Livadia Palace, Crimea: U.S. Army Signal Corps, 1945. Photograph. This wartime photograph features British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin at the Yalta conference, held from 4 to 11 February 1945. This meeting, the final conference of these three wartime leaders, was a geopolitically defining event of the twentieth century that took place in the final months of the war in Europe, of FDR’s life, and of Churchill’s wartime premiership.
The gelatin silver print measures 10 x 8 inches (25.4 x 20.3 cm). This image is noteworthy not only for the moment and personalities it captures, but also for the provenance embedded in the negative. At the lower left of the photograph just to the left of Churchill’s right leg is the circular device of “SIGNAL CORPS U.S. ARMY”, which must have been applied to the negative, rendered in white. The only other identifying marks, also in white, are “199945S”, which must have been hand-printed on the negative, found at the lower right of the image at Stalin’s feet. Condition is very good, certainly suitable for framing. The paper is crisp and clean, the image clear and unfaded. Trivial wear is confined to the edges and light surface scratches are visible only under raking light. This photograph is housed in a removable, archival mylar sleeve within a rigid, crimson cloth folder.
The Yalta Conference, also known as The Crimea Conference, was held at the Livadia Palace near Yalta in the Crimea from 4-11 February 1945. The negotiations, compromises, and concessions made at Yalta fundamentally shaped the postwar world, drawing the battle lines of the long Cold War to come. A conventional perspective is that Roosevelt - terminally ill and trusting - viewed massive concessions to Stalin as a hopeful path to lasting peace. By contrast, Churchill deeply distrusted Stalin's character and motivations, but had little power to resist the tide of Roosevelt's rash concessions and groundless optimism. Perhaps better informing this simplified characterization, “The central, ever-present fact lying behind everything was that Stalin had an army of more than six million men in eastern Europe, including by then in every region of Poland. The Western Allies thought they needed Russia to declare war against Japan once the German war was over, as they could not be certain that the atomic bomb – which for obvious reasons was not mentioned – actually worked.”
Another constraining imperative was that “Churchill and Roosevelt wanted the Russians to engage meaningfully in the United Nations”. In sum, “There was idealism at Yalta as well as Realpolitik, but there was also lethal decision-making” and, for better and worse, the “Big Three... remade the world in eight days”. There continue to be many ways to regard the competing imperatives and unsavory compromises of Yalta. One might choose to draw inferences from the fact that, “on the 11th Churchill suddenly decided, while giving no reason, that he wanted to leave… immediately, despite being scheduled to leave the next day. He gave his secretarial and household staff only one hour to pack everything up and be off”. (Roberts, Walking With Destiny, pp.859-863)
Perhaps the disappointments of both Yalta and the Second World War are best encapsulated by Poland. In September 1939, Britain had declared war on Nazi Germany when Poland was invaded. In the aftermath of the world’s most dire conflict, Poland was liberated from Nazi occupation and oppression only to be lost to Soviet control. Two weeks after Yalta, Churchill remarked late at night to his private secretary: ‘I have not the slightest intention of being cheated over Poland, not even if we go to the verge of war with Russia.’” (Gilbert, VII, p.1238) As it turned out, it was not an either/or proposition, but rather both; Poland spent nearly half a century as part of the Soviet Empire and the West spent nearly half of the twentieth century on that verge of war with Russia. Item #005847