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Why isn't VE Day a public holiday in Germany?

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By Orlando Crowcroft
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other officials lay wreaths at the Neue Wache Memorial in Berlin, Germany, May 8, 2020.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other officials lay wreaths at the Neue Wache Memorial in Berlin, Germany, May 8, 2020.   -   Copyright  Hannibal Hanschke/AP

A Holocaust survivor has launched a campaign for May 8 to be made a national holiday in Germany to commemorate the defeat of the Nazis and the end of World War Two.

In an open letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Esther Bejarano, 95, who survived Auschwitz argued that VE Day, which is a national holiday in France and a number of other European states, should also be a public holiday in Germany.

“[It is] a day on which the liberation of mankind from the Nazi regime can be celebrated. This has been overdue for seven decades. And maybe it helps to finally understand that May 8, 1945, was the day of liberation, the suppression of the Nazi regime,” she said.

Read more: VE Day 75th anniversary: As war ends in Europe, 'no wonder people went crazy'

Victory in Europe - or ‘VE’ Day - is marked in Europe on May 8, the day that the armed forces of Germany formally surrendered to the Allies after six years of conflict. On April 30, Adolf Hitler committed suicide so the surrender was agreed by his replacement, Admiral Karl Dönitz.

Due to the fact that the surrender was signed in Reims at 10.30 pm in the evening and came into force at 11.01 pm, it is marked on May 9 in Russia - where it is known as Victory Day - because the country is an hour ahead of Western Europe.

May 8 was a public holiday - known as the ‘Day of Liberation’ in the Soviet-allied German Democratic Republic until the reunification of Germany in 1990, and this year it is a public holiday in Berlin to mark 75 years since the end of the war.

A petition based on Bejarano’s letter has already attracted more than 100,000 signatures on, but it has not been unanimously popular in Germany. The far-right Alternative for Deutschland Party has opposed the move, arguing that May 8 was a “day of defeat”.

May 8, May 9 or... May 16?

It is not only Russia that marks the end of World War Two a day later than Western Europe, many nations including Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus also celebrate VE Day on May 9.

Israel also marks the day on May 9, due to the large number of Jewish refugees from eastern Europe who live there, although it is not a public holiday.

Meanwhile, the tiny island of Jersey marks "Liberation Day" on May 9, as that was the day it was liberated from the Nazis. Nearby Sark celebrates the day on May 10.

But the prize for the latest VE Day celebration comes from the even tinier island of Alderney, which was not liberated until May 16. The entire population of the island had been evacuated early in the war and could not return until December 15, which is marked as a public holiday to this day.