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Meeting of U.S. and Soviet Forces on the Elbe River


NBC News war coverage details the Allied success at the Elbe. By joining forces, the American and Soviet troops dealt a damaging blow to the Germans by cutting their army in two.


Meeting On The Elbe

Russian Federation News Release, 25 April 2020: 75 years ago, on April 25, 1945, at 13:30 Moscow time, near the German city of Torgau, there was a meeting of the troops of the 1st Ukrainian Front and the 69th Infantry Division of the 1st American Army.

The event went down in history as the ‘Meeting on the Elbe’. It was attended by soldiers of Lieutenant Grigory Goloborodko’s company and Lieutenant Albert Kotzebue’s recon group*. The meeting of two powerful armies divided the territory of Hitler’s Germany in half and thus contributed to the speedy end of the Second World War.

The Meeting on the Elbe is remarkable not only from the historical point of view, but also from the diplomatic point of view. On this day, representatives of the two countries, very far from each other, in a burst of sincere feelings, made a solemn promise to do everything possible to prevent a new war.

[Source: Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation]

Footnote: *Contemporary US archive records show that the first contact between the US and Russian units (at approximately 12:30 local time / 13:30 Moscow time) took place on the west bank of the Elbe just north of the town of Strehla and about 30km south of Torgau.

Posed image, believed taken 27th April 1945, showing 2nd Lt. William Robertson and Lt. Alexander Sylvashko in front of sign [East Meets West] symbolising the historic meeting of the Soviet and American Armies, near Torgau, Germany [US Army / US NARA: Public Domain]

U.S. and Soviet Vets Muster at Elbe for Peace

Trading souvenirs and memories and calling for renewal of the friendship that flickered briefly between their two countries 40 years ago, Soviet and American war veterans returned here Thursday to mark the day they linked up on the Elbe River in the fading days of World War II.

Older and grayer, with ruddied faces but untarnished ideals, the veterans issued a joint call for peace--a rekindling of the “spirit of the Elbe.” Then they drank and ate together much as they did 40 years before.

For the soldiers of the Red Army, pressing Nazi Germany from the east, and American forces pushing from the west, the linkup meant their own survival in the war, and for Europeans it signaled the death knell for Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.

“We spoke different languages, but our feelings were the same,” Joseph Slopek of Munro Falls, Ohio, recalled of the day that he and his American buddies drank vodka, danced and took their “oaths of the Elbe” to never fight again.

On Thursday, about 300 Soviet and American veterans rededicated themselves to that oath during commemorative ceremonies that drew much of the town’s population, East German dignitaries and a contingent of Soviet officers.

“We reaffirm our pledge made on April 25, 1945, to friendship between the United States and the Soviet Union so there is no more war,” said William Beswick, vice chairman of the U.S. Army’s 69th Division’s Veterans Assn.

But the absence of official American participation at the celebration was an unspoken reminder of the reality of U.S.-Soviet ties.

The United States did not send an official representative in protest of the killing last month of U.S. Army Maj. Arthur D. Nicholson Jr. by a Soviet sentry in East Germany.

Moscow has reportedly expressed regret in private for the incident but has not issued a formal apology.

“I kind of wish they (the United States) had been here, but I understand about Maj. Nicholson,” said Dr. William Robertson, a Los Angeles neurosurgeon who, as a young lieutenant, was the first American to make contact with the Soviets at Torgau. “It is a difficult thing.”

The tense nature of U.S.-Soviet relations left younger Red Army officers attending the commemoration uncertain about how to react to the American veterans.

When Peter Sitnik, a former interpreter for the U.S. Army along the Elbe, pulled an unsuspecting Soviet lieutenant in front of the battery of television cameras and then draped his arms around him, the young officer stood horrified and uncertain before deciding on a fleeting smile.

The veterans themselves, however, had no such inhibitions.

Leroy Wolins, vice commander of the Veterans for Peace, a second U.S. group here, noted that it took only a few minutes for the Soviets and Americans to agree on a joint statement for the meeting.

“Today is a reminder that it is possible to get along,” he said. “This won’t solve world problems today, but it can establish the atmosphere to solve them tomorrow.”

