Sometimes, an event that potentially changed history, ends up getting little or no recognition. Thankfully, the picture that marked the event was taken, or the entire event might never have been noticed in history at all. This particular day is actually a very important day in the history of World War II, and therefore, the world. Elbe Day, which took place on April 25, 1945, is the day Soviet and American troops met at the Elbe River, near Torgau in Germany. This event marked an important step toward the end of World War II in Europe. If you have ever heard the saying, divide and conquer, you will know basically what happened on Elbe Day. A secret mission had been planned, and April 25, 1945, was the day it was carried out.

The plan was to have the Soviet army advance from the East, and the US Army advance from the West. The first contact between American and Soviet patrols occurred near Strehla exactly as planned, after First Lieutenant Albert Kotzebue, an American soldier, crossed the Elbe River in a boat with three men of an intelligence and reconnaissance platoon. Once they crossed to the east bank of the river, they met up with forward elements of a Soviet Guards rifle regiment of the First Ukrainian Front, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Gardiev. Later that 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. When the two armies connected at the Elbe River, the cutting of Germany in half is accomplished. In doing so, the strength of the German army was severely weakened. The German army was split in two, just like the country was, and in the end, that split made it impossible for the Germans to really fight the war they were engaged in. It was the beginning of the end for them.

Finally, on April 26, the commanders of the 69th Infantry Division of the First Army (United States) and the 58th Guards Rifle Division of the 5th Guards Army (Soviet Union) met at Torgau, southwest of Berlin. They knew that this moment was monumental, and it had to be documented. Arrangements were made for the formal “Handshake of Torgau” photo to be taken of Robertson and Silvashko the following day, April 27. 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.” They knew they must have victory at all costs.

The fact that Elbe Day has never been an official holiday in any country, has not stopped people from looking to the day as something very special, and in the years after 1945 the memory of this friendly encounter gained new significance in the context of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.

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