The German surrender on May 8, 1945, 75 years ago, was celebrated as V-E Day, (Victory in Europe) around the world. In our issues of May 13 and 20, 1945, The Living Church reported extensively on joyful and solemn observances of V-E Day throughout the Episcopal Church, including at a Milwaukee war products factory. An Episcopal army chaplain also reported on a burial service conducted the same day for 200 concentration camp victims in Ludwigslust, Germany.
V-E DAY – Rejoicing, Reconsecration, Work
V-E Day was greeted throughout the United States with a quiet joyousness and a thankfulness to Almighty God, much akin to that expressed by President Harry S. Truman in his proclamation to the nation on Tuesday morning, May 8th, at 8 A.M., CWT. Church leaders particularly emphasized the need for renewed consecration to the task of building a stable world organization.
Bishop Manning of New York, emphasizing the part of America in establishing peace, stated: “We give fervent thanks to Almighty God that the war in Europe is ended with complete victory for the right. We pray that this may be followed soon by decisive victory in the Pacific and that as a nation we may be given faith and courage to do our part without faltering for the ending of war and for the establishment and maintenance of peace for the sake of all mankind.”
“Thanksgiving and consecration properly characterize this day,” said Bishop Oldham of Albany in a V-E Day message. “We humbly thank God for victory and that the terrible sacrifice of blood and treasure shall not be in vain. We must consecrate ourselves to building such world organization as will prevent its repetition. Having won the war, we must now win the peace.”
Bishop Quin of Texas expressed the sentiment of the entire nation in emphasizing the battles yet to be fought: “V-E Day is a somber day in Houston. We are, of course, grateful for this event but ever mindful of our war with Japan. We give thanks to God for this victory but beseech Him earnestly on behalf of the right until war ceases.”
Bishop Conkling of Chicago warned against a merely sentimental charity toward an unrepentant foe: “As the news of victory thrills us with increasing joy, we must not fail as a Church to witness to our sense of the solemn responsibility now upon us as victors. With the Archbishop of York, we counsel against a blind charity and ask for wisdom, as victors, in dealing with an apparently unrepentant enemy.”
The gratitude of the nation to its armed forces was expressed by Bishop Stevens of Los Angeles in his V-E Day message: “With united hearts we give thanks for this consummation of our hopes. Our thanks are directed first toward God but in thanking Him we give praise to those who from the human viewpoint have made victory possible, the millions of men and women who gave life, health, and strength.”
Services at War Plants
Among the earliest observances of victory in Europe were the ceremonies conducted at four plants of the Cleaver Brooks Co. in Milwaukee by Canon Marshall M. Day, rector of Christ Church, Whitefish Bay, on May 7th. Arrangements had been made in advance by the president of the plants to have Canon Day lead the war workers in giving thanks for victory as soon as the good news was announced.
Workers joined in reciting the Lord’s Prayer and in singing “God bless America.” Canon Day used the Service of thanksgiving for victory prepared by the Anglican Society and published in The Living Church
“Break for the nearest church rather than the nearest bar,” advised the Canon. “Turn to God first and be thankful to the millions of our fighting men who have made this victory possible. Many have given their lives so that we might be safe. And don’t forget to be grateful to the millions who still have a hard battle to fight against the Japanese.
“Nothing would please the Jap[anese] more than to know that one day of our war production had been lost in the celebration of the victory over Germany. Let us give thanks, then, and pray with our hands at our jobs.”
After the services, the workers went back to their jobs. Among the products turned out by the firm are various dehydrated food machinery, amphibious trailers, and machinery for purifying water.
As the news of European victory came to this country, thousands throughout the land paused for prayers of Thanksgiving. As they had prayed for the success of the armed forces of the Allies during the war’s darkest hours, so people prayed for guidance that would make peace equally triumphant.
V-E Day in New York City was celebrated with memorable quietness. A considerable amount of paper was indeed scattered from tall office buildings and a huge crowd of 20,000 men, women, and children gathered in Times Square; but there was practically no noise or even loud talking.
The churches had announced their plans for the day well in advance. At Trinity Church, there were services every hour, from morning until evening. Most churches had special services at noon. The Cathedral of St. John the Divine was filled some time before that hour, many kneeling before the altar in the Army and Navy bay. The Rev. Canon Edward N. West made a short address. As an ending to the service, the Hallelujah Chorus was sung. Most of the congregation joined in the singing of the hallelujahs.
V-E Day was celebrated with open churches and many services throughout the diocese of Alabama. Most parishes had services on May 8th almost as soon as official announcement of the surrender had been given.
In the Church of the Advent, Birmingham, the rector was given advance notice that the announcement was to be made, and the radio station WAPI picked up the service for transcription broadcast late in the afternoon. Several hundred school children attended the service in St. Paul’s Church, Selma. In Dothan, because of the rector’s absence, two lay readers prepared to read the service for V-E Day by rehearsing the day before. The premature announcement had been heard by several people, and they turned up at Church— and the lay readers read the service for them. The regular service was conducted the next day on schedule.
