalin ) this offer to receive capitulation of the official successor government, Stalin probably felt he had met his engagements with the allies.

It is in this context that the communication of the Reims capitulation was received by Stalin. The Western planners broke loose out of his trap. They found a method of establishing a direct contact and reached a general agreement with the OKW and the German government despite at the barriers erected over the last months by the Soviet diplomacy. They found the way NOT to present the Germans with the impossible condition of dismemberment while most solemnly and loyally fulfilling their obligations before the Soviet ally. Moscow had virtually nothing to complain about, the terms elaborated at the Eisenhower headquarters were nearly perfect in substance and Eisenhower's warning to Jodl that now the OKW representative had to appear before the Soviet High Command was nothing but admirable. For Stalin, to agree with these « appearances », to comply with the Reims « protocol » was to accept the actions that constituted a breach of his own faith - « one-sided » and potentially dangerous actions. These had to be countered by a powerful unilateral response.

Stalin's response

   First, through diplomatic and military channels ( most probably, via General Susloparov ) Stalin achieved the consent of the Supreme Commander and the Governments behind him to consider the Reims act as an agreement to be followed by other formal procedures. The pretext was an obligation by Jodl to compensate for the absence of the proper written authorization. The announcement by Schwerig von Krosigk on behalf of the government made the stipulation of subsequent ratification promised by Jodl no longer expedient. The Soviets had no plans to ratify (i.e. to exchange of the instrument of ratification) anything in Berlin. Moreover, the Red Army General Staff instructed the Soviet front and army commanders to disseminate the communication on the unconditional surrender at Reims and enter into contact with the German commanders. A cease-fire on the Leningrad front (Courland army group) came into force at 2 p.m., May 8th and both sides considered the time-line set at Reims as the moment for formal surrender. All this was done in the absence of any communications concerning the Berlin ceremony, be it ratification or signing a new act that would repeat the conditions already accepted by the German Command and the Government.

   Second, on May 7th Stalin repudiated the agreement for a simultaneous announcement of the German capitulation. His messages to Truman and Churchill were identical with the communication the Chief of the General Staff Antonov simultaneously forwarded to the British and American military mission in Moscow. Stalin did not bother to change a word, thus explaining his decision to wait until the evening of May 9th by the concern - not his but that of the Red Army Command - not to « mislead the public opinion of the Soviet Union » in case the German forces on the eastern front continue fighting.

   Third, this concern over the Soviet public opinion included withholding the news about the unconditional surrender at Reims and a ceremony to be held in Berlin. It was only on May 9th, that " Pravda " published a Reuter news report of May 7th (sic) on the announcement of surrender made by the Doenitz government. The Soviet press did not mention the communiqué issued by the SHAEF. The media control was very effective since the Russians had been required to hand in all radio-sets to the state agencies ( the same measure was imposed upon the population of Berlin on May 2, 1945 ). Those on the front-line were better informed. As deputy commander of the regiment stationed near Berlin told me twenty years ago, he had taken care to distribute food, spirits and ammunition for fireworks well before the night of May 9th - thanks to the fact that « my guys were listening BBC ».

   Fourth came the Soviet maneuvers vis-à-vis the Allies and the Germans during the preparation and the Berlin ceremony and immediately afterwards.

   At the first stage Moscow replaced an agreed ratification by the signing of the new Act of Unconditional Surrender ( Zhukov's formal authority issued by the Supreme High Command was to ratify, not a sign. In this sense his written authority was as deficient as that of Jodl at Reims ). Then, the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs was instructed to prepare a Russian-language version. Brought to Berlin by the Deputy Commissar Vyshisnki to Berlin on the morning of May 8th, it was based upon the Reims text but had several meaningful departures from the accepted English-language document. The most glaring discrepancy was the absence of paragraph 4 in the Russian texts presented at Berlin. « The Allies noticed this », reported Ivan Serov, Zhukov's deputy for rear ( eventually, the first Chairman of the KGB ), and « refused to sign ». After exchanges between the Soviet Headquarters in Moscow and Berlin the paragraph in question was restored to the Russian text. The matter was explained as caused by neglect on the part of the head of the 3rd European Dept. at the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs Ambassador Andrei Smirnov. This incident delayed the final procedure by two-three hours. Nevertheless, the Soviets were successful in introducing slight changes in the Russian text.

Discrepancies between the two authentic texts
Act of military surrender
signed at Berlin on the 8th day of may , 1945

   As an inexplicable omission of one word in the official name of the Soviet command suggests, one should not exclude some measure of neglect in the course of translation. However, the changes made in the Russian formula of surrender tended to go in one direction: namely, to present the Soviet side as a more powerful and a more agreeable partner than the Allies, and to disclose the Soviet interest in direct connections with the German central authorities.

   After the mid-night official ceremony had been over ( and while Zhukov and Vyshianski entertained Western delegations ), there was another party at secluded Karlhorst premises. At the dinner given by General-Colonel Ivan Serov to Keitel, Fridebourg and Stumpf only the Germans and the Russian were present. The record of the meeting prepared by the OKW ( preserved in the Soviet Army archives ) and a brief report sent by Serov to Beria do not contradict each other as to the mutual interest in the future cooperation. General Serov was interested to learn about the German objections to the terms of surrender for which a direct link had to be established between Flensburg and Berlin ( it is probably in this light that one should see the changes in the Russian text of paragraph 3 ). Moreover, Serov expressed his interest to see Gross-Admiral Doenitz and his staff « legalized » and hinted that they should move to the Russian zone in order to deal with « civilian », as well as purely military, matters. On his part, Keitel assured Serov that the « present government drew the right conclusions from this war and it hoped that in future the German people would be as unanimous as the Russian people ». The Germans played with the idea, earlier outlined in Goebbels' message to Stalin on April 30th, that the Russians and the Germans « suffered most » while the Western « allies came off clear ». Field-marshal considered the exchange of views with Ivan Serov as « negotiations » that were to be kept strictly secret since they were « inappropriate for other circle ».

