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Surrender Museum, Reims

  
 4Stars10px  - darkometer rating: 3 -
   
Reims 05   historic chairThis is the historic place where the first surrender of the Third Reich was signed on 7 May 1945. The next day there was another, grander, more formal ceremony in Berlin (see Karlshorst), but it was in Reims that Germany actually surrendered first. The room in which this took place has been preserved and a museum was developed around it that provides more information about the surrender itself as well as some of the wider context.
  
More background info: Germany’s surrender in WWII was actually a rather complicated matter. There’s no scope here to go into the full details (there are plenty of other sources to consult for that), but suffice it to say this much:
   
A text serving as the “Instrument of Surrender” had already been worked on by the Allies from ca. mid-1944, i.e. after the D-Day Landings in Normandy, and versions and reworked bits of text were also the subject of the Yalta Conference in early 1945. Main elements of the discussed paper were that the surrender had to be unconditional and must be signed by the German Military High Command, in order to avoid what happened after Germany’s surrender in WW1, namely that only the civilian government signed. This later paved the way for the “Dolchstoß”, or ‘stab-in-the-back’, legend that militarily Germany had not actually been defeated on the battlefields, but that it was “betrayed” – by republicans, social democrats, Jews … you see the pattern emerging, which soon indeed formed a crucial part in the emerging Nazi propaganda. This, so the Allies in WWII agreed, must be prevented from repeating itself.
   
If, when and how Germany would indeed surrender in WWII remained unclear as long as Adolf Hitler’s order to fight to the last stood. But Hitler’s suicide, in the Führerbunker in Berlin on 30 April 1945, finally opened up a real chance for surrender to come quickly. Yet it came in stages, drawn out over the course of more than a week, partly because of the chaos the German military was in already.
   
Hitler’s successor Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz formed a kind of follow-up government in Flensburg near the Danish border after the Fall of Berlin, though the Flensburg government did not in any way sever itself from Nazism.
   
Once Hitler’s death was confirmed, parts of the German military already surrendered to the Allies in certain regions, e.g. in Italy and Western Austria on 2 May, in north Germany and the Netherlands on 4 May, and in Bavaria on 5 May. But other parts of the military remained engaged in battles, especially against the Soviet Red Army.
   
In any case, what was still needed instead of merely partial surrenders was a general, official defeat. There was also the suspicion that the Flensburg government under Dönitz might seek a separate peace deal with the Western Allies only (and apparently he’d indeed had that idea), which the Soviets couldn’t accept.
   
So US General Eisenhower (later 34th president of the USA), the commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces (AEF) sent the Flensburg government instructions to send representatives to the Allied headquarters in Reims to sign a general Instrument of Surrender of all German military forces, and to all Allied powers, i.e. also to the USSR. This was received on 6 May and Döniz sent General Jodl to Reims to negotiate the surrender, in particular asking for a 48-hour grace period (in order to communicate the surrender to various pockets of the military still in battle, but probably also to win time to continue evacuation operations from the east). Eisenhower had refused this, though, and announced that without an immediate unconditional surrender, he’d resume bombing Germany. So Döniz authorized Jodl to sign.
   
The signing took place in the map room of the S.H.A.E.F. (Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Forces), with Jodl, accompanied by two other German representatives, signing for Germany, and Eisenhower’s chief of staff for the Western Allies, and Soviet general Susloparov, who had especially been sent in, for the USSR. A French general also signed as witness. The signing took place at 2:41 a.m. on 7 May. It was to come into effect with the cessation of all hostilities ordered for 11:01 p.m. on 8 May.
   
However, the Soviets had not yet officially approved the text of the Instrument of Surrender signed in Reims, and it was also unclear if Susloparov had been properly authorized to sign. So an additional document was prepared in Reims – and signed at the same time – that allowed for a second ratification ceremony with representatives of the High Command of all branches of the German military at a later stage.
   
The Soviets at the same time insisted that the proper signing ceremony must not take place outside Germany, but right in the fallen Reich’s heart, i.e. in Berlin. They also insisted on certain changes in the text of the Instrument of Surrender, in particular that it state unambiguously that all German troops were required to give up their arms and hand themselves over to the Allies.
   
