ALLIED LEADERS AT YALTA MEETING - A strikingly large, original Second World War press photograph of British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Soviet Premier Josef Stalin at Yalta on 12 February 1945
Yalta: Official British Photo / AP Wirephoto via Radio from London, 1945. Photograph. This is a Second World War photograph of British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Soviet Premier Josef Stalin at the Yalta conference, held from 4 to 11 February 1945 – the final months of the war in Europe, of FDR’s life, and of Churchill’s wartime premiership. This original press print of an Associated Press Wirephoto is noteworthy for unusually large size, for Art Department retouching, and for having long resided in Cleveland newspaper archives.
The strikingly large print on glossy photo paper measures 15.25 x 10.5 inches (38.7 x 26.7 cm). The verso features stamps, notation, and a pasted image of the ostensibly original caption. Titled “ALLIED LEADERS AT YALTA MEETING”, the caption is dated “FEB. 12” in “1945” and identifies the sixteen individuals in the image. The caption credits the image as “AN OFFICIAL BRITISH PHOTO” and “AP WIREPHOTO VIA RADIO FROM LONDON”. The latter explains the quality of the image, which, understandably for a trans-oceanic radio-transmitted image from 1945, suffers from some horizontal pixelation and general lack of crisp clarity. It seems the newspaper Art Department sought to mitigate this with deft, limning retouches to the head and torso outlines of Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin. In addition to the caption, the verso features the names of Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin in red pencil, two “FEB 24 1945” date stamps, and newspaper ink stamps – the “CLEVELAND NEWS REFERENCE DEPARTMENT”, “THE CLEVELAND NEWS”, and “THE PLAIN DEALER LIBRARY”, this last dated “AUG 21, 1962". The Cleveland News was published from 1905 until 1960, when it was absorbed by a rival paper. This photograph thereafter transitioned to the archives of another Cleveland paper, The Plain Dealer.
Condition of the print is good, complete but with some expected wear. The photo paper is a bit rippled with superficial scuffing visible under raking light. In addition to modest overall wear to extremities there is a .75 inch (1.9 cm) closed tear to the left edge and .75 inch-wide (1.9cm) vertical strip that is creased with a few closed tears along the right edge.
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. This conference proved a geopolitically defining event of the 20th Century, fundamentally shaping the postwar world and 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). Item #006566