May 8, 1945: Hostilities in Europe end.
On May 7, 1945, German representatives signed the German Instrument of Surrender in Reims, France. Shortly before midnight on the same day, a second surrender was signed in Berlin (a location chosen by the Soviet representatives), and on May 8, 1945, one minute after midnight, hostilities in Europe were officially over. By the time the war in Europe ended, millions of people (civilians and soldiers alike) had lost their lives to what is still the deadliest conflict in human history. The Soviet Union, where much of the bloodiest fighting took place, saw an estimated 24 million of its people die, a number that, on its own, made up nearly half of the total death toll. The United Kingdom, Italy, France, and the United States each suffered several hundred thousand military deaths over the course of a few years of fighting. And Germany, though obviously the instigator of the war, had ultimately lost millions of civilians to it as well.
In his announcement of Germany’s unconditional surrender, Karl Dönitz, the Third Reich’s last head of state, addressed the imminent crisis of Germany’s postwar future. As the rest of the world celebrated his country’s defeat and subjugation, he stated:
All of us have to face a difficult path… We must walk it by making the greatest efforts to create a firm basis for our future lives. We will walk it unitedly. Without this unity we shall not be able to overcome the misery of the times to come. We will walk it in the hope that one day our children may lead a free and secure existence in a peaceful Europe.
Meanwhile, Winston Churchill delivered a number of speeches to the people of the United Kingdom. In one, he addressed a crowd from the balcony of Ministry of Health in Whitehall, and he declared: “God bless you all. This is your victory!”, to which the people below replied “No - it is yours.”
April 30, 1945: Adolf Hitler commits suicide.
As the Soviet Red Army descended upon Berlin, mowing down what meager dregs of the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS Germany had left to offer, Hitler received the news that his fellow despot Benito Mussolini had been executed - not to mention beaten, stoned, spat on, hung up, and put on display - by his own countrymen. The already-unstable Führer, having already declared his intention to remain in Berlin and commit suicide, was now even more determined not to be made “a spectacle of” once the end came.
The day before his suicide, he married Eva Braun, his longtime mistress, and dictated his last will and testament, which named Joseph Goebbels the Reich’s new Chancellor (this position Goebbels held for one day, before he and his family also committed suicide). To the end, Hitler was adamant about the “threat” he believed Jews posed to humanity, and he ended his final political testament with this statement:
Above all I charge the leaders of the nation and those under them to scrupulous observance of the laws of race and to merciless opposition to the universal poisoner of all peoples, international Jewry.
Less than 24 hours later, Hitler shot himself, and his wife poisoned herself. As requested by his personal will and testament, both of their bodies were burned and buried in the garden of the Reich Chancellery - the building where, in Hitler’s own words, he had “carried out the greatest part of [his] daily work in the course of twelve years’ service to [his] people.”
April 16, 1947: Bernard Baruch coins the term “Cold War”.
Baruch, a financier and government adviser (having held several key positions under Presidents Wilson, Roosevelt, and Truman), was not the first to use the term “cold war” in reference to the post-World War II world - that distinction goes to George Orwell.
It was Baruch, however, who first popularized the term with respect to the state of affairs between the USSR and the United States (and their respective allies). On April 16, 1947, he delivered a speech to the South Carolina House of Representatives, in which he declared:
Let us not be deceived-we are today in the midst of a cold war. Our enemies are to be found abroad and at home. Let us never forget this: Our unrest is the heart of their success. The peace of the world is the hope and the goal of our political system; it is the despair and defeat of those who stand against us. We can depend only on ourselves.
The term, which proved an apt description of the relationship between these two superpowers, soon entered the mainstream American lexicon, but Baruch’s “cold war” was only just beginning - it would continue to shape the world for the next four decades.