Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin meet at Yalta

Russia is definitely a hard, ruthless country and yet they had laid on the most terrific show for the British, which includes maids in caps, aprons and high heeled shoes which they had never worn before and consequently presented a ludicrous spectacle wobbling unsteadily around; interpreters in new suits and stockings so they would not be inferior to us; vodka, champagne, smoked salmon etc. when the only ration they themselves are certain of getting is black bread; it rather disappointed me as one thought they could have afforded to say ‘We’ve done jolly well on this so you ought to try it and jolly well like it’.

'The Big Three': Winston Churchill, Franklin D Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin sit for photographs during the Yalta Conference in February 1945.
‘The Big Three’: Winston Churchill, Franklin D Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin sit for photographs during the Yalta Conference in February 1945.
President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill confer during a lunch break at the Livadia Palace during the Yalta Conference.
President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill confer during a lunch break at the Livadia Palace during the Yalta Conference.

On the 5th February the ‘Big Three’ met once more, this time in the Crimean resort of Yalta. There were momentous decisions to be reached about how Germany was to be divided up after the war, whether they should seek reparations from Germany, how the new United Nations ‘World Organisation’ was going to operate, and much more.

The Soviet Union’s entire economy had been thrown over to war production and, with most of western Russia laid waste, there were few resources spare even for this international event. The plumbing for the partially rebuilt buildings that would accommodate the dignitaries had had to come from various Moscow hotels, where it would be returned after the conference – never to work satisfactorily ever again.

Maureen Stuart-Clark was a Women’s Royal Naval Service aide to Admiral James Somerville, who she referred to as ‘Uncle Jim’, one of the British delegates. She was very impressed with the female Soviet Army guards, armed with Tommy guns, who were ‘immense, tough and had the largest legs I had ever seen’. She was not quite so impressed with some of the other arrangements:

Eventually we arrived at the Voronthov [sic] Palace where the British Chiefs of Staff were going to be accommodated. It was quite the ugliest place I have ever seen — built in a mixture of Moorish and Gothic styles. The entrance at either end was Gothic with castle like turrets and gate, while the centre was Moorish with minarettes [sic] and domes. It had been built for Prince Yusof who killed Rasputin and had not been destroyed because it had been promised to the German General who captured the Crimea, and had left it till too late to destroy it.

We found the rest of us were housed in two sanatoriums between five and ten minutes drive down the road. They had been old Palaces, partially destroyed by the Germans and rebuilt especially for this occasion. We spent the first event desperately trying to organise luggage, office papers etc. and tempers were fairly short.

Most of the Kremlin guard had come down to act as guards and sentries, and they looked very smart in their khaki uniforms with their high boots, red and blue caps, gold braid etc. They had sent down hordes of interpreters from Moscow — mainly women — who spoke excellent English although they had never left the country. Actually the whole thing was rather superficial and unreal.

Russia is definitely a hard, ruthless country and yet they had laid on the most terrific show for the British, which includes maids in caps, aprons and high heeled shoes which they had never worn before and consequently presented a ludicrous spectacle wobbling unsteadily around; interpreters in new suits and stockings so they would not be inferior to us; vodka, champagne, smoked salmon etc. when the only ration they themselves are certain of getting is black bread; it rather disappointed me as one thought they could have afforded to say ‘We’ve done jolly well on this so you ought to try it and jolly well like it’.

The water was unsafe to drink and the only liquid there was to swallow was the vodka, champagne etc. so we spent the whole time either very definitely muzzy or else parched with thirst! They even brought a lemon tree all the way from Batoum so that there would be lemon for the drinks, but they never thought to provide a simple plug for the basins!

The sanitary arrangements were the most peculiar thing. In our place there was a bath and three showers all in a little hut together down the garden. There was a sweet peasant girl in attendance who scrubbed your back vigorously, irrespective of your sex, in fact there was considerable trouble at first as they all bath and swim in the nude together and couldn’t understand our reluctance to bath with Major Generals or Naval officers at the same time. You ploughed down the garden in your great coat and hoped you wouldn’t get pneumonia returning.

But — the lavatory situation was the grimmest. In the Palace there was a total of 3, one of which was kept for the private use of the P.M. The other two had to provide for the use of the 3 Chiefs of Staff, General Ismay, F.M.s [Field Marshals] Alexander and Wilson, U.J.[Uncle Jim], Anthony Eden, Lord Leathers, Sir Ralph Metcalf, lots of foreign office boys, typists, clerks, sentries, maids, interpreters, Marine orderlies and all the visitors. The result was that we lost all shame and openly discussed the best bushes in the garden which was the only solution.

