On 20 April 1945, as the Nazi regime collapsed around him, Hitler appointed Grössadmiral Karl Dönitz as his successor, President of the Reich, Minister of War and Supreme Commander of the armed forces. After Hitler’s suicide on 30 April, Dönitz began negotiations for surrender with the Allies.
As Nazi troops were being defeated in Berlin and throughout Germany, Dönitz was forced to accept the terms of unconditional surrender. On May 6th he ordered Wehrmacht Chief of Staff General Alfred Jodl to represent him at the signing ceremony in General Dwight Eisenhower’s temporary schoolhouse headquarters in Reims France.
General Alfred Jodl
For protocol reasons, Eisenhower remained in a nearby room and did not attend the ceremony.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower
Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith represented Eisenhower in the ‘war room’.
Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith
After an interpreter read the terms of surrender, General Jodl addressed those in the room:
“I want to say a word. With this signature the German people and the German armed forces are for better or worse delivered into the victor’s hands. In this war, which has lasted more than five years, they both have achieved and suffered more than perhaps any other people in the world. In this hour I can only express the hope that the victor will treat them with generosity.”
No one answered nor saluted Jodl. After the Germans left the room, those remaining in the ‘war room’ drank champagne from mess tins.