The final battle for the conquer of Berlin was a massive operation carried out by the Soviet Red Army, who had come on the line of Oder river, marking today’s border between Germany and Poland, at the conclusion of the westward march on the territories of Eastern Europe previously taken over by the Third Reich.
Witnessing the dramatic lack of men and supplies on the German side, the final Soviet attack from that position was launched on April 16th, 1945, to end just less thank two weeks later with the death of Hitler, the conquer of Berlin, and soon after with the German capitulation in early May. In this short time, the Soviets penetrated and gained control of a significant part of what was to become the territory of East Germany, including the capital city of the Reich.
It is estimated that the troops amassed in the spring of 1945 for this operation exceeded 2.2 millions on the Soviet side, whereas the contingent available for the defense of the region on the German side was below 300 thousand men, including almost improvised corps of elders or extremely young people, lacking any military training and experience. As a matter of fact, the original German war machine had been drained of resources also due to the eastward advance of the Western Allies in Western Europe and Germany, where some millions German soldiers were taken prisoners. Actually, by April 1945 the line of the Western front had reached East to the towns of Leipzig, Dessau, Magdeburg and Wismar, very close to Berlin, and all later ceded to the Soviets according to the Jalta and Potsdam agreements.
The defense of Berlin from the Soviet attackers was strenuous though, and heavy losses were recorded on both sides.
One of the most visible remains of these war operations today is a a number of memorials and war cemeteries, of larger and smaller size, scattered over the territory around Berlin. The most conspicuous such memorials are those erected by the winning Soviet forces. Besides their primary role of remembrance, they were in most cases erected soon after the end of the war, then making for an interesting historical trace from that age, when Stalin was the undisputed ruler in the Soviet Union. Their style often reflects the mix of pomp and simplicity typical to the communist art from the time.
Memorials related to these events can be found in Berlin (see here and here) and around. Some to the north of the town have been described in this post. In the present one, three memorials related to the battle around Berlin and located east and south of the German capital are covered – Seelow, Lebus and Baruth.
Photographs were taken in 2021 and 2023.
The memorial in Seelow was designed and installed in 1945, soon after the end of the war in Europe, and was therefore one of the first of the kind. The location is that of the Battle of the Seelower Heights.
The small town of Seelow is located about 8 miles west of the Oder river, marking a natural border with Poland. The hills around the town dominate the flat country reaching to the river. Therefore, for the defending Wehrmacht, this was a natural obstacle between the Soviet invaders and Berlin. The hills were fortified heavily with guns and mortars, and the villages in the area were evacuated in anticipation of a major confrontation.
Fighting was started on the fateful April 16th, 1945, when a Soviet attack was triggered all along the line of the Oder, with a major focal point in the region of Küstrin and Seelow.
The battle went on for four days despite the clear imbalance of resources in favor of the Soviets, due to the advantageous geographical position of the heights around Seelow and the effectiveness of the German defense.
The memorial was erected around a simple statue of a Soviet soldier, put on top of a pinnacle, and portrayed beside the turret of a tank.
To the base of the pinnacle is a small Soviet cemetery, with some marked graves and some gravestones with multiple names, or dedicated to unknown soldiers perished in the battle.
From the cemetery, a good view of the plains extending to the east, where this fierce battle was fought in April 1945, can be observed from a vantage point. Purpose-designed maps allow to retrace the positions of the attackers and to pinpoint relevant locations.
To the base of the monument is a memorial museum. The exhibition is compact but very interesting. Two thematic areas are presented, one related to the historical reconstruction of the battle, the other to the history of the monument and the archaeology of the battlefield around Seelow.
Among the artifacts on display related to the history of the battle are German and Soviet uniforms, machine guns and rifles.
Interestingly, also mortar shells carrying leaflets are on display: these were employed by the Soviets, who launched propaganda leaflets inviting Germans to surrender, and even passes for the German military who wished to defect to the Soviets side. An armband of the ‘Deutscher Volkssturm Wehrmacht’, the non-professional corps recruited by the Third Reich in a desperate move to gather fresh units for the final defense of the German territory from invasion during the last stages of the war, is also on display.
The history of the monument is interesting as well, and shows how it evolved from being primarily a Soviet monument – like others in the area – to a public gathering place for official ceremonies in the German Democratic Republic – a place for the celebration of friendship between the USSR and the GDR. Historical pictures, and the addition of a poetic commemoration stone written in German only to the base of the monument, witness this evolution.
Outside the museum, a courtyard is framed by two original small obelisks with inscriptions in Russian and Soviet iconography. On the courtyard, some heavy armored vehicles – including a Katyusha rocket launcher – are on display.
