- Historic Sites
“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
The first floor of the palace was used by Nicholas and his son, Alexai, for living quarters. The left wing, facing the sea, contained the Tsar’s study and bedroom. The President’s private dining room was formerly a billiard room. The large conference room was the ballroom-banquet hall. The Tsar had many bedrooms on the first floor and was wont to sleep in a different room every night, even at times changing his room during the night for fear of assassination....
The second floor was used principally by the Tsarina and her four daughters. General Marshall is occupying the Imperial bedroom and Admiral King the Tsarina’s boudoir. The private outside staircase is said to have been used by Rasputin. The large rooms on the left wing were used by the Tsarevnas (daughters) as classrooms. The second floor conference room was a private reception room of the Tsarina. The second floor dining room was a private sitting room used only by the Tsar’s family.
The architect of the palace, Krasnov, often had to give way to the whims of the Tsar to the detriment, so he thought, of the palace. To avenge himself, he used lion head caricatures of the Tsar as armrests on the two marble benches outside the main door. The similarity becomes striking when a cap is placed atop the lion’s head.
In the afternoon of February 4, 1945, the day after President Roosevelt arrived at Livadia Palace, Marshal Stalin presented himself for an informal visit. There was no time to alert Prime Minister Churchill, who was at his quarters in the Vorontsov Villa, miles away, or to summon the main body of U.S. Army photographers billeted aboard the USS Catoctin , which was anchored off Sevastopol, 80 miles away. (The Catoctin was used as the communications link to Washington, and many members of the support staff lived aboard her during the conference. She was the first U.S. warship to enter the Black Sea since the Russian Revolution.)
When I received word of Stalin’s arrival, I scrambled downstairs with my Speed Graphic in time to photograph the President chatting with Stalin in a small anteroom just off the main entrance hall of the palace. They were seated on a plush couch with an inlaid table in front of them. Stalin’s interpreter, Pavlov, sat to one side, making notes and translating.
The President made Stalin a martini, apologizing for the lack of a twist. The next morning I was astonished to see a full-grown lemon tree that Stalin had had flown in.
The meeting was cordial and consisted primarily of Stalin’s welcoming the President to Yalta and making sure that he was comfortably settled. Since it was about cocktail hour, the President repeated a ritual he regularly performed at the White House: He made a pitcher of dry martinis. As he passed a glass to Stalin, he said apologetically that a good martini really should have a twist of lemon.
At six o’clock the following morning, when I came down to the main entrance hall, I was astonished to find, just outside the door to the anteroom, a huge lemon tree—I counted some 200 pieces of fruit on it—which Stalin had ordered flown in from his native Georgia so the President could serve his martinis with a twist.
The first plenary meeting of the Yalta Conference convened shortly after Stalin’s informal call on Roosevelt. By this time the entire American, British, and Russian contingents of official photographers had arrived. There were 16 U.S. Army still photographers and motion-picture cameramen, 2 British photographers, and at least 30 Russians; there were no civilian press photographers.
The main entrance hall of Livadia Palace was jammed; we were jostled from all sides, and taking pictures was difficult. I managed to photograph the arrivals of Churchill and of Stalin and their greetings to the other notables present. Outnumbered as we were by Russian photographers, it seemed to me that every time I raised my camera to take a picture, one of them would pop up in front of me, blocking my view. This became increasingly frustrating when the principals moved into the conference room and took their places around the table. The photographers were not allowed inside and tried to shoulder one another out of the way as they struggled to get their pictures from the doorway.
When the double doors closed and the principals began their deliberations, the American and British photographers complained that their Russian counterparts were running interference to hamper the efforts of the rest of us.
Although I was outranked by almost everyone there, I called a meeting, using a Russian interpreter named “Mike”—a former Columbia University student—to translate. When we all were assembled, I spoke, saying this was surely the most historic meeting of the war, and it was our responsibility to record it. But all we had done so far was take pictures of one another’s backs. The only solution I could see was to reduce the number of photographers.
After some discussion, the Russians agreed to cut their contingent to the one still photographer and two motion-picture cameramen, provided the Americans did the same.