What's Special about 8 May?
Victory in Europe Day marks the signing of the German Instrument of Surrender on 8 May 1945. The German surrender to Allied forces ended the battles of World War II in Europe, thus many European nations commemorate this date as the day of liberation from the Nazi regime. So why isn’t 8 May a federal public holiday in Germany?
It could be argued that, technically speaking, the Allied forces did not intervene in World War II to liberate Germany from Nazi control so much as to wage war against the invasive forces of a dictatorship. Although the distinction may seem minor, some (very conservative) Germans have historically believed that a defeat is nothing to celebrate.
Public Holiday or Day of Commemoration
Today, on the other hand, there is a growing awareness within Germany that this date stands for so much more: not only did one of the greatest catastrophes in world history come to an end, but that day also gave rise to one of the greatest examples of international solidarity of the modern era – the European Union. At the same time, the celebration of 8 May has become a profound statement against fascism, racism and antisemitism.
While in Berlin the 75th anniversary of the end of the war was a one-time official holiday (Feiertag) in 2020, 8 May is a so-called Gedenktag (day of commemoration) in many other German federal states, such as Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Brandenburg. This means that the news will tell you about it, but you won’t get a day off.
But there has been growing advocacy in favour of making 8 May an official public holiday in Hamburg and all across Germany. From the Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund (DGB, lit. 'German Trade Union Confederation') and high-ranking politicians from parties like die Linke (lit. 'The Left') and Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (lit. 'Alliance 90/The Greens') to Esther Béjarano, the Hamburg-based chairperson of the International Auschwitz Committee, more and more organisations and people in Germany are pushing for official recognition of 8 May.
But even if 8 May is not an official public holiday in Hamburg (yet), we can still observe the weight and importance of this date, for example by paying tribute to the virtual 75th commemoration of the liberation of Neuengamme that took place in 2020. And we should also take a minute to recognise that this date marks nothing less than a turning point in European history and a cornerstone of democratic achievement, such as the guarantee of freedom of speech, religion and movement as basic human rights.