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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.
The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a socialist state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Tashkent, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometres (6,200 mi) east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometres (4,500 mi) north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.
The Elbe is one of the major rivers of Central Europe. It rises in the Krkonoše Mountains of the northern Czech Republic before traversing much of Bohemia, then Germany and flowing into the North Sea at Cuxhaven, 110 km (68 mi) northwest of Hamburg. Its total length is 1,094 kilometres (680 mi).
Torgau is a town on the banks of the Elbe in northwestern Saxony, Germany. It is the capital of the district Nordsachsen.
Elbe Day has never been an official holiday in any country, but in the years after 1945 the memory of this friendly encounter gained new significance in the context of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
The Cold War was a period of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union with its satellite states, and the United States with its allies after World War II. The historiography of the conflict began between 1946 and 1947. The Cold War began to de-escalate after the Revolutions of 1989. The collapse of the USSR in 1991 was the end of the Cold War. The term "cold" is used because there was no large-scale fighting directly between the two sides, but they each supported major regional conflicts known as proxy wars. The conflict split the temporary wartime alliance against Nazi Germany and its allies, leaving the USSR and the US as two superpowers with profound economic and political differences.
The first contact between American and Soviet patrols occurred near Strehla, after First Lieutenant Albert Kotzebue, an American soldier, crossed the River Elbe in a boat with three men of an intelligence and reconnaissance platoon. On the east bank they met forward elements of a Soviet Guards rifle regiment of the First Ukrainian Front, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Gardiev. The same day, another patrol under Second Lieutenant William Robertson with Frank Huff, James McDonnell and Paul Staub met a Soviet patrol commanded by Lieutenant Alexander Silvashko on the destroyed Elbe bridge of Torgau.
Strehla is a small town in the district of Meißen, Saxony, Germany. It is located on the river Elbe, north of Riesa. This place name means arrow in Sorbian. Strehla includes the following subdivisions:
A lieutenant is the junior most commissioned officer in the armed forces, fire services, police and other organizations of many nations.
On April 26, the commanders of the 69th Infantry Division of the First Army and the 58th Guards Rifle Division of the 5th Guards Army met at Torgau, southwest of Berlin. Arrangements were made for the formal "Handshake of Torgau" between Robertson and Silvashko in front of photographers the following day, April 27.
The 69th Infantry Division, nicknamed the "fighting 69th," was a Division of the United States Army formed during World War II. It is distinct from the 69th Infantry Regiment.
Berlin is the capital and largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3,748,148 (2018) inhabitants make it the second most populous city proper of the European Union after London. The city is one of Germany's 16 federal states. It is surrounded by the state of Brandenburg, and contiguous with its capital, Potsdam. The two cities are at the center of the Berlin-Brandenburg capital region, which is, with about six million inhabitants and an area of more than 30,000 km², Germany's third-largest metropolitan region after the Rhine-Ruhr and Rhine-Main regions.
The Soviet, American, and British governments released simultaneous statements that evening in London, Moscow, and Washington, reaffirming the determination of the three Allied powers to complete the destruction of the Third Reich.
London is the capital of and largest city in England and the United Kingdom, with the largest municipal population in the European Union. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.
Moscow is the capital and most populous city of Russia, with 13.2 million residents within the city limits, 17 million within the urban area and 20 million within the metropolitan area. Moscow is one of Russia's federal cities.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington or D.C., is the capital of the United States. Founded after the American Revolution as the seat of government of the newly independent country, Washington was named after George Washington, the first president of the United States and a Founding Father. As the seat of the United States federal government and several international organizations, Washington is an important world political capital. The city, located on the Potomac River bordering Maryland and Virginia, is one of the most visited cities in the world, with more than 20 million tourists annually.
Monuments at Torgau, Lorenzkirch, and Bad Liebenwerda commemorate the first encounters between U.S. and Soviet troops on Elbe Day. In the United States, a "Spirit of the Elbe" plaque at Arlington National Cemetery commemorates the day.
