The date of the formal surrender of the Nazis was May 8, 1945: Victory in Europe Day.
To the Family
9 May 1945
What a two days! It is just as well that world wars are so few. I don’t know how many peace celebrations I could stand per generation, especially in Paris.
It all began Monday afternoon, when the newspapers hit the street around six with the AP story announcing that the surrender had been signed at Reims at 2:41. . . . There had been an air of expectancy all day, and of course for the several days preceding, though Paris had never been victimized by false peace rumors of the Tom Connally type. After dinner crowds began to flock up and down the Champs Elysees, while planes were flying very low over the center of the city.
Around nine thirty I was sitting at a sidewalk cafe along the Champs with Captain Gilpatric, just over from London, and a gal named Ledlie Rial. Suddenly a plane swooped-down and dropped a flare; then others came, dropping white, red and green flares. The floodlights opened up on the Arc de Triomphe and soon on the Obelisk at the Place de la Concorde. After a time rockets began to go up. More and more people came on to the streets, milling around, singing La Marseillaise or It’s a Long Way to Tipperary (definitely the no. two song in the Paris peace celebrations). Impromptu parades would start up in the French manner. Sometimes two parades going in opposite directions would meet, whereupon each would chant, “AVEC NOUSE, AVEC NOUS,” until one would dissolve and merge into the other. Trucks, jeeps and civilian cars, jammed with American and French GIs and girls, whizzed around. One soldier shouted from the top of a car, “CHANTEZ, CHANTEZ, LA GUERRE EST FINIE.”
It was a lot of fun, though rather diffuse and I thought somewhat anti-climactical. But it was really only a dress rehearsal for Tuesday, about which there was nothing anti-climactical.
I worked more or less through the morning, until three o’clock, at which time De Gaulle, Churchill and Truman made their speeches. The De Gaulle effort was broadcast through open microphones on the streets, while we heard Truman’s clear and banal little voice from a radio of our own and watched the crowds on the Champs Elysees below. After a time a group of us went out to mingle in the crowd and wandered around for the rest of the afternoon. The crowd was really wonderful—good-natured, happy, spontaneous, enthusiastic.
Last week I had got tickets for Tuesday evening for Maurice Chevalier, who is making his first commercial appearance at the ABC music hall. He was in excellent form, and the crowd was most responsive. (Except for constant cracks in Le Canard Enchaine there is not much bitterness against Chevalier on the collaborationist business. Louis Aragon and the Commies even claim that he did not collaborate and that, in fact, he worked with the resistance, though others say that the CP attempt to whitewash Maurice is not unconnected with a heavy gift he is supposed to have made to Front National, the Commie-front resistance organization. In any case the whole question of collaboration is much more complicated in Europe than it apparently is in the offices of the New Republic; and there is a general disposition to forgive actors, with which I am in complete agreement.)
The ABC is located in the Boulevard Poissonnieres. We got out a little before eleven and strolled down toward the Opera. The boulevards were jammed with the same noisy, happy, cheerful crowds; I have never seen so many people. The Opera was illuminated and bedecked with flags and made a very stunning picture. We got there just as bands on the steps of the Opera were playing the various national anthems. It was very moving to stand in that crowded square while thousands of people sang La Marseillaise. Then we walked on down to the Madeleine, also illuminated. From the steps of the Madeleine you could see the flood-lit fountains playing in the Place de la Concorde and in the background the Chamber of Deputies, also under lights. We started walking down toward the Place de la Concorde. For the first time the crowd got a bit rough. The Rue Royale was packed, not only with people but with cars and trucks, and the crowd got a bit panicky and pushed wildly, jamming people against the automobiles and the buildings. It soon appeared futile to try to reach the Place de la Concorde, so we hopped on a US jeep, along with about eighty French people, and finally shook loose from the log-jam to careen around Paris madly for a while. The ride ended near the Champs Elysees, still crowded, with the Arc lit up and the magnificent vista from the Etoile to the Concorde.
I finally got to bed around four o’clock. There were still crowds on the Champs. The fountains were going on the Rond Point, and GIs were sleeping in the grass behind the Theatre Marigny. I slept on the top floor of the Elysees Park Hotel, and I shall never forget the magnificent panorama of Paris with the great buildings lit up, from Sacre Coeur past the Opera, the Madeleine, Notre Dame, the Place de la Concorde, the Chamber of Deputies, the Invalides, around to the Arc de Triomphe, with the fountains playing in the Rond Point below and little groups of people singing La Marseillaise faintly in the distance.
So much for the end of the European war. I hope we are not such damned fools as to permit another. San Francisco is not encouraging. Molotov and Stettinius do not strike me as quite the types to solve the problems of the world. . . .
I hate to think of poor Dad’s having to sit down and read that damn book again. I will guarantee to stay in the country after my next book.
All my love,
To the Family
21 May 1945
We are all getting very depressed about the news these days. I had never imagined that post-war would change to pre-war so quickly. . . . If some one chooses to shoot somebody over Bornholm or Trieste, we could be well started on the third world war in a couple of weeks. So far as I can see, a hell of a lot of people in Europe are convinced that it is inevitable.
