Witnessing history

Robert Hopkins was a US Army photographer assigned to make a pictorial record of the 1943 Yalta conference between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin which sealed the fate of Eastern Europe (and of a lot else besides). He’s published a riveting account of the event, larded with intimate details and some of his pictures.

This is not a piece about high politics, but about the daily life that goes on in the background and yields clues to the personalities involved — FDR in a jeep which has been made presentable by the addition of oriental rugs; or two maids making up the President’s bed. A five-hour drive over cratered roads to get from the aerodrome at Saki in the Crimea to the Livadia Palace — with the entire 90-mile route lined by Russian troops, each one in sight of the next. Bedbugs everywhere. Piles of caviare — but no decent food — for breakfast. FDR made Stalin a Martini but remarked that he couldn’t add a twist of lemon because he didn’t have any. The next morning, a lemon tree appeared. Stalin had had one flown in from Georgia overnight. Unforgettable.