Sgt. A. Wilkes, from the UK’s No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit, took this picture on the 3rd of July, 1945. At the time, Berlin was under Allied occupation. The Imperial War Museum describes this photo as follows: “German women doing their washing at a cold water hydrant in a Berlin street, a knocked out German scout car stands beside them.” Imperial War Museum photo BU 8609. Copyright expired; Public Domain.
Stalin, meanwhile, was nowhere to be seen.
Since the conference was scheduled to begin on the 16th of July, Churchill (who had once rhetorically asked "What kind of a people do they [the Axis Powers] think we are?!") and Truman (who was new at his job) independently used their extra time to inspect Berlin.
What they found, two months after the final battle for Europe’s fourth-largest city, was - to use words from Truman’s diary - an “absolute ruin.”
Saddened by what he saw, the President wrote (scroll down 25%):
Never did I see a more sorrowful sight, nor witness retribution to the nth degree. . .It is the Golden Rule in reverse - and it is not an uplifting sight. What a pity that the human animal is not able to put his moral thinking into practice! . . . I hope for some sort of peace - but I fear that machines are ahead of morals by some centuries and when morals catch up perhaps there’ll be no reason for any of it.
But much more distressing than the ruined buildings was the long, never-ending procession of old men, women and children along the autobahn and the country roads. Wandering aimlessly and probably without hope, they clutter the roads carrying their small children and pushing or pulling their slender belongings. In this two hour drive we saw evidence of a great world tragedy - the beginning of the disintegration of a highly cultured and proud people. (President’s Log, 16 July 1945 entry.)
The following day, unannounced, Stalin showed up. In his diary, Truman noted:
...I looked up from the desk and there stood Stalin in the doorway.
The President liked “Mr. Russia” (as he called him privately). He thought they could work together. Later, he observed a few different things about the man (the English translation of the poster is “Beloved Stalin - The People’s Happiness”) whom Roosevelt called “Uncle Joe.”
Discussions about Germany’s future - and that of the surrounding countries - began in earnest. Truman believed he could trust the Soviet leader, but the man born Josif Vissarionovich Djugashvili didn’t change his name to Stalin - meaning “the Man of Steel” - without good reason.
He liked living up to expectations.
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