Managing the Bedbugs, Bathroom Shortages and Big Egos at Yalta

The Churchills, Roosevelts, and Harrimans: A Story of Family, Love, and War
By Catherine Grace Katz

In the opening weeks of 1945, with their armies racing to Berlin, the three Allied leaders recognized that the war had reached a critical juncture and called for another strategy session to resolve difficult questions about the defeat of Germany and the future organization of Europe.

Weary and coping increasingly with the frailties of age, Britain’s prime minister, Winston Churchill, dreaded the prospect of traveling all the way to the Crimea, as far west as Stalin was willing to go. He harbored grave concerns about holding the meeting on the Black Sea coast, and complained that if the planners had been given 10 years to research a possible rendezvous site, they could not have found a more inconvenient venue. But eager to secure Soviet cooperation to guarantee victory in the Pacific, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, despite his own deteriorating health, accepted Stalin’s proposal for a summit in Yalta. Churchill, who had suffered a serious bout of pneumonia on the way home from the last meeting of the “Big Three,” in Tehran, grudgingly agreed to make the arduous journey, but warned his daughter, Sarah, that this time he knew he was “in for something.”

According to “The Daughters of Yalta,” Catherine Grace Katz’s detailed behind-the-scenes account of the conference, Churchill’s trip did not get off to a promising start. Between the blizzard that chased them east and his percolating anxiety, by the time Churchill arrived at Malta on Jan. 30 for a preliminary huddle with Roosevelt, he was feverish and filled with trepidation about the upcoming negotiations. He was also sweating the state of the British-American friendship, which was not as close as it had been in the early days of the war. It was essential that he find a way to settle Britain’s differences with America, or it would portend badly for postwar cooperation. As he paced and fretted, it fell to 30-year-old Sarah, a former actress who had enlisted in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, to take on the delicate role of supporting Winston that her mother, Clementine, had gratefully ceded. Sarah could manage her mercurial father, ease his worries and temper the linguistic torrents when he vented his spleen. Eager to redeem herself in his eyes now that she had forsaken her stage career and her much older husband, from both of which Churchill had tried to dissuade her, she wanted nothing more than to be allowed to serve as his chosen “second mate.”

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