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When World War II Ended There Was No Armistice, There Was Surrender

May 8, 2020

May 8, 1945 is the day that Nazi Germany recognized its defeat and had to agree to total surrender. And that brought peace. Opinion.

Daniel Pinner, י"ד באייר תש"פ, 5/8/2020

The Third Reich was defeated on the battlefields of Europe after 12 years in power. It collapsed 988 years short of its 1,000-year target.

But in those 12 years, it inflicted more damage on humanity, and specifically on the Jewish nation, than any other enterprise in history.

Nazism's prime driving force was its determination to exterminate Jews and Judaism. The Shoah was not just one incidental by-product of the Second World War: rather, the Second World War was almost an incidental by-product of the Nazis' determination to exterminate every last Jew in the world.

With an ideology of such complete evil, how was it possible to restore peace to Europe? How was it even thinkable that Germany would not be forever a pariah? How could it be possible that within a generation of the Shoah, Germany would become a responsible member of the international community of nations?

The answer lies in the way that Nazi Germany was defeated.

27 years earlier the First World War had ended. The guns had fallen silent on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month: at 11:00 on the morning of the 11th of November 1918.

In four-and-a-half years of war, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Turkish Ottoman Empire (the Islamic Caliphate) had made a gallant attempt at creating a new Europe, a new Middle East, indeed a new world.

The Allies fought tenaciously to defend their values, their populations, their territories, and the smaller nations who had been the victims of the Axis powers' aggression.

And when Britain, France, and the USA together defeated the Axis, they were magnanimous in their victory. They did not force the Axis powers to surrender; rather, they agreed to an armistice. That is to say, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey were not technically defeated. It was rather a stale-mate, the victorious Allies not insisting on unequivocal victory.

Though the Armistice was signed on 11th November 1918, bringing a stop to the actual fighting, the state of war only finished over half-a-year later, when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28th June 1919.

The signatories for the Allies were British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, US President Woodrow Wilson, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, and Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando.

Germany was represented by two almost-unknown functionaries, German Foreign Minister Hermann Müller, the other a lawyer, Johannes Bell.

Although the Allies, whether out of generosity or out of war-weariness, had not imposed complete surrender on the German Army, the Treaty of Versailles completely humiliated Germany:

Germany was forced to accept war-guilt, and accordingly was forced to pay reparations to the Allies for war-damages – amounts so high as to cripple Germany economically for the foreseeable future.

Germany was further punished by losing some 65,000 sq. km. (25,000 square miles) of territory (13% of its European territory) to France, Belgium, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Lithuania; by losing all its empire (it had held colonies in Africa and the Pacific); by being forcibly demilitarised; and by having the Weimar Constitution, intended to democratise the country, imposed upon it by the conquerors.

This naturally caused massive resentment within Germany. Popular German sentiment was that they had not actually lost the war: after all, they had not surrendered, they had instead agreed to an armistice, technically putting them on equal footing with the Allies. Why, then, should they be so harshly punished?

Sir Harold Nicolson, a member of the British delegation, recorded his observations, concluding his account: "We kept our seats while the Germans were conducted like prisoners from the dock, their eyes still fixed upon some distant point on the horizon".

The French Commander-in-Chief, General Ferdinand Foch, presciently commented the same day: "This is not peace. It is an armistice for twenty years".

(He was right: the Second World War began in September 1939.)

The Allies had made two terrible mistakes upon defeating Germany militarily: They did not force Germany to surrender, and they imposed humiliating conditions upon an ostensibly undefeated opponent.

The wounds of the war could not heal, ironically because they weren't deep enough. And the predictable result was massive German resentment, which fuelled a revanchist nationalist backlash, which swiftly catapulted Hitler and the Nazi Party to power, leading inevitably to the Second World War and all its attendant horrors.

75 years ago, the Allies – this time Britain, the USA, and the Soviet Union – were determined to avoid the same mistake.

As far back as January 1943, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Roosevelt had convened in Casablanca, Morocco. (Generals Charles de Gaulle and Henri Giraud of the Free French Forces also attended; Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin was invited, but declined.)

At the Casablanca Conference, these Allied leaders had agreed that upon defeating Nazi Germany, they would accept nothing less than unconditional surrender. No armistice, no truce, no bilateral agreements – only complete and unconditional German surrender.

And so, in the final weeks of the war, when Reichsmarschall Herman G‏öring (Commander of the Luftwaffe) and Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler attempted to negotiate a peace settlement will the Allies, the Allies rejected them out of hand.

As it happened, they were not authorised to negotiate any settlement: they were directly defying their own Führer in these attempts.

When Hitler committed suicide in Berlin on 30th April 1945, Grosadmiral (Commander of the Navy) Karl Dönitz became Head of State, carrying the title of President of Germany and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. (He did not inherit the title "Führer".)

Dönitz, too, attempted to negotiate a settlement with the Western Allies – and again was rejected out of hand.

Neither Britain not the USA were prepared to accept anything less than unconditional surrender – which Generaloberst (Colonel-General) Alfred Jodl y"sh duly signed.

The conditions which the Allies imposed upon post-war Germany in 1945 and onwards were far harsher than those of 1918.

The Nazi leaders – political and military alike, government functionaries, and others – were brought to trial, with sentences for the guilty ranging from brief imprisonment to hanging.

Britain, France, the USA, and the USSR divided Germany into zones of occupation, and maintained military occupation forces in Germany for almost half-a-century.

The denazification courts changed the entire government and administration of Germany, from Chancellor down to local judges, police commanders, and even teachers.

Theoretically, at least: in practice so many German officials, professionals, and leaders were ideological Nazis that it was unavoidable to leave many in positions of authority.

Germany was demilitarised, far more thoroughly than in 1918.

