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The Red Army attacked Berlin with ruthless force

Posted in Communism, Famous battles, Famous landmarks, Geography, Historical articles, History, World War 2 on Friday, 31 January 2014

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This edited article about Berlin first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 535 published on 15 April 1972.

Russians attack Berlin,  picture, image, illustration

The Russian assault on Berlin towards the end of World War Two by Severino Baraldi

Day after day, night after night the battle raged, closer and closer to the heart of the great, war-torn city. It was the deadliest kind of fighting, from one ruined street to another, from one shattered house to the next, with always the danger of booby-traps, or of coming face to face with the enemy round the next corner.

By day the sky above the city was thick with clouds of dust and smoke, while at night it was stained a lurid blood-red by the hundreds of fires burning below. Still the defenders fought on, and as their numbers decreased, their resistance became even more desperate. There was fighting now not only on the ground but below it, in the tunnels of the underground railway, even in the sewers.

But the end was inevitable. After a final fierce struggle in the part of the city where the conquered country’s leader and his closest colleagues had taken refuge in a subterranean fortress, the defenders surrendered unconditionally. And not long after that the leader – the F√ºhrer, as he was known to his people – escaped from his enemies in the only way now left to him, by committing suicide.

This happened in the spring of the year 1945. The conquered country was Germany, the city was Berlin, and the man who committed suicide was Adolf Hitler, the hysterical dictator whose mad schemes for making Germany the greatest nation in the world had brought ruin to his country and death and untold suffering to millions of innocent people. The invaders, who came from the east and who reached Berlin before their allies could get there from the west, were the Russians. The fall of Berlin marked, for all practical purposes, the end of the Second World War in Europe.

Russia had been a latecomer to the war. When it broke out, in September 1939, following Germany’s unprovoked and bullying attack on Poland, she had stood aside. She had even signed an agreement with Germany not to interfere.

Russia didn’t do this out of friendliness towards Germany, but merely to keep herself out of trouble at least for the time being. However, her action caused much anti-Russian feeling in the countries that were fighting against Germany, notably Britain and France. This was so strong that, for a time, there was even a possibility that Britain and her allies would go to war with Russia too Luckily, this never happened.

It was the Germans themselves, and Adolf Hitler in particular, who brought Russia into the war by attacking her. They had two reasons for doing so. Firstly, they did not trust the Russians, seeing them as a threat to their eastern borders. If they could get rid of that threat, they would be able to concentrate all their forces on the war in the west. Secondly, with an arrogance typical of them at that time, they completely underestimated the Russians’ ability to withstand them.

The German attack on Russia was massive, and for a while it seemed that nothing could stop it. But then the very vastness of the country they were invading began to tell against them. As their lines of communication got longer and longer, the Germans became more and more vulnerable to Russian attack. The severe Russian winter was also a tremendous obstacle.

Still the Germans pressed on, but in the end the flood tide of men and arms with which Hitler had hoped to engulf Germany’s great neighbour to the eastward reached its furthest point without achieving its object. Then the tide turned: and, when it did, the Germans’ retreat in Russia was much more rapid than their advance had been.

Germany had invaded Russia in the summer of 1941, and the war on Russian soil lasted roughly two-and-a-half years. By the end of 1944, the last German had been driven back across the frontier between the two countries.

It was now Russia’s turn to invade Germany. The Russian forces thrust ahead, relentlessly, aiming for the German capital, Berlin. Resistance to them was fierce but disorganised. They carried out an enveloping movement until they were in control of all the roads and railways leading to the city, and when that happened, Berlin’s fate was sealed.

In the years since the end of the Second World War, a new Berlin has arisen from the ashes of the old: two Berlins, in fact, because the city has been split into two, just as has Germany herself. The eastern part, East Berlin, is Communist-controlled, and has become the capital of that part of the old Germany which is now known as the German Democratic Republic.

In Treptow Park, in East Berlin, an impressive memorial has been erected to the 5,000 Russian soldiers who died in the attack on Berlin. It consists of a monument with a forty-foot-high bronze figure of a Russian soldier on top. The soldier has a sword in his hand, lowered to show that the fighting is over, but that he is ready to use it again if need be. He stands looking out over a broken and trampled swastika – the “crooked cross” that was the symbol of Hitler’s Germany, and in his arms he holds a German child he has rescued during the battle for Berlin.

Some idea of the size of the monument as a whole may be gained from the fact that 80 sculptors and 200 stone-masons were employed in its construction. It stands on a mound beneath which 200 of the dead it commemorates have been laid to rest. The remainder lie under bronze laurel wreaths on the green lawns that surround the monument.

The approach to it is by way of a courtyard lined with silver firs, with, in the centre a stone sculpture of a mourning Russian mother. The entrance lies between two giant Russian flags of red marble, in front of each of which a bare-headed soldier kneels on a stone pedestal.

This entrance leads to a “grove of honour,” in which there are 16 stone coffins, one for each of the 16 republics which comprise the Russian complex of states which we know as the Soviet Union. Each of the coffins is carved with reliefs depicting scenes from Russia’s hard fight for victory.

It is easy to be cynical about this monument and what it stands for. It is easy to see Russia as having seized her chance in the Second World War to spread the Communist way of life by the creation of a new Russian-dominated state. But though Communism may be an alien creed to the countries of the West, at least these countries have been able to live side by side with Russia without open conflict for half a century now. This would never have been possible with Adolf Hitler’s Germany.

Nor would Hitler or the Germans who followed him so ardently ever have erected a monument showing a German soldier rescuing a foreign child. Such an action indicates a feeling for humanity and a sympathy for the weak and helpless which they simply did not understand.

With these considerations in mind, it is possible to say that the 5,000 Russian soldiers who lie beneath the memorial in that park in East Berlin did not die in vain.

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