At a lunchtime reception, veterans mixed freely, exchanging tales of the day 40 years before.

Albert Honyak, now a Cleveland plumbing contractor, recalled dancing with a Russian woman who was conspicuous, he told a Soviet veteran, for the machine pistol she carried and her especially robust figure.

“I think she still lives in Moscow,” his listener replied with a laugh.

Slopek exchanged a dollar bill for a one-ruble coin with a former Soviet captain, an exchange that he had also carried out in his first meeting with a Russian.

During an hour of formal speeches, Robertson and Alexander Silvashko, the Soviet lieutenant he first met at the eastern edge of a bridge over the Elbe here 40 years before, stood next to each other and chatted through an interpreter.

Since their first meeting, Robertson had met Silvashko twice in the Soviet Union for anniversary-related celebrations, including a recent trip when he was greeted by a group of children from the secondary school near Minsk where Silvashko is the principal.

Torgau itself treated the reunion as a holiday, with thousands of its citizens crowding around the small plaza in front of the U.S.-Soviet monument and lining the bridge that brought the two armies together.

Flags and banners carrying peace slogans in English, Russian and German were hung from trees and buildings. Schools were dismissed, and children carrying signs calling for peace walked through the town.

“We want no space weapons,” one sign read.

Soviet and American veterans also joined in paying tribute to the memory of Joseph Polowsky, a GI, whose meeting with Soviet troops a few miles south of Torgau, also on April 25, transformed his life into a mission for Soviet-American friendship.

“We drank and there were accordions and balalaikas and music and dancing,” Polowsky, a private first class with the 69th Infantry Division, recalled years later in a written account. “They played American songs.”

A Chicago taxicab driver of Russian descent, Polowsky later drafted the “oath of the Elbe,” a formal call for peace that captured the spirit of his informal encounter with Soviet troops.

He subsequently met with Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev and petitioned world leaders for an end to the arms race. When he died of cancer in November, 1983, his request for burial at Torgau was fulfilled.

On Thursday, with his 25-year-old son, Theodore, looking on, the veterans laid a wreath at Polowsky’s grave.

“I always felt that American-Russian relations were plagued by bad luck right from the beginning,” he once said. “If we had gotten publicity with the oath of the Elbe, there would have been a certain depth in the feelings.”


The Story of the Elbe River Linkage You May Not Have Heard About

Brigadier General Kevin Ryan (US Army retired), director of the Defense and Intelligence Projects at the Belfer Center, participated in the opening of a memorial dedicated to the meeting of American and Soviet Armies at the river Elbe in 1945. The dedication took place in Moscow (11 Sivtsev Vrazhek - Old Arbat area) on Monday, April 25, 2016. In this article, General Ryan, who founded The Elbe Group of retired military and intelligence officers from the U.S. and Russia, describes the background to the memorial.

On Monday, 25 April 2016, a memorial will be dedicated to the meeting of American and Soviet Armies at the river Elbe in 1945. The memorial is based on an iconic photo of the Elbe meeting. American and Soviet soldiers stepping toward each other on the bridge over the river. This photo was taken on April 26th, the day after the first meeting of American and Soviet forces. It became a symbol of the meeting and was the basis for a similar monument in Washington DC. But there is another photo of this meeting.

This other photo was taken by US Army Private Paul Staub at the moment of the meeting on April 25th. In Private Staub’s photo we see that when the American and Soviet patrols got to Torgau they found the bridge over the Elbe destroyed by the German troops. The bridge was a twisted mass of steel and wood, half submerged in the Elbe River, which was swollen with spring rains. Staub took the picture as LT Bill Robertson and Sergeant Frank Huff climbed out on the broken bridge to meet Sergeant Nikolai Andreev over the middle of the river. It was a risky thing for all of them to do. They could have easily slipped and fallen into the river below. They likely would have drowned among the twisted steel and water.

LT Robertson and his three soldiers were not even supposed to be in Torgau that day. They had been assigned to go look for prisoners of war and make sure they got back to safety. In fact, Robertson had been ordered not to go the Elbe River. He was supposed to go no further than a few kilometers from his headquarters – nowhere near Torgau. But Robertson was what we in the US Army call a “cowboy:” someone who wanted to be where the action was. There were two other patrols that day who also met with Russian soldiers along the Elbe. But Robertson’s patrol got its report back to headquarters first.