Germany lost 112,000 sq. km. (43,240 square miles) of territory.

Some 11 million Germans – 18% of the total population – were unceremoniously expelled, from Poland, from Czechoslovakia, and from the territories which Germany was forced to cede, and resettled in what remained of the country.

This time around, there was no room for illusions about being undefeated, as there had been back in 1918. Germany surrendered unconditionally, the ideology which had led them into war was thoroughly defeated on the battlegrounds, their leaders thoroughly discredited and disgraced.

And the result was complete, genuine peace.

It took time, it took decades and a new German generation, which had not been infected with Nazism, to arise.

But already as early as the mid- to late-1980's, just 40 years after the Second World War finished, the official German attitude (in West Germany, at least) was to remember the invading Allied Armies (at least the Western Allies) as liberators rather than conquerors – soldiers who liberated the German population from their own Nazi dictatorship.

This reading of history wasn't necessarily historically accurate; but it did bring peace to Europe.

And this view is becoming ever-more widespread in the reunited Germany: those Halifax, Lancaster, Stirling, B-17 Flying Fortress, and B-29 Superfortress bombers which had dropped their deadly loads over German battlefields, factories, cities, towns, villages, railway-lines, and road-junctions for six-and-a-half long and wearying years are becoming transformed in the German consciousness from enemies to liberators.

Such has been the result of forcing Nazi Germany into unconditional surrender. Largely thanks to Churchill, the Allies avoided in 1945 the terrible error of 1918.

Now what lessons does this carry for Israel?

– Three years after the Second World War ended, as Israel was becoming independent, the seven Arab states which were already independent – Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Iraq – launched a war of aggression and attempted genocide against Israel.

They were confident of exterminating the fledgling State and all the Jews therein within a few weeks: with some 150 million Arabs and barely more than half-a-million Jews, the Arabs outnumbered the Jews by 300 to 1.

And of course they had all the advantages of large, well-armed, and long-established armies, trained and armed by some of the world's greatest powers: Transjordan and Egypt by Britain, Saudi Arabia by the USA, Syria and Iraq by the USSR.

But when G-d decrees that the time to redeem His people has come, huge and powerful armies are irrelevant, and the pan-Arab aggression and attempt at genocide turned instead into Israel's War of Independence.

After well over half-a-year of fighting, and attempt after gallant attempt to exterminate the Jews, the Arab leaders eventually accepted the inevitable, and agreed to cease-fires.

So Israel subsequently signed four armistice agreements, with Egypt (24th February 1949), with Lebanon (23rd March), with Jordan (3rd April), and with Syria (20th July).

The other three aggressor-states, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Yemen (which share no border with Israel), signed no armistice agreements: they simply withdrew their troops.

The consequence of concluding the War of Independence with armistice agreements was identical to the consequence of concluding the First World War with an armistice: the aggressor-states simply withdrew, humiliated at having been defeated by Jews, and waited for their next opportunity to attack.

That came in June 1967. By this time, British and French colonialism had all but finished in the Middle East, so this time, the Arab and Moslem world built a vast coalition of thirteen Arab and Moslem states: Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Kuwait, Tunisia, Sudan, and Pakistan all mobilised in yet another war of aggression and attempted genocide.

They failed again, and what was supposed to be Israel's extermination instead became the Six Day War.

And again, Israel made the same mistake: instead of forcing the aggressor-states into unconditional surrender and bringing the war-criminals in those states to trial, Israel agreed to yet another series of cease-fire agreements.

And the inevitable result was the Yom Kippur War, when on 6th October 1973, another coalition of Arab and Moslem states – Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Libya, and Pakistan – launched yet another war of aggression and attempted genocide.

They again failed, and Israel yet again made the same terrible error of agreeing to conclude the war with armistice agreements instead of unconditional surrender.

And more recently, Israel has made the identical mistake, time after weary time: after every round of fighting with the Hamas in Gaza and with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel inflicts far more damage on the enemy than they inflict on Israel, Israeli leaders proclaim victory, agree to a cease-fire – and thereby invite the next inevitable conflict.

If the events of 75 years ago teach us anything (and they certainly do!), then it's that the path to peace lies not through attempts to conciliate genocidal aggressors, but through defeating them unequivocally.

The territories which Germany lost in 1945 certainly infuriated and humiliated the German population.

But those territorial changes swiftly became a fait accompli. No German politician, political party, or individual has ever demanded that Poland "return" the Ehemalige deutsche Ostgebiete (formerly German eastern territories).

No one disputes that Gdansk, Szczecin, and Wrocłau are Polish cities, or that Kaliningrad is a Russian city, or that Klaipėda is a Lithuanian city. No one – not even the furthest-Right of German politicians and parties – demand that Poland, Russia, and Lithuania "return" those "occupied territories" to Germany, and allow their dispossessed German populations the "right of return".

No one still refers to those cities by their old German names: Gdansk isn't Danzig, Szczecin isn't Stettin, Wrocłau isn't Breslau, Kaliningrad isn't Königsberg, and Klaipėda isn't Memel. And they're not going to be in the foreseeable future.

If Israel would only have applied the same measures after the Six Day War of 1967, insisting on unconditional surrender instead of a cease-fire, if Israel would have done to the Arabs and for the Arabs the same as what the Allies had done to the Germans and for the Germans just 22 years earlier, then by today we might have been living in a truly peaceful Middle East.

If Israel would have immediately annexed all the territories she captured from the aggressor-states, from the Suez Canal in the west to the River Jordan in the east, as well as the entire Golan, then Israel's borders with Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt might today have been as peaceful and as secure as Germany's borders with France, Poland, and Russia are today.

Daniel Pinner is a veteran immigrant from England, a teacher by profession and a Torah scholar who has been active in causes promoting Eretz Israel and Torat Israel.

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