740.00119 (Potsdam)/6–645

No. 24
Memorandum by the Assistant to the Secretary of State (Bohlen)

top secret

Memorandum of 1st Conversation at the Kremlin, 8 pm May 26

Present: Mr. Hopkins, Ambassador Harriman, Mr. Bohlen
Marshal Stalin, Mr. Molotov, Mr. Pavlov
Subjects: President Roosevelt’s death
Soviet-American relations
Meeting of Heads of State
Far East

After an exchange of amenities during which Marshal Stalin expressed his great pleasure on seeing Mr. Hopkins again, there was a brief conversation concerning Mr. Hopkins’s flight in over Germany.

Mr. Hopkins asked Mr. Molotov if he had recovered from the battle of San Francisco.

Mr. Molotov replied that he did not recall any battle but merely arguments at San Francisco.

Mr. Hopkins then said before he told Marshal Stalin the reason why President Truman had asked him to come to Moscow, he thought the Marshal would be interested in a brief description of President Roosevelt’s state of mind just prior to his death. He said that on the way back from Yalta it had been clear to him that President Roosevelt was very tired and that his energy was on the decline. [Page 25] On the other hand, on the morning of his death he had done a good deal of work and had written a number of important letters relating to domestic and foreign policies. None of his doctors had expected that he would have a stroke. In fact his principal doctor, Admiral McIntire, had not even been at Warm Springs. The President never regained consciousness after his stroke and had died without any suffering whatsoever. Many of those who had been closest to him had felt that his quick, easy death was really preferable to his lingering on as a hopeless invalid. Mr. Hopkins said that the President had died fully confident of the victory which was in sight.

Marshal Stalin observed that Lenin had also died of a cerebral hemorrhage following a previous stroke which had left his hand paralyzed.

Mr. Hopkins said that on the trip home from Yalta the President had frequently reviewed with him the results of the Crimea Conference and that he had come away from that Conference with renewed confidence that the United States and the Soviet Union could work together in peace as they had in war. President Roosevelt on the trip home had frequently spoken of the respect and admiration he had for Marshal Stalin and he was looking forward to their next meeting which the President hoped would be in Berlin.

Marshal Stalin remarked that he recalled the toast at the Crimea Conference to their next meeting in Berlin.1

Mr. Hopkins said that he recalled his first meeting with the Marshal in July, 1941, during the troubled and anxious days of the German offensive. He said he remembered vividly the frankness with which Marshal Stalin had told him of the Soviet position and of the unalterable determination of the Soviet Union to wage war against Germany until final victory was assured. He had returned to the United States and conveyed to President Roosevelt his own conviction that the Soviet Union would hold fast and President Roosevelt had thereupon initiated the program of assistance to the Soviet Union. At that time most people believed that a German victory was inevitable but President Roosevelt, in spite of all such opinions had decided otherwise and through his leadership he had put through a program of aid to Russia.

Marshal Stalin observed that at that time there had been many doubts of the ability of the Soviet Union to keep going.

Mr. Hopkins said that although in 1941 the United States was not in the war, President Roosevelt had already decided that Hitler was just as much an enemy of the United States as he was of Great Britain and the Soviet Union.

[Page 26]

Mr. Hopkins then said that a few days ago President Truman had sent for him and had asked him to come to Moscow to have a talk with Marshal Stalin. There were a number of things that he and Mr. Harriman hoped to discuss with Marshal Stalin and Mr. Molotov while he was in Moscow, but before going into those specific questions he wished to tell the Marshal of the real reason why the President had asked him to come, and that was the question of the fundamental relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. Two months ago there had been overwhelming sympathy among the American people for the Soviet Union and complete support for President Roosevelt’s policies which the Marshal knew so well. This sympathy and support came primarily because of the brilliant achievements of the Soviet Union in the war and partly from President Roosevelt’s leadership and the magnificent way in which our two countries had worked together to bring about the defeat of Germany. The American people at that time hoped and confidently believed that the two countries could work together in peace as well as they had in war. Mr. Hopkins said there had always been a small minority, the Hearsts and the McCormicks, who had been against the policy of cooperation with the Soviet Union. These men had also been bitter political enemies of President Roosevelt but had never had any backing from the American people as was shown by the fact that against their bitter opposition President Roosevelt had been four times elected President. He said he did not intend to discuss this small minority but to discuss the general state of American opinion and particularly the present attitude of the millions of Americans who had supported President Roosevelt’s policy in regard to the Soviet Union and who believed that despite different political and economic ideology of the two countries, the United States and the Soviet Union could work together after the war in order to bring about a secure peace for humanity. He said he wished to assure the Marshal with all the earnestness at his command that this body of American public opinion who had been the constant support of the Roosevelt policies were seriously disturbed about their relations with Russia. In fact, in the last six weeks deterioration of public opinion had been so serious as to affect adversely the relations between our two countries. He said he wished to emphasize that this change had occurred in the very people who had supported to the hilt Roosevelt’s policy of cooperation with the Soviet Union. He said that for the moment he was not going into the reasons why this had occurred, or the merits of the case, but merely wished to emphasize that it was a fact. The friends of Roosevelt’s policy and of the Soviet Union were alarmed and worried at the present trend of events and did not quite understand why, but it was obvious to them that if [Page 27] present trends continued unchecked the entire structure of world cooperation and relations with the Soviet Union which President Roosevelt and the Marshal had labored so hard to build would be destroyed. Prior to his departure President Truman had expressed to him his great anxiety at the present situation and also his desire to continue President Roosevelt’s policy of working with the Soviet Union and his intention to carry out in fact as well as in spirit all the arrangements, both formal and informal which President Roosevelt and Marshal Stalin had worked out together. Mr. Hopkins added that as the Marshal knew he had not been well and he would not be in Moscow unless he had felt the situation was serious. He also said he would not have come had he not believed that the present trend could be halted and a common basis found to go forward in the future.

