Stalin in Georgia

The republic of Georgia, located on the Caucasian isthmus between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, was founded in the turmoil following the collapse of the Czarist Empire during WWI. Located on the border with Turkey, at that time this region tried to untie from neighbor Russia, and proclaimed a libertarian socialist state.

Following the seizure of power by Lenin and the Bolsheviks, producing a devastating civil war which would go on raging all over the former Russian-controlled territory well into the 1920s, Georgia lost its independence, being sucked into the Soviet Union, similar to many other nations sharing a border with Russia – like Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Latvia, etc.

A country with a remarkable wealth of history, inhabited since when traces of mankind started to appear on earth, with a deeply rooted Christian culture since centuries, a strong independence movement started to show in Georgia already in the 1980s, when the Soviet system was still destined to last for long in the eyes of many western observers. This independence feeling would culminate in the republic of Georgia leaving the USSR months before its actual end, already in early 1991. Since then, the country is openly hostile to Russia, and the formation in the early 2000s of two de facto Russian-backed independent states – South Ossetia and Abkhazia – over the sovereign territory of Georgia witnesses a mutual state of tension between Tbilisi and Moscow, still lasting today.

Despite this, and almost paradoxically, the Georgian individual possibly best known to the general public and to the world is an eminent communist character, a one-of-a-kind contributor to the history of the USSR and of the world – and someone would say, the most authentic incarnation of a communist leader – Stalin.

While Georgia, most comprehensibly, is striving to delete every tangible trace of the Soviet era – from statues to symbols and pieces of architecture – a few notable exceptions include some of Stalin-related relics in the country. In Gori, Stalin’s hometown, the house where Stalin was born is preserved under a bombastic Soviet-era canopy. Nearby, a unique museum dedicated to the Soviet leader, opened back in the late 1950s with a display of incredible memorabilia, is reportedly the most successful attraction in town, with crowds of visitors still today.

In an old district in Tbilisi you can find another unique point of interest – the so-called Stalin Printing House Museum. It was in this unapparent house that young Stalin operated as a pro-communist clandestine agitator in the early 20th century, well before the Bolshevik revolution in Russia.

This post covers these Stalin-related remains in the man’s home country, with photographs taken in summer 2019.

Sights

Joseph Stalin Museum – Gori

Stalin’s hometown, where he was born in 1878, is dominated by a scenic ancient fortress, sitting on top of an isolated mound. At the time of Stalin’s birth, that was also the geographic center of the town. When Stalin became… Stalin, his birthplace was turned into a place of pilgrimage, and a new purely-Soviet master plan was implemented in the city, creating a new gravitational center around the modest house of his parents.

The long axis which drives you from the major access road and the railway station south of the city to the house follows an almost north-south direction. A typically Soviet alley – straight, too wide and with mostly sad-looking buildings to the sides – links a bridge over the local river to to the house, going through a square with the town hall, built in a Soviet classicist style. A tall statue of Stalin used to stand on the side of the square, and it was torn down only in the 2000s.

Closer to the house, the alley bifurcates into a ‘Y’. Between the arms of the ‘Y’ you can find a garden with fountains and flowers.

To the far end of the garden, the small half-timbered house where Stalin’s parents used to live is preserved under a Soviet-style canopy.

Stalin’s parents were not well-to-do, and they actually rent the house, where they occupied only one room. Back in the 19th century, it was just one in a row of similar buildings. Following the radical reshaping of the area for celebrating the Soviet leader, the whole neighborhood was completely demolished, and only this block was left.

On the side and front facade of the house are marble signs in Russian and Georgian. The ceiling of the canopy features a stained glass light, with hammer and sickle signs by the corners.

To the back of the birthplace you can find a smaller statue of Stalin. Considering his generally acknowledged status as a bloody communist dictator, similar open air statues have been removed almost everywhere in the world – this is one of the few remaining exceptions (another being in Belarus, but most likely apocryphal – look for Stalin’s line museum here).

