Final days of the war against fascism—from the Daily Worker archives
Daily Worker "V-E Day edition," May 8, 1945. | People's World Archives

75 years after the defeat of Hitler and the fall of fascism in Europe, we present highlights from those historic days as they were covered in the pages of the Daily Worker, predecessor of People’s World. From the historic meeting of U.S. and Soviet troops at the Elbe River in late April 1945 to the celebrations of victory after the fall of Berlin, the Daily Worker provided readers in the United States all the most important news of the day from a working class point of view. Along with the elation of victory, you will also see in these selections mourning for the lives lost and hopes for a better world to come through international cooperation. But there was also concern that the unity which had beaten fascism was under threat—from anti-communism, from the “America First” crowd, and from big business industrialists everywhere who had supported the aims of the fascists. The Cold War was already approaching before the guns had even fallen silent.

 

RED ARMY, YANKS JOIN—HISTORIC JUNCTURE AT TORGAU

Red Armymen swim Elbe, hail ‘Amerikanskis’

April 26, 1945

By Ann Stringer

TORGAU, Germany—Down the street of Torgau came a Russian youth wearing blue shorts and a gray cap with a red hammer and sickle on it. “Bravo Amerikanski!” he yelled. “Bravo comrades!”

He was dripping wet because he had swum the Elbe River to greet us. It was my first glimpse of the Soviet Army.

I had just flown in a Piper Club plane into this historic town where the official juncture of the Americans and Soviets took place. We landed in a clover field, climbed over two roadblocks, and then saw the young Russian running up the street. A little earlier, an American patrol had penetrated to Torgau.

The Elbe River is swarming with Soviet soldiers, stripped to their shorts. They are swimming over to greet us. The Germans blew up all the bridges across the Elbe, but there is a small fleet of shaky boats and canoes. I decided to cross the river in one of them and visit the Russians.

An illustration depicting the meeting of U.S. and Soviet soldiers at the Elbe River. | People’s World Archives

As they saw us coming in our canoe, they rushed down the river bank through the tall, wet grass and began yelling greetings. They helped us drag the canoe up on the bank, and then they all stood rigidly at attention for a moment. One by one, they stepped forward, saluted, shook hands, and stepped back into line.

Then, Lt. Grigori Otenchuku, a veteran of Stalingrad, stepped forward to make a formal speech on behalf of the Soviets.

“A few months ago, German soldiers were nearly in Stalingrad,” he said. “Now, Soviet soldiers are in Berlin and Soviet soldiers are here—all the way across Germany—with the American Allies.”

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ITALIAN PARTISANS EXECUTE MUSSOLINI

April 30, 1945

ROME—Benito Mussolini, who gambled the destiny of Italy on fascism, has been tried by a People’s Tribunal, executed by a firing squad, and his body is now displayed in a Milan public square…

Put to death with Mussolini on Saturday were 45 of his Fascist henchmen—big shots and small—who had been captured while trying to flee Northern Italy…

A bank clerk, one of the thousands who gathered near the Palazzo Venezia where Mussolini used to strut, said that “it was about time because he was already a corpse and stinking too much.” A shopkeeper said “he deserved what he got,” and a housewife was “sure that the north would not let him escape.”

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REICHSTAG FALLS, SAYS MAY DAY ORDER

May 1, 1945

MOSCOW—Premier Joseph Stalin announced in a May Day order yesterday that the main part of Berlin had been liberated and that Red Army troops hoisted the red flag over the historic Reichstag in the city’s heart.

Asserting that Germany now stands alone in the world “except for Japan,” and that the war is nearly ended, Stalin announced that in the last four months of battles, the Red Army has killed nearly one million Germans.

Red Army soldiers look out over the ruins of the Nazi capital, Berlin, as they hoist the Soviet flag atop the Reichstag. | Public Domain

Mowing down “death battalions” of…fanatic SS elite guard remnants, Soviet troops overran the Reichstag and took the Interior Ministry and main post office in Potsdamer Platz, the geographic center of Berlin. Soviet commanders have promised to hold a victory parade today to Brandenburg Gate, entrance to the famous avenue.