When Robertson’s Division Commander, General Rheinhardt, heard that Robertson had gone to the Elbe River, he decided to court martial him. But the Army Commander, General Bradley, was pleased with the link up and General Rheinhardt changed his mind. Making the link up with the Soviet forces was very risky for Robertson and his men. First, LT Silvashko and his men thought the Americans might be Germans, so they fired at them from across the river. Robertson was almost shot. Eventually Robertson found a Russian-speaking prisoner in the town who helped signal to Silvashko that they were Americans. Then they had to climb out on the damaged bridge. But those brave men, Americans and Russians, made the effort and linked up.

For the next 70 years, the US-Russian relationship has been like that day in Torgau: sometimes shooting at each other, sometimes taking the risk to climb out on a broken bridge and link up.

This is what we must do today: try to make contact between the US and Russia, even when the bridge between us is down.

Seventy years ago, our fathers and grandfathers fought together against a common enemy. That war killed millions and destroyed nations. Russia knows the cost better than most having lost over 27 million people, more than any other nation. In the wartime poem, Vasiliy Terkin, the hero, Terkin, tried to explain to his comrades how terrible war can be.

Today we not only need brave lads like Terkin who are ready to defend our nations, but we also need brave leaders who will climb out on broken bridges in order to avoid shooting at each other. I know that the lads exist. I hope that the leaders do too.

This article was also published April 24, 2016 in Russian inKomsomolskaya Pravda.


Meeting of U.S. and Soviet Forces on the Elbe River - HISTORY

Near the town of Toragau, on the Elbe river today stand a small plaque reading “[H]ere the forces of the first Ukrainian Front linked with American forces”. For the Allies, it was the culmination of joint efforts that began with the Normandy landings in 1944, opening a second front against Hitler. With the Americans and British driving from the West, and the Soviet army from the East, their meeting represented a complete encirclement of Germany, another nail in the coffin of the Third Reich.

On this day, April 25, in 1945, forward elements of the First Ukrainian Front, the same one that would lead the drive on Berlin weeks later, met up with an American patrol led by Lt. Albert Kotzebue, who was on reconnaissance at a nearby village.

Kotzebue was decided to take the initiative and advance further than he was ordered, to link up with the main Soviet force. Flying the British Union Jack that they liberated from a group of released British POWs, Kotzebue jumped on a boat across the river. The historic encounter, commemorated in the plaque at Torgau came from a meeting right in the middle of the Elbe, as Kotzebue and a Soviet soldier embraced, under the twisted wreckage of a former bridge over the river.


The Historic Meeting on Elbe River

April 25, 1945, is a date few remember. But it was a significant day in the history of the world. On this day, American troops sweeping in from the west and the Red Army advancing from the east joined forces on the Elbe river, near Torgau, about 100 km south of Berlin. They shook hands, exchanged souvenirs and posed for photographs. The meeting was historic because it meant that they had successfully cut the Germany army in two.

For years, the Soviet troops had been pushing back the Nazis all along the Eastern Front. On June 6, 1944, American and British troops opened a second front in Europe with the invasion in Normandy and began liberating Europe from the clutches of Hitler from the West. They eventually met on April 25, 1945, on the town of Torgau on the banks of the Elbe in northwestern Saxony. The war in Europe was eventually coming to an end.

American troops had arrived on the Elbe several weeks before the Soviets. But since the Allied command had abandoned plans to attack the German capital, the Americans didn’t cross the river and waited for the Soviet troops. By the end of April 1945, the Red Army had the German capital encircled on all sides, allowing the 58th Guards Rifle Division of the Russian Army to slip past Germany’s tattered defenses and head west towards Torgau where the 69th division of the US Army was waiting for the union.

On April 25, First Lieutenant Albert Kotzebue of the 3rd Battalion, 273rd Infantry, 69th Infantry Division took his men in a boat across the Elbe to be greeted by Lt Col Alexander Gardiev, Commander of the 175th Rifle Regiment of the 58th Guards Division, 34th Corps. The next day, the unit commanders met for the official handshake in front of photographers.

