Interview with Hugh Lunghi, 1/7/96
Interview with Hugh Lunghi, 1/7/96
INT: Just summarise again, because we slightly ran out of time there... you said Potsdam was bad-tempered as a conference - why?
HL: Potsdam, I always felt, was a bad-tempered conference, certainly on the official occasions. One of the reasons was... Do you want me to go through Cecilienhof again and all that? No.
INT: Just give me the overall point of why, if there was a certain degree of agreement at Yalta, the contrast with Potsdam - why was Potsdam... why were relations cooler at Potsdam?
HL: OK, OK. Partly physical - the reasons, partly physical, but I'll come into that. Potsdam, to my mind, was a bad-tempered conference. There were several reasons for this. One of them was the venue. The venue was the Cecilienhof Palace, this mock-Tudor place outside Potsdam. The plenary sessions were held in a large room, and about 40 people or more, 40 or 50, were usually milling about, and you couldn't hear what was going on. I was very often in the background there. But then I felt this bad temper, this haggling over the reparations, myself particularly when I was interpreting, not in the main conference room but in one of the rooms upstairs which had been set aside for the sub- committees, as it were; and this sub-committee was on the location and disposition of the enemy naval and merchant fleets after the war, one of the... not a sticking point exactly, but one of the points where Stalin was haggling over reparations. We were quite happy for the Russians to have all, virtually all... no, it was one... one third, not all, one third of the merchant and naval fleets of Germany. Now, in the sub-committee meeting, Gromyko was leading the Soviet team, and I was interpreting for our chiefs of staff and our diplomats. And Gromyko became very insistent that the same figures should apply to the Italian fleet. There wasn't particular argument from our side or the Americans about this, but he kept asking for more and more, and got very bad-tempered about it - he was a very bad-tempered man anyway - and he got extremely bad-tempered, and... our people were obviously trying to keep their cool, and I found the greatest difficulty in when I translated, when I interpreted our answers, to keep the heat out of the answers - well, the edge really: our people never lost their temper, as Gromyko appeared to do. So this was one instance where I, as it were, felt it personally. The same sort of thing went on in some of the plenary sessions. Later on indeed, towards the end of the conference, Stalin started accusing the British and the Americans of helping the Germans, or setting the Germans up against the Russians. He accused us of not disarming the German troops in Norway. Now, I didn't know whether this was true or not - I think we had done. I did not know that there had been, in the Soviet media, a great fuss about... a few weeks previously, a month or two previously... a great fuss about Churchill maintaining what the Soviet press called the "Flensburg Government", which actually meant Admiral Doenitz had surrendered to us as the head of the German... the whole German forces, and we had kept his administration in place simply to make sure that there was a sort of smooth hand-over. The Russians saw this as a device to turn the Germans against us and to use the Germans... against them, I should say... and this came out at Potsdam, with Stalin accusing us of setting the Germans up against him. He didn't only accuse us, he accused the Americans as well, and this was Truman, of course, at that time. As far as we were concerned, also, he said we were keeping in power a Greek government which was using terror against its population. Well, the actual facts of the case was really the other way round: you know, the communists were still... were trying to take over the government. Be that as it may - there were all these sort of pin- pricks, or more than pin-pricks, at the conference, certainly at the official sessions. But again, when it came to the parties, to the banquets, Stalin, the Russians, were hosts, and good hosts; they were in control of Potsdam, after all, and they treated us very well.
INT: Was there a change in the atmosphere when Churchill was replaced by Attlee?
HL: There was a marked change, there was a marked change, not on the part of the Americans. Attlee had, of course, accompanied Churchill to Potsdam earlier, before the change, and Stalin had therefore met him, or seen him, but not very closely. I don't know exactly how, whether they'd actually had conversations - I think he'd just been introduced. But when he came back as the Prime Minister, and a new Foreign Secretary, of course, who was Bevin, in place of Eden, at the beginning you felt that Stalin was being rather wary of them. And of course, in the case of Bevin he was quite right to be wary, because Bevin was far tougher than Eden, and he stood up for our side - I mean, for the Poles more; he made it clear that we thought it was a disgrace that Stalin had installed and expected us to accept the Lublin, the puppet Soviet government in Lublin, in Warsaw, instead of allowing the provisional government to come in; although of course they argued, and in the end some of the provisional government in London, or the London government, did come into the provisional government to begin with. However, there was some pretty tough arguing, which Bevin carried out marvellously, we all thought there.
INT: Stalin at this stage is well established as a world leader. Can you give us an idea of his attitudes, his ways of showing that he wanted to be one up, particularly in the musical line?
