By JOSEPH OWEN
TORGAU, East Germany — When U.S. and Soviet troops first met each other in Torgau near the end of World War II, they were carrying machine guns.
Now local officials want the two armies to come back to the Saxon city carrying saxophones and clarinets.
The Torgau region has planned, a weeklong celebration to recall April 25, 1945, the day the U.S. 1st Army’s 69th Inf Div advanced eastward to the Elbe River and met the Soviets’ 1St Ukranian Army, thereby cutting Nazi Germany in two. The six-year European phase of history’s most destructive war ended 13 days later with Germany’s unconditional surrender.
Torgau, a city of 23,000, has asked the U.S. and Soviet forces to send Dixieland jazz bands to stage the pivotal event on the last day of the April 24-29 festival, a musical map meeting on the highway bridge that crosses the Elbe. Torgau County cultural director Rudiger Schmidt said the Soviet Forces Western Group already has agreed to participate, and several German bands will also play. A spokesman for the U.S. Army in Europe said American officials are considering the request.
The exact moment when the two armies met in 1945 is unknown; there are unconfirmed reports of contact as early as April 24. The April 25 “official” meeting included commanders’ greetings, a series of staged photographs and lot's of impromptu music and celebration. That big the so-called ‘Oath of Torgau,” a pledge by representatives of the two armies that a war like the one they were fighting must never occur again.
Schmidt said festival planners have invited American and Soviet soldiers who were present at the 1945 meeting to attend this year’s events. So far he has confirmation from 30 Soviets and 150 Americans, including soldiers’ family members.
“These war veterans have reached old age, and we want to show them that we understood this oath at the Elbe,” Schmidt said.
Other festival events include East-West German parties on April 27 and 28, featuring disc jockeys from Bonn and Torgau; an afternoon parade on April 29; and a series of films, lectures and seminars throughout the week.
Organizers also plan to place a peace memorial in the city cemetery at the grave of Joseph Polowsky, a U.S. soldier involved in the original U.S.-Soviet encounter. The Chicago native founded an organization that sponsored many international meetings of war veterans. In accordance with his will, Polowsky was buried in Torgau after he died in 1983. Members of his family plan to attend the festival.
Veterans' reunions have occurred in Torgau on past anniversaries U.S.-Soviet linkup, but they bore the strong imprint of the Communist government then ruling East Germany. In 1985, for example, authorities of the central government in East Berlin approved all events. The parliamentary president attended with a crowd of security personnel. And the government used the reunion for a propaganda thrust, contrasting the Oath of Torgau with U.S. Pershing II nuclear missile deployment, then under way in West Germany.
This time, Berlin has nothing to do with it.
“We’re really happy that we have the opportunity to organize something ourselves,” Schmidt said, adding that the recent mass emigration of younger residents has complicated things. “The labor pool is lacking (but) we’re putting a lot of effort into it."
Copyright © 1999-2002 USMLMA, Inc. All rights reserved