That evening, Soviet, American, and British governments released statements reaffirming the determination of the three Allied powers to complete the destruction of the Third Reich.

“We meet in true and victorious comradeship and with inflexible resolve to fulfil our purpose and our duty. Let all march forward upon the foe,” British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill said.

American President Harry S. Truman welcomed the news: “This is not the hour of final victory in Europe, but the hour draws near, the hour for which all the American people, all the British people and all the Soviet people have toiled and prayed so long.”

Joseph Stalin spoke of the war still ahead: "Our task and our duty are to complete the destruction of the enemy to force him to lay down his arms and surrender unconditionally. The Red Army will fulfil to the end this task and this duty to our people and to all freedom-loving peoples.”

Meanwhile the jubilation among the troops would have made you believe that the war was already won. The soldiers embraced each other, and exchanged buttons, stars and patches from each other’s uniforms. Officers exchanged their service weapons.

After the war, as relations between the former allies soured and descended into Cold War, Elbe Day became a powerful symbol of unity between the East and the West, reminding people that even the fiercest enemies are capable of peace and friendship.

In 1988, the first monument to the meeting on the Elbe was dedicated by a plaque mounted on the spot in Torgau where the meeting took place. There is also a plaque in Arlington Cemetery in Washington commemorating the “Spirit of the Elbe”, and each year on April 25, military bands play the national anthems of Russia and the United States.

A staged photo commemorating the meeting of the Soviet and American armies. On the left is 2nd Lt. William Robertson (U.S. Army) and on the right is Lt. Alexander Silvashko (Red Army).

William Robertson and Alexander Silvashko meet several years after the war ended.

Elbe Day memorial plaque at Arlington National Cemetery. Photo: Reinhard Dietrich/Wikimedia Commons

Soviet monument commemorating the meeting of US and Soviet troops in Torgau. Photo: Jungpionier/Wikimedia Commons


Contents

    - Major (later Colonel) Kuzmin, Soviet military commander
  • Konstantin Nassonov - Maslov, a member of the military council - Sergeant Egorkin - journalist Janet Sherwood, an American agent
  • Mikhail Nazvanov - Gen. James Hill - Sergeant Harry Perebeynoga
  • Vladimir Vladislav - General McDermot - Mrs. McDermot
  • Andrei Petrov - Soviet officer - Nazi Schrank, hiding under the name of anti-fascist Krause
  • Yuri Yurovsky - Professor Otto Dietrich - Kurt Dietrich - Captain Tommy
  • Sergey Tsenin - Senator Woody
  • Viktor Kulakov - Ernst Shmetau - Elsa Shmetau
  • Nikolai Nikitich - Schultz - female German with a bicycle
  • Harijs Avens - American
  • Eugene Kaluga - General at the Embassy (uncredited)

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The Real Lessons from the Meeting on the Elbe

In celebration of the 70th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany and on the eve of the anniversary of the meeting of Soviet and American troops on the Elbe, the Carnegie Moscow Center organized a conference held April 23, 2015 in Moscow to discuss the experience of Russian-American alliance during the Second World War, as well as the experience of cooperation and rivalry after the end of the Cold War. The Elbe meeting took place on April 25, 1945.

Brigadier General (ret.) Kevin Ryan, director of the Belfer Center's Defense and Intelligence Projects and founder of The Elbe Group, spoke at the conference about the significance of the Elbe anniversary to U.S.-Russian relations today. He delivered his comments in Russian. Following is the English translation of his remarks.

There is an iconic photo from the meeting on the Elbe. It is a picture of American Lieutenant William Robertson and Soviet Lieutenant Alexander Silvashko with their arms around each other, smiling, in front of their national flags. The picture of Robertson and Silvashko was taken on April 26 th , the day after the meeting. It is a picture that has come to symbolize the meeting on the Elbe. But that picture is not my favorite picture of the meeting on the Elbe.