The most conspicuous building in this celebratory installation is the actual Joseph Stalin Museum, which occupies a pretty large palace in Stalinist style. The master plan dates back to the final years of Stalin, and its realization was carried out during the 1950s.

The building is interesting from an architectural viewpoint, and features a colonnaded porch giving access to a main entrance hall.

The latter is rather formal, with another colonnade and a perspective leading through a staircase to a mezzanine. In the focus of the perspective you can see another statue of Stalin. Every particular in the architecture here is extremely Soviet – grim, menacing, heavy.

The ticket and toilets can be accessed to the sides of the hall on the ground floor, which acts also as a meeting point for groups – but guided visits are not compulsory, you can tour the museum on your own.

Upon reaching the first floor, you meet two busts of Stalin, and a couple of interesting paintings, portraying the young Josip Vissarionovich Dzugansvili – Stalin’s its real name – as a student talking to his class mates at the seminary of Tbilisi, and later as grown-up, well-established Stalin talking to his collaborators.

The museum is composed of a few big halls. The first rooms retrace Stalin’s personal story, and are based on a mix of documents, original or reproduced, newspapers, paintings and photographs. The latter are often reproductions, often magnified – since when he was not yet famous he mostly appeared in group photographs.

Here you learn about his humble origins, and you can see the photographs of his parents, his early school reports and the first known photographs of Josip as a young boy.

A rather brilliant pupil, he was granted access to the Orthodox seminary in Tbilisi – which back then was called Tiflis – where he moved to attend lectures and to grow to become a priest. Some works of poetry from the time, published on local newspapers in Georgian, are part of the exhibition.

Something went wrong at that time, as he got excessively fascinated with the leftmost socialist theories, spread by several authors including Lenin. A rare naive portrait of his meeting with the principal of the seminary, when he was expelled for his unacceptable and dangerous views, is part of the collection.

This was the beginning of a militancy period, when he became known to the department of internal affairs of the Czar due to open subversive propaganda activities. He worked irregularly, publishing clandestine works in Tbilisi (see about his printing house below), holding open-air meetings in port town Batumi, and so on.

Finally, he was arrested and deported by the Czar to inland Russia. As his fame grew, he was tasked with some role in the apparatus of the clandestine political formations headed by Lenin – the factions against the Czar and even in the socialist area were many, and the intricate civil war that followed the 1917 revolution was also the result of the struggle for power of these opposing forces.

Between internment periods, he started traveling to the capital – St. Petersburg. He also met Lenin in Tampere, Finland, a country politically bound to the Russian empire until 1917. Photographs and documents from the time, a suitcase and models of the houses where Stalin resided can be found in this part. Busts including one of Stalin as a young agitator, pretty rare and likely taken from the few portraits from the time, are also parts of the collection.

Again following a historical timeline, you can find more documents and portraits of a grown-up yet young man of the apparatus. It is well known that Lenin, after the 1917 revolution, saw Stalin as a potential problem for the future of the Party. A copy of Lenin’s ‘testament’, telling his comrades to get rid of Stalin, is on display in the exhibition. As a matter of fact, Lenin’s illness and demise in 1924 started a period of transition.

Stalin, by 1922 general secretary of the communist party of the USSR, fought and won against all other members of the communist party, making his appointment in the government the most powerful. He managed to maintain his role until his death in 1953, reigning as an unopposed tyrant at least since the end of the 1920s, when he prevailed over his most strenuous opponent, Trotzkij.

As he started to gain power, official portraits started to appear, both paintings and photographs. These pieces of the collection are also interesting, for not many portraits of Stalin have survived in official displays, after he was condemned by his political heirs.

Also books from his speeches and prints from his personal history, to be distributed to the general public, are displayed here.

Prominence in the communist party of the USSR gained a special status also to Stalin’s family. His mother had a decent place to live, and his son payed a visit more than once – this is the subject of some portraits. A porcelain set from Stalin’s mother household is on display.

