On April 25, 1945, U.S. Army First Lieutenant Albert Kotzebue crossed the Elbe River southwest of Berlin near Torgau, Germany in a boat along with three intelligence and reconnaissance officers.
Once Kotzebue and his team landed on the east bank of the river, Soviet Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Gardiev along with forward elements of the Soviet Guard rifle regiment of the First Ukrainian Front came together; although this first contact went unreported for a few days as the two patrols continued on with their respective missions.
The same day, another American Army patrol under the command of Second Lieutenant William Robertson met up with a Soviet patrol commanded by Lieutenant Alexander Silvashko on the Elbe River bridge at Torgau, Germany, effectively cutting Germany in two.
The next day, April 26, 1945, commanders of the First U.S. Army’s 69th Infantry Division met up with the Soviet’s 58th Guards Rifle Division of the 5th Guards Army at Torgau, Germany.
The news media wanted a photo to celebrate the joining of forces and a major step towards ending World War II.
As a result on April 27, 1945, arrangements were made for a formal “Handshake” between William Robertson and Alexander Silvashko in front of photographers (photo shown at top of this article).
That evening, along with the “Handshake at Torgau” photo, the American, Soviet, and British governments released simultaneous statements reaffirming the determination of the three Allied powers to complete the destruction of Germany’s Third Reich.
After the war in 1949, a Soviet film called the Encounter at the Elbe depicted the Soviet Army advancing from the East and coming face to face with the American Army at Torgau.
Today, this important meeting is remembered as Elbe Day in the West.
Elbe Day has never been an official holiday, but in the years after World War II, the memory of this friendly encounter has gained new significance in the context of the Cold War and the current international conflict with Russia.
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