France Saturday marked the anniversary of the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany, which took place in the early hours of the morning 60 years ago in a school used as the supreme allied headquarters.
A painting bears witness to the spot where WWII ended in Europe
Under the terms of the surrender bringing to an end nearly six years of war, all fighting was to end on May 8, 1945.
But with fighting still taking place on the Eastern Front, the Soviet military command insisted that a second act of surrender should be signed in Berlin, making May 9 the official end of Russia's "Great Patriotic War" against the Nazis.
The war room where the Reims surrender was signed has been kept exactly as it was as a museum.
"It's just unbelievable, everything here is exactly the same as it was 60 years ago," said Albert Meserlin, 85, the US army photographer who took pictures of the ceremony. "I recognized the room, the pictures."
Susan Hibbvert, the British typist who copied out the surrender document, also attended the ceremony and recognized some of the messages pinned on the walls, which she said she probably typed. "As we had been working for three nights running, we were all very tired," she said. "I remember that more than any one thing."
"The Germans weren't very happy"
The surrender document was signed by US Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith on behalf of the supreme allied commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower; Colonel General Alfred Jodl on behalf of the German high command and Major General Ivan Susloparov of Russia. It was witnessed by French Major General Francois Sevez.
"The Germans were not very happy," Hibbvert said. "Eisenhower didn't take part in the signing. He was watching from somewhere else, waiting."
The Soviets said Suslaparov had not been authorized to sign the document.A second act of surrender, significantly the same as the first, was signed the following day by Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, General Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg, and Colonel General Hans Juergen Stumpff, representing the German army, navy and air force; and Soviet Marshal Georgi Zhukov for the high command of the Red Army.
British Air Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder signed on behalf of Eisenhower and the second document was also witnessed by US Air Force General Carl Spaatz and French General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny.
"Democracy and peace in Europe"
In the absence of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who was to undergo a gall bladder operation in a Paris hospital Saturday, the ceremony here was headed by Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie.
French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin
In a speech read on his behalf, Raffarin (photo) emphasized the European dimension of the surrender ceremony.
"From the cataclysm emerged democracy and peace in Europe," he said, recalling that on July 8, 1962, General Charles de Gaulle of France and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer of Germany attended mass in Reims cathedral, opening the way to the Franco-German treaty of reconciliation of January 30, 1963.
In what was seen as an appeal to the French to vote in favor of the European constitution in a referendum on May 29, Raffarin said the values and principles of the wartime victors were rooted in the European Union, and it was for new generations "to be worthy today and tomorrow of their heritage."