There is No Reason it Cannot Happen Again
[Below is a speech given by Joseph Wolff, the son of Joseph Polowsky, an American GI from Chicago during World War II who was involved in the famous Elbe River link-up at the end of the war and became a lifelong peace activist, to commemorate the 78th anniversary of the Elbe River link-up.—Editors]
Good morning, good afternoon and good evening, depending on where you are in the world. My name is Joseph Wolff and my father was peace activist Joseph Polowsky and I’m here to mark the 78th anniversary of Elbe Day, which was the date at the close of World War II, or the Great Patriotic War as it’s known in Russia, when the Russian Red Army and the American Army linked forces and brought the final curtain down on the scourge of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime.
This is without a doubt one of the most important events in the previous 80 years. It was a joyous moment in time when, for an all too brief instant, the United States of America and the Soviet Union were actually allies in the world.
Now at this moment we’re in a very different situation. Undoubtedly, tensions are at there highest level since at least the early 1980s when, on September 26, 1983, roughly three weeks prior to my father’s passing, a malfunctioning early warning system nearly caused the Soviet Union to mistakenly launch a full-scale nuclear attack on the United States.
Only the wise actions of the overnight duty officer in the nuclear bunker outside Moscow, Stanislav Petrov, averted a calamity of truly epic catastrophic proportions. And bear in mind that, just several weeks prior, a Soviet fighter jet accidentally shot down south Korean Airlines [flight] 007, killing all 269 people aboard. This was certainly a time on par with the Cuban Missile Crisis of mid to late October of 1962.
Tensions were boiling over then as they are now. So what exactly is the way forward from the current situation the Russian Federation and the USA finds ourselves in? I think our ancestors hold the answer.
My father, to his very last breath, always, ALWAYS felt that there was simply no reason that our two great and proud nations couldn’t live on the same planet in peace and harmony. He saw first-hand that we both shared the common human spirit of love for one another and love for peace.
After all, nobody wants to live in a world that’s constantly on the brink of a mutually assured nuclear holocaust. He and his Russian and American comrades saw the evil of humanity in their fight against the Nazis, but they also saw the kindness and altruism of humanity as well in liberating and freeing those brutalized and subjugated by the Nazi regime.
In this moment in time, when we’re again on the precipice and on the brink of civilization-ending catastrophe, we must again look to the momentous events of April 25, 1945, and not just in Strehla, Germany, on the banks of the Elbe, but in San Francisco, California, where, on the very same April 25, 1945, delegates of 50 nations met for the United Nations Conference on International Organization.
To me, the mere fact of the United Nations’ existence, where all 193 member-states have a forum for diplomacy and collaboration and dialogue is proof that humanity, whatever our vast differences across the world, shares the same basic needs; and paramount to those needs, as much as food and water, is the need for safety and security; the need for the peoples of the world to live together and coexist on the same planet in peace.
As I stated last year, we’re all of one race, the human race; we’re all brothers and sisters. We desperately, desperately need to come together in this moment. One needn’t be an expert in international relations or geopolitics to see that humanity is heading right back down the disastrous road it took in the 1930s. We MUST resist the temptation to take that road to calamity yet again.
I can almost hear our forebearers and ancestors shouting loudly to turn around before it’s too late. In the context of how to proceed, I think the American President Abraham Lincoln got it exactly right. To quote him, he said, “the best way to destroy an enemy is to make him your friend.”
In my opinion, Presidents Zelensky, Biden, Putin, Xi and all the rest of the leaders in the world can and should and, dare I say it, MUST look to the events of Elbe Day as their guidepost. We’ve all heard the phrase “those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.” Unfortunately, at this moment in time, humanity is on a pathway to ruin. But it’s not too late to turn back. Conflict and war between the great powers is not inevitable. There’s still time for humanity to save itself from itself.
We have a large amount of challenges that need to be overcome, challenges such as climate change and global pandemics. Challenges that scream out for cooperation and collaboration, and particularly by the largest and most powerful nations, in particular the Russian Federation and the United States of America. It is within our grasp and control to work together for the benefit of the entire planet, and indeed, we must do so. With great power comes great responsibility.
So with that sentiment in mind, I hereby personally pledge to do everything in my power to encourage mutual respect and understanding—to do my utmost to understand and respect fully the perspective of the other side—and I’m imploring you to do so as well. Especially to the children in the audience, you’re the future! Take this extremely seriously and take the time to learn about your ancestors’ struggles, their sacrifices and their enormous triumphs!
And I’m urging you not to take the world for granted, because if wrong decisions are made by our leaders, this world can literally turn to ash and vanish in an instant!
Make peace for our societies your personal mission in life too!!
I humbly thank you for taking the time to listen to my remarks today, and I know we shall overcome our troubles, we will persevere, peace has no choice but to persevere because the alternative is simply unfathomable. Thank you, and God bless you!
[Below is a report on May 9 Victory Day, which is celebrated in Russia to commemorate Russia’s victory over the Nazis—Editors]
97-year old Elbe River Veteran Says “We Can Do This Again”
Russia’s Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov charged that the Biden Administration used threats to prevent U.S. World War II veterans from attending Moscow’s Victory parade on May 9 commemorating the Russian victory over the Nazis. Antonov said in a statement that the veterans were threatened with the revocation of their passports, so they couldn’t fly to Russia and take part in the celebration of the 78th anniversary of the Great Victory.
One of the veterans, 97-year-old Col. Frank Cohn (ret.) had eleven relatives die in the Holocaust and was one of the U.S. soldiers who was part of the historic meeting with their Soviet allies at the Elbe River at Torgau, Germany on April 25, 1945.
An army intelligence officer whose family escaped Breslau, Germany in 1938 after the passage of the Nuremberg laws persecuting Jews, Cohn told Sputnik in an interview from the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., that the U.S. and Russia have to remember that they were allies during World War II and can restore their historic partnership again.
“While it is probably a false hope, I am an optimist, and I hang onto the time when things looked bright for all of us—back in May 1945. Yes, there was terrible devastation all around us, but the spirit was correct. We were going to go forward and repair the world, we were allies, we were friends,” Cohn said.
Cohn noted further that it is his obligation to remind people about those times when the U.S. and Russia, along with the UK and France, were on the same side and fought Nazism.
“Now, I go and participate to bring back that moment. It is not an easy thing to do at my age, but I must do it as long as I can, because someone young might catch that simmering glow of a short-lived peaceful world surrounded with friendship, and in remembrance, perhaps years far in the future, say with the political power that he or she might have attained: ‘We can do this again!’”
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About the Author
Joseph Wolff was born in Chicago Illinois in March of 1982 and is the son of Joseph Powlowsky who participated in the Elbe River linkup between U.S. and Soviet troops at the end of World War II.
Wolff obtained a BA degree in television post-production at Columbia college, where he graduated magna cum laude and has lived and worked in Los Angeles and Chicago where he currently resides.
Joseph can be reached at email@example.com.