I’d like to thank the Carnegie Moscow Center and Dmitri Trenin for inviting me here today to help open this important conference. For many years, Carnegie has helped our two countries better understand each other. Today, more than ever, better understanding remains a crucial goal.
This week, as you all know, marks the 70th anniversary of the historic meeting of American and Soviet forces at the town of Torgau on the Elbe River. That meeting had little military significance, but tremendous symbolic importance. Its legacy has endured for seven decades.
Even though the political and economic systems of the United States and the Soviet Union were worlds apart during the Second World War, we were still able to cooperate in those years to achieve a greater good – the defeat of Nazi Germany. And, even though our relations later chilled during the Cold War, Moscow and Washington were able to avoid a direct conflict during a half-century of geopolitical tension.
As we face tensions today on several issues, it’s valuable to discuss the legacy of Torgau and the Allied victory over Nazi Germany. In America, we have not forgotten that legacy: in the White House’s Map Room is a “war situation map” that was prepared for President Franklin Roosevelt on April 3, 1945 – nine days before his death, and a mere three weeks before Torgau.
It was a tragedy that “FDR” himself did not live to celebrate the Torgau meeting – or the ultimate Allied victory over the Nazis two weeks later. But “V-E Day,” as we Americans call it, lives on in the memories of many of us whose fathers or grandfathers fought valiantly in World War II.
Both my father and my father-in-law fought on the European front. My dad served in the Army Air Forces in North Africa and Italy. My wife’s father served in France in the wake of the Allied “D-Day” invasion of Normandy. They were part of what we call “the Greatest Generation,” and their experiences in the war changed their lives – and the lives of their families – forever. One of my proudest possessions is my father’s Army hat from the Second World War.
My wife Mariella and I honor the memory of our fathers and their bravery in the war. And, having served as Ambassador in Russia and in three former Soviet states, I am acutely aware of – and I have deep respect for – the tremendous sacrifices made by the Russian people and by others in the region during the Great Patriotic War.
Former Ambassador Beyrle, who is taking part in this conference, knows as much as any American about the sacrifices of the Soviet people – because his father, Joseph, was one of the few soldiers who fought for both the American Army and the Red Army. He was a true hero for all of us.
And so were the soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 69th Infantry Division and the Soviet 58th Guards Rifle Division who met at the Elbe in April 1945 and enjoyed what some called the “Spirit of Torgau.” They shared souvenir dollars and rubles, compared rations, and toasted one another with “liberated” beer.
One of our Embassy’s distinguished former military attaches, retired Gen. Greg Govan, wrote recently of the Torgau soldiers: “They reached across a broken bridge over a dangerous river to clasp hands in joy at survival and success in a common cause … The spirit of Torgau is a reminder … of mutual hopes in the midst of grim realities.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I hope that today’s discussions reflect on that spirit of April and May 1945, on the history of U.S.-Russian relations since Torgau, and on prospects for future cooperation in areas of mutual interest.