Nikolai Erastovich Berzarin (Russian Николай Эрастович Берзарин) (April 1, 1904 – June 16, 1945) was a Soviet Red Army General during the Stalinist era and the Second World War. In 1945 he became commander of the Soviet occupying forces in Berlin.
Berzarin was born in St. Petersburg as the son of a pipefitter and a seamstress. He had one brother and four sisters.
In 1925, he married bank employee Natalja Prosinjuk, with whom he had two daughters, Larissa and Irina.
In 1918 Berzarin enlisted in the Red Army and fought against Allied troops in Archangelsk. Between 1921 and 1923 he received more military training at the Leningrad Command Courses, machine gun course at he "Vistrel" and a command course at the Siberian Military District. In 1922, he became a member of Komsomol. In 1923 he was assigned to Siberia.
In 1926, after officer training, he became a member of the CPSU.
He began service as an enlisted soldier in the Soviet Union in Petrograd, and after service on the Northern Front against the Allied Intervention also participated in the suppression of the Kronstadt Rebellion (1921). In 1924 he was serving as a junior officer in the Amur region against the bandit raiders. In 1927 he returned to Siberia, where he was an assistant to commander of an officers training unit in Irkutsk. From 1933 to 1935, he served in the staff of the Separate Far Eastern Army; from 1935 to 1937 he led the 77th Infantry Regiment of the 26th Infantry Division of the Far East Army. Until 1938, he was the chief instructor of the Amur group.
During the Great Purge, he was accused of owing his career to the "enemies of the people", but was supported by various Communist Party members. As division commander, he repelled Japanese attacks at Lake Khasan (1938), for which he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner.
He fought against the German armed forces after their assault on the Soviet Union. From December 1941 to May 1944 he was Commander-in-Chief of several armies; he was badly wounded in March 1943 and was hospitalized for six months.
He received the Order of Lenin and was promoted to Colonel General for his success in breaking through German lines in the Jassy-Kishinev Offensive. After conquering Kishinev in August 1944, the Belorussian and Ukrainian Fronts began their march on Berlin.
Commander of Berlin
During the Battle of Berlin, Berzarin's 5th Shock Army reached the outskirts of Berlin on April 21, 1945, making them the first Soviet Army to do so. On April 24, he was appointed commander of the city by Marshall Zhukov, in an echo of the Tsarist tradition of rewarding the first commander to enter a city with command over it. He worked to re-establish order, creating a city police force and supplying the population with food.
On June 16, 1945, after only 55 days in office, he died in a motorcycle accident in a truck convoy in Berlin, aged 41. There were rumors that the Werwolf SS or the soviet NKVD had assassinated him.
Honorary freeman of Berlin
In 2003, he regained his honorary citizenship. Detractors of the re-awarding claimed that Berzarin was responsible for the deportation of 47,000 Balts. These accusations were proven wrong later on, as Berzarin was deployed in Vladivostok at the questioned time.
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