VE Day falls on 8 May and is celebrated in the UK every year. This year it is the 75th anniversary of VE Day, which marked the end of the Second World War (1939-1945).
The war was a global conflict and troops from European countries as well as the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean joined forces to defeat the Nazi war machine.
News that Germany had surrendered following the suicide of Adolf Hitler on 30 April 1945 spawned a host of celebrations and street parties across Europe, as word spread that the war was over.
Some commentators claim that the celebrations were mainly confined to younger generations, however, on whom the impact of war had taken a great toll. Older generations had lived through WWI – and many had lost sons and daughters or grandchildren in WWII, either in the Blitz or among those who were serving in the Armed Forces or auxiliary services. Many had lost friends and family to concentration camps.
On 16 October 1943 the Gestapo rounded up 1,259 the inhabitants of the Jewish Quarter in Rome – of these men, women and children, 1,023 were sent to Auschwitz.
The Jewish Quarter, Rome
Rome had been liberated by the Allies on 5 June 1944. A young girl in hiding in Amsterdam and awaiting liberation herself wrote in her diary that day:
‘The Fifth Army has taken Rome. The City neither destroyed nor bombed. Great propaganda for Hitler.
Very few potatoes and vegetables. One loaf of bread was mouldy.’
Anne Frank’s Diary, 5 June 1944
The offices at 263 Prinsengracht, Amsterdam, behind which lay the annex where the Frank family and others hid
Anne Frank, her family and many of her young friends – including her sister Margot, her crush in hiding, Peter van Pels, and the boy she hoped she might marry one day, Lutz Peter Schiff – never lived to see VE Day the following May. By then they had already been transported to concentration camps, where they died in late 1944 or early 1945 before liberation.
Her diary entry of 8 May 1944 – one year before what we now know as VE Day – was a long entry which details her family’s background:
‘We’re far from rich now, but I’ve pinned all my hopes on after the war. I can assure you, I’m not so set on a bourgeois life as Mother and Margot. I’d like to spend a year in Paris and France learning the languages and studying art history. Compare that to Margot, who wants to nurse newborn babies in Palestine. I still have visions of gorgeous dresses and fascinating people. As I’ve told you [her diary Kitty] many times before, I want to see the world and do all kinds of exciting things, and a little money won’t hurt!’
Anne Frank’s Diary, 8 May 1944
Like so many people, Anne never got to fulfil her dreams in her short life – or see again the boy she dreamed about while in hiding, Peter Schiff. While she was in Belsen Bergen, her first teenage sweetheart was in Auschwitz, where he also died.
Across the world people were mourning terrible personal losses by 8 May 1945 – so among the celebrations, there was also terrible grief. While in Britain, people gradually took to the streets to celebrate with street parties, in other cities across the globe, the atmosphere was reportedly more muted.
In Rome, it is recorded that, “the atmosphere was sober and calm, even among the civilians”.
‘In a letter to his wife, shortly after the celebrations, Len Scott, a former journalist, claimed that despite a certain amount of “feeble cheering”, the celebrations in the Italian capital passed “as uneventfully as a church parade”.’
History Extra : The Bitter Taste of History – why May 1945 was not a time of celebration for everyone
Trevi Fountain, Rome
On the 75th anniversary of VE Day, the world is again fighting a global battle – but this time against COVID-19. The street parties have been cancelled or modified to take into account social distancing – and many people are mourning the loss of loved ones. But like those who took to the streets on 8 May 1945, the current crisis is teaching people the value of community – and is making people look forward to better times, as they did on that day 75 years ago. Some of us in lockdown have even made a cake to mark VE Day!
We should always remember those who have been lost through conflict or pandemics – because their loss represents lost love and lost dreams and lost family that can never be replaced. But we are not leaving them behind – we are taking them with us into the future.
Their influence will live on – so if you are celebrating today, celebrate their lives and celebrate for them, too. Put on a gorgeous dress and look forward, as they would have wanted.
Happy VE Day!
Photobombed in Rome – the happy face of the Jewish Quarter in Rome today!
All images copyright A Meredith
Featured image: Piazza di Spagna, October 2019
Images taken before current social distancing and lockdown.