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Victory in Europe: End of WWII - TO POTSDAM

TO POTSDAM (Illustration) Russian Studies Awesome Radio - Narrated Stories Famous People Geography Social Studies World History Famous Historical Events World War II American Presidents

The Potsdam Conference, held at the end of the European Theater of War, was a meeting between the victorious Allied leaders. They met, in July of 1945, at the Cecilienhof, in the German town of Potsdam, not far from the ruins of Berlin. This image depicts the Cecilienhof as it appeared in 2014. Image by Richard C. Schonberg (also known as Drrcs15); online via Wikimedia Commons. License: CC BY-SA 4.0

 

Churchill, Truman and Stalin agreed to meet in July, 1945, about two months after the war in Europe ended. Their discussions would be held in Soviet-controlled Potsdam, a Berlin suburb which had escaped the capital’s devastation. On the agenda were essentially three items:

  • What was the political future of Eastern Europe, especially Poland?

  • What should happen inside occupied Germany?

  • Would the Soviets help to defeat Japan?

Truman had never met Churchill or Stalin. Taking FDR’s place was no easy task for the new president. By his own tally, “Mr. Great Britain” (as Harry privately called Winston) had personally met with Roosevelt nine times, and the pair had exchanged 1,700 messages.

Sailing to Europe on the USS Augusta - a week after bidding his mother goodbye - Truman worked tirelessly to catch up. His top advisors had been with Roosevelt at Yalta; they would be with Truman at Potsdam.

While attending the conference, Truman would stay at a yellow-stuccoed, picturesque, gated home in Babelsburg, a section of Potsdam also controlled by the Soviets. The lovely grounds of the home - a three-mile drive from the Cecilienhof Palace where the Allied meetings would occur - fronted Griebnitz Lake. Because a shipment of blankets never made it to the proper destination, Truman’s bedroom at the Babelsburg house used “GI blankets.”

After the Augusta docked at Antwerp, Truman’s plane - The Sacred Cow - flew him to Gatow, a Berlin airfield. Arriving on the 15th of July, Truman inspected the troops and settled into his new quarters. The next day, Churchill visited Number 2, Kaiserstrasse - Babelsburg’s “Little White House.” He was 71-years-old and awaiting results of his country’s July 5th national elections.

There was, parenthetically, something about his temporary home - something unsettling - which Truman did not learn until years later. The villa was actually owned by Gustav Müller-Grote, a respected publisher. His Soviet hosts told the president that the owner, banished to Siberia, was formerly head of the Nazi movie industry.

Truman ultimately learned the truth from a letter he received from Müller-Grote’s son:

...In the beginning of May the Russians arrived. Ten weeks before you entered this house, its tenants were living in constant fright and fear. By day and by night plundering Russian soldiers went in and out, raping my sisters before their own parents and children, beating up my old parents.

All the furniture, wardrobes, trunks, etc. were smashed with bayonets and rifle butts, their contents spilled and destroyed in an indescribable manner. The wealth of a cultivated house was destroyed within hours. (Quoted in David McCullough’s Truman, page 497.)

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5183stories and lessons created

Original Release: Nov 01, 2007

Updated Last Revision: Jun 13, 2015


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