My favorite picture is one taken by American Private Paul Staub on 25 April – a picture of the meeting as it was actually happening. In Staub’s photo we see that when the American and Soviet patrols got to Torgau they found the bridge over the Elbe destroyed. The bridge was a twisted mass of steel, half submerged in the Elbe River, which was swollen with spring rains. Staub took the picture as LT Bill Robertson and Sergeant Frank Huff climbed out on the broken bridge to meet Sergeant Nikolai Andreev over the middle of the river. It was a risky thing for all of them to do. They could have easily slipped and fallen into the river and drowned.

LT Robertson and his three soldiers were not even supposed to be in Torgau that day. They had been assigned to go look for prisoners of war and make sure they got back to safety. In fact, Robertson had been ordered not to go the Elbe River. He was supposed to go no further than a few kilometers from his headquarters – no where near Torgau. But Robertson was what we in the US Army call a “cowboy:” someone who wanted to be where the action was. There were two other patrols that day who also met with Russian soldiers along the Elbe. But Robertson’s patrol got its report back to headquarters first.

When Robertson’s Division Commander, General Rheinhardt, heard that Robertson had gone to the Elbe River, he decided to court martial him. But the Army Commander, General Bradley, was pleased with the link up and General Rheinhardt changed his mind. Making the link up with the Soviet forces was very risky for Robertson and his men. First, LT Silvashko and his men thought the Americans might be Germans, so they fired at them from across the river. Robertson was almost shot. Eventually Robertson found a Russian-speaking prisoner in the town who helped signal to Silvashko that they were Americans. Then they had to climb out on the damaged bridge. But those brave men, Americans and Russians, made the effort and linked up.

For the next 70 years, the US-Russian relationship has been like that day in Torgau: sometimes shooting at each other, sometimes taking the risk to climb out on a broken bridge and link up.

That is what the Elbe Group does today – try to keep communications open between the US and Russia even when the bridges between us are damaged. The Elbe Group consists of retired US and Russian generals from the military and intelligence services. Our purpose is to maintain an open channel of communication between our two sides and to discuss the most sensitive issues between us. It is not our purpose to always agree and, we often do not agree. Our meetings are not secret. We meet in third countries because some of us cannot get visas to each other’s country. So we have met in places like Istanbul, Morocco, and Portugal. This past March we met in Torgau Germany.

We speak openly and frankly and respectfully to each other. It is a respect that has been built up over 5 years of meetings. At our meeting in Torgau we discussed Ukraine and Crimea. We also discussed NATO operations in the Baltic States and Eastern Europe. We talked about common threats to the US and Russia, such as extremism and cyber and nuclear terrorism.

Regarding nuclear terrorism and extremism, both sides agreed that the US and Russia need to work together to combat these threats. We also agreed that the threat from cyber terrorism and cyber criminals is a rapidly growing problem that requires a joint international response.

But regarding Ukraine and Crimea, we did not agree on much. The Russian side insisted that Russia was right in annexing Crimea and is right in supporting the Russian speaking separatists in Ukraine. The Russian side believes that the US is behind the instability in Ukraine and the Middle East and hopes to remain the world’s sole super power by creating crises around the world.

Regarding NATO in Eastern Europe, the US side invited the commander of NATO Ground Forces, LTG Nicholson, to brief the US and Russian sides on what NATO is doing. His briefing, however, did not convince the Russians that NATO actions are not a threat. They still believe that NATO troop and missile defense deployments in the Baltic States and Eastern Europe are a threat to Russian security.

The Americans of course had a completely different view of these situations. The US side insisted that Russia illegally invaded and took Crimea from Ukraine. The US side believes that Russian support to separatists in Ukraine is the reason the country is in crisis – not because of US actions. The US side was amazed that their Russian colleagues thought that America had orchestrated the Arab Spring, since the Americans themselves were just as surprised by what happened there. With regard to NATO, the Americans were adamant in their commitment to protect the Baltic States against any threat similar to what has happened in Ukraine.

What the two sides did agree on was that the risk of an accident along the Baltic border has become significant. As military men, we recognized that having so many aircraft, warships, and troops in the region will eventually lead to an accident – some clash of forces or shoot down of an airplane or ramming of a ship. To prevent such an accident from escalating into combat, we recommended that our defense leaders create a channel of communication for operational commanders to quickly talk and establish the facts of any accident between our forces.

