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The virtual exhibition project Stalin – Churchill – Roosevelt: The Common Struggle Against Fascism

 

The virtual exhibition project Stalin – Churchill – Roosevelt: The Common Struggle Against Fascism, held on the 75th anniversary of victory in World War II, acquaints the public at large with the key documents and artifacts of the emergence of the anti-Hitler coalition during the war.

Of all outstanding 20th-century figures, few have received as much attention as Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt. These leaders belonged to different political systems, came from different backgrounds, and had different political careers and positions. Nevertheless, they managed to overcome their geopolitical and ideological differences and join forces to attain their key goal of defeating the cruel and merciless enemy.

All their enormous differences notwithstanding, Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill were political realists with a broad strategic mindset. The anti-Hitler coalition was based on a realistic understanding by the Big Three of their common strategic interests, to which everything else was subjugated.

Achieving mutual understanding was not easy. As Stalin said in a speech given on November 6, 1944, on the occasion of the 27th anniversary of the October Revolution, “One should be surprised not that there exist differences but that there are so few of them and that they are, as a rule, resolved almost every time in a spirit of unity and concerted action between the three great powers.” The unique copy of this speech, almost wholly consecrated to the role of the Allies in the war, was loaned to this exhibition by the State Archives of the Russian Federation.

Stalin and Roosevelt had a mutual need for each other: it was a relationship in which strategic motives were reinforced by personal interests. For Roosevelt, Stalin was a difficult partner who did not like to make commitments yet was always steadfast in implementing them. The president was one of the few American politicians who was able and willing to understand the very difficult position of the Soviet leader and show tact and respect for his ally. In March 1942, Roosevelt wrote to Churchill, “I know you will not mind my being brutally frank when I tell you that I think I can personally handle Stalin better than either your Foreign Office or my State Department.” In May 1943, Roosevelt wrote a letter to Stalin in which he proposed holding a meeting “either on your side or my side of [the] Bering Straits”. The president’s hand-signed letter, now at the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History, is made available to exhibition visitors for the first time ever. Roosevelt’s very consent to undertake long and exhausting voyages to Yalta and Teheran also served as a token of his respect for his Soviet ally.

For Stalin, Roosevelt’s reputation as the mainstay of US policy of cooperation with the USSR grew over the war years. An echo of this recognition is visible in Stalin’s Yalta toast to Roosevelt, whom he hailed as “a man … whose country had not been seriously threatened with invasion, but who had had perhaps a broader conception of national interest and, even though his country was not directly imperilled, had been the chief forger of the instruments which had led to the mobilization of the world against Hitler”. As a pragmatic leader, Stalin realized perfectly well that Roosevelt was the best possible US president for the USSR. “Still, he [Roosevelt] is more favourably inclined towards us than any other American leader and clearly wants to cooperate with us”, wrote M. Litvinov from Washington. This is also attested by V. Molotov’s cipher telegrams from Washington where he met with Roosevelt in May 1942 and Stalin’s replies signed with the codename “Instance”, which are presented at this exhibition. The highest token of respect for the ally was Resolution #756 of the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR of April 13, 1945, shown to the general public for the first time here: “All Soviet state organisations shall be instructed to hang flags of mourning on their buildings on 14 and 15 April of this year in response to the death of US president Franklin D. Roosevelt.” For the first time, the virtual exhibition includes photographs and documents from The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum (USA).

Stalin’s relations with the British Prime Minister are interesting in their own right as an illustration of the confrontation of two largely contradictory personalities. For Stalin, the image of Churchill was inextricably tied to his role as the leader of the anti-Soviet intervention during the Russian Civil War who called for “strangling Bolshevism in the cradle”. The transformation of a staunch opponent into an ally masked this image without effacing it. Thanks to I. Maisky’s messages (the exhibition includes I. Maisky’s cipher telegrams of March 24, 1938, and September 5, 1941) and his own personal contacts with Churchill, Stalin as a good psychologist managed to understand and manipulate the prime minister’s moody character, provoking his wrath and indignation on some occasions and tears of emotion and gratitude on others. Churchill initiated the correspondence between the leaders of the Big Three. In his first message to Stalin of June 24, 1940, he wrote, “The Soviet Union is alone in a position to judge whether Germany's present bid for the hegemony of Europe threatens the interests of the Soviet Union, and, if so, how best these interests can be safeguarded.” In another message to Stalin of April 19, 1941, Churchill warned the Soviet leadership of the plans of the German military command to shift troops to the east. On June 22, 1941, the day Germany invaded the Soviet Union, the Prime Minister made a radio broadcast in which he stressed that “the Russian danger isour danger and the danger of the United States just as the cause of any Russian fighting for his hearth and home is the cause of free men and free peoples in every quarter of the globe”.

Churchill came to Moscow twice during the war in August 1942 and October 1944. During his first visit, he discussed military assistance through Lend-Lease and the opening of the second front, which kept being postponed. In the course of his second visit, the consideration of key military issues was supplemented, at Churchill’s initiative, with a discussion of the spheres of influence of Great Britain and the USSR in the Balkans and all of Europe. For the first time, exhibition visitors will get the chance to see a document known as the “percentage agreement” from The National Archives of Great Britain: a sheet from a notebook with Churchill’s handwritten proposals for the relative percent influence of Great Britain and the USSR in Balkan countries. Pragmatic British diplomacy and Churchill himself preferred an unstated division of Europe into spheres of influence, retaining ascendancy in Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean in exchange for Soviet dominance in Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary.

