The Führer’s Immolation: April 30, 1945
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In January 1945, the Russians began their last great offensive against the German lines in the east. On January 17, forces under the command of General Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov captured Warsaw and from there, over the next two weeks, pushed westward toward Brandenburg and Pomerania. By January 31, Zhukov’s forces were on the Oder River, only 40 miles from Berlin. Less than two weeks later, another Russian army under General Ivan Stepanovich Kunev reached Sommerfeld on the Elbe River, 80 miles from Berlin.
While his Red Army moved ever closer to capturing Berlin, Josif Stalin met with Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt at Yalta, a city on the Black Sea, to discuss the future of Europe after the war. Stalin had become indispensable to the Allied war effort. His army, numbering 12 million men, was three times larger than the army commanded by the American general, Dwight Eisenhower. With this army, Stalin kept 125 to 200 German divisions from fighting the Allies in the west. Churchill and Roosevelt needed Stalin, and he knew it. And because they needed him, Stalin also knew that they could not refuse to give him an important role in deciding the future of Europe.