HL: Stalin was tough during negotiations, but during the ceremonial and the banqueting occasions and so on, he was a very genial host. At the same time, he was... you thought... I felt there was a greater air of confidence and toughness towards foreigners about him. There was a slight change already in his attitude, and ... on that occasion; and previously I had noticed that when photographs of the Big Three, or group photographs were being taken, Stalin used to jockey for position, to be in the middle or a little bit higher than everyone else. And there was an interesting occasion during one of the parties which were held in the Sans Souci Palace, so-called, in Potsdam, the Neues Palast I think it was called, which the Russians had laid on, a wonderful party, and... oh, at a dinner previously - that's right - Truman had produced a pianist, a great, well, a great... one of their best pianists - Eugene List, he was called - who played during the dinner, and at Sans Souci Stalin produced a symphony orchestra. On the other hand, Truman started playing the piano himself, and he was quite an accomplished pianist, and played Chopin very well, various other classical works; and Stalin... I don't know... I looked at him while this was going on, and he looked a bit put out. However, when it came to one of the parties later, one of the banquets, he said to Truman and Churchill - this was before Churchill had gone, actually - to Truman and Churchill: "Well, I'm the only one without talent among you. Here is President Truman - he's a pianist, he's a musician. And you, Mr Churchill, you are a painter. I am nothing." This was sort of Stalin's mock modesty, which often showed itself actually in his dress, where he wouldn't wear decorations, except for the Hero of the Soviet Union, and towards foreigners he always sort of gave... put on this air of... of modesty, which we knew of course in Moscow was a bit phoney, because all the adulation of Stalin must have been with his approval. I mean, Stalin was... in Russia he was a god and feared, feared as a terrible god.
INT: Thank you. Now this is where we go slightly back in time, for the final thing I want to ask you. And that is: when Stalin is in control of much of Central and Eastern Europe, why do you think Roosevelt was so little concerned with the future of Eastern Europe?
HL: Roosevelt said that he wasn't prepared to risk any more American lives for real or imagined British fears about the future of Europe after the war. Moreover, he was less concerned in Europe because he dreamed about the post-war arrangements. His pet project, Roosevelt's pet project, was the United Nations, which he plugged at every opportunity, at every, at every conference - well, at Teheran and Yalta, of course, because he was dead at the time of Potsdam. And he also was preoccupied, at his first meeting with Stalin, with the war against Japan, and his main objective, which came before his pet project, the United Nations, was to get Stalin to promise that he would enter the war against Japan after the war in Germany was finished. Obviously, at that time he thought - we all thought - that the war against Japan could go on for months, if not years. Certainly at Teheran there was no sign of the success of the explosion of the atomic bomb, and nor at Yalta, for the matter of that. So there was no prospect of the war against Japan finishing quickly, unless the Russians came in and helped to save American lives, in Roosevelt's eyes. So his priorities were, at that time, fixed on these two main objectives: getting Russia into the war against Japan, and the United Nations. As far as Europe was concerned, he seemed to leave that to his chiefs of staff; he didn't want to discuss it at all, didn't want to discuss the strategy or the tactics when he met Churchill at the Cairo Conference which preceded the Teheran Conference. He didn't want to discuss it because he didn't want to present a united front between the British and Americans to Stalin. This was a terrible mistake. He'd been advised, as had Churchill indeed, by their respective ambassadors in Moscow, who said to him that Stalin wouldn't put up with any ganging up of the British and Americans; and yet, when you think it through, of course, we always thought that the Russians would expect the British and the United States to be closer to each other than to them, obviously - they were fighting the war together. And as far as Overlord was concerned, the invasion of northern France was concerned, he was happy to leave it to his chiefs of staff, and he went along with them in the sense that that should be the first priority in Europe; in other words, that the invasion of France from the north should be the priority - none of this messing about, hitting the soft underbelly of Europe or of France from the Mediterranean, from the south. Although, interestingly enough, at one point Stalin had agreed with Churchill that this was quite a sensible project, and Roosevelt had gone along with it for a little while, but he was then subsequently dissuaded by his chiefs of staff that this wasn't on because this would take up too many landing craft which were needed first of all for Overlord, and secondly, of course, they wanted to get some for the Far East.
INT: But at Yalta... to what degree do you think Roosevelt was just preoccupied with the grand design for the United Nations and for the invasion of Japan, or for Russia coming in on the side of the Western allies in the invasion of Japan, and how much do you think that affected his neglect of Eastern European issues?
HL: It affected Roosevelt to a very great extent. He was preoccupied with these two major objectives: getting the Russians into the war against Japan, and with the post-war order, the four policemen, as he called it at one point - that is, the Soviet Union, the United States, China and Britain, who would police the world, through the United Nations, of course. He was preoccupied with this, and this certainly made Roosevelt regard Europe as a secondary issue, or he left that to the British - you know, let them get on with it.
INT: Thank you very much...