Seventy years ago, our fathers and grandfathers fought together against a common enemy. That war killed millions and destroyed nations. Russia knows the cost better than most having lost over 27 million people, more than any other nation. In the wartime poem, "Vasiliy Terkin," the hero, Terkin, tried to explain to his comrades how terrible war can be. Terkin asked, “Что такое сабантуй? Сабантуй бывает разный.” ("What is a Sabantuy? Sabantuy's are all different.") Terkin, I think, would say that what has happened in Crimea – “Это малый сабантуй.” ("That's a small Sabantuy.") About Ukraine he would probably say – “Это средний сабантуй.” ("That's a medium Sabantuy.") But about what could happen in the Baltics and elsewhere in Europe – “Это главный сабантуй.” ("That's a major Sabantuy.")

Today we not only need brave lads like Terkin who are ready to defend our nations, but we also need brave leaders who will climb out on broken bridges in order to avoid shooting at each other. I know that the lads exist. I hope that the leaders do too.


Front to Front : Soviet-American Book Retells Elbe Meeting That Spelled End for Nazis

A Russian-history scholar living in Ventura and a counterpart in the Soviet Union are jointly publishing the reminiscences of U.S. and Soviet soldiers who met at the Elbe River in 1945, effectively marking the end of World War II in Europe.

The effort is one of the first U.S.-Soviet publishing ventures and was spurred by agreements struck in the last meeting between President Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

The Russian-language edition of the book, “Yanks Meet Reds,” is to be unveiled at a Moscow ceremony next week that Gorbachev may attend, said the editor, Mark C. Scott.

Scott describes the anthology as the first complete account of the event that signaled the fall of Nazi Germany and the end of the European phase of the war.

The book recounts the events of April 25, 1945, when American GIs marching east defied the orders of their superiors and sought out westbound Russian troops at the Elbe River in what today is East Germany. The encounter was proof that the Nazi forces had been squeezed into submission by two fronts of advancing Allies.

On the foggy spring day when lilacs bloomed outside the Soviet-liberated town of Torgau, men whose nations would spend the next four decades estranged by a Cold War dropped their arms and embraced in victory.

Russian Red Cross nurses danced with U.S. soldiers and decorated them with lilacs. Over cognac, vodka and grain alcohol, the Allies toasted to peace. In New York, a newspaper headline blared “Yanks Meet Reds.” In a coincidence that struck a note of optimism around the world, charter papers for the United Nations were signed in San Francisco.

“It was a day when military protocol became one big party,” said Scott, who edited 25 U.S. entries and translated 21 Russian entries assembled by the Soviet War Veterans Committee.

A Russian version has been published by Moscow’s Novosti Press in anticipation of Reagan’s Moscow visit from May 29 to June 2, Scott said. The English version is to be released in August by Santa Barbara-based Capra Press, which plans an initial release of 5,000 books.

Capra owner Noel Young said the book reflects the spirit of glasnost , the new policy of Soviet openness. “Everyone is throwing their arms around each other again,” he said.

An advance copy even inspired a Boston folk singer to write a ballad, “At the Elbe,” which will be released on an album this fall.

“For my entire life,” songwriter Fred Small said, “the Soviets have been the devil. To read about this moment in the sun was such a wonderful contradiction to this mistrust.”

That’s how the story struck Scott, a former professor of Russian at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He became interested in the historic event while organizing a track meet between Soviet and Kansas runners in 1983.

Since then, Scott struck up friendships with numerous U.S. veterans of the Elbe crossing, and even organized a reunion of U.S. and Soviet Elbe veterans at Disneyland last month. He was and continues to be impressed by the “enormous reserves of good will” that the celebration at the Elbe symbolized.

Yet the meeting at the river could have ended differently. The Soviets and the Americans had been uneasy Allies at best, and U.S. officers were not at all convinced that they wouldn’t end up clashing.

“Once the troops got to the river, they were supposed to stop, and the generals would arrange a meeting among themselves,” Scott said. “But the Americans said, ‘to hell with this,’ and went straight across the river. It was like something from Huckleberry Finn.”

