A WWII veteran who spent much of his life crusading for peace will be granted his dying wish: to be buried in Torgau near the Elbe River in East Germany where he and other American soldiers of the 69th Infantry Division first met advancing Soviet troops.
Joseph P. Polowsky, who died of cancer Oct. 17, 1983 at the age of 67, will be buried near the site where he and other members of the 69th Infantry Division met Soviet soldiers on April 25, 1945, a day that marked the end of resistance by Nazi Germany. Joe was a member of the Kotzebue Patrol made up of men from Co G and other Units of the 2nd Battalion, 273rd Infantry Regiment, one of three Patrols to meet the Russians that day.
It was that experience that led Mr. Polowsky on a crusade for peaceful relations between the United States and the Soviet Union.
The retired cab driver had said he wanted to be buried near the Elbe, but little money was available. Mr. Polowsky had spent most of his own money for mailings from his Veterans for Peace organization. An attempt to raise $10,000 for burial was launched but fell short.
But Le Roy Wolins, a longtime friend, volunteered to underwrite the costs. Mr. Wolins, a 54-year-old
book salesman in Pullman, MI is vice commander of the Veterans for Peace.
Historian Carolyn Woods Eisenberg began her history of the Cold War, Drawiing the Line, about twenty-seven year old Private Joseph Polowsky coming away from the meeting of the two forces with a sense of the limitless possibilities peace offered a war torn world. He spent the remainder of his life during the Cold War trying to recapture that joyful experience of humankind at peace. Polowsky the old man died as he lived---believing in possibilities. Three Americans and three Russian veterans carried his coffin to its final resting by the banks of the Elbe. In life, Joseph Polowsky was merely one of millions who fought in World War II. in death, this "average Joe," lost his anonymity. The New York Times gave Joe's funeral front page space. After a lifetime effort to rekindle the spirit of the Elbe, Joe achieved in death what he never felt he did in life, his message was heard.
Scene at Joseph Polowsky's grave in 1985 during the 40th Anniversary celebration of the East Meets West Link-up, Torgau, Germany. Shown are Joe Polowsky's wife and son Ted preparing to lay a wreath on his grave. Next to Ted is Barbara Yastrzemski wife of Chet, a member of Company E 272nd Infantry Regiment, 69th Infantry Division.Polowsky was from Company G 273rd Infantry Regiment, 69th Infantry Division, and a member of Albert L. Kotzebue's Patrol, the first patrol to actually meet the Russians, April 25, 1945.
Some think that Joe Polowsky was a willing propaganda pawn of the Soviet Union and of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), one of the divided states of Germany which existed from 1949 until 1990 and under Soviet domnation.
These think he may have had Communist leanings
Others believe he was a true peace activist and went to his grave a faithful American citizen hoping for world peace.
Visitors paying homage during Elbefest 2007 at Torgau grave site by the Elbe
69er's veteran Joe Polowsky honoured by a new German rose variety
The idea of dedicating a new rose variety to Joe Polowsky came from Down By the Riverside Committee about one year before the 90th birthday of the Chicago peace activist and well known member of the Kotzebue patrol. We thought: Joe should be honoured by naming a new German rose for him!
But, as the time was very short, the Committee had to overcome a lot of difficulties locating a rose specialist to give one of his new breedings the name of Joe because usually it takes several years for introducing new names. Finally, our committee was successful. We found Ewald Scholle in Lüdinghausen, a famous German breeder of shrub roses. And, we obtained the funds from the mayor of one of the towns in the Link-Up region to purchase the rights for the new rose. Then, we to had find a special nursery somewhere in Germany which could do rose grafting and cultivation over the winter period. This was necessary to save one year for getting blooming container roses at least for the name giving celebration!
This event was not planned in Strehla or Torgau, but at a different place which first played some role at the 60th Anniversary of the Link-Up. It was only after 1995, that the village of Burxdorf, near Bad Liebenwerda, in the present federal state of Brandenburg, proved to be the site of many famous photos of Russian army photographer Ustinov, and not Kreinitz, as it was previously reported. The most famous Polowsky photo in Germany was made in front of the house of the Russian regimental headquarters in the village of Burxdorf, near the town of Bad Liebenwerda, which meanwhile is very proud of having a common share within the Link-Up event, together with Strehla and Torgau . When LeRoy Wolins came to Torgau on occasion of the 50th Anniversary, some hundreds of T-Shirts with the famous Burxdorf picture were packed in his luggage. At that time, he did not know, himself, where the photos with the Russians and members of Kotzebue patrol had been taken. Even in GDR propaganda on occasion of 40th Anniversary, the Burxdorf photo had played a great role but nobody from Burxdorf came and said, " This is our village!"