   Asked about his vision of the future, Keitel dryly emphasized that Germany had to remain a unified state with a central government. In about fifteen hours Stalin responded to this wish in his address to Soviet people. The Soviet Union, he declared, « does not intend either to dismember or to annihilate Germany ». This declaration was the spectacular rejection of the Yalta joint decisions ( that remained secret ). It made signing of the Declaration on the Defeat of Germany impossible for the immediate future and elevated the USSR to a position of a defender of German national unity.

   To sum up, the Soviet leaders responded to the military surrender of all German forces achieved at Reims with a series of unilateral actions:
      - a new ceremony of surrender demanded by the Soviets and organized according to the Soviet scenario,
      - an attempt to change the final text so that to disrupt the agreement on the need for the Declaration of the Defeat of Germany,
      - the refusal to join Western Europeans in celebrating V-E on the 8 of May,
      - effort for a separate understanding with the Doenitz government and the German command,
      - unilateral public repudiation of the decision achieved on Soviet initiative at Yalta.

   Those actions of May 7-9 were in line with a series of unilateral steps taken in regard to Poland, Yugoslavia and Austria.

The celebration of the victory

   The celebration of the victory in the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet People served as a cover-up operation for these unilateral actions and even more importantly to create a master narrative for future generations.

   Soviet radio broke the news on the surrender of Germany two hours after the Berlin ceremony, in the middle of the night of May 9th. From this day in the memory of the people of the FSU, an exclusive emotional link was established between this date and the Victory over the fascist Germany.

   It looks like at that time few people were interested why this particular day had been chosen for celebration. Nevertheless, Stalin took great care to justify this decision in his address to the Soviet people on May 9th. He further exploited the line he had adopted in his messages to Truman and Churchill of May 7th. « Knowing the wolfish habits of the Germans… we had no reason to believe their word ». Therefore, there was no reason to celebrate victory on the 8th. « However, since this morning Germans troops, in the fulfillment of the act of capitulation, began laying down their arms… This is the real capitulation of Germany's armed forces ». This explanation was sheer nonsense. The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet had taken decision on the V-Day on the 8th and it was broadcast well before the dawn of the 9th. More Germans troops surrendered on the 8th than on the following day ; two-thirds of all German forces in the east ( the Rendulic and Shoerner army groups ) started surrendering on the 10th.

   It is from Stalin that his countrymen learned for the first time about the surrender at Reims, which Stalin characterized as a « preliminary protocol » followed by the « final Act of capitulation » in Berlin.

   Stalin also expressed no appreciation to allied nations (as did Churchill) and avoided glorification of the United Nations ( Truman ). This verbal parsimony was seemingly compensated by the visual display of loyalty to the British and American leaders. Pictures 1 and 2 - Pravda and Red Star issues of May 10, 1945. Newspapers wear off. Written word persists. And from this word everyone grasps, then and now, that V-E was the V-USSR.

   Stalin's address was a powerful narrative that would be repeated for the next sixty years. By cutting corners and patching up some lapses, he established the control over memory of the future generations. Of course, this could not be attained without the collaboration of Russian society, a willing hostage of its own superiority complex

All following Russian narratives...

   All following Russian narratives, be it official histories of the war, essays, jubilee publications, monographs or calendars, adopted several basic strategies. Its precise application depended on target audience, political atmosphere, format, and level of expertise of its respective authors.

      a) Maintaining total silence about other acts but one signed at Karlhorst. Both stories of the Reims surrender and the Four-Power Declaration on the Defeat of Germany issued on June 5th in Berlin were absent in most popular accounts. Respectively, the Act of military surrender was semi-officially renamed Act of the Unconditional Capitulation of the Hitlerite Germany and is commonly known as such.

      b) Reproducing the Stalin's official formula of preliminary protocol and the final act with some new details borrowed from Dwight Eisenhower's or Philippe Mosley's memoirs, taken out of the context and reinterpreted in accordance with the official scheme. These twists are supported by regelegation of the military surrender at Reims to the history of partial/battle-field surrenders in Western Europe.

      c) Structuring historical narratives in such a way that the Reims events considered primarily within the framework of the contacts between the Allied Expeditionary Force and German commanders, efforts undertaken by the Doenitz government, and British preparations for the military conflict with the Soviet Union ( Operation « Unthinkable » ). To this end, the information on the participation of the Head of Soviet military mission in the negotiations in Reims is suppressed or underrated.

   It seems that the memoirs by Sergey Shtemenko ( 1968 ) and the articles by Georgiy Kynin and Irina Morozova ( 1995, 2000 ) remain the only bright spots of historical objectivity. This, of course, is too little to affect the distorted Russian memory of how the war in Europe and at the same time the Great Patriotic war did end.

   The whole problem must be seen as intimately related to the most challenging task that Russia faces to reconsider her self-understanding vis-à-vis the world, and particularly. This task can not be attained without the reconsideration of the most cherished national historical heritage.

The author thanks Ivan Anatolievich Anfert'ev ( Voenno-istorichesvky journal, Defence Ministry ), Sergey Vitalievich Pavlov ( Foreign Policy Archives, Ministry for Foreign Affairs ) and Irina Mikhailovna Morozova ( Department for History and Documentation, Ministry for Foreign Affairs ) for supporting this research in various ways.

© CRDP de Champagne-Ardenne, 2000-2005
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