Some of those recounting the time for Scott were journalists such as Studs Terkel and Andy Rooney--who covered the Elbe crossing for the military newspaper “Stars and Stripes"--and Ann Stringer, the United Press correspondent who first reported the story.

But most were ordinary folks--an insurance salesman, a retired physician, a homemaker, a liquor distributor. Many entries were scrawled in pencil, Scott said. Most required heavy editing. In fact, one history passed eight times between the editor and its author. But for the contributors, some of whom chronicled many other wartime experiences, the work was a labor of love.

“No one asked for money,” said Scott, who received support from several patrons. “I couldn’t have afforded to do it that way. They all understood.”

For some, such as Bill Shank, remuneration came in the form of overdue attention.

Now a 78-year-old retired insurance agent living in Portland, Ore., Shank attempted to link up with the Russians on that April 25 but failed when he and a corporal fell into the hands of the SS. In the end, they said they persuaded their captors and 350 Germans to surrender peaceably. But at home, Shank’s tale fell on deaf ears.

“I never did get through a war story. I never did get clear through one,” Shank lamented. “You’d get five minutes into it, and someone would say, ‘Oh, by the way, did you know that while you were gone, Harriet had a baby, or Mary and Joe got married?’ ”

The event’s most celebrated participant was Joe Polowsky, a Chicago cabdriver who celebrated every April 25 atop Chicago’s Michigan Avenue Bridge, inviting passers-by to join him in an oath to end war. The book is dedicated to Polowsky, who was buried in Torgau in 1983.

Scott hopes the book will demonstrate the common interests shared by the superpowers. And Soviet Embassy officials, with whom Scott has been in touch daily for the two years he has worked on the book, apparently agree. They ferried correspondence between Novosti and Scott in a diplomatic pouch, which bypasses conventional mail routes, and speeded up the publishing date for the Soviet version by four months to coincide with Reagan’s visit.

Yet despite the cooperation, differences surfaced.

Soviet editors, for instance, axed a U.S. soldier’s Christmas recollections--for its religious overtones, Scott suspects. Another U.S. tale won’t appear in the Russian version but for a different reason.

Scott said Russian editors had “taste problems” with a story about how a U.S. soldier and a Soviet soldier met in the Reich Chancellery after the fall of Berlin. In what the American soldier wryly observed was “the first Berlin act of Soviet-American relations in which there had been absolute agreement on what was the right and appropriate thing to do,” they urinated together on the marble-topped desk from which Adolf Hitler had commanded his army.

The Russian entries also steer clear of criticism, Scott said, adding that “World War II soldiers are considered saints.”

Yet in two chapters, Soviet women complain bitterly about being sent to the front lines as Red Cross nurses. And two Soviet actors are responsible for what may be the book’s most charming entry. Engaged by a choir to perform for American troops at the Elbe, they spent days rehearsing “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” with a choirmaster who urged them to make “this song sound as if it were fine lacework woven by human voices.”

No sooner did the singers open their mouths than they were drowned out by their American audience.

“The chorus was so powerful,” the actors observed, “that we may have lifted the ceiling with the sound of our triumphant voices.”


Elbe Day: A handshake that made history

Elbe Day, April 25, 1945, is the day Soviet and American troops met at the Elbe River, near Torgau in Germany, marking an important step toward the end of World War II in Europe. This contact between the Soviets, advancing from the East, and the Americans, advancing from the West, meant that the two powers had effectively cut Germany in two.

For years, Soviet troops had been inching slowly westward, pushing Nazi troops back all along the Eastern Front. On June 6, 1944, D-Day, American and British troops opened a second front in Europe and began fighting the Nazis on the ground from the West.

Finally, on April 25, 1945, Soviet and American troops cut through the Wehrmacht divisions and met in the middle of Germany near the town of Torgau, 85 miles from Berlin, on the Elbe River. The allied forces had effectively cut Germany in two.

That Soviet and American troops would meet in this general area was known, and signals had even been worked out between the allied leaders at Yalta to indicate to the troops on either side that they were friendly. But the actual meeting itself was decided by fate. The moment, which came to be known as the Meeting on the Elbe, portended the end of the war in Europe, which came less than two short weeks later, when the Red Army stormed Berlin.