This account appears in Richard J. Aldrich (ed): Witness To War: Diaries Of The Second World War In Europe And The Middle East

Winston Churchill shares a joke with Marshal Stalin (with the help of Pavlov, Stalin's interpreter, left) in the conference room at Livadia Palace during the Yalta Conference.
Winston Churchill shares a joke with Marshal Stalin (with the help of Pavlov, Stalin’s interpreter, left) in the conference room at Livadia Palace during the Yalta Conference.

Stalin orders the Katyn Forest murders

In the NKVD POW camps and in the prisons of the western oblasts of Ukraine and Belorussia there is currently a large number of former officers of the Polish army, former Polish police officers and employees of intelligence agencies, members of Polish nationalist c-r (counterrevolutionary) parties, participants in underground c-r rebel organizations, defectors and so on. All of them are implacable enemies of Soviet power and full of hatred for the Soviet system.

The front page of the order for the executions, signed by Stalin.

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From the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to comrade STALIN

In the NKVD POW camps and in the prisons of the western oblasts of Ukraine and Belorussia there is currently a large number of former officers of the Polish army, former Polish police officers and employees of intelligence agencies, members of Polish nationalist c-r (counterrevolutionary) parties, participants in underground c-r rebel organizations, defectors and so on. All of them are implacable enemies of Soviet power and full of hatred for the Soviet system. Continue reading “Stalin orders the Katyn Forest murders”

Stalin deports Poles from Russian occupied Poland

At two o’clock in the morning of 10 February 1940 my mother’s crying in the kitchen woke me up. I got up to see what was happening and, on opening the door, was grabbed by four men with rifles: two in NKVD uniforms, and two civilians with red bands round their sleeves. They searched me to ensure I wasn’t carrying arms, then allowed me to return to the bedroom, as they told us to pack our belongings for departure to the railway station in Klewan.

The 10th February 1940 saw the first wave of four mass deportations of Poles settled in Eastern Poland to the far reaches of Siberian Russia. This was a well established Soviet method of dealing with ethnic groups seen as potentially troublesome to the regime. Polish nationals were seen as ‘enemies of the people’ simply because they had a distinct national identity. Stalin’s answer was to murder the officer class in the forests of Katyn and elsewhere, and the wholesale resettlement of tens of thousands of Poles:
Continue reading “Stalin deports Poles from Russian occupied Poland”

Stalin’s 60th birthday telegrams

“On behalf of the working people of Finland, who are fighting shoulder to shoulder with the heroic Red Army to liberate their country from the yoke of the whiteguard hangmen and hirelings of foreign warmongers, for the victory of the independent Democratic Republic of Finland …”

Mr. JOSEPH STALIN,
Moscow.
Please accept my most sincere congratulations on your sixtieth birthday. I take this occasion to tender my best wishes. I wish you personally good health and a happy future for the peoples of the friendly Soviet Union.
ADOLF HITLER

Mr. JOSEPH STALIN,
Moscow.
Remembering the historic hours in the Kremlin which inaugurated the decisive turn in the relations between our two great peoples and thereby created the basis for a lasting friendship between us, I beg us to accept my warmest congratulations on you birthday.
JOACHIM VON RIBBENTROP
Minister of Foreign Affairs

COMRADE STALIN,
The Kremlin, Moscow.
On behalf of the working people of Finland, who are fighting shoulder to shoulder with the heroic Red Army to liberate their country from the yoke of the whiteguard hangmen and hirelings of foreign warmongers, for the victory of the independent Democratic Republic of Finland, the Peope’s Government of Finland on the occasion of the sixtieth birthday of Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin expresses its profoundest esteem to the great friend of the people of Finland. Stalin, whose name will always be the symbol of friendship and brotherhood of the peoples of the Soviet Union and of Finland, as well as of all the peoples of the world.
On behalf of the People’s
Government of Finland,
OTTO KUUSINEN

Otto Kuusinen was the Finnish Communist Party member appointed head of the puppet regime, ‘The Democratic Republic of Finland’, that Stalin intended to impose on Finland. He had lived in Soviet Russia since the Finnish civil war of 1918 and was one of the few Finnish communist party members to escape Stalin’s purges.

Germany and Russia sign Non-Aggression Pact

Hitler and Stalin surprised the world when they announced a pact between themselves. The arrangement allowed Hitler to launch his forces against Poland knowing that he would not suffer from Russian interference. Furthermore he would be free to turn to West without worrying about his Eastern front in due. The clause dividing Poland with Russia remained secret until the moment Russian troops marched into Poland on the 17th September.

See Professor Orlando-Figes on the historical context of the Pact.