Europe remembers VE Day

With quiet moments of memory or military pomp, leaders and citizens across Europe marked 70 years since the Nazi defeat and the end of a war that ravaged the continent. However, the East-West alliance that vanquished Hitler is deeply divided today.

Russia is celebrating Soviet wartime feats in a ceremony today that is causing diplomatic tensions because of the country’s role in Ukraine’s conflict. Poland has held a ceremony meant as an alternative to Moscow’s.

Paris’ mile-long Champs Elysees was closed to traffic to make way for a procession of official motorcades and mounted military escorts that ascended the boulevard from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe, site of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

“The victory of May 8 wasn’t the supremacy, the domination, of one nation over another. It was the victory of an ideal over a totalitarian ideology,” President François Hollande said in a speech before arriving at the giant stone arch.

US secretary of state John Kerry and the US ambassador to France joined French foreign minister Laurent Fabius to lay a wreath at the tomb, in a sign of appreciation for the US role in liberating France from German occupation.

Photos taken 70 years ago show massive crowds of Parisians filling the Champs Elysees to celebrate the Nazi surrender, after nearly five years of occupation. May 8 is now a public holiday in France, but relatively few people turned out on the Champs Elysees yesterday for the official ceremony.

Reims, the capital of France’s champagne wine region where the German surrender was signed, organised four days of events to mark the anniversary.

In Caen, the Normandy town liberated and largely destroyed during the D-Day invasion nearly a year before the surrender, a ‘Victory Ball’ was being held with a big-band playing swing tunes.

Other ceremonies took place around Europe, including in Poland, where President Bronislaw Komorowski was joined by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and the presidents of Ukraine and several central European countries for a ceremony at the site where some of the first shots were fired by Germany against Poland at the start of the war on September 1, 1939.

In Germany, top officials gathered at Berlin’s Reichstag building for an hour-long commemoration of the end of the war in Europe.

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