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The U.S.-Soviet “Hand Shake” at Torgau – 75th Anniversary: The Oath at the Elbe

April 28, 2020

Gravestone of Joseph Polowsky, of the 69th Infantry of the U.S. First Army, the unit that reached Torgau on April 25, 1945 as Soviet troops were entering Berlin to end the Nazi terror.


While a turn in U.S – Russian relations is not likely now, anytime that the world’s two largest nuclear weapons powers can find common ground is a moment worth celebrating. Climate Change, the danger of nuclear war and the COVID-19 pandemic… The triple whammy humanity is facing. Joseph Polowsky would have understood their connection.


Time for a pause in anti-Russian hysteria!

Hard as that is for both mainstream Democrats who have made a career on not forgiving Russia from pulling back from IMF structural adjustment programs that nearly led to the country’s post-Communist implosion, and for Republicans for whom anti-Russian hatred is simply a continuation of their anti-Sovietism in a new form.

April 25, 2020 marks the 75th Anniversary of the “Meeting at the Elbe“. Both Trump and Putin marked the occasions although I would venture to guess that the overwhelming majority of Americans never heard of it. A quick “Google” search suggests the mainstream media ignored the occasion. The Chinese press covered it; the White House issued a statement on it that went essentially un-noticed.

To its credit “” covered it, although the article was more about who was at the Moscow celebrations than the event’s historical significance. It was also mentioned in the right-wing Washington Times – too busy these days building its shrill anti-Chinese propaganda campaign to deflect attention for Donald Trump’s deplorable handling of the Coronavirus crisis to be concerned about Russia for the moment.

The best description/analysis I have seen of the Elbe meeting and both its current and past significance, was written, once again, by retired Indian diplomat, M.K. Bhadrakumar. It is entitled “Trump and Putin revisit the “Spirit of the Elbe” and appears at “Indian Punchline.” It’s a very good piece and I recommend friends read it.

I wrote about it too, about six months ago. “Long Ago and Far Away: Remembering the U.S-Soviet Embrace at Torgau on the Elbe.” For the past 35 years, the occasion – remembering Torgau – has been important personally.  I was there. April 25 1985 was the 40th anniversary of the “Meeting at the Elbe”… And for it the German Democratic Republic organized a grand international celebration… it included a major rally in Berlin and trips by the visiting international guests, of which I was one (representing the U.S. Peace Council in those days), to the Seelow Heights and to Torgau.

The Seelow Heights sits to the west of the Oder River in mid April of that year the Soviet military stormed those heights – it was not an easy offensive and eliminated the last Nazi defensive positions guarding Berlin, which they entered a few days later. I have seen read every thing I could get my hands on in English about the storming of the heights at Seelow.

Further south in Germany – units of the 69th Infantry Division of the U.S. First Army met with elements of the Soviet First Ukrainian Front in the southern German town of Torgau on the Elbe River. Among them was Joseph Polowsky ” Taft Republican who had served as a rifleman in the 273rd Infantry, Third Platoon, Sixty-ninth Division of the First U.S. Army, fighting the Nazis.” Polowsky, others from the American unit along with their Soviet counterparts, issued “The Oath of the Elbe” – a commitment on the part of soldiers from both countries to work for peace between their nations.

All through the Cold War, American and Soviet soldiers who shook hands at Torgau would – the rhetoric of their governments aside – meet in Torgau, commemorate that moment of U.S.-Soviet cooperation and re-commit themselves to detente and ending the nuclear arms race. On his request, Polowsky was buried in the cemetery at Torgau.

Soviets made a movie about it, the music for which was composed by the great Soviet composer, Dmitri Shostakovich; the U.S., in its Cold War rejection of U.S.-Soviet cooperation, purged the event from the American collective memory… kept alive only by those U.S. soldiers who had been there… and some peace and anti-nuclear activists.

There was at that time a moment of hope – soon swept away in large measure by the political stupidity of Harry Truman – a early post WW2 kind of Democratic Party version of Donald Trump (where it came to foreign policy where he was over his head and dependent upon hawks and megalomaniacs alike Dean Acheson).

While a turn in U.S – Russian relations is not likely now, anytime that the world’s two largest nuclear weapons powers can find common ground is a moment worth celebrating. Climate Change, the danger of nuclear war and the COVID-10 pandemic… The triple whammy humanity is facing. Joseph Polowsky would have understood their connection.


One Comment leave one →
  1. William Conklin permalink
    April 28, 2020 2:11 pm

    Great article, reminds me of my favorite villains from history. I think back about Pontius Pilate who is best known for killing Jesus. Imagine, the worst guy in history must be that dude. But wait a minute. Mr. Pontius did kill God’s son but he made a path for billions of Christians in the last two centuries to make it to the Big Guy’s Castle in the sky. When they get there, God scans their foreheads to make sure they don’t have Covid, we have to protect God.

    However, the biggest problem is that the Christians screwed up history and blamed the Jews for killing God’s son and came up with Antisemitism. Of course, the Jews didn’t kill God’s son, and even if they had, they should have been worshiped by the Christians for paving the way to paradise. What is it about God anyway, that he is so powerless, he lets a bunch of jews kill his son? After all, he is the same guy who conjured up Eve so Adam could quit watching porn.

    Now we fast forward to the 20th Century, the world is having a big war, busily killing each other in the name of the Lord. A psychopath by the name of Hitler with a scary mustache, , picks up on the Christian mythology and scares the shit out of the German Christians claiming that the Jews are out to eat their babies. The Germans get terrified and march 8 million of them off to the gas chambers.

    But the United States comes to the rescue, or so they think. It is really Russia that saved the Jews, and Stalin was the big-boy in Russia. Many people in America think he was the worst jerk in History. Now we come to the big story. Mr. Truman, the haberdasher, the accidental president, heard about the nuke and he and Big Boy murdered a hundred thousand Japanese with one blow. Of course, Stalin, had already declared war on Japan and Japan was beaten and ready to surrender but since the great Hat Man was in office, the Japanese Empire became part of the American Empire.

    The story isn’t over, Truman and Churchill who were both Antisemites decided they didn’t want to absorb the terrified jews were were left in Europe. So they got together with a bunch of lowlifes, called Zionists and helped them murder and displace hundreds and thousands of Palestinians to create modern Israel. The Americans started making nukes, and then murdered a couple of jews in New York who they claimed gave the secret to the Russians. The cold war started.

    I have a friend who is reading a 1000 page book about Truman, I got a copy and Truman saved me during the Covid crisis because I put it next to the toilet. I will always be able to wipe my bunn with memories of the worst jerk in history.

    Now what should we do to create peace and stop nuclear war. Stop messing with Russia. Rachel Maddow should go to the local liqueur store, buy six packs of Corona and throw them at Trump every evening. Leave Russia alone for Christ’s sake!

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