And so the second, proper and much grander surrender ceremony was held in the evening of 8 May at the Soviet command HQ in Berlin in Karlshorst (now home to the German-Russian Museum) with the Soviet commander Marshal Zhukov present in person, as well a German delegation headed by Field Marshal Keitel (Chief of General Staff of the Wehrmacht) signing on behalf of the army, plus two further representatives for the Kriegsmarine (navy) and the Luftwaffe (air force). Eisenhower’s deputy signed on behalf of the AEF, with additionally a French and an American general signing as witnesses. Since it took time to amend, redraft and translate texts and settle the disagreement with the Soviets regarding the number of signatures on the document, the actual physical signing got delayed until just after midnight, so technically it took place on 9 May. But the document was backdated to the time the original surrender was supposed to come in effect, so on the 8th. This explains why Victory in Europe Day (VE Day) is celebrated on different days in the West (8 May) and in the former Soviet Union (9 May), where the time of the coming into effect of the surrender (11:01 p.m.) would have been after midnight anyway because of the time zone difference between Berlin and Moscow.
   
Because the Berlin ceremony was the final and more official one of the two surrenders, the place of the initial surrender in Reims has remained far less well known after the war. But the room in which this first ceremony had taken place was preserved, declared a National Monument and was incorporated into the museum we see today. The location is in a former technical college, now the Franklin Roosevelt School. The name of the museum in French is “Musée de la Reddition”.
   
   
What there is to see: From the outside, the building the museum is housed in looks totally nondescript, a simple red-brick complex typical for schools (which the rest of the building still is), only the four flagpoles flying the British, US, French and Soviet flags hint at its significance.
  
Inside, before you see the exhibition proper, you’re ushered into a cinema hall to watch an introductory film about the surrender signing and its context, especially from the perspective of the city of Reims.
  
The museum exhibition is upstairs, and a big stars-and-stripes flag in the stairwell make clear that this was primarily an American place.
   
The core of the museum is obviously the preserved room that the signing of the surrender took place in. You can enter part of the room, but the table and chairs where the ceremony took place are protected by being separated from the publicly accessible parts by Perspex panels. The walls of the whole room are covered in maps (as this had served as the S.H.A.E.F. war room). To the side of the main table a few dummies in period uniforms seem to be watching, but the original table and chairs are empty. The chairs are labelled with the names of their occupants on 7 May 1940 during the signing of the surrender. In addition an info panel details the ceremony attendees’ respective functions. The tabletop is completely bare except for a couple of empty ashtrays. One is actually an original that was returned 50 years later by an American veteran and former S.H.A.E.F. staff member. All the originals had been taken as souvenirs within hours of the end of the ceremony.
   
Images of the surrender ceremony also appear as photos, as well as in the form of an oil painting, in other parts of the museum.
   
The rest of the museum consists mostly of glass cabinets in a rather old-fashioned style, filled with text-and-photo panels, models of warships, planes and vehicles, as well as a few original artefacts such as handguns and personal items, plus – as the most characteristic feature of this museum – over 50 dummies in a wide range of period uniforms, from both sides of the war. Normally this could be seen as overload, too much of the same sort. But what is remarkable about these dummies – compared to those in most other museums I am aware of – is that they are very life-like, and all individually different, with almost real facial expressions, and this makes them much more believable than is normally the case. There is even one African American dummy, namely in a “Red Ball Express” uniform, a transport unit of the Allies. Because of racial segregation still implemented by the USA at the time, it was often such support units where mainly black men served.
   
Amongst the exhibits, the actual sheets of the Instrument of Surrender take pride of place. There’s also a copy “authenticated”, as it were, “in hindsight”, by a short statement scribbled down at the bottom and signed by Hitler’s successor Döniz on 15 April 1977 (i.e. just a few year’s before his death) and saying in German: “Dies Dokument wurde in meinem Auftrag von General Jodl unterzeichnet” (‘this document was signed by General Jodl on my orders [or ‘on my behalf’]’).
   
Amongst the more remarkable original artefacts are, e.g., the original pair of keys to the war room that the ceremony took place in, a piece of a French fighter plane wreck that was shot down during the German invasion of France, or a German auxiliary fuel tank, which was carried by German fighter planes to extend their range and could be jettisoned after use. On the side it says “keine Bombe”, ‘not a bomb’. As it has a similar shape it could have been mistaken for one. But the label marks it as harmless!
   
