Baltimore native remembers the excitement of V-E Day

She didn't know until she arrived at work that the Allies had defeated the Nazis

May 06, 2011|Jacques Kelly

"I left for work at approximately 8 a.m. There was no TV in those days and the radio wasn't something everyone tuned in to early in the morning," wrote Ruth Martin, an 87-year-old Baltimore native now living in Parker, Ariz. "I caught my bus and the regulars boarded, and the morning progressed as usual."

She wrote to me of a day she never forgot: May 8, 1945 — Victory in Europe Day, V-E Day. It was the day the Allies formally accepted Nazi Germany's unconditional surrender.

Born Ruth Dembinsky and living on Mount Street near Wilkens Avenue, Martin was a 1940 Western High School graduate. As a woman in her 20s, she was already a widow. Her husband had died in a Naval Air Corps crash.

"I reached my destination and walked the two blocks to my work place, the Hochschild Kohn department store. On the way I met my boss, Sarah, and we walked together.

"Upon reaching Howard & Lexington Streets we glanced up at our store, which was on the opposite side from us. From the roof, this huge American flag was being lowered. Our store was six stories high and about a half-block long. This flag when totally unfurled covered all of the store front with the exception of the first floor where there were show windows and entrances.

"We were completely baffled. What in the world was happening? A crowd started to gather watching this spectacle. At this point nobody seemed to have a clue.

"We proceeded to the employees entrance and there was a sign which simply stated that it was V-E Day and that the store would be closed. Slowly the realization of what was occurring dawned on us and news spread like wildfire.

"It seemed that in a matter of seconds horns started blowing, cars stopped where they were and police just stepped back and gave up trying to bring order. A conga-line quickly formed in the middle of Howard Street, and it grew and grew and grew. It snaked up Howard Street to the Greyhound Bus Station [Centre Street], through the station, and ultimately broke up.

"All businesses, except for lunchrooms, restaurants and bars closed. They knew it was a golden opportunity to remain open, because these revelers were eventually going to get hungry and thirsty. By noon sidewalks were lined with people waiting to get food and drink.

"About 2 p.m. exhaustion was setting in but we weren't ready to hang up our hats and go home. My boss and I discovered the movie theaters were open and we decided that this was a good place to rest and recuperate. We ended up going to three theaters and it was by then about 10 p.m. Hunger pangs were setting in. We found that Huylers on Lexington Street was still open. We had pea soup and an egg salad sandwich.

"I can still remember what I was wearing that day. Many of the styles were based on the military. The weather was chilly and I wore a khaki-colored fitted coat, a black felt hat and black pumps.

"I reached home about midnight. Morning came fast. Nobody was really in a mood to work after so much celebrating. We still had to defeat Japan, but we had shown Hitler how strong we were.

"V-J Day eventually came but that celebration wasn't as earth-shattering as V-E Day," she wrote.

She told me that she remarried and remained with Hochschild's as its assistant purchasing agent until it closed its doors as a retail business.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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