The United Nations, the Soviet Premier declared, “will destroy fascism and the German military and will severely punish the guilty…” He said, “The world war set loose by the German imperialists nears an end. The fall of Hitler’s Germany is a fact of the nearest future.”

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HITLER IS DEAD

May 2, 1945

By James S. Allen

Hitler is dead, according to German broadcasts from Hamburg heard in London. The actual fact of his death remained unconfirmed by any Allied source. We have it on word of Grand Adm. Karl Doenitz, commander-in-chief of the German Navy, that Hitler died yesterday afternoon in the Chancellory in Berlin, after naming Doenitz as his successor.

Whether Hitler is physically dead or not, his days are over. The Partisans of North Italy had the last word with Mussolini. It may well be that Red Army soldiers, wiping out the last remnants of resistance in the heart of Berlin, also wiped out Hitler. May Day would be very appropriate. But if it happened that way, we would have heard from Moscow.

The death of Hitler and the fall of Berlin is announced on the front page of the May 2, 1945 edition of the Daily Worker. | People’s World Archives

It is almost certain that the report from Hamburg is connected in one form or another with the negotiations for unconditional surrender said to be in progress.

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MASTER-RACE THEORY SHATTERED, BUT WAR IS ONLY HALF OVER

May 8, 1945

HARLEM, N.Y.—On V-E Day, there was orderliness everywhere in Harlem. Wilford E. Lewin, who maintains an employment office, said, “The world has learned a new lesson through this war. That lesson is of great value to all men. It is that the master-race theory has been properly shattered. The American people have learned the value of the Negro on the battlefield and at home. Let us hope they will profit from that lesson.”

Edward S. Lewis, executive director of the Urban League of Greater New York, said:

“V-E Day is, above all, a people’s victory. Now for a people’s peace! The United Nations conference at San Francisco takes on new significance and the people of the world will demand the perfecting of machinery, in spite of differences, to maintain peace and security for all peoples.”

Lt. Col. Ira Aldridge, formerly of the 92nd Division and now of the N.Y. Guard, direct descendant of the great Negro tragedian and first Negro to play Shakespeare in the United States, said:

“The war itself is only half over, for Japan still has to be defeated. It is hoped that the Negro soldier will have a chance to show what he can do, in the Pacific, under his own officers. As to the San Francisco conference, I hope that its provisions will be better carried out than were those of the old League of Nations. If so, we ought to have something quite worth while.”

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THE WORST CRIMES IN HISTORY

May 8, 1945

By Samuel Sillen

Millions—many millions—did not live to share this hour of triumph. Millions were hounded, twisted, strangled, starved. Their ashes heaped in German ovens. Their skeletons clumsily piled in shallow ditches.

These were people like ourselves. They too could dream of sweeter days. They worked and laughed and loved. The children once hugged fuzzy teddy-bears.

People like ourselves, and they might have been ourselves; we were spared their fate. But we must never forget the monstrous crippling, the overwhelming and unutterable indecency which was the system of life under German fascism.

“Millions not alive to share victory.” May 8, 1945. | People’s World Archives

Pity is not needed; we can spare the dead the last indignity of pity. Even hatred, the fierce hatred that we must all feel for the Nazi butchers, is not enough.

What we finally need, in this moment of rejoicing over the collapse of Nazi Germany, is a realistic understanding of the enemy that we have beaten to his knees. We need the kind of understanding that time will never erase.

And its essence, simply, is that there can be no compromise between humanity and fascist barbarism, whatever new form it may take. For it will take new forms.

The Hitlerites will not now be able to cripple men’s bodies, but they will not give up striving to poison men’s minds. They are plotting to undo our victory at the very moment we celebrate it.

