- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Last year the World War II Memorial was dedicated in Washington. Speaking at its opening ceremony President Bush acknowledged a long-standing debt to the generation of those who saved the liberty of mankind.

Now it is that time of the year again when people bow their heads before heroes who fell in the battlefields, before Holocaust victims who perished in Nazi crematoriums and gas chambers and those who died from starvation and disease in the most inhumane war that left 50 million dead.

This year of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II will see a variety of commemorative events culminating in the May 9 celebrations in Moscow to be attended by leaders and veterans from many countries.

Russia and the United States also share an anniversary of their own. On April 25, together with Russian and American veterans, we will come to the Arlington National Cemetery to lay our wreaths to the Spirit of the Elbe Memorial. It will be 60 years on that day since the Soviet and U.S. armies met on the Elbe River in Germany.

The famous picture of Russian and American soldiers shaking hands across the broken bridge is alive and vivid in front of our eyes. During that historic linkup the two groups of soldiers shared bread and drank toasts of vodka and bourbon to the victory and Russian-American friendship. They also swore an oath for peace, which they carried with them throughout their lives.

With each passing day there are fewer and fewer of those who belonged to that heroic generation. We pay tribute to American soldiers who fearlessly fought side by side with Soviet troops against our common enemy. We mourn with the family of one of them, Joseph Beyrle, who died last December. He will be remembered as a true war hero who personified Russian-American camaraderie in arms. After being taken prisoner by Nazis at the battle of Normandy he managed to escape from his captors and found his way to a Soviet Army unit. He ended the war fighting as a crewman in a Russian tank until he was wounded.

Mr. Beyrle’s legacy and that handshake on the Elbe River are powerful reminders of the immortal victory of the courageous men and women of the Allied armies. Russian soldiers entered Berlin 60 years ago together with our allies who helped bring Victory Day closer. We will never forget this. But the fact of history is that the fate of the world during World War II was decided on the battlefields of the Great Patriotic War — that is how Russians, and other peoples who defended our common land know this war.

That in no way means that we divide victory into yours and ours. It only means that we will never forget that the Soviet Union paid the highest price for that victory — 27 million lives. Such a terrible toll gives us a moral obligation not to let the memory of that great sacrifice fade into obscurity.

Unfortunately, as the anniversary draws near, we see a surge in attempts to rewrite the history of World War II, to downplay the role of our country in the defeat of Nazism. Six decades after the war, veterans of Waffen SS of different nationalities are marching under their banners, their wartime “feats” glorified as an effort of national liberation. Some history books put in the same category victims and executioners. How can one find a silver lining in Nazi atrocities, such as cold-blooded killings of six million Jews? How can one equate Nazi collaborators stained with blood of Russian soldiers and innocent civilians with veterans of the Red Army? Trying to shift focus from Nazi crimes elsewhere is simply unacceptable in a civilized world.

To encourage such dishonest interpretations of the lessons of World War II is a betrayal of the living veterans and the memory of those who paid the ultimate price for our common victory.

Both our countries should recommit themselves to keeping the spirit of the Elbe alive. The memory of our wartime alliance call on us to build such a relationship between our nations that would make us true allies, as we were during the war. If we succeed, that would be the most desired reward to the generation of World War II. The great victory over the forces of evil in that war needs our protection from those who want to disparage its historic significance and to cast doubt on the victors.

We should not allow that victory to be taken away from those Russian and American heroes who shed blood for the freedom of their countries and the world. This is our debt to the Greatest Generation.

Yuri Ushakov is ambassador of the Russian Federation.

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