Bad Liebenwerda is a spa town in the Elbe-Elster district, in southwestern Brandenburg, Germany. It is situated on the river Schwarze Elster, 57 km northwest of Dresden, and 28 km east of Torgau.
Arlington National Cemetery is a United States military cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., in whose 624 acres (253 ha) the dead of the nation's conflicts have been buried, beginning with the Civil War, as well as reinterred dead from earlier wars. The United States Department of the Army, a component of the United States Department of Defense (DoD), controls the cemetery.
In 1949 the Soviet film studio Mosfilm commemorated Elbe Day in the black-and-white film Encounter at the Elbe .
During the Cold War the meeting of the two armies was often recalled as a symbol of peace and friendship between the people of the two antagonistic superpowers. For example, in 1961 the popular Russian song "Do the Russians Want War?" evoked the memory of American and Soviet soldiers embracing at the Elbe River.
Joseph Polowsky, an American soldier who met Soviet troops on Elbe Day, was deeply affected by the experience and devoted much of his life to opposing war. He commemorated Elbe Day each year in his hometown of Chicago and unsuccessfully petitioned the United Nations to make April 25 a "World Day of Peace." His remains are buried in a cemetery in Torgau.
American singer-songwriter Fred Small commemorated Joseph Polowsky and Elbe Day in his song "At The Elbe".
In 1988 a plaque titled "Der Geist der Elbe" ("Spirit of the Elbe") was mounted on a stone near Torgau at the site of the encounter between troops of the U.S. 69th Infantry and the Soviet Guards.
In 1995 the Russian Federation issued a three-ruble coin commemorating the 50th anniversary of Elbe Day.
By 2010, the 65th anniversary of the event, Elbe Day events in Torgau were held annually on the weekend closest to April 25, attracting tourists to the city.Also in 2010, the U.S. and Russian presidents for the first time issued a joint statement on April 25 commemorating Elbe Day and the "spirit of the Elbe".
The meeting at the Elbe is represented in the war strategy game R.U.S.E. , released in 2010 and 2011 and based loosely on World War II events.
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The Battle of Berlin, designated the Berlin Strategic Offensive Operation by the Soviet Union, and also known as the Fall of Berlin, was one of the last major offensives of the European theatre of World War II.
Ivan Stepanovich Konev was a Soviet military commander who led Red Army forces on the Eastern Front during World War II, retook much of Eastern Europe from occupation by the Axis Powers, and helped in the capture of Germany's capital, Berlin.
Slavín is a memorial monument and military cemetery in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. It is the burial ground of thousands of Soviet Army soldiers who fell during World War II while taking over the city in April 1945 from the occupying German Wehrmacht units and the remaining Slovak troops who supported the clero-fascist Tiso government. It is situated on a hill amidst a rich villa quarter of the capital and embassy residences close to the centre of Bratislava.
The Battle of the Oder–Neisse is the German name for the initial (operational) phase of one of the last two strategic offensives conducted by the Red Army in the Campaign in Central Europe during World War II. Its initial breakthrough phase was fought over four days, from 16 April until 19 April 1945, within the larger context of the Battle of Berlin. The Soviet military planners divide the frontal and pincer phases of the operation, named Berlin Strategic Offensive Operation into:
The 89th Infantry Rifle Division, or the Tamanyan Division, was a distinguished division in the Soviet Red Army during the Second World War. The division was primarily remembered for its second formation, composed primarily of ethnic Armenians and fought in numerous battles during the war.
