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The Historic Meeting on Elbe River

Elbe Day

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.

Elbe Day

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.”

Elbe Day

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.

Elbe Day

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).

Elbe Day

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

Elbe Day

Elbe Day

Elbe Day

Elbe Day

Elbe Day

Elbe Day

Elbe Day

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

Elbe Day

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

References:
# Russia Beyond, https://www.rbth.com/history/330268-elbe-day-soviet-us-friendship
# Russia Beyond, https://www.rbth.com/arts/2015/04/25/elbe_day_a_handshake_that_made_history_45455.html
# Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elbe_Day
# BBC, http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/april/27/newsid_3563000/3563723.stm

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