These photographs capture the beautiful moments of American and Soviet troops meeting at the Elbe River, near Torgau in Germany, at the end of World War II in Europe.
Soviets advancing from the east and American advancing from the west had effectively divided Germany. During the Battle of Strehla, First Lieutenant Albert Kotzebue, an American soldier, crossed the River Elbe with three men from an intelligence and reconnaissance platoon and made contact with Soviet patrols. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Gordeyev led a Soviet Guards rifle regiment of the First Ukrainian Front on the east bank. Emil F. Reinhardt, commander of the 69th Infantry Division of the First Army, and Vladimir Rusakov, commander of the 58th Guards Rifle Division of the 5th Guards Army, met at Torgau, southwest of Berlin, on April 26. A Soviet patrol commanded by Lieutenant Alexander Silvashko met another patrol headed by Second Lieutenant William Robertson on the destroyed Elbe bridge of Torgau the same day. The following day, April 27, Robertson and Silvashko held the formal “Handshake of Torgau” in front of photographers.
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 fulfill to the end this task and this duty to our people and all freedom-loving peoples.”
Several monuments commemorating the Elbe link-up have been built in the years since, including those at Torgau, Lorenzkirch, and Bad Liebenwerda. There’s also a “Spirit of the Elbe” plaque at Arlington National Cemetery. During the Cold War, the link-up served as a reminder of peace and friendship between the US and the Soviet Union. One of the soldiers at the link-up petitioned the UN to make April 25 a “World Day of Peace,” though it was never officially declared. Later, Russia issued a coin commemorating the 50th anniversary. The US and Russian presidents issued a joint statement in 2010 to commemorate April 25 and the “spirit of the Elbe.”