American Treasures of the Library of Congress: Memory, Exhibit Object Focus

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Memo from Stalin

Aide memoire in Russian
Joseph Stalin (1879-1953)
Aide memoire in Russian,
August 13, 1942

Mixed media on paper on board, 1981
Page 2
Manuscript Division

In August 1942 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed W. Averell Harriman (1891-1986), head of the American Lend-Lease Program, to represent the United States at a conference with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. The Moscow conference sought a common understanding of Soviet and Anglo-American military plans in the war against Hitler's Germany and was the highest level meeting to that time of the three allies.

At the conference Churchill delivered some unwelcome news. He told Stalin that Western military planners had concluded that an Anglo-American invasion of Europe that year was military folly. The Soviets, however, desperately wanted a "second front" to relieve Nazi pressure. (By that time German forces had taken much of the western Soviet Union and held Leningrad under siege.)

In response to Churchill's announcement, Stalin gave Harriman the memo reproduced here, one of the few documents with Stalin's handwritten signature (lower right) extant in the West.

In it Stalin deplored the decision and argued that British and American forces were capable of invading Europe in 1942. In an attempt to break the joint British-American stance, Stalin also worded the memo to imply that the decision was a British one. (Churchill, however, spoke for the United States as well as his own country in this decision.)

This memo illustrates the sometimes difficult nature of the American-Soviet alliance during the war. Harriman's position as head of Lend-Lease in London and, from 1943, ambassador to the Soviet Union placed him at the center of this demanding alliance. The copious memoranda, letters, cables, and personal notes in Harriman's papers make them an indispensable source of historical documentation of that relationship as well as of the Cold War diplomacy that followed.

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