- Historic Sites
Truman At Potsdam
His newly discovered diary reveals how the President saw the conference that ushered in the Cold War
June/july 1980 | Volume 31, Issue 4
Anyway their song was that France would go Communistic, so would Germany, Italy and the Scandinavians, and there was grave doubt about England staying sane. The Pope, they said, was blue as indigo about the situation. All of ’em except McFarland assured me that the European world is at an end and that Russia is a big bad wolf. Europe has passed out so often in the last 2000 years—and has come back, better or worse than ever, whichever pleases the fancy, that I’m not impressed with cursory glances of oratorical members of the famous “Cave of the Winds” on Capitol Hill. I’ve been there myself and have been through crisis after crisis in each of which the country surely would disintegrate (and it never did) so that “Senatorial Alarm” doesn’t much alarm me.
My good isolationist friend Wheeler is a natural purveyor of bad news. Capehart is a promoter gone political. Hawkes is an honest man with a good Chamber of Commerce mind and my Arizona friend is really worried but is an optimist and of all four I think most anxious to help me win a peace.
Talked to Bess last night and the night before. She wasn’t happy about my going to see Mr. Russia and Mr. Great Britain—neither am I.
Had a long talk with my able and conniving Secretary of State [James F. Byrnes]. My but he has a keen mind! And he is an honest man. But all country politicians are alike. They are sure all other politicians are circuitous in their dealings. When they are told the straight truth, unvarnished it is never believed—an asset sometimes.
Byrnes & I discussed [Edwin] Pauley’s plans on reparations. [Pauley headed the U.S. delegation to the three-power Allied Reparations Commission in Moscow.] The smart boys in the State Department, as usual, are against the best interests of the U.S. if they can circumvent a straightforward hard hitting trader for the home front. But they are stymied this time. Byrnes & I shall expect our interests to come first. Pauley is doing a job for the United States.
How I hate this trip! But I have to make it—win, lose or draw—and we must win. I’m not working for my interest but the Republic of the United States. I [am] giving nothing away except to save starving people and even then I hope we can only help them to help themselves.
July 9, 1945, U.S.S. Augusta
Had a very pleasant Sunday. Went to church with Ship’s Captain, Sec. State and aides. Then had a shower and a nap. Good lunch and a probabilities game with [Press Secretary Charles G.] Ross, [Brigadier General Harry H.] Vaughan and three press assn. men; ended pleasantly with my doing some satisfactory guessing on my opponents’ hole cards.
Good picture show—Bob Hope in technicolor as a pirate’s victim in the West Indies.
Arose at 6:15 as usual this morning, took a turn around the deck and then breakfast. Had dinner last night in the officers mess or ward room.
Maneuvers and firing at 8:30. Eight-inch, five-inch, and 40-mm. Most interesting to me because of field artillery experience. I’d still rather fire a battery than run a country. Had lunch with warrant officers. It was a good one. There is an excellent band of 30 pieces and an orchestra from the same thirty. They make excellent music at all meals but breakfast. They’ve found I like good music and they play it for me.
The Augusta docked at Antwerp and the President and his party then flew to Berlin and drove out to Potsdam, a suburb.
July 16, 1945
Today has been an historical one. Arrived last evening from Antwerp via the President’s C54 and was driven to the movie colony district in Potsdam. The German Will Hays apparently had what is considered the best house. It was fixed up for me as President & called the Berlin White House. It is a dirty yellow and red. A ruined French Chateau—architectural style ruined by German endeavor to cover up the French. They erected a couple of tombstone chimneys on each side of the porch facing the lake so they would cover up the beautiful chateau roof and tower. Make the place look like hell but purely German—just like the Kansas City Union Station.
The President was mistaken about the owner of the house in which he stayed. It had never belonged to a Nazi film censor but instead had been the mansion of a publisher named D. Mueller-Grote. While Truman and his staff occupied the house, its owner and his family huddled in far less grand surroundings nearby.
We did not see but two German civilians on the several mile drive from the airport to the yellow “White House.”
The house as were all others was stripped of everything by the Russians—not even a tin spoon left. The American commander however, being a man of energy, caught the Russian loot train and recovered enough furniture to make the place liveable. Nothing matches. We have a two-ton German sideboard in the dining room and a French or Chippendale table and chairs—maybe a mixture of both. There is a birdseye maple wardrobe and an oak chest matching the two-ton sideboard in my bedroom. It is comfortable enough all round but what a nightmare it would give an interior decorator.