Memories of V-E Day

Posted May 8, 2015 by Amanda | One Comment

Today we celebrate the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day! On May 8, 1945, millions of people throughout Western Europe took to the streets to celebrate the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany and the end of World War II in Europe.

Memories of V-E Day

Image: City of Toronto Archives

Once the announcement was made of Germany’s surrender, jubilant celebrations erupted throughout the streets of Europe. Millions danced, waved flags, threw streamers and even kissed strangers. This important day had finally marked the end of one of the most horrific wars in world history.

 70th Anniversary: Memories of V-E Day

But not everyone was in the city streets when the happy news broke. In the passage below, Oliver Bryk, a valued member of the Geni community, shares his experience at the end of the war. Oliver was only sixteen at the time.

In his own words, here are his memories of this significant time in history:

Memories of May 9, 1945

When the sounds of combat could be heard in Berlin I concluded that it was no longer safe for me to be there. On the 21st of April I walked out of Berlin after dark in a south-easterly direction, avoiding the main roads.

My goal was a forest near a village about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Berlin where my parents and I had vacationed before we fled to Vienna in late 1935. My progress was slow; I had to detour around villages, lie low when German military units passed, and occasionally find water and something edible.

In the forest I found places to hide but little to eat or drink. Engagements between the Wehrmacht and the Red Army were limited to small units because the trails were too narrow for tanks, self-propelled howitzers and similar vehicles. The front line moved back and forth. During lulls in the fighting I cautiously checked the equipment of fallen soldiers for unopened rations.

On the evening of the 8th of May the guns fell silent. After years of hearing the sounds of explosions, falling bombs, screams, sirens, crashing aircraft, anti-aircraft guns, collapsing buildings, and Katyushas (multiple rocket launchers) the silence was unfamiliar. I heard birds. Lying in my hideaway I wondered whether it was finally over.

Early the next morning (the 9th of May) I heard male voices singing unfamiliar tunes. I assumed that the singers were Russian soldiers and decided to make contact with them.

First I hid my Walther 7.65mm pistol some distance from my nest. Next I took the red-white-red Hitler Youth armband that I had picked up in Berlin, cut off the section that included the Swastika, and put it on a stick of wood. I now had an Austrian flag.

Holding my flag high I walked toward the music until I was confronted by a Russian Soldier who pointed his submachine gun with a drum shaped magazine at me, and shouted “STOI!” which I took to mean “HALT!”. I stopped, pointed to my flag, and said “Austria” and “Yehudi” two or three times.

The soldier motioned me to come closer until he pointed to a spot about ten feet from him and said “STOI” again. I stood still. He nodded his head, turned around and walked toward the music.

A few minutes later he came back accompanied by a soldier I took to be an officer because of his shoulder boards. I looked him in the eye, pointed at my flag, said “Austria!” and “Yehudi”, and waited. The officer said, “bist a yid?”

When I nodded my head he motioned me to come with him. We walked to his unit where he spoke briefly to his troops and motioned me to sit down.

A soldier brought a loaf of bread, cut off a chunk, and handed it to me. Another soldier brought a tin cup and poured something into it from a 5-gallon Jerry Can that smelled of gasoline.

Cups were raised, a toast was said, and the music resumed. The war was over.

Oliver Bryk

As genealogists, we know how important it is to record, preserve, and share these memories for future generations. In honor of the 70th anniversary of V-E Day, we want to hear your stories of this momentous time, whether you were there to experience it firsthand or heard stories that were passed down from relatives who lived during this time.

Please share your stories with us in the comments below.

Post written by Amanda

Amanda is the Marketing Communications Manager at Geni. If you need any assistance, she will be happy to help!

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