To the burned and tortured victims of Nazism, we owe the same debt we owe to the children cheering in the streets today. And that is the grim resolve to make this a permanent triumph, an irreversible triumph.

To those who try to divide the victorious nations, we must reply…. The murderers must never murder again. We must see to it. The fight is still on. Next time, we may not be spared.

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VICTORY—AN EDITORIAL

May 8, 1945

Daily Worker Editorial Board

This is a day for rejoicing—and for consecration. To achieve this day, millions of gallant men, the best youth of the democratic world, have given their lives. Now it has come at last. Nazi Germany has been totally defeated. The military phase of the war in Europe is over. V-E Day is here.

It is a day for rejoicing, and for the tempering of our joy with the thought of those who cannot share it with us: those from our own country and from other lands who fell in the first battle of this war against fascism and who lie buried under the earth and the olive trees of Spain, the men and women who died in the horrible torture of concentration camps and up-to-date German factories of death, the men of the Soviet Union, Britain, and France who will never see what they have brought to pass, our own men and the greatest soldier of them all, the Commander-in-Chief lying amidst the roses at Hyde Park [President Franklin D. Roosevelt].

V-E Day. | People’s World Archives

It is a day for remembering the dead and for resolving that we will not fritter away the unity needed to complete their work.

THE JOB AHEAD

The destruction forever of Nazism and the power of the industrialists and Junker militarists who unloosed Hitler on the world.

The total defeat of Hitler’s last ally, the wiping out of Japanese imperialism which rivaled Nazism in cruelty and oppression.

The structure of lasting peace to rest on the sturdy unity of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union which made possible the defeat of Germany.

The building of great prosperity and opportunity for all Americans as part of a world which must either thrive together or face economic disaster together.

Much remains to be done, but the magnitude of the deed already accomplished gives us strength.

Not so long ago, the fate of the world hung in the balance. There might have been concentration camps, death factories, in Moscow, London, and Washington.

Let us not minimize either the victory, or the tasks ahead. Hitler was no madman, and the power of Nazi Germany no freak of history. It was built on the all too real substance of German imperialism, hungry for world domination. If there were gangsters to fill the ranks of the Nazi movement, there were respectable bankers and generals who willed the gangsterism.

Germany was the calculating inhuman heart of world reaction, the malignant center of international fascism. In England, in France, in our own country, there were powerful men in industry and politics who looked to Berlin for guidance, who supported Nazi Germany in the hope that it would destroy the Soviet Union. Even when Hitler…started the war in the West, the dream…did not die. It took two long years before the coalition of the Big Three [U.S., U.K., and USSR] became a reality.

A COALITION VICTORY

In the end, it was this coalition which blotted out the black expanse of Nazism on the map of Europe. It was a victory of a great socialist state and two powerful capitalist nations…. This is the epic lesson of the war against Nazism. Victory in the war against Japan will require continued cooperation by the Big Three. It will require releasing the strength of China constrained by the Kuomintang dictatorship and cooperation with the powerful armies led by the Chinese Communists….

A coalition victory. | People’s World Archives

The victory over Hitlerism will be secure for many decades only if we defeat the schemes of German imperialism to divide the Allies. Hitler did not fight only with military weapons. Hitler’s secret weapon was fired from typewriters and microphones throughout the world, it was the anti-Bolshevik bogey—which remains a menace to peace.

UNITY

It was not only the unity of nations across vast oceans which won this war. It was also the unity of the people in each country, the unity of our own people despite all the intrigues of those who never supported this war and who would rob us now of the fruits of peace.

This unity is still needed now…. Unity is needed to protect the peace against those who mutter pious platitudes about international cooperation while dynamiting the economic foundations of the peace. The economic “America First” crowd are the enemies of America, the foes of postwar prosperity.

To those who will come back on the transports and to those who will not return, we owe a responsibility not easily discharged…. We will have to unite as never before.


CONTRIBUTOR

People’s World
People’s World

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.

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