For me personally the most remarkable single item on display was that of a small black-and-gold Nazi flag that was stolen by a 15-year-old boy from a German general’s official car in 1941 as it was parked in front of Reims railway station!
   
Thematically, the museum covers not only the story of the surrender, but also e.g. the French Resistance, the D-Day Allied landings in Normandy, and various other aspects of the liberation of France, but in not much depth. Overall the museum is more visual than text-heavy.
   
Most texts are in French but come with English translations (which are OK, though not always of the very highest quality), except for a few displays outside the regular glass cabinets. But there are sheets with translations available that you can use to aid comprehension if you don’t understand French.
   
All in all, despite it being a bit old-school, the museum won me over with the quirkiness of the dummies and some of the artefacts. And of course the sense of momentous place authenticity gives it plenty of credibility alone. It may be a less elaborate and state-of-the-art affair when compared to its equivalent in Berlin, but it can claim that it “got there first”, thematically.
  
  
Location: at 12 rue Franklin Roosevelt, in 51100 Reims, in the Champagne region of the Marne departement, northern France, ca. 80 miles (130 km) north-east of Paris.
   
Google Maps locator: [49.2622, 4.0261]
   
  
Access and costs: easily accessible and reasonably priced.
   
Details: The museum is just north-east of, and hence within easy walking distance from, the central train station of Reims, no more than 10 minutes away on foot, and roughly twice the distance from the Cathedral in the heart of the city centre. You can also reach the museum by public transport, either by bus line 4 (to the stop “Roosevelt”) or tram line A (stop “Schneiter”).
  
If you’re driving, you can find on-street parking nearby. If coming to Reims by train, note that the TGV high-speed railway station for Reims is “Champagne-Ardenne” far out on the very edge of the city limits to the south-west, requiring an onwards regional train connection to the centre.
   
Opening times: daily except Tuesdays, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon and from 2 to 6 p.m. Closed on New Year’s Day.
   
Admission: 5 EUR (a couple of concessions apply)
  
  
Time required: about one hour, possibly less.
  
  
Combinations with other dark destinations: Reims lies roughly halfway between the WW1 battlefield sites of the Somme to the north-west and Verdun to the east, so makes a perfect stopover when travelling from one to the other, even though the Reims museum has a different topic. The city is also within easy reach from Paris.
   
See also under France in general.
  
  
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Reims is a significant city of great historical importance and boasts several World Heritage Sites, the grandest of which has to be massive Cathedral, the traditional coronation place for the French kings and one of the most splendid examples of French Gothic architecture, dating back to the 13th to 15th century. In English it is usually referred to simply as Reims Cathedral, but its real name in French is “Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims”. Other major sights include the Abbey of Saint-Remi, a Roman-era gate (Porte de Mars), and the city is also most closely associated with the making of champagne; many of the major producers of this most noble of sparkling wines have their headquarters in Reims and many offer tours and tastings.
   
See also under France in general.
  
 
   
  • Reims 01 - museum entranceReims 01 - museum entrance
  • Reims 02 - up the stairsReims 02 - up the stairs
  • Reims 03 - signReims 03 - sign
  • Reims 04 - historic roomReims 04 - historic room
  • Reims 05 - historic chairReims 05 - historic chair
  • Reims 06 - historic signaturesReims 06 - historic signatures
  • Reims 07 - late authenticated documentReims 07 - late authenticated document
  • Reims 08 - historic moment celebratedReims 08 - historic moment celebrated
  • Reims 09 - victorious Allied flagsReims 09 - victorious Allied flags
  • Reims 10 - exhibition roomReims 10 - exhibition room
  • Reims 11 - dummy non-bombReims 11 - dummy non-bomb
  • Reims 12 - dummy NaziReims 12 - dummy Nazi
  • Reims 13 - blond female Nazi dummyReims 13 - blond female Nazi dummy
  • Reims 14 - sexy-nurse dummyReims 14 - sexy-nurse dummy
  • Reims 15 - D-DayReims 15 - D-Day
  • Reims 16 - French-American friendshipReims 16 - French-American friendship
 
 
 
 

 

 

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