A woman celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany with members of the victorious Soviet Red Army in 1945. Found in the collection of the Moscow Photo Museum.
Heritage Images—Getty Images
By Lily Rothman
May 11, 2015

It took years of fighting to drive the German forces to surrender in World War II, and it took days to make that surrender official. As TIME reported in early May of 1945, a German official and the Associated Press both announced that the surrender had been signed on May 7, but for some reason the story was not yet confirmed by Allied officials:

Downing Street was mum; the White House was coy and confused. Best guess was that Joe Stalin had held up the joint announcement either because: 1) his Ukrainian armies still faced a small segment of determined Nazis in Moravia, or 2) he was not yet ready to set off Russia‘s victory celebration. Finally, from London, came word that the official announcement would come the following day. Thus, for the history books, May 8, 1945, became V-E day.

When that day came, Winston Churchill stepped to a microphone in London. His rolling periods swept across the world by short wave. With deep emotion he said: “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing, but let us not forget for a moment the toils and efforts that lie ahead. . . . Advance, Britain! Long live the cause of freedom! God save the King!”

From Moscow, for some unexplained reason, there was no immediate announcement.

Now, 70 years after that surrender, Moscow’s silence is no mystery.

As the New York Times explained that week, Stalin was unhappy that the surrender on May 7 had taken place at Reims rather than in Berlin, where Russian forces were in control. In fact, Stalin had only sent a lower-ranking general to witness the surrender in Reims, rather than sending a major representative of his power. So, though the May 7 surrender—which took effect on May 8, the date of V-E Day—was cause for celebration across the Allied world, Stalin wanted the news to wait until the surrender was officially ratified in the German capital; his stubbornness on that point was (accurately) seen by many as a hint of conflict to come between the former allies.

The official Berlin surrender took place late at night on May 8, the day after the Reims surrender; its text declared that it was signed just after midnight the following day, May 9. Besides, it had already been May 9 in Moscow for a few hours—and, accordingly, while American and European media might have celebrated the 70th anniversary of victory last Friday, Russia and many other former Soviet nations celebrated Victory Day on Saturday, with “Victory Day Observed” for a three-day weekend on Monday.

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