Curious artifacts in this part of the museum include a desk from some communist office of the time of Stalin’s purges.

As a marshal in WWII – the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 as it was known in the USSR – Stalin reached international recognition and world fame. His ability as a general is open to critics, for he managed to kill most of the most experienced staff in the purges of the 1930s, and appointed generals – mostly like Hitler – based on their political attitude. It is questionable whether without substantial help from the then-allies of the Soviet Union (Britain and the US) a victory against Germany could have been reached, despite a disproportionate number of casualties in the rows of the Red Army. However, the final march to Berlin, which gained him control over half of Europe, raised him to the level of a world leader. The exhibition reflects this recognition, with books by Stalin translated in several languages, gifts from generals of the Red Army – including an authentic monstrosity donated to the museum by WWII hero General Zhukov in the 1960s – and many pictures from the war years.

A showcase is dedicated to Stalin’s sons and heirs. He had five sons, from two wives and other women, and his descent is still existent today.

A corner hall hosts a kind of monumental installation, a small Soviet monument not among the best of the kind. Made of lighted reproductions of photographs, it is a kind of recap of Stalin’s triumphs and special moments.

The next hall concludes the climax, and is really unique. It is a circular room padded with black leather panels. At the center of a circular colonnade you can see at the level of the ground one of the few – apparently 12 – original reproductions of Stalin’s head from his death mask.

Thanks to the special installation featuring a strong symmetry and a special lighting, the head is really magnetic.

Stalin died at 75 in March 1953 in undisclosed circumstances, possibly to the hand of somebody in his entourage. Some paintings from his funeral can be seen around the room, together with a model of the mausoleum of Lenin on the Red Square in Moscow, where Stalin was interred for a few years, until removed when finally condemned by his party – note the writing in Cyrillic ‘Lenin – Stalin’ on the mausoleum, later reverted to ‘Lenin’ only.

The next hall is dedicated to international relationships, displayed through photographs, memorabilia and the plenty of gifts Stalin received in his years as a communist dictator.

There are presents from Georgia and other Soviet republics, and from international delegations. The latter were from both the eastern bloc – Eastern Germany, Poland, China – and most strikingly from the West, and even from NATO countries like France and Italy!

Back to the top of the staircase, you get access to one of the highlights of the exhibition. In a final room you find on display the original furniture of Stalin’s office at the Kremlin. There is a desk with an armchair, a sofa, and a set of smaller chairs. Stylistically not very appealing, this furniture is of course of great historical relevance.

Close by, more unique items are on display in two showcases – Stalin’s personal belongings. There are a few cigars – now decomposing to age – some cigarettes, a cigarette box, a ruler, two pipes, a pen, a chessboard, a hand-written message to a friend, and some other trinkets. Finally, there is a military uniform, with boots and coat.

When you have got intoxicated by the Soviet aura of this place, you can finally get out and visit the last item in the park, Stalin’s personal railway car. This was actually used by Stalin, who did not like flying, to travel around the Union and abroad. He went to Teheran and Jalta conferences during WWII in this car.

The car is special in having a bullet-proof armor all around – which produces a weight comparable to that of a Diesel railway engine… – and some special services, like a bathtub, a personal studio and a meeting room.

Stalin’s ‘memorial park’ in Gori is really a one-of-a-kind museum, of exceptional interest for people interested to his period and his historical figure. You may be surprised by the very existence of this place, primarily because of the well-known and heavy responsibility of this man in mass-murders and misconduct as a head of state, and also because it is located in Georgia, a country openly hostile to Russia and its hard political domination, implemented through the institution of the Soviet Union. It is one of the expressions of the contradictory attitude of most peoples touched by the USSR – including Russians – towards that era. It remains a thought-provoking collection of historical value though – gifts from international delegation from the West are a vivid memory of the recognition obtained by this mass-murderer during his lifetime. They are particularly instructive about how propaganda can draw international consensus to the most unthinkable subjects.

