AMERICA IN WWII April 2013 : Page 12

A LANDINGS Victory’s Schoolhouse by Mark D.Van Ells I N THE EARLY MORNING darkness of May 7, 1945, a small party of German offi-cers entered a nondescript redbrick schoolhouse in Reims, France. Despite appearances, this modest building was the headquarters of the supreme Allied com-mander in Europe, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Here, the moment millions were hoping and praying for was about to arrive: the Germans had come to surrender. This humble place with a big role in his-tory is preserved today as the Musée de la Reddition (“Surrender Museum”), and it’s just one of many reasons to visit Reims, one of France’s most important cities. Perhaps best known for its magnificent cathedral, Reims is famous also for its champagne, which can be sampled in great abundance here. The city suffered terribly during the First World War, and the surrounding coun-tryside still bears scars. American dough-boys fought in 1918 at Belleau Wood, a sacred place in the annals of the US Marine Corps that’s just a 30-minute drive to the west. In 1940 the Germans captured Reims, and the US Third Army under Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr., liberated it on August 30, 1944. The Voie de la Liberté (“Liberty Road”), which traces Patton’s path from Normandy to Bastogne, Belgium, passes through. Eisenhower established a forward head-quarters in Reims in September 1944 to be closer to the front, first working out of a local chateau. He moved into the redbrick technical school near the city’s main rail sta-tion in February 1945. By May, Germany was in ruins and Adolf Hitler was dead. Admiral Karl Dönitz, who’d become führer after Hitler’s suicide in April, sought an end to the war. On the rainy afternoon of May Outside Reims, France, a marker indicates the Voie de la Liberté , which lets visitors follow the path of liberating US tanks. 5, German Admiral Hans-Georg von Frie-deburg appeared in Reims authorized to surrender to the Western powers, but not to the Soviet Union. Reiterating a demand for unconditional surrender, the Allies refused the offer. The following day, General Alfred Gustav Jodl, chief of staff of the German armed forces, arrived to make another attempt at partial surrender. That too was turned down. The Germans assessed their situation and, after midnight on May 7, agreed to give up unconditionally. Signing the official surrender took less than 15 minutes. At 2:30 A . M ., Allied mili-tary officers sat down at one side of a large wooden table in Eisenhower’s war room. No larger than an ordinary classroom, this was where Eisenhower directed the Allied effort. Ike himself refused to meet with the Germans and delegated General Walter Bedell Smith to lead the proceedings. British, French, and Soviet representatives were also there. Jodl, Friedeburg, and Jodl’s aide Major Wilhelm Oxenius then entered the room, clicked their heels, and sat down facing the Allied leaders. After a reading aloud of the surrender terms, Jodl announced that he accepted them and signed the document at 2:41 A . M . Resis-tance was to cease the next day. Afterward, Smith told reporters, “ Fini la guerre ” (“The war is over”), but it wasn’t quite true. The Soviets raised questions about the proceedings, and another signing took place in Berlin. In any event, the European conflict ended on May 8. After the war, Ike’s headquarters was returned to educational use and is today the Lycée Franklin Roosevelt . But the war room was sealed off and left virtually untouched. Today, the Musée de la Reddition takes up the school’s western corner. A visit here begins with a 10-minute film exploring the occupation and liberation of Reims and the German surrender. The war room is upstairs, and adjacent to it are exhibits that add context to the events of May 7. Naturally, much of the museum focuses on the French experience. On display is a small flag stolen from a German officer’s car by a young local boy. Also here is the ornate kepi (military cap) of General Fran-çois Sevez, France’s sole representative at the surrender. 12 AMERICA IN WWII APRIL 2013

Landings: Victory’s Schoolhouse

Mark D.Van Ells

IN THE EARLY MORNING darkness of May 7, 1945, a small party of German officers entered a nondescript redbrick schoolhouse in Reims, France. Despite appearances, this modest building was the headquarters of the supreme Allied commander in Europe, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Here, the moment millions were hoping and praying for was about to arrive: the Germans had come to surrender.

This humble place with a big role in history is preserved today as the Musée de la Reddition (“Surrender Museum”), and it’s just one of many reasons to visit Reims, one of France’s most important cities. Perhaps best known for its magnificent cathedral, Reims is famous also for its champagne, which can be sampled in great abundance here. The city suffered terribly during the First World War, and the surrounding country side still bears scars. American dough- boys fought in 1918 at Belleau Wood, a sacred place in the annals of the US Marine Corps that’s just a 30-minute drive to the west. In 1940 the Germans captured Reims, and the US Third Army under Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr., liberated it on August 30, 1944. The Voie de la Liberté (“Liberty Road”), which traces Patton’s path from Normandy to Bastogne, Belgium, passes through.

