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“How Would You Like To Be Attached To The Red Army?”
A cameraman at Yalta tells what it was like to spend a few days in claustrophobic luxury with Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt— and to be offered a job by Joseph Stalin
June/July 2005 | Volume 56, Issue 3
Robert Hopkins was 15 years old when he first met Franklin D. Roosevelt, at the inauguration of New York’s Triborough Bridge in 1936. His father, Harry Hopkins, ran the WPA, which had built the bridge. Of course Hopkins remained FDR ‘s close lieutenant throughout the war, and once, as a newly minted GI, Robert was able to return late to Fort Dix bearing this note:
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN :
Private Robert Hopkins is to be excused from reveille. He has been in consultation with the Commander-in-Chief.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Few soldiers can have had a more varied wartime career than Hopkins, who became a photographer and divided his time between being under fire on the front lines and breakfasting on caviar with the highest of High Commanders. So it was that early in 1945 he went from the German front to Malta, where he met his father. “Dad told me we would be taking off to fly to the Crimea that night and to be sure I had all my equipment with me. ” He was heading toward the Yalta Conference, where, for the last time, the three main leaders of the Allied effort met to begin shaping the postwar world .
We were flying over the Black Sea when I woke up at seven o’clock on the morning of February 3. I learned that we would be landing at Saki in the Crimea and would continue by car to Yalta, 90 miles away.
When our plane touched down, Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov was there to meet us. He remembered me from the Teheran Conference and greeted me in a friendly fashion. Prime Minister Winston Churchill had already landed. The President and my father arrived a few minutes later in the President’s plane, The Sacred Cow. Also on the plane were his daughter, Anna Boettiger, Secretary of State Edward Stettinius, Ambassador to the U.S.S.R. Averell Harriman and his daughter, Kathy, and Maj. Gen. Edwin M. ("Pa") Watson, the President’s military aide.
Soviet soldiers in dress uniforms lined both sides of the runway. They snapped to attention as the President’s plane landed, and a Russian military band struck up. When the President was installed in a jeep and was talking to my father, I used some of my small supply of precious four-by-five-inch color film to photograph them. The result proved to be my favorite photograph of President Roosevelt and my father together.
President Roosevelt reviewed the honor guard with Prime Minister Churchill walking alongside his jeep. Then we boarded a convoy of cars and set out on the bone-jarring drive to Yalta. It took us five hours on that battle-pitted road, through the stark, scorched earth landscape, to reach our destination. The entire route was guarded by Soviet soldiers, most of them women, posted within sight of one another. That 90-mile drive from Saki to Yalta took almost as much time as our 1,400-mile flight from Malta to Saki.
Camouflage paint dimmed the splendor of Livadia Palace when it loomed out of the trees. The Nazi High Command, which had occupied the palace, had vacated it only months before we arrived.
My father went straight to bed to recuperate from the grueling journey. He had a private room near the President’s quarters on the main floor of the palace. Anna Boettiger, Adm. William Leahy, Gen. George Marshall, and Adm. Ernest King also had private rooms, but just about everyone else had to share. I recall that there were 16 Army colonels jammed, dormitory-style, in one room. Miraculously, I found a tiny room up under the eaves of the palace, furnished with a cot, a straight-back chair, and a small table. I immediately claimed it, enormously pleased at having found a room to myself. That night I had no sooner closed my eyes than I became aware that I was in fact sharing my room with a horde of Russian bedbugs that emerged from under the torn wallpaper in battalions. U.S. Navy personnel, responsible for the logistics of the conference, came to my rescue with aerosol insecticides. Russian bedbugs, however, proved impervious to the spray, and they bedeviled me and everyone else in the palace for the remainder of the conference. (Years later Anna Boettiger told me that Admiral Leahy was convinced that I had brought the bedbugs with me from the German front.)
Russian bedbugs defeated U.S. Navy insecticide. Years later, Anna Boettiger told me that Admiral Leahy thought I’d brought them with me from the German front.
Shortly after we had settled in, we received a mimeographed description of the palace and its surroundings. I have no idea who wrote it, nor have I seen another copy save my own since the conference. The portion concerning the palace is worth reproducing here to set the scene for the conference.
Livadia, the former summer palace of Tsar Nicholas II, is situated 1½ miles from Yalta. The new, or large palace was finished in 1911. Most of the frescoes, panelling, carved doors, etc., were prepared in St. Petersburg. The palace grounds formerly belonged to Count Potocki who presented them to the Romanov family in the 19th century....