Getting there and moving around

Getting to Georgia from the West will be hardly for Gori alone. Despite the nice, well-kept town center, with the castle and several refurbished churches and alleys, and of course the Stalin-related part, there are far more significant places to visit in Georgia, at least if you are coming from far away to this relatively hard-to-reach angle of the world. Yet Gori is located in a convenient position along the major road and railway connecting Tbilisi to Kutaisi and the coast of the Black Sea, which makes for an ideal one-day or even half-day stop.

The town is a good place to sleep, for there are a number of guesthouses and restaurants, and it does not look derelict or unsafe, differently for instance from more prominent Kutaisi. The whole Stalin-themed park, with the birthplace, museum and railway car, is rather compact, and not big, so visiting may take from 1.5 to 3 hours, depending on your level of interest. This is the main attraction in town. Strangely, I could not find an official website – this is strange for most labels are translated also in English, and there is even some merchandise, so the place is run as a modern museum. However, Google or TripAdvisor timetables were correct at least when I visited.

Plenty of public parking space around the museum.

In town there is also a war museum dedicated to the Great Patriotic War (covered here), as well as other non-communist themed attractions.

Joseph Stalin’s Underground Printing House Museum – Tbilisi

This museum was opened in Soviet times in the place of a house where young Stalin spent some time as a political agitator. His main activity related to this place was printing clandestine material.

Access it through modern Soviet buildings, with a hall which unfortunately cannot be visited.

The house is presented inside a small garden. There are two light buildings, a half-timbered house and a smaller hut.

The two are connected by a deep underground passage. This double access to the underground was of great help to evade controls by Czarist authorities. The main underground hall is original.

Possibly intended as a food cellar, it was used to store a 19th century printing machine – made in Augsburg, Germany, as witnessed by the rusty but still readable factory label!

The half-timbered house is apparently a Soviet-era reproduction of the building originally in place. It is a two-rooms house, very similar to Stalin’s birth house in Gori (see above). The two rooms have been furnished with a few berths and tables, to provide an idea of the original look, and with tons of artifacts from Stalin’s and Soviet times.

These include portraits, photographs, books and emblems. There is also a model of a similar clandestine print house in Baku, Azerbaijan.

All in all, this place has a historical significance as Stalin’s early headquarter, and as a Soviet place of pilgrimage. Differently from Stalin-themed park in Gori, it has been basically forgotten – it is kept open by aged volunteers.

Getting there and moving around

The museum is located at the following GPS coordinates – 41.690454, 44.829999. It is located west of Tbilisi city center, at a walking distance from it, but the walk is not recommended for the neighborhood is nothing special. Going by car or taxi is more time-efficient. Public parking on the street available around the block.

There is no official website to my knowledge. Entrance is by cash only, free offer. See Google for opening times, which are mainly in the central hours of the day. You can visit on your own, but one of the local enthusiasts running the museum will likely provide some information, and there is also a basic leaflet in English. Visiting may take about .5 hours.

Hitler’s Wonder Weapons in Northern France

Following the end of the Battle of Britain, mainly fought in the air in summer-fall 1940, the plans of the Axis for an invasion of Britain were halted and progressively updated and reconfigured. The successful invasion of Holland, Belgium and Northern France had led to a stabilization of the border of the Axis territory on the Atlantic coast of Europe earlier in 1940. Since then and until the counter-invasion by the Allied troops in June 1944, the military command of Germany decided for the fortification of the coast with the Atlantic Wall, a series of naval gun batteries, ammo storages, barracks, radar stations, command and communication centers, and everything else that was needed to detect and contrast an attack from the West, both from the sea and from the air.

