Bradley’s boss, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, was on the line, calling from his office in Reims, France.
“Brad,” Eisenhower said. “It’s all over.”
Nazi Germany had surrendered at 2:41 a.m. The tragedy of World War II in Europe had ended.
It was May 7, 1945, seventy-five years ago Thursday.
Bradley rose, went to a map and wrote the notation “D+335” — 335 days since Allied soldiers had come ashore at Normandy on D-Day, historian Rick Atkinson wrote.
Eleven months of bitter fighting at sites like Omaha Beach — where the small town of Bedford, Va., lost 20 of its sons on D-Day — and places across Europe such as Saint-Lo and Falaise in northwestern France; Bastogne in Belgium; the Dutch town of Arnhem and the vast minefield of the Hürtgen Forest near the Belgian-German border.
Eight-hundred miles of scarred landscape lay behind, marked with the graves of tens of thousands of American, British, Canadian, French and German soldiers, airplane pilots and crews.
There were more graves in Italy, around places such as Anzio and Monte Cassino, in North Africa at the Kasserine Pass, and across the scorched expanse of Russia and Eastern Europe.
All born of the war against Adolf Hitler’s Germany. Hitler had shot himself in the head a week earlier, sitting on a brocade couch in the study of his underground bunker in Berlin.
“The evil doers … are now prostrate before us,” British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said the next day, May 8, the official Victory in Europe Day, or V-E Day. “We may now allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing.”
Delirious crowds jammed New York’s Times Square, where a model of the Statue of Liberty had been set up. People thronged London’s Trafalgar Square and the Champs Elysees in Paris, which had been freed from Nazi occupation only the previous August.
“La guerre est finie! La guerre est finie!” — “The war is over!” — yelled citizens of Paris, where four years earlier Hitler had stood in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
People danced, wept, hugged, kissed, drank, waved flags, climbed lamp posts and paraded arm-in-arm through the streets. Bands played. Church bells rang. In jubilant London, a Jeep was photographed with 19 celebrants crammed on board.
In one British city, a coffin containing “Hitler” was carried on a hearse toward a huge bonfire, as musicians played a dirge. On arrival, the coffin was thrown into the flames, and then the hearse was, too.
“IT’S OVER OVER HERE,” crowed the military newspaper, Stars and Stripes. “GERMANY QUITS!” said the Times-News in Twin Falls, Idaho. The Philadelphia Inquirer rushed out an extra edition with a one-word front-page headline: “VICTORY.”
“I only wish that Franklin D. Roosevelt had lived to witness this day,” President Harry S. Truman told Americans. Roosevelt, who had led the country through all but the last few weeks of the war, had died April 12.
In Washington, Maj. Keith Wakefield of the Australian Military Mission was mobbed by celebrants when he drove downtown. “Lasses of all shapes and sizes invaded our car,” he recalled later, according to historian Martin Gilbert.
“The lawns around the Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson monuments were teeming with joyous people,” Wakefield wrote to Gilbert years later. “We … joined a raucous motorcade through Rock Creek Park finishing up at the Wardman Park Hotel where we drank several toasts to fallen companions.”
In Brnenec, Czechoslovakia, Oskar Schindler bade farewell to the 1,000 Jews he had sheltered from the Nazis in his factory and then fled the approaching Soviet army.
In Newport News, Va., that day, a ship docked carrying three sisters who were the first survivors of the Auschwitz concentration camp to land on American soil, Gilbert wrote in his book, “The Day the War Ended.”
They were Isabella, Regina, and Berta Katz, of Kisvarda, Hungary. Their mother had been killed at Auschwitz.
“In our battered being we carried the innocent, charred souls of millions of children, women and men,” Isabella recalled later. “And we thank this America, this best of all countries, for putting its healing arms around our weeping hearts.”
On the front lines, soldiers were numb.
“It has been a long and bloody trail,” Hal Boyle, an Associated Press war correspondent, wrote from Germany. “It has drained much from the men … much from their bodies, and much from their spirit.”