Lt. Bill Robertson of the 273th Regiment of the 69th Infantry Division, driving on the morning of April 25 into the town of Torgau, knew that he might encounter Soviet troops, and knew he should greet them as friends and allies – Gen. Courtney Hodges, Commander of the First U.S. Army, had told his men to “Treat them nicely.” But Robertson was not prepared to carry out the protocol that U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had worked out several months before in Yalta.

The first American soldiers to make contact were to fire a green-colored star shell – the Soviets, a red one. Robertson and the three men in his patrol decided the best way to show they were Americans was to present an American flag. As they didn’t have a flag, they found a white sheet and painted it as best they could to look like the stars-and-stripes.

Soviet Lt. Alexander Sylvashko was skeptical at first that Robertson and his men were Americans. He thought the four men waving a colored sheet were Germans playing a trick on the Soviet troops. He fired a red star shell, but did not receive a green one in return.

Sylvashko sent one of his soldiers, a man named Andreev, to meet Robertson, in the center of a bridge crossing the Elbe. The two men awkwardly embraced and made the hand signal of “V for Victory.”

The following day, a huge ceremony was held on the spot with dozens of soldiers from both sides. They swore an oath, in memory of those who had not made it so far:

“In the name of those who have fallen on the battlefields, those who have left this life and in the name of their descendants, the way to war must be blocked!”

On this partially destroyed bridge over the Elbe, the Soviet and American soldiers built a new one, between countries — a bridge of friendship.

That day, the soldiers met as comrades-in-arms, embraced each other, and exchanged buttons, stars and patches from each other’s uniforms. Later, this exchange of “souvenirs” was carried out at the highest levels. Officers exchanged their service weapons.

Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev presented U.S. General Omar Bradley with his war horse, a magnificent Don stallion Bradley presented Konev with the Legion of Merit – and also gave him a jeep. Marshal Georgy Zhukov, the top Soviet general, awarded Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower the highest honor of the Soviet Union, the Order of Victory. Eisenhower gave Zhukov the Legion of Honor.

Eisenhower, who loved Coca-Cola, shared a drink with Zhukov. The Soviet commander liked it so much a special version of Coca-Cola, White Coke, was made for him. The drink was colorless so that it would look like Zhukov was drinking vodka.

This exchange of culture and customs was indicative of the spirit of the Meeting on the Elbe.

In 1988, a book called Yankees Meet the Reds came out in both English and Russian, commemorating the meeting on the Elbe River. In it American Lieutenant Colonel Buck Kotzebue made an interesting observation: “I think that all soldiers definitely have something in common. They understand the meaning of war. And if we could let them choose, there would be no war. Yes, you can doubt the spirit of Elbe. You can say that these are just dreams about the impossible. But I think that it is necessary to dream about the impossible. Only then will it become possible.”

Also in 1988, the first monument to the Meeting on the Elbe was dedicated – a plaque was mounted on the spot in Torgau where the meeting took place.

A memorial in Arlington Cemetery in Washington also commemorates the spirit of Elbe. It is a bronze plaque, immortalizing the historic handshake between Soviet and American soldiers with an optimistic sign reading: “The spirit of Elbe lives on and conquers.” Wreath laying ceremonies take place at the cemetery each year on April 25 with military bands playing the national anthems of Russia and the United States.

With time, the memory of that powerful moment on the Elbe has faded, but it is necessary to preserve the recollections of that profound meeting.

In Moscow, the Spirit of the Elbe organization in partnership with the Veteran’s Union, carries out educational activities and conferences dedicated to the anniversary of the allies’ meeting.

The 1949 film “Meeting on Elbe” is still popular in Russia.

It begins with the “Song of Peace,” composed by Dmitri Shostakovich. The film ends with the words of the two protagonists, a Soviet and an American: “The friendship between the people of Russia and America is the most important issue that mankind now faces.” With Shostakovich’s soulful music playing in the background, these words still have a significant impact, especially today.


Watch the video: Jens Söring. Saß 33 Jahre in US-Gefängnis und beteuert bis heute seine Unschuld. SWR1 Leute (January 2022).