Mr. Hopkins said that it was not simple or easy to put a finger on the precise reasons for this deterioration but he must emphasize that without the support of public opinion and particularly of the supporters of President Roosevelt it would be very difficult for President Truman to carry forward President Roosevelt’s policy. He said that, as the Marshal was aware, the cardinal basis of President Roosevelt’s policy which the American people had fully supported had been the concept that the interests of the United States were world wide and not confined to North and South America and the Pacific Ocean and it was this concept that had led to the many conferences concerning the peace of the world which President Roosevelt had had with Marshal Stalin. President Roosevelt had believed that the Soviet Union had likewise world-wide interests and that the two countries could work out together any political or economic considerations at issue between them. After the Yalta Conference it looked as though we were well on the way to reaching a basic understanding on all questions of foreign affairs of interest to our respective countries, in regard to the treatment of Germany; Japan and the question of setting up a world security organization, to say nothing of the long term interests between the United States and the U. S. S. R. He said in a country like ours public opinion is affected by specific incidents and in this case the deterioration in public opinion in regard to our relations with the Soviet Union had been centered in our inability to carry into effect the Yalta Agreement on Poland.2 There were also a train of events, each unimportant in themselves, which had grown up around the Polish question, which contributed to the deterioration in public opinion. President Truman feels, and so does the American public, although they are not familiar with all the details, a sense of bewilderment at our inability to solve the Polish question.

[Page 28]

Marshal Stalin replied that the reason for the failure on the Polish question was that the Soviet Union desired to have a friendly Poland, but that Great Britain wanted to revive the system of cordon sanitaire on the Soviet borders.

Mr. Hopkins replied that neither the Government nor the people of the United States had any such intention.

Marshal Stalin replied he was speaking only of England and said that the British conservatives did not desire to see a Poland friendly to the Soviet Union.

Mr. Hopkins stated that the United States would desire a Poland friendly to the Soviet Union and in fact desired to see friendly countries all along the Soviet borders.

Marshal Stalin replied if that be so we can easily come to terms in regard to Poland.

Mr. Hopkins said that during his visit here there were a number of specific questions that he and Mr. Harriman hoped to discuss with Marshal Stalin and Mr. Molotov but that the general statement he had just made concerning public opinion in the United States was the principal reason for his coming and the principal cause of anxiety at the present time. He said he had wished to state frankly and as forcibly as he knew how to Marshal Stalin the importance that he, personally, attached to the present trend of events and that he felt that the situation would get rapidly worse unless we could clear up the Polish matter. He had therefore been glad to hear the Marshal say that he thought the question could be settled.

Marshal Stalin replied that in his opinion it was best to settle it but not if the British conservatives attempted to revive the cordon sanitaire.

Mr. Hopkins said that he had in mind the other following questions to discuss with Marshal Stalin while he was in Moscow: (1) The desire of President Truman to meet Marshal Stalin in order to discuss all of the problems arising out of the end of war in Europe and the time and place of such a meeting.

Marshal Stalin said that he had already replied to President Truman concerning the place of meeting and he had suggested the region of Berlin.3

Mr. Hopkins said that that message must have come in after he had left and Marshal Stalin instructed Mr. Molotov to give a copy to Mr. Hopkins and Ambassador Harriman.

Mr. Hopkins said the second question he desired to discuss was the setting up of the Control Council for Germany. General Eisenhower had already been appointed the American Representative on the Control Council and he hoped that at an early date the Soviet Representative [Page 29] would be named so that the Council could meet and get to work.