Getting there and visiting
The monument has a special relevance in the history of the liberation of Germany, and has been modernized and updated over the years. It is still a rather relevant destination for visitors. A ticket is required for the museum only. A visit to the monument may take 20-30 minutes. A complete visit including the museum may require 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Access is very easy, since the location is immediately to the side of the road leaving Seelow for Küstrin (now Kostrzyn, Poland). The name of the site in German is ‘Gedenkstätte Seelower Höhen’, and the address is Küstriner Straße 28a, 15306 Seelow. A small parking can be found right ahead of the access, further parking options cross the street and near the railway station, 1 minute away by walk. A new modern building to the side of the monument hosts the ticket office and a small shop. Website with full information here.
The cemetery in Lebus, located on the German bank of the Oder river, about 10 miles southeast of Seelow (see above) was activated already in April 1945 for burying Soviet soldiers perished in the final war actions against Germany. Starting 1946, the status of Soviet cemeteries and monuments established on the territory of the Third Reich was officially defined. The Lebus site received Soviet staff perished in Germany after the war, or unrecognized fallen Soviet soldiers whose remains were found in the years soon after WWII on the East German territory.
Following an agreement between Russia and reunified Germany, extending the relationship formerly existing between the USSR and the GDR on the management of war memorials, the Lebus site became a Russian cemetery. It was refurbished in 2014-16, and at the time of writing it is still an active cemetery, often receiving the remains of Soviet soldiers moved from elsewhere, or still found in the area.
It is estimated that more than 5.000 from the USSR/Russia are buried in Lebus.
The memorial is not much visited by the general public, and is an authentic place of remembrance, sober and silent.
The architecture is rather simple, with a central perspective leading to an obelisk with a red star on top, a hammer and sickle emblem to the front, and inscriptions in Russian.
To the sides are two lateral wings, where the names of many fallen soldiers are inscribed on memorial stones.
To the sides of the perspective are an anti-tank cannon, and some more fields, marked with marble red stars as places of interment of unknown soldiers.
Also two further memorial walls with many names in Cyrillic alphabet are symmetrically placed to the sides of the perspective.
Getting there and visiting
The location of the Soviet cemetery in Lebus, now called officially ‘Russische Kriegsgräberstätte in Lebus’, is on Lindenstrasse, immediately after leaving Strasse d. Freiheit, Lebus. It is clearly marked by an indication sign, and recognizable by the external fence. Parking can be found 200 ft further north on Lindenstrasse, on the side of a local school.
The site is not mainly a touristic destination, but a real, well maintained (war) cemetery. It is apparently open 24/7 and not actively guarded. Visiting may take 20 minutes, or more for specifically interested subjects.
The Soviet war cemetery of Baruth was erected between 1946 and 1947 for the fallen soldiers of the Battle of Halbe. The battle was a last confrontation between the Soviet Red Army and the Wehrmacht, taking between April 24th to the first days of May 1945 – the very last battle out of Berlin.
The battle was fought around the village of Halbe, south of Berlin, between what remained of the German defense retreating from the bank of the Oder, and two large columns of the invading Soviet Army. The German forces got mostly surrounded in a salient. Losses were very heavy on both sides, of the order of the tens of thousands.
The war cemetery for Soviet soldiers, the final resting place for some thousands of fallen troops, is clearly visible when passing by, thanks to the two T-34 tanks put as gate guardians.
The architecture of the place is rather simple, and composed of a rectangular yard crossed by an alley, leading to a very tall obelisk. The obelisk features a big metal star on top, and a hammer and sickle metal emblem in the middle.
To the base of the obelisk are two bas-reliefs with war scenes.
A number of marked gravestones can be found on the greens around the obelisk. More recent – yet pretty old – additions, somewhat altering the original neat appearance of the ensemble, include a wall with applied gravestones and names inscribed on it.
Getting there and visiting
The Baruth war cemetery, named ‘Sowjetischer Ehrenfriedhof Baruth/Mark’ in German, can be found along the road 96 (Bundestrasse 96), about 1 mile north of the homonym town of Baruth. The monument can be clearly spotted on the eastern side of the road. A small parking can be found ahead of the entrance.
Due to the secluded and isolated location, the place is not a highly popular tourist destination, yet it is frequented by relatives and descendants of those interred on site. It is well cared for and perfectly maintained. It is apparently open 24/7.
A prototypical Soviet war cemetery from Stalin’s years, likely the largest in the region south Berlin, it is definitely worth a stop when visiting the area. A visit may take 20 minutes.
Notably, the place is located about 7 miles south of Wünsdorf (see this post), the former Soviet headquarters in the German Democratic Republic, which is crossed by the same road 96.