But the coast of the Atlantic was not considered only as a border line to be defended. Some large-caliber cannons of the Atlantic Wall built in the region of Calais on the narrowest sector of the English Channel, were capable of hitting targets on British mainland. Furthermore, many port towns on the cost of France were converted into military ports from where the Kriegsmarine operated regularly with various material, including the famed underwater U-Boot forces, running offensive missions against all sorts of Allied ships in various sectors of the North Sea and the Atlantic ocean. Airbases were routinely operated in the regions of Northern France, Belgium and Holland both for bombing raids over Britain and later for fighting missions in defense of the occupied and the innermost territories of the Reich from the Allied bombing runs. With the help of the US, these began to systematically target the Axis in 1943, operating from Britain.

Finally, the newest and most advanced conventionally armed weapons of WWII started to be operated from the coastal area in 1944 by the German armed forces. The famous ‘Retaliation Weapons’, or ‘Vergeltungswaffen’ in German – from which the famous abbreviation ‘V’ of the V-1, V-2 and V-3 – suffered from limited range, and so had to be launched from close enough to their intended target – Britain, by design. Today some relics of the launch sites and some buildings connected with the deployment of such ordnance can be visited when touring the area of the Pas-de-Calais, the northernmost province of France.

The following photographs, taken in summer 2016, portray four notable sites of the kind in that region.

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Sights

V-1 – Ardouval

Since 1943 new weapons enriched the arsenal of the German armed forces. The famous V-1, manufactured as Fieseler-103, reached operational readiness and began to be deployed that year. This relatively simple, subsonic, air-breathing – i.e. non-rocket-propelled – flying bomb, while not very accurate, could be deadly against large target cities like London. Its limited range forced deployment in the occupied territories closest to Britain.

Many launch bases were prepared in Northern France, from where Southern England was well within range. The V-1 was used only after the D-Day – the first registered operative launch was on June 13th, 1944, against Britain. By the end of Summer 1944 the Allied had pushed the Germans roughly back to the region of the Ardennes in Northeastern France, on the border with Belgium. Consequently, all bases in Northwestern France were silenced. Later in the war, V-1 were still launched against liberated Belgium and central England, from more inland and further north bases by the retreating German forces. Total launched V-1 were actually in the order of the tens of thousands.

The Ardouval site is possibly the only V-1 site officially opened to the public in France. It is an open-air museum with no fences, so it is open h24 every day of the year. The site was severely hit before by Allied air raids before it could enter service, so no flying bomb was ever launched from it. Actually, the bomb craters can be clearly spotted in the trees all around. Going far from the paved walkways is not advised due to danger of unexploded ordnance.

The installation is rather extensive, and traces of some original buildings and service roads remain to this day. Among them a concrete water basin, a generator building, a building with a concrete arch for aligning navigation instruments prior to the launch.

Two curved trails from the V-1 body storage to the operational buildings and launch ramp can be spotted. The launch ramp was reconstructed, but just besides you can see the launch observation bunker, with a slot for visual checking the launch from very close to the lower end of the inclined ramp.

Barely recognizable ruins of other buildings can be spotted as well. Touring the place is not complicated, thanks to an explanatory panel close to the parking. It is advisable to take a picture of it with your phone, to be sure to see everything the site has to offer. Time required is about 45 min.

Getting there and moving around

The site of Ardouval (Val Ygot) is located close to the town of Ardouval and Pommeréval. It can be easily reached by car from the latter, less than 2 miles from the town center, driving west on the D99. Large free parking on site.

V-2 – Watten & Wizernes

Much more advanced than V-1, the V-2 was the first operational rocket in the world. Invented by the team of Wernher von Braun and tested in Peenemünde, on the border between today’s Germany and Poland, this liquid-propelled rocket came in the latest stage of WWII. The production totalled around 5000 units, and about 3100 were actually launched during the war, basically only from mobile launch platforms. Targets were mainly Belgium and Britain, but the first successful launch took place against Paris in September 1944. As for the V-1, range was among the weaknesses of the design, so that a deployment close to the Atlantic coast was necessary for targeting Britain from mainland Europe.

Mobile gantries were well designed and allowed a relatively fast re-deployment, a critical feature in the last stage of the war when the frontline was moving eastward at fast pace. Despite that, Hitler’s personal preference was with huge, autonomous, fixed launch bases, for which design and construction work began soon after the occupation of Northern France.

