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Europe: Germans Mark 60th Anniversary Of U.S.-Soviet Elbe River Link Up

There are many World War II commemorative events taking place across Europe leading up to the official 9 May "Victory Day" celebrations in Moscow. In the German town of Torgau, residents have been celebrating the 60th anniversary of the historic link up of Soviet and American soldiers at the Elbe River. The official anniversary is tomorrow. But Germans already are marking the event by dressing in the uniforms of American and Soviet troops for an historic re-enactment.

Prague, 24 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- It will be 60 years ago tomorrow that U.S. and Soviet ground troops made an historic link up at the Elbe River in their battle against Nazi Germany.

A British news reel film at the time captured the significance of the event with these words: "On the banks of the Elbe River comes one of the most historic moments of the war -- the long-awaited linkup between the eastern and western allies, first established by radio. Both armies were converging on Torgau 60 miles south of Berlin. A rough and ready version of the 'Stars and Stripes' helped recognition. A hand shaken across the twisted girders of the bridge proclaims that General Konyev's First Ukrainian Army has made contact with the First Army of the United States."
Those historical handshakes -- with Soviet soldiers and Americans sharing bread and toasting with vodka and bourbon -- are still remembered by the residents of Torgau today.

Those historical handshakes -- with Soviet soldiers and Americans sharing bread and toasting with vodka and bourbon -- are still remembered by the residents of Torgau today.

Official celebrations of the anniversary tomorrow are expected to include Saxony's prime minister Georg Milbradt and the Russian ambassador in Germany, Vladimir Kotenev.

But ahead of the official anniversary, Torgau's citizens already have been marking the event. About 10,000 people turned out for a re-enactment of the event yesterday along Torgau's embankment. German residents recreated a U.S. military patrol using vintage vehicles and tracing the original route that the Americans took 60 years ago to arrive at the bridge Elbe River bridge.

Thomas Stoeber, an organizer of the re-enactment and editor of a local newspaper, said: "Ten years ago we organized a patrol like this with the original vehicles. We wanted to repeat this for the 60th anniversary in order to create a climax to the festivities."

Indeed, the weekend re-enactment also included scores of German residents who wore the World War Two uniforms of the American and Soviet troops.

Local resident Frank Patsch stood at the Elbe River bridge yesterday wearing the uniform of a U.S. medic. Like many of the German participants in the event, Patsch said he had his own reason for taking part in the re-enactment.

"My hometown is the place where the American troops set off [to meet the Soviets]. And they were the ones who actually met the Russians. Two patrols, not just one, started from my town -- which was the only place in this area that still had a bridge accessible for jeeps," said Patsch.

German spectators watching the convoy as it passed through Leipzig emphasized the importance of remembering the World War Two -- especially since their city has seen a rise in right-wing extremism since the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

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