Eisenhower established a forward head- quarters in Reims in September 1944 to be closer to the front, first working out of a local chateau. He moved into the redbrick technical school near the city’s main rail station in February 1945. By May, Germany was in ruins and Adolf Hitler was dead. Admiral Karl Dönitz, who’d become führer after Hitler’s suicide in April, sought an end to the war. On the rainy afternoon of May 5, German Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg appeared in Reims authorized to surrender to the Western powers, but not to the Soviet Union. Reiterating a demand for unconditional surrender, the Allies refused the offer. The following day, General Alfred Gustav Jodl, chief of staff of the German armed forces, arrived to make another attempt at partial surrender. That too was turned down. The Germans assessed their situation and, after midnight on May 7, agreed to give up unconditionally.

Signing the official surrender took less than 15 minutes. At 2:30 A.M., Allied military officers sat down at one side of a large wooden table in Eisenhower’s war room. No larger than an ordinary classroom, this was where Eisenhower directed the Allied effort. Ike himself refused to meet with the Germans and delegated General Walter Bedell Smith to lead the proceedings. British, French, and Soviet representatives were also there. Jodl, Friedeburg, and Jodl’s aide Major Wilhelm Oxenius then entered the room, clicked their heels, and sat down facing the Allied leaders. After a reading aloud of the surrender terms, Jodl announced that he accepted them and signed the document at 2:41 A.M. Resistance was to cease the next day.

Afterward, Smith told reporters, “Fini la guerre” (“The war is over”), but it wasn’t quite true. The Soviets raised questions about the proceedings, and another signing took place in Berlin. In any event, the European conflict ended on May 8.

After the war, Ike’s headquarters was returned to educational use and is today the Lycée Franklin Roosevelt. But the war room was sealed off and left virtually untouched.

Today, the Musée de la Reddition takes up the school’s western corner. A visit here begins with a 10-minute film exploring the occupation and liberation of Reims and the German surrender. The war room is upstairs, and adjacent to it are exhibits that add context to the events of May 7.

Naturally, much of the museum focuses on the French experience. On display is a small flag stolen from a German officer’s car by a young local boy. Also here is the ornate kepi (military cap) of General François Sevez, France’s sole representative at the surrender.

The Americans were a major presence in wartime Reims, and the museum devotes much attention to them. There is a mannequin of a 101st Airborne Division para- trooper in full battle gear, for example. The Screaming Eagles made their headquarters in the Reims schoolhouse when the Battle of the Bulge broke out in December 1944. It was from this very building that Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe organized the 101st’s movement to Bastogne, Belgium, where it would famously refuse to crack under a week of intense siege. Also on dis- play is the program for a football game planned for Christmas Day 1944 between two elements of the 101st that was dubbed the Champagne Bowl. The deployment to Bastogne canceled the game. Other exhibits explore the lives of American WACs (members of the Women’s Army Corps), photographers, and journalists.

The museum’s main attraction is the war room. Except for glass panels and railing to prevent visitors from pulling up a chair at the surrender table, the room looks frozen in time. The walls are almost entirely covered with maps and charts left just as they were in May 1945. One huge map shows the Allied rail network in Europe. Nearby is an even bigger map of supply bases. They stretch from floor to ceiling and are remarkably detailed. Looking closely, one can see the staples used to fas- ten them to the wall—along with the inevitable wrinkling, discoloration, and other signs of age.

There are battle maps, too. One near the entrance shows the pockets of German resistance that still remained around St. Nazaire and Lorient in western France at IN A NUTSHELL WHAT Musée de le Reddition (“Surrender Museum”) war’s end. The map of Central Europe, with a stark red line indicating the battle- front deep inside Germany, dominates the room. In front of this map are 15 chairs at a long table. This is where the signing took place. A photograph taken at the historic event is on display, along with a key identifying each participant. Each chair also has a brass plaque indicating who sat where. British General K.W.D. Strong did not actually sit in his assigned place, but stood behind the Germans as a translator.

This one small room vividly conveys the gravity and finality of the surrender. One can easily imagine Jodl’s frame of mind. He faced an assemblage of grim but triumphant Allied officers. Behind them loomed a massive map showing the utter evisceration of his country, and he was surrounded by evidence of overwhelming Allied might. There in Eisenhower’s war room, Jodl could not escape the decisiveness of Germany’s defeat as he signed his name and put an end to the Third Reich.

IN A NUTSHELL

WHAT Musée de le Reddition (“Surrender Museum”)

WHERE 12 Rue Franklin Roosevelt, Reims, France

WHY The site of Nazi Germany’s surrender • General Dwight Eisenhower’s headquarters from February to May 1945 • Eisenhower’s war room as it was preserved in May 1945

For more information visit www.ville-reims.fr/index.php?id=899

MARK D. VAN ELLS teaches at the City University of New York and is currently writing a traveler’s guide to First World War historic sites.

Read the full article at http://www.mydigitalpublication.com/article/Landings%3A+Victory%E2%80%99s+Schoolhouse/1306228/144957/article.html.

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