Two sites were created. The first was close to Watten, in the forest of Eperlecques – about 40 miles from the coast to the south-east of Calais – and was codenamed ‘Kraftwerk Nordwest’. Work on this monstrous bunker – probably the largest you will ever see from this age – started in early 1943 in a forest, at ground level and with little natural defences.

This installation was designed for the assembly of V-2 rockets arriving by train, and for supplying them with oxygen prepared in place in a dedicated branch of this bunker-factory. The intended role of this installation was the creation of a ‘rocket revolver’, capable of launching rockets at a frequency of 1.5 per hour, 24 hours a day. The Allies did not overlook the potential strategic relevance of the site and bombed it repeatedly. During a raid carried out by US forces in summer 1943 the site still under construction was seriously damaged. Since then it was decided to turn it into a liquid oxygen production factory for supplying other launch sites. Soon after the disembarkment, the place was finally abandoned after being hit by Tallboy bombs by the British. After capture in September 1944 it was decided to further demolish it by testing several new ordnance against a target so hard to crack.

The site is open as a regular museum, which can be visited on self-guided tours. A trail in the trees leads you to the main bunker, the tallest part of which can be entered. A V-2 mockup allows you to appreciate the proportions of the building. Some of the tunnels can be seen from the outside.

Also in place are a V-1 launch ramp, cannons and vehicles. Time required for visiting may vary between about 30 minutes to more than 1 hour depending on your level of interest.

The second site was built starting mid-1943 close to Wizernes, and not far from the previous site in Watten. This was codenamed ‘Schotterwerk Nordwest’, and it was intended for the same basic scope of the other, but it had also to be built to avoid heavy damage from air-dropped bombs. The location was extremely favorable, making use of a former quarry, with tunneling in the body of a U-shaped hill. A distinctive feature still remaining today is the concrete dome covering part of the site. The place was stricken with usual and Tallboy bombs after the D-Day. This caused the collapse of the entrances to the tunnel system, and of the side of the hill. The dome moved and banked to on side, but notably it did not break apart.

The place is open as a major documentation center. Besides the usual IMAX theatre in a building close to the parking, you can visit on a self-guided tour both the tunnels in the side of the hill and the area below the concrete dome – it can be incredibly hot and suffocating there, where it’s cold in the tunnels. You can find here much information about the history of the site and more in general of the deployment of the V-1 and V-2 in the area. A complete visit without the IMAX may take 45 minute to 1.5 hours depending on your interests.

Getting there and moving around

Both sites are easily reachable by car. The site of Watten is located is about two miles west of the town. You can reach it driving west on the D207 from the crossing between D207 and D300. A road called Rue des Sarts takes to the right after about .6 mile. The local name of the place is ‘Le Blockhaus d’Eperlecques’.

The site of Wizernes is located on the D210 about 1 mile south of Wizernes. The local name is ‘La Coupole’ – the Dome’.

Both sites are clearly signed.

V-3 – Mimoyecques

The hatred against the indomitable British enemy reached a pinnacle with the deployment of the V-3, reportedly Hitler’s favorite, a supercannon capable of shelling London from a distance of around 100 miles. The installation in Mimoyecques, close to Cap-Gris-Nez, about 8 miles southwest of Calais, was single-targeted against the ‘symbol town’ of London, for the cannon could not be oriented – it was built inside a hill and pointed upwards in a fixed attitude. The design was based on the older idea of multiple-charged shells, i.e. shells which were accelerated gradually to a very high target speed while running along an exceptionally long (430 ft) barrel. The site in Mimoyecques, codenamed ‘Bauvorhaben 711’, by design accommodated 25 such barrels, allowing the battery to shoot at the very high rate of 10 shells per minute, all the day round. The tunnel was designed to allow a train entering it.

