The Seelow Heights Memorial is a solemn tribute to the ferocious Battle of Berlin during the Second World War, where more than one million men clashed at the opening phase. Perched some 90 kilometers east of the city, this historic site played a pivotal role in shaping the war’s course. As the Soviet forces clashed with the Nazi defenders, the Seelow Heights became a formidable obstacle.
Today, this memorial offers visitors a chance to reflect upon the sacrifices made during the battle. So, let’s explore the significance of Seelow Heights and the monument that bears witness to the battle that clinched the city’s fate.
We have been discussing visiting this place since we read the book Berlin: The Downfall 1945 by Antony Beevor. We got even more interested in it after we visited the Russian German Museum in Berlin and saw some pictures of the Seelow Heights Memorial for the first time. But…
We only managed to visit this place in the winter of 2022. We took a while to get there, but it was worth the wait.
The Battle of Berlin and the Seelow Heights
In April 1945, the Soviet Union’s forces reached the ‘Gates of Berlin’ after years of brutal warfare. The Battle of Berlin, the largest confrontation between Axis and Allied forces on German soil, unfolded in just 17 days.
The opening stage of this intense battle centered around Seelow Heights, a strategic location situated to the east of the city, just after the Oder River. The Soviet plan to conquer Berlin swiftly encountered unexpected challenges as the heights proved formidable.
Strategically, the German forces chose to defend the Oder-Neisse frontline, situated further east along the rivers. Holding the line here was crucial to prevent the Soviet advance and secure Berlin. The Seelow Heights, part of the defensive line, became the focal point of the battle. Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov’s 1st Belorussian Front spearheaded the attack, aiming to push past the heights and swiftly reach Berlin with his million-strong Red Army.
A Brief Look at the Battle at the Seelow Heights
The battle commenced on April 16th, 1945, with a massive artillery barrage and the relentless assault of the Soviet forces. We remembered reading about it in the Russian German Museum, where the population of Berlin could see the horizon turning red due to all the explosions. However, the defensive fortifications and challenging terrain, including a swampy floodplain, slowed the Soviet advance. Using high-powered anti-aircraft searchlights to illuminate the heights backfired, making the troops more vulnerable.
Despite heavy casualties and setbacks, the Soviet troops persevered. By April 19th, they finally broke through Seelow Heights, but only after paying a heavy price. The battle left a gap in the German defensive line, paving the way for the final assault on Berlin.
The Seelow Heights Soviet Memorial
Today, the Seelow Heights Memorial is a reminder of the sacrifices made during the Battle of Berlin. The memorial complex includes a museum and military cemetery, serving as a place of remembrance for the thousands who lost their lives in this pivotal battle.
At the heart of the memorial stands a statue designed by artist Lev Kerbel, known for his work at the Soviet Memorial in Treptower Park, Berlin.
Surrounding the graves and military equipment are artifacts, such as a Katyusha rocket delivery platform and artillery pieces, showcasing the remnants of the battle. We read somewhere that the katyusha was called Stalin’s organ because of how the launchers looked and the sound of the weapon’s rocket motors. This distinctive howling sound terrified the Nazi-German troops. If the Nazis feared it, we loved it.
The Seelow Heights Memorial is an earnest reminder of the price paid to defeat Hitlerism and the importance of cherishing peace.
Visitors can reflect on the sacrifices made during one of the most consequential battles of World War II at this historic site.
The museum inside the memorial offers a permanent exhibition, providing insights into the battle’s historical significance. It sheds light on East German history and the battle’s role in shaping the country’s political and ideological identity.
The museum was closed when we went there since we took our cameras to the area on a Monday, but we will be back there soon to see it in the Summer. Let’s hope it doesn’t take that much time!
Exploring the Seelow Heights Memorial: The Battle for the ‘Gates of Berlin’
Gedenkstätte/Museum Seelower Höhen
Küstriner Str. 28, 15306 Seelow