Germany, the Jews and Israel > World War II > End of World War II in Europe

End of World War II in Europe

After five years and eight months, with the unconditional surrender of the Germans on May 8, 1945, World War II came to an end in Europe. It had been the most destructive and cruelest in human history, involving more than 60 nations and some 110 million soldiers, and it is estimated that it exacted approximately 60 million victims, including six million Jews, the victims of the Holocaust.

Vast territories, entire cities and villages across Europe were left in ruins, and millions of people lost their homes. Stories from the war and its history became the basis of an unfathomable number of literary and cinematic works, and scholarly and philosophical studies, and continue to be to this day. It goes without saying that an event of this magnitude remained etched in the memories of many people, and even occupied – and continues to occupy ­­– subsequent generations born years after the war was over.

 

In European countries, May 8 has a special significance, since on that day in 1945, the German Instrument of Surrender to end the war with the Allied Expeditionary Force entered into effect. One day earlier, one of the highest-ranking commanders of the German armies, General Alfred Jodl, had signed it. The surrender ceremony at which the document was signed in the presence of the Western Allies took place on May 7, in the French city of Reims, and a similar ceremony took place in the presence of Red Army generals of the Soviet Union in Berlin, on May 9.


The war had almost no direct effect on Palestine and its residents, with the exception of the Italian bombing of Tel Aviv in 1940. A greater danger was the presence of large German units in North Africa under the command of General Erwin Rommel, but his defeat in November 1942 in battles with the British forces put an end to the danger of the conquest of Palestine by the Nazis.

 

Despite this situation, many residents of Palestine were involved in various manners in the war events: as refugees from Europe, as soldiers in the Jewish Brigade (as part of the British Army) or as relatives of European Jews who fell prey to the cruel deeds of the Germans in the framework of the Final Solution and the methodical extermination plan.

 

The archives of the National Library, naturally, contain material that reflects the historical moment of the war's end and the German surrender. One fascinating example is the diary of Samuel Hugo Bergman.

 

The philosopher Samuel Hugo Bergman (1883-1975), a native of Prague, immigrated to Palestine in 1920. For 15 years he directed the National and University Library, today the National Library. From 1935 he served as a professor of philosophy at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Like many of his generation, Bergman kept a diary in which he documented personal issues, but also related to political developments and general matters. Bergman wrote his diary entries in German, but used the shorthand method, widely used at the time among speakers of German and other languages. The use of shorthand enabled very quick writing, but it has become a kind of secret language, since today, we barely know how to decipher it. Luckily, Samuel Hugo Bergman’s widow, Else, together with a number of other individuals, deciphered his journals and copied the texts into ordinary German writing. A selection from the diaries was published in Germany in 1985. The original diaries are located, together with other writings and documents, in the Samuel Hugo Bergman Archive in the Archives Department of the National Library.


 


The printed edition of Bergmann's diaries


As a philosopher and a person who was aware of goings-on in the world, Bergman of course related to the last moments of World War II in early May 1945. Despite this, his daily affairs at the university and in the various organizations of which he was a member received a more substantial place in his diaries than news about the collapse of the Nazi regime. Following are a few diary entries Bergman recorded at the time:


May 2: This morning, the news of Hitler's death, which passed without making an impression for a number of reasons: because one does not believe it, or because we were prepared for it, or because, after all, of what happened and lingers like poison in the soul, the death of the chief person responsible is already not significant. There is no joy in the air at the time of this victory, just as there was no excitement at the beginning of the war. [...]


May 5: Two letters from Uri [one of Bergman's sons], in which he reports on his meeting with German prisoners. They are human beings like everyone. May he give one of them a knife so that he will be able to open a can of sardines? Should he give him cigarettes? He wrote about the Jewish soldiers who continued fighting to the end, so that they would not be forced to become prisoners, and he asked what my opinion was about it. Yesterday I wrote to him. – What times these are! Yesterday I heard a story on the radio about the surrender of the Germans in Holland, Denmark, and northwest Germany. Afterwards, they aired the verse from Psalms 126: "We were like dreamers. [...]


May 6: [...] When [Yitzchak Ernst] Nebenzahl told me that he had heard on the radio that they would declare Victory Day within a day or two, I used the opportunity to tell him about the pessimism that gripped us, obviating any joy like that in Fichman's article in Davar and in prayer 126 [in the verse from Psalms]...


May 7, 1945: Praise be God!!!


May 8 and 9: Two days of peace celebrations. On May 7 in the morning, the lecture of Sir Roland Davidson about lawsuits in England after the war. On the way, I heard that Germany had surrendered. In the evening, at the home of [David Werner] Senator, during the meeting at 9.30, we learned that the surrender talks had concluded and that they had declared peace days on May 8 and 9. That same evening, I went with Esha to Zion [Square], where all we saw was drunken soldiers. [...]


 

The page of May 5 – 9 from Bergmann's personal diary (in shorthand)

 

Translation of the diary excerpts from the German: Dr. Stefan Litt