Therefore, in the future, the Link-Up history will not only be represented by the former two "corner pillars", Strehla and Torgau, Burxdorf, a part of the town of Bad Liebenwerda, will also have a share in the event.
This might explain why the mayor of Bad Liebenwerda, the Honourable Thomas Richter, did not only personally provide for the funds to get the rights for the new Polowsky peace rose, but also invited Torgau's mayor, the Honourable Andrea Staude, to take part in the rose naming event. Together, with her, he unveiled a new stele with three inscriptions, STREHLA - BURXDORF - TORGAU, which is in the centre of a rose bed with varieties from Russia, USA and Germany. Young students from the Bad Liebenwerda "Elsterschloß Gymnasium" together with local nursery specialist, Roland Graeff, planted the Joe Polowsky Rose around the stele.
The main and second part of the rose planting event was in front of the former Russian regimental headquarter building in Burxdorf where the historic photos were taken. The young village Mayor of Burxdorf, Mrs. Mattauch, and Down By the Riverside Committee initiator, Günter Schöne, from Torgau, unveiled together a bronze plate in three languages which reminds of the historic role of Burxdorf in the Elbe Link-Up. Officials from Bad Liebenwerda, the local Mayor of Burxdorf, and the Down By the Riverside Committee are seeing the chances for peace tourism by establishing a local peace museum with Polowsky and other documents of the Link -Up history, and to use the large village greens for establishing peace rose gardens with varieties from Russia, USA and Germany.
Any support of funds from members of the 69th Infantry Division would be most welcome! If the 69ers could stimulate their children, grandchildren and later generations, there are good chances for peace bus tours combining the sites of Strehla-Kreinitz-Burxdorf-Torgau and former camps at Mühlberg. It would be really great if the 69th Infantry Division could inform us about potential contact partners to prepare such travel tours together with the local Mayors and their tourist offices.
Down By the Riverside Committee
"Torgauer Zeitung" already last year announced the project of dedicating a new German rose to 69ers veteran Joe Polowsky.The picture shows the entrance of Dorfstr. number 49 at Burxdorf, where in l945 the famous historic jeep picture was taken by Soviet war photographer Ustinov.
Unveiling the memorial stele by the Honourable Mayor of Bad Liebenwerda Thomas Richter together with the Honourable Mayor of Torgau Andrea Staude in June 2007. The stele has inscriptions with the names of the three main Link-Up places Strehla-Burxdorf-Torgau.
In his speech mayor Thomas Richter refers to Joe Polowsky and his famous text about the Oath at the Elbe.
Young students from Bad Liebenwerda "Elsterschloß-Gymnasium " are assisting local nursery specialist Roland Graeff in planting the new Joe Polowsky Peace Rose in a bed with varieties from Russia, USA and Germany. There are plans for an international rose garden in the future.
Unveiling a bronze plate with inscriptions in three languages in front of the historic village building by local Mayor Mrs. Mattauch and Down By the Riverside Committee initiator Günter Schöne
Speech by the village church pastor. He stands under a lime tree planted after the war . The place must have been the position of the jeep 62 years before with the photo of Kotzebues patrol men inclusive Joe Polowsky and Russians from the local headquarters which was in the neighbour building of today's Dorfstreet number 49.
In his speech Rose project initiator Günter Schöne of Down By the Riverside Committee mentioned the introduction of the famous French rose variety PEACE in l945 and expressed the hope that the new German Joe Polowsky Rose could support the idea of peace when being planted in today's conflict regions as former Yugoslavia or the Middle East. There has been an invitation for mutual cooperation by former Jerusalem Mayor Olmert , now chief of the Israel government. The letter was brought to Torgau from Israel by the Ukrainian architect Professor Avraham Miletzki, who was the architect of the l945 Elbe-Link-Up Monument . Professor Miletzki had moved to Israel in l992.