The History Club Presents: Pandemic of Failure

by Julia Owerko

May 7, 1945 – On this day in history, German leaders, or at least those who were still alive, met in France and signed an unconditional surrender. In 2020 we are struggling to fight the pandemic. High fever, trouble breathing, dry cough – all of these are symptoms of the current disease that stepped into our lives forcing us to take a few steps back and stay at home. However, in 1945, the Nazis experienced a whole other pandemic – failure.

In the early stages, Germany began to experience mild irritation in the form of insufficient supplies. Meanwhile, the Allies gained a new member in 1942 – the United States. The US decided to enter the war supplying the Allies with weaponry after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. Germany, running low on fuel and oil, was now motivated to launch Operation Barbarossa, a direct attack on the USSR. An invasion of the Soviet Union was a dream for the Germans since the 1920s. However, it soon turned into a nightmare. 

Nazi Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl, center, signs Nazi’s surrender. Source: NY Times Learning Network, from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.

Failure at Stalingrad and an inability to fight in the cold USSR winter forced Germans to retreat without conquering the oil-rich regions of Stalin’s land. Without his medicine against failure, Hitler began to gradually lose his grip on regions he once controlled.

The Nazis looked upon the Red Army the same way we look at COVID-19. Stalin’s troops conitnued to infect and disintegrate the plans for Nazi world domination with the liberation of concentration camps. In late April the Red Army had finally reached Berlin. Historian and author of the 2002 book The Fall of Berlin 1945, Antony Beevor, describes the seriousness and rapid spread of the Red Army. Beevor writes that only four German defenders were left behind in the Berlin bunker. They were either too ashamed and embarrassed to look straight in the eyes of the Soviets or too drunk to feel ashamed and embarrassed. 

As the dominant Soviet soldiers wandered around the Berlin-Nazi maze and labyrinth of paranoia, the phone rang. A German. A Soviet answered: “Ivan is here.” A polite introduction followed by a firm, “Go to hell.” Since the communication between German bases was chaotic at best, Berlin telephones were used to monitor the Red Army’s spread. The clueless senior officers in the Fuhrer bunker would call Berlin phones. If you could hear a Russian burst into song of swearwords and raspy yelling, you could assume that the Soviets have reached that point. If they were lucky to speak with a German they asked when the next organ of power and region were to be infected. 

Confusion, panic, and despair were the final symptoms of failure. Hitler’s body proved too weak to withstand such pressure and on April 30 the German dictator committed suicide in the Fuhrerbunker, naming Joseph Goebbels as his successor. Unfortunately for Nazis, failure did not spare Goebbels, who committed suicide a day later. Failure continued to spread to Italy, Berlin, the Netherlands, Denmarks and eventually all German forces across all of Europe. The only antidote to failure was surrender. On May 7, 1945 Jodl and Keitel surrendered all German armed forces unconditionally. The Allies won the war and the Nazis were defeated.

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