Soviet Colonel-General Nikolai Berzarin commanded the 5th Shock Army during the Berlin campaign that lasted from 16 April until 2 May 1945. His military accomplishments included the capture of the Oder bridgehead at Küstrin (Kostrzyn), some 90 km east of Berlin. In Berlin, the soldiers were involved in the fighting around Hitler’s New Chancellery, the Brandenburger Gate and the Reichstag. Berzarin set up his headquarters in a former Wehrmacht officers’ mess in Berlin’s Karlshorst district. It was here that German Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel signed the document of unconditional surrender during the night of 8/9 May 1945.
Two weeks earlier, on 24 April 1945, while the battle for Berlin was still going on, Marshal Georgy Zhukov had appointed Berzarin as the first city commandant of Berlin. He immediately began to put together the military administration and to establish German administrative structures. He also worked to ensure that the economic, political and cultural life of the badly destroyed city could get moving again.
At the same time, Berzarin tried to stem the tide of violence that accompanied the entry of Soviet troops into the city. Many Soviet soldiers were thirsting for revenge, and many German women were raped. Many died, some of them by suicide.
Nikolai Berzarin died on 16 June 1945 in a motorcycle accident, on his way to the city commandant’s headquarters. Near the headquarters, he was unable to stop in time to avoid a convoy of lorries, and ran into one of them. He was dead on the spot.