The Western Allied invasion of Germany was coordinated by the Western Allies during the final months of hostilities in the European theatre of World War II. In preparation for the Allied invasion of Germany, a series of offensive operations were designed to seize and capture the east and west bank of the Rhine River. Operation Veritable and Operation Grenade in February 1945, and Operation Lumberjack and Operation Undertone in March 1945. The Allied invasion of Germany started with the Western Allies crossing the Rhine River on 22 March 1945 before fanning out and overrunning all of western Germany from the Baltic in the north to the Alpine passes in the south, where they linked up with troops of the U.S. Fifth Army in Italy. Combined with the capture of Berchtesgaden, any hope of Nazi leadership continuing to wage war from a so-called National Redoubt or escape through the Alps was crushed, shortly followed by unconditional German surrender on 8 May 1945. This is known as the "Central Europe campaign" in United States military histories.
The Line of Contact marked the farthest advance of Canadian, American, British and Soviet Armies into German controlled territory at the End of World War II in Europe.
The Bronze Soldier is the informal name of a controversial Soviet World War II war memorial in Tallinn, Estonia, built at the site of several war graves, which were relocated to the nearby Tallinn Military Cemetery in 2007. It was originally named "Monument to the Liberators of Tallinn", was later titled to its current official name "Monument to the Fallen in the Second World War", and is sometimes called Alyosha, or Tõnismäe monument after its old location. The memorial was unveiled on 22 September 1947, three years after the Red Army reached Tallinn on 22 September 1944 during World War II.
The Battle of Hamburg was one of the last battles of World War II, where the remaining troops of the German 1st Parachute Army fought the British VIII Corps for the control of Hamburg, between 18 April and 3 May 1945. British troops were met with fierce resistance inside the city as Hamburg was the last significant remaining pocket of resistance in the north. Once the British had captured the city, they continued their advance north-east and sealed off the remnants of the 1st Parachute Army and Army Group Northwest in the Jutland peninsula.
Zeithain is a municipality in the district of Meißen, in Saxony, Germany.
Givenchy-lès-la-Bassée is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Hauts-de-France region of France.
Encounter at the Elbe is a Soviet movie released in 1949 from Mosfilm, describing the conflict, spying, and collaboration between the Soviet Army advancing from the east and the U.S. Army advancing from the west. The two allied forces met each other for the first time on the River Elbe near the close of the Second World War. This meeting occurred on April 25, 1945, which was usually remembered as “Elbe Day” in Western Bloc nations and as the "Encounter at the Elbe” in Eastern Bloc nations.
Joseph (Joe) Polowsky (1916–1983) was an American soldier who with others met Soviet troops on the banks of Elbe River on April 25, 1945 and later became an anti-war activist.
Events in the year 1945 in Germany.
The 5th Guards Army was a Soviet Guards formation which fought in many critical actions during World War II under the command of General Aleksey Semenovich Zhadov. The 5th Guards Army was formed in spring 1943 from the 66th Army in recognition of that army's actions during the Battle of Stalingrad. The 5th Guards Army fought in the Battle of Kursk, Belgorod-Khar'kov Offensive Operation, Battle of the Dnieper, Uman–Botoșani Offensive, Lvov–Sandomierz Offensive, Vistula–Oder Offensive, Berlin Offensive, and the Prague Offensive. During the Berlin Offensive elements of the army linked up with American troops at Torgau on the Elbe. Postwar, the army was disbanded as part of the Central Group of Forces.
Stalag IV-D was a German World War II prisoner-of-war camp located in the town of Torgau, Saxony, about 50 km (31 mi) north-east of Leipzig.
Aleksey Semenovich Zhadov, born with the surname "Zhidov", was a Soviet military officer in the Red Army, who during World War II commanded the 66th Army, later renamed the 5th Guards Army, from the Battle of Stalingrad up till the end of the war. For his leadership of the army, Zhadov was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union. Postwar, Zhadov commanded the Central Group of Forces and was deputy commander of the Soviet Ground Forces.
Elbe-Elster Land, also called the Elbe-Elster region (Elbe-Elster-Gebiet) is a region around the tripoint of the German states of Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt and Saxony. It is part of the North German Plain and is named after the two major rivers that have their confluence here: the Elbe and the Black Elster.