I am not convinced that it is inevitable, but I am not very sure that the present leadership either American or Russian can avoid it. I feel that the policy of appeasement is not going to eradicate Russian suspicions nor strengthen the “moderates” in the Kremlin; appeasement always strengthens the sword-brandishers. But we should pick our spots. Obviously we must throw the Yugoslavs out of Trieste; obviously the British were essentially right in their Greek policy, though they bungled badly in its execution and confused the issue by their idiotic passion for the Greek king. On the other hand, I think Stettinius’ brand of toughness at San Francisco is criminally unsound. I can imagine no quicker way to unsell the USSR on the idea of international organization than to demonstrate that you can outvote it and then use your voting superiority to humiliate the USSR on inessential issues. Molotov will return considerably more browned off on international cooperation than Wilson was after Versailles, and Molotov is reputed to be pretty much on the isolationist side anyway. Why do they leave Stettinius in? . . .
I don’t want to sound alarmist, but the situation looks damn bad from here. The spread of the totalitarian police state on the Soviet model is most alarming. Tito’s Yugoslavia is no more of a democracy than Hitler’s Germany.
Life in general goes on as usual. No further elucidation on my own plans.
Sunday I went to Chartres and had a very pleasant day. The windows are not yet back in the Cathedral. It was Pentecost—hence special services.
Two delicious and superbly chosen boxes arrived the other day—one with chicken and triskets, the other with lobster, cocoa, fruit juice and vitamin pills. All items rang the bell. Thank you ever so much.
Package request: a repeat on any of the above selections, with powdered coffee rating high priority if obtainable (regular coffee if not, and I will try to barter it). . . .
To Bernard De Voto
I have been intending to write for some time, but I have pretty well abandoned all correspondence except the minimum required to get food packages from my wife and family. This letter is precipitated by the fact that I have run several times into an old friend of yours named George Ball, who reports that he read The Year of Decision with great delight in Hamburg and requests me to convey his regards to you. He is over here for USSBS (Strategic Bombing Survey).
I am located at a place called Biebrich, a suburb of Wiesbaden, in a champagne factory. The champagne is not very good, but we have to drink it because the water is suspect. Life in the army of occupation can be described adequately only by John O’Hara; we completed the local adaptation by opening an officers’ club here last week. Necessarily our tight little community life discovers release only in drinking and gambling, or boating in the Rhine, or jeep trips to Frankfurt, 20 miles away, to eat ice cream and cold cuts in the SHAEF snack bar (a cafeteria straight out of Howard Johnson). I came up here about three weeks ago after eight very pleasant months in Paris.
Cambridge, of course, is never far away. I had lunch today with Perry (Major) Miller, Hugh (Captain) Cunningham and Paul (Lieutenant) Sweezy. Perry, who wears a helmet still, is a field man looking with great scorn on us of the rear echelons. He spoke today of getting out of the army (on his 87 points) and going back to Cambridge, but I believe this mood to be the product of his hang-over. After a good night’s sleep Widener will seem as revolting as ever to him. I should not be nasty; Perry is a very good guy, going through a very difficult period, and Cambridge will be even more difficult. I met his girl several times in London. She is considerably more attractive than his wife. . . .
My feelings about Germany are mixed, but not very much. First you have the strange contrast of the giddy life we all lead against the background of desolation and rubble. Life in the Army of Occupation, as I said before, is very gay, and the flypaper has not yet begun to smother the flies. Some of my colleagues who have spoken to Germans are coming to regard them somewhat in the category of liberated peoples; but I cannot get over the fact that two months ago these sons-of-bitches were trying to kill every American they could find, and that continues to color my reactions. They seem to me a sullen, thick-headed race, lacking in charm, and every one of them over 16 deserves what is coming to them. Under sixteen everything breaks down, however. The children are cute as hell and a bit heart-breaking. The other day, when I was lunching at the casual officer’s mess at Heidelberg, I happened to sit next to a window outside of which a collection of small German children soon gathered to beg for bread. After a time an MP in a very nice way shooed them away, but it was an experience I could take only by reminding myself forcibly of the condition of the French children last January and February when we froze to the marrow in Paris.
I have been over a year now. It is long enough, and I am possessed of a great desire to see my wife and family before they forget me completely. Of course, my initiation into that great fraternity the Army of the US, which took place about six weeks before the end of the war in Europe, has somewhat hampered my freedom of movement. My army career has been absurd. I wore a uniform, as civilians had to in Paris, until I was inducted, when I promptly went into civilian clothes. I spent my first month in the Army as member of a Hospital Detachment located near Paris, but the Hospital returned me to OSS on temporary duty as soon as they signed me up, and I missed hardly a day at my desk. I could not come to Germany in my true guise as an EM, because my job cannot be discharged by an EM in uniform, and civilian clothes are not permitted in Germany. Consequently I am now back in paramilitary uniform, disguised as a civilian and enjoying officers’ prerogatives (after two months in Paris of eating with the cooks in a back room behind the E’s mess along with the other strange characters who were in civvies). Thus I am temporarily relieved of the social disabilities, but the economic remain, as I am reminded with some force, having just received my monthly pay check of thirty one dollars. The financial side really hurts.
But with luck maybe I will be back by Christmas. I have seen Harpers [Magazine] occasionally, generally about four months late, and have been pleased to note that the Easy Chair is as lively as ever. Marian has also sent on news of you and Avis. But in general I feel pretty much out of touch. Do drop a line when you have a moment, give my love to Avis and my stern military regards to Bunny, Mark, Lewis and Clark.
Excerpted from The Letters of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. by Edited by Andrew Schlesinger and Stephen Schlesinger. Copyright © 2013 by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.