Sgt. Benjamin Ferencz, a future Nuremberg war crimes prosecutor, wrote his fiancee: “There were no wild shouts, no hurrahs, no tearing of paper and confetti. … The end of the war is being greeted as just the end of another day.”
Nine months earlier, war correspondent Ernie Pyle had written: “Our feelings have been wrung and drained; they cringe from the effort of coming alive again. Even the approach of the end seems to have brought little inner elation. It has brought only a tired sense of relief.”
(By May 7, Pyle had been dead for three weeks, killed on April 18 while covering the Battle of Okinawa, in the Pacific, where the war would go on for four more months.)
“Not a man among us would want to go through it again,” recalled Sgt. Bruce Egger, whose pocket Bible, a gift from his parents, had once blocked a piece of enemy shrapnel. “But we are all proud of having been so severely tested and found adequate.”
For the Americans, the war in Europe had technically lasted about 3½ years, since Germany declared war on the United States on Dec. 11, 1941, four days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
But for Britain and France and much of Europe, it had started with the German invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, followed by the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.
The British had seen their army barely escape the Germans at Dunkirk, in France, and had withstood the Luftwaffe’s bombing campaign known as the Blitz.
The French had endured military collapse, the humiliation of surrender and the sight of German soldiers marching through Paris.
The Soviets had seen untold slaughter at battles like that of Stalingrad, the loss of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and had experienced the full extent of German atrocities.
And Jews had suffered the Holocaust.
Two days before Eisenhower’s call to Bradley, American soldiers had liberated the concentration camp at Mauthausen, in Austria, a few miles from where Hitler had grown up.
There, 95,000 people had been starved, gassed and worked to death in a rock quarry, and a Nazi doctor named Hermann Richter had cut out prisoners’ stomachs, livers or kidneys to see how long they might live.
“The things I saw beggar description,” Eisenhower wrote after he and Bradley visited the concentration camp at Buchenwald in Germany. “The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were … overpowering.”
But now it was over.
The German general, Alfred Jodl — who was a top aide to Hitler and was later hanged as a war criminal — signed the unconditional “Act of Military Surrender” early that Monday, May 7. The signing took place in an overheated classroom on the second floor of a large brick school building that had become Allied headquarters in Reims.
Seventeen reporters and photographers, and an 11-man Allied delegation crowded into the floodlit room, which had a large oak conference table, Atkinson wrote in his 2013 book, “The Guns at Last Light.”
(American Lt. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, Eisenhower’s chief of staff, had initially barred the press. But other U.S. officials overruled him, author Ray Moseley wrote in his book, “Reporting War.”)
Pale and balding, Jodl, who had helped engineer the Nazi oppression of so many in Europe, now stood in his dress green uniform and black boots, and asked for mercy for the German people.
“I can only express the hope that the victor will treat them with generosity,” he said.
His eyes were “suffused with tears,” the Australian war correspondent Osmar White wrote. “His face had withered into bitter lines of humiliation and despair.”
Jodl was then ushered in to see Eisenhower, who was waiting in his office nearby.
“Do you understand the terms … of surrender you have just signed,” Eisenhower asked.
Yes, Jodl replied.
“You will … be held responsible if … [they] are violated,” Eisenhower said. “That is all.”
The surrender story was supposed to be held off by reporters until the formal announcements the next day, May 8.
But when German radio broadcast the news later on May 7, Associated Press reporter Edward Kennedy, who had covered the signing, felt that the news was out and filed his story.
It got him in deep trouble with the military and it infuriated colleagues.
But it made sensational headlines across the country and landed his byline on one of history’s biggest scoops. A plaque in his honor in a California park reads: “He gave the world 24 hours more of happiness,” Moseley wrote.
The official surrender proclamations came the next day.
In London, a little boy broke from the crowd cheering Winston Churchill in the lobby of the House of Commons. “Please, sir, may I have your autograph?” he asked.
Churchill took out his glasses, wiped them clean and signed the boy’s autograph album, according to biographer Andrew Roberts.
The prime minister handed the book back, ruffled the boy’s hair and said, “This will remind you of a glorious day.”