Work on the site began in summer 1943, but the site never reached completion and was severely hit in summer 1944 by Allied bombing raids. President Kennedy’s elder brother reportedly died in an accident on one of them. It is noteworthy that the novelty and originality of the design disoriented Allied intelligence, who did not understand the role of the installation before capture in September 1944.

The concept of supercannons, albeit never provedly succesful from an operational viewpoint, was destined to emerge again in recent history, with a similar installation proposed by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and designed with the help of a Canadian company – its manager being reportedly killed by the Mossad to hamper realization.

Together with the other ‘V sites’, Mimoyecques was almost completely demolished in order to avoid any further strategic use. It is reported that Winston Churchill in person pushed for this, to the aim of preventing the yet-to-be-established government of France from any action against Britain – some speculate that what the Prime Minister likely feared was the establishment of Communist rule in France.

This is site is not so famous as the V-2 sites, and not similarly ‘institutional’, yet there are opening times. You can go on a self-guided tour of the tunnels, where you can find many explanatory panels, as well as a reconstruction of one of the barrels. It’s always too warm for me, but I must say this time it was incredibly cold inside… The visit may take 30-45 minutes. Guided tours are available in French.

On the outside, just besides the tunnel entrance you can find a steel plate once on top of the site armouring the outlets of the barrels. The concrete construction on top of the place lies on a private property. I could only take one pic before being forced to withdraw…

 Getting there and moving around

The area is very nice, with the lovely Cap-Gris-Nez and Cap-Blanc-Nez a few miles away. The site can be reached on the D249 between the small towns of Bainghen and Landretun-le-Nord. Large free parking on site.

Surrender Sites of Nazi Germany – Reims & Berlin-Karlshorst

Differently from what one is usually taught in schools, World War II in Europe did not stop in one moment with the death by suicide of the Führer, on April 30th, 1945.

As soon as the advancing Western Allies established strongpoints within the original borders of Germany – as these had been before the war – in 1945 the chain of command in Germany began to vacillate. Rumors about contacts between top-ranking Nazi officials and the SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) have lived to this day, and they are reasonable even though not well documented – as a matter of fact, Hitler dismissed both Göring and Himmler just before his death, on account of unauthorized contacts with ‘the enemy’, promoting Admiral Dönitz to the rank of president of Germany.

The understandable confusion of those days at the ‘top of the pyramid’ is reflected by the local autonomous surrender of substantial parts of the German armed forces around Europe, against the will of the Führer, and even before his death. Literally millions of soldiers were disarmed on both fronts in April 1945, and the process culminated in the surrender of all German forces in Italy on April 29th, the day before Hitler’s death.

The new German president Dönitz acted with the same authority of the Führer in the last stormy days of the collapsing Nazi rule, early May 1945. Under Dönitz’s mandate, between the 1st and 7th of May 1945 some separate surrenders took place, including all German forces in Austria, North-West Germany, Holland, Denmark, Berlin – who surrendered to the Soviets -, Mecklenburg and Pommern north of Berlin, and Bavaria. The German navy ceased war operations on May 5th, by direct order of admiral Dönitz.

All this preceded the ‘official’, authorized, unconditional surrender which was signed on behalf of acting president Dönitz separately by General Jödl in the headquarters of the Expeditionary Force in Reims in the early hours of May 7th, and by Feldmarschall Keitel in Berlin-Karlshorst on May 8th, in presence of General Zhukov of the Red Army. The capitulation called for quitting all military operations at 23:01 CET, May 8th. Both of the signers were arrested soon after, as were Dönitz, Göring and other top German players of the war in Europe.

Today, the two locations where the unconditional surrender(s) were signed are open for visitors. The following photographs were taken during visits in 2015 and 2016.

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Reims – Musée de la Reddition

The headquarters of the SHAEF where the ‘instrument of surrender’ was signed on the western front occupied the building of a high school.

Today, the building has returned to its original function, but a small part of it with the original room and table have been preserved inside of a museum on-site. The walls of the room are covered with original maps from the time, resembling how it looked like in 1945.