“Peoria celebrated V-E Day the way millions of the boys, both in Europe and in the Pacific, would have wanted us to celebrate it all over the country.” The comment came from a man in uniform, newly arrived home from a German prison camp. “Peoria looks good and the quiet and meditative way victory is celebrated at home would do millions of our boys good could they but see it for themselves.”
Services at noon and in the evening at St. Paul’s Church were well attended, as was the Eucharist of Thanksgiving on the following morning. Members of the Canadian Legion of Peoria attended the evening service.
West Coast cities, with their close proximity to the war in the Pacific, held only mild celebrations of V-E Day. Retail business was suspended in Portland and other Oregon cities, but factories and war industries reported no interruption in work schedules. Churches of all denominations were open and ministers reported quiet groups at prayer throughout the day and early evening. The character of Mother’s Day service was changed in accordance with President Truman’s suggestion. Services were held of thanksgiving for victory in Europe, with remembrance of the wounded and dying.
V-E Day was more generally observed by thanksgiving services in all churches and synagogues than in any other way in the diocese of Georgia. Except for a ripple of fun here and there, to all outward appearances, there was no evidence of its being any different from other week days. Banks, stores, and schools remained open, the later having special V-E programs. Everyone seemed to take the European victory seriously, realizing that the Japanese war still lies ahead.
Bishop Conkling asked all the churches of the diocese to have a 40-day period of special thanksgiving — with that intention at the daily Eucharist — beginning with V-E Day. This, of course, included Sunday, May 13th, on which the churches held special thanksgiving services.
Prayers of thanksgiving were offered throughout the diocese on May 13th, with All Saints’ Church, Brookline, as the exemplar of a joyous service, patriotic in character, at Morning Prayer when each member of the choir, in procession, carried the country’s flag. Universally, the people turned to the churches. Except for an amateurish effort at jubilation by young office workers in the business section in the morning, there was a brooding quietness over the city. Most of the business houses closed at noon.
Two pictures on V-E Day in Boston stand out. First, the Cathedral Church of St. Paul. The noontime service on its spacious porch, with the bells and the band and the short, vivid address by Dean van Etten, reached thousands in the street and on the Common opposite. Services on the hour followed during the day and throughout the entire night, sponsored by the Cathedral and the Boston Area Council of Churches.
The second picture was in late afternoon in the Italian quarter, at the Old North Church. Thirty-seven people sat in the old box pews, each with its little hasp and a name plate of its original owner on the door. The service distributed by the National Council, “Vision After Victory,” was used by the vicar, the Rev. Dr. W. H. P. Hatch.
Chaplain Wood Officiates at Concentration Camp Burial
Funeral services were held on V-E Day in front of the Ludwigslust Lutheran Church in Germany for 200 starved victims of a German concentration camp. The citizenry of the city attended, in addition to several hundred American soldiers and a representative group of German prisoners, including several general officers. Citizens of every social stratum and occupation dug the graves and removed the bodies from the concentration camp and prepared them for burial. The following outline of the purpose of the ceremony, prepared by Maj. George B. Wood, division chaplain, was read in English and in German:
“We are assembled here today before God and in the sight of man to give a proper and reverent burial to the victims of atrocities committed by armed forces in the name and by the order of the German government. These 200 bodies were found by the American army in a concentration camp four miles north of the city of Ludwigslust.
“The crimes here committed in the name of the German people and by their acquiescence were minor compared to those to be found in concentration camps elsewhere in Germany. Here there were no gas chambers, no crematoria; these men of Holland, Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and France were simply allowed to starve to death. Within four miles of your comfortable homes, 4,000 men were forced to live like animals, deprived even of the food you would give to your dogs. In three weeks 1,000 of these men were starved to death; 800 of them were buried in pits in the nearby woods. These 200 who lie before us in these graves were found piled four and five feet high in one building and lying with the sick and dying in other buildings.
“The world has long been horrified at the crimes of the German nation; these crimes were never clearly brought to light until the armies of the United Nations overran Germany. This is not war as conducted by the international rules of warfare. This is murder such as is not even known among savages.
“Though you claim no knowledge of these acts you are still individually and collectively responsible for these atrocities, for they were committed by a government elected to office by yourselves in 1933 and continued in office by your indifference to organized brutality. It should be the firm resolve of the German people that never again should any leader or party bring them to such moral degradation as is exhibited here.
“It is the custom of the United States Army through its chaplains’ corps to insure a proper and decent burial to any deceased person whether he be civilian or soldier, friend or foe, according to religious preference. The supreme commander of the Allied Forces has ordered that all atrocity victims be buried in a public place, and that the cemetery be given the same perpetual care that is given to all military cemeteries. Crosses will be placed at the heads of the graves of Christians and Stars of David at the heads of the graves of Jews; a stone monument will be set up in memory of these deceased. Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish prayers will be said by Chaplains Wood, Hannan, and Wall of the 82d Airborne Division for these victims as we lay them to rest and commit them into the hands of our heavenly Father in the hope that the world will not again be faced with such barbarity.”