One should also mention the voluntary assistance provided to the war-ravaged Soviet Union by British people under the leadership of the Prime Minister’s wife Clementine Churchill. In his memoirs The Second World War, Churchill wrote, “My wife felt very deeply that our inability to give Russia any military help disturbed and distressed the nation increasingly as the months went by Mr Eden and I encouraged her to explore the possibility of obtaining funds by voluntary subscription for medical aid. For the next four years she devoted herself to this task with enthusiasm and responsibility.” In 1941–1945, the Red Cross Russian Relief Fund provided major assistance to the Soviet Union in the form of medication, medical equipment and food products. In Stalingrad, two hospitals with 50 and 150 beds were established with assistance from the Russian Relief Fund. In all, over eight million pounds were raised during the war years. By a directive of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, Clementine Churchill was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labour on April 12, 1945. The award inventory file from the State Archives of the Russian Federation, photographs from the State Historical and Memorial Museum-Reserve “Battle of Stalingrad” and drawings from the ROSIZO State Museum and Exhibition Centre paint a vivid picture of this story.

A difficult issue for the Allies was the opening of the second front, which kept being postponed at the initiative of the Prime Minister. An example of the resulting tensions is the harsh message sent by Stalin to Churchill on June 24, 1943, regarding a new delay in opening the second front: “I must inform you that it is not just a matter of the frustration of the Soviet government but of its trust in its allies being put to a hard test.”

The first personal meeting of the Big Three in Teheran in November – December 1943 led to the elaboration of a common political and strategic conception of the defeat of Germany and Japan, raising the relations of the three leaders to a new level. The conference’s main achievement was the design of Operation Overlord involving the allied debarkation in northern France. For the first time, the exhibition presents unique documents from the Russian State Military Archive, including a plan of Teheran with the location of the US, Soviet and British missions; a chart of communications between the missions; and a list of subscribers of the Teheran government telephone exchange, in which Stalin is denoted by the pseudonym “Ivanov”.

The long-awaited opening of the second front and the implementation of Operation Bagration marked the zenith of military and political cooperation between the Big Three. When the allies finally disembarked in Normandy, the Wehrmacht had less than 60 divisions in France and 20 in Italy, compared to over 200 on the Soviet-German front.

For the first time, the exhibition presents documents that show Churchill’s respect and admiration for Stalin and the successes of the Red Army. On January 1, 1944, the Prime Minister asked the Soviet leader to send him a score of the new Soviet hymn in order to “have it played by the British Broadcasting Corporation on all occasions when important Russian victories were announced”. Exhibition visitors will see the original 1943 score of the Soviet hymn.

The next Big Three meeting took place in Yalta. The decisions of the Crimea Conference are well known: they set down the military cooperation of the three parties in the final defeat of Germany and in the war against Japan as well as indicating the key contours of the post-war world. Even when the allies were unable to come to a final decision, they managed to strike a balance of interests. In his report on the conference to Soviet ambassadors, Molotov wrote that “the atmosphere at the conference was very friendly and marked by the striving to reach an agreement on controversial issues”. Visitors will see the authentic transcripts of conversations between the Big Three leaders, an exchange of memoranda between Stalin and Roosevelt on the Assembly of the International Organisation, and the text of the Crimea Conference Protocol on the Question of Reparations with the autographs of the three heads of government. Little-known photographs made after the conference show Churchill and his daughter Sarah visiting Sevastopol, where they saw the monuments to Russian and British soldiers who died fighting for the city in 1854–1855.

The exhibition also includes Lend-Lease documents. For the first time, visitors will see the Report from the Deputy Chairman of the Soviet Purchasing Committee to the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Trade on the Committee’s work in the US between 1 January and 31 December 1943 from the Russian State Archive of Economy, which details the assistance provided through Lend-Lease to allied countries in both percentage and currency terms. Recently declassified Lend-Lease documents from the Central Archive of the Russian Ministry of Defence are also presented.

The three names of Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt will come down in history as the personal incarnations of the anti-Hitler coalition that saved human civilisation from the most terrible barbarism of the 20th century.

The virtual exhibition project consists of five sections arranged in thematic and chronological order:

1. Beginning of World War II. Birth of the Grand Alliance

2. Teheran Conference of the Three Powers. 1943

3. Yalta Conference of the Big Three. 1945

4. Meeting of the Allied Forces on the Elbe. 1945

5. Potsdam Conference of the Three Victorious Powers in World War II. 1945

In total, over 250 archival documents and museum items were selected for the project.

The project was implemented on the basis of the exhibition of the same name in the Exhibition Hall of the Federal Archives in Moscow, prepared with the financial support of the Presidential Grants Fund.

Each published document is provided with an editorial heading that contains its general description. The legend of the document (reference information) contains the search data (storage cipher), original or copy is also indicated.