Marshal Stalin apparently had not heard of the appointment of General Eisenhower and stated that Marshal Zhukov would be appointed the Soviet Representative on the Control Council for Germany. He implied that this appointment would be announced shortly.

Mr. Hopkins said the third question he wished to discuss was that of the Pacific War and the future relations of the United States and Soviet Union to China. He said that although he realized the answer would depend on a good many considerations it would be most useful to the American military authorities if he could take back some idea of the approximate date of the entry of the Soviet Union into the war in the Pacific.

Marshal Stalin said he would discuss that question with his advisors and let Mr. Hopkins know.

Mr. Hopkins concluded that there was of course the Polish question which he hoped to discuss here. He added that if Marshal Stalin for his part had any political questions concerning the United States which were worrying him he would of course be glad to discuss them.

Marshal Stalin replied that they had in fact several disturbing questions on their minds in regard to the United States. He added that he was very glad that the President had sent Mr. Hopkins to Moscow and thus give[n] him this opportunity to explore all these questions.

Mr. Hopkins stated that he would certainly not have gotten out of bed to come to Moscow had he not believed that the future well-being of hundreds of million[s] of people depended on the relationship of the United States and the Soviet Union, nor would he have come had he not believed that any difficulties could be reconciled.

Marshal Stalin said he hoped that Mr. Hopkins’s views would prove to be right.

Mr. Hopkins said he would stay here as long as it was necessary to accomplish what could be accomplished, although naturally he did not wish to be away too long.

Marshal Stalin said he was entirely at Mr. Hopkins’s service and now that war in Europe was over he had more time at his disposal than he had, for example, a year ago.

Mr. Hopkins said he hoped the Russians would find the body of Hitler.

Marshal Stalin replied that in his opinion Hitler was not dead but hiding somewhere. He said the Soviet doctors thought they had identified the body of Goebbels and Hitler’s chauffeur,4 but that [Page 30] he, personally, even doubted if Goebbels was dead and said the whole matter was strange and the various talks of funerals and burials struck him as being very dubious. He said he thought that Bormann, Goebbels, Hitler and probably Krebs had escaped and were in hiding.

Mr. Hopkins said that he knew the Germans had several very large submarines but that no trace of these had been found. He said he hoped we would track Hitler down wherever he might be.

Marshal Stalin said he also knew of those submarines which had been running back and forth between Germany and Japan, taking gold and negotiable assets from Germany to Japan. He added that this had been done with the connivance of Switzerland. He said he had ordered his intelligence service to look into the matter of these submarines but so far they had failed to discover any trace and therefore he thought it was possible that Hitler and company had gone in them to Japan.

Ambassador Harriman then said he wished to observe that President Truman in selecting Mr. Hopkins had chosen a man who, as the Marshal knew, had not only been very close to President Roosevelt but personally was one of the leading proponents of the policy of cooperation with the Soviet Union. President Truman had sent him to have the kind of frank talk with Marshal Stalin that we all knew Marshal Stalin liked to have. Ambassador Harriman continued that we had, as Marshal Stalin knew, very intimate relations with Great Britain which had been developed since the American Revolution and that the Soviet Union of course had their special relations with Great Britain and that although President Roosevelt had always felt that the three powers had a special responsibility, nevertheless it was obviously desirable that the United States and the Soviet Union should talk alone on matters of special interest to them and that that was also one of the reasons for Mr. Hopkins’s visit.

Marshal Stalin said he thought the Ambassador’s remarks were correct and very much to the point.

Mr. Hopkins then said that at San Francisco Mr. Molotov had scored a neat trick on us by quoting President Roosevelt and Mr. Hull on the Argentine question.5

Marshal Stalin and Mr. Molotov laughed and Mr. Hopkins observed that it was possible that some time in the future we might be quoting Marshal Stalin’s own words to him.

Marshal Stalin then said that there was one question he wished to raise and that was the question of a peace conference to settle the European War. He said the question was ripe and, so to speak, knocking at the door.

[Page 31]

Mr. Hopkins replied that he thought the forthcoming meeting between the President, Marshal Stalin and the Prime Minister would be a preliminary step toward such a conference. He said he knew in general President Truman’s views on the subject and would be glad while he was in Moscow to convey them to Marshal Stalin along general lines.

Marshal Stalin replied that he felt the uncertainty as to the peace conference was having a bad effect and that it would be wise to select a time and place so that proper preparations could be made. The Versailles Conference had been badly prepared and as a result many mistakes had been made. He repeated that he had already sent a message to President Truman suggesting Berlin as a place for their preliminary meeting.

(In a message6 received subsequently from Mr. Molotov it was explained that the reference to Berlin as a suggested place of meeting had not been in a message to President Truman but in a reply from Mr. Molotov to Mr. Joseph Davies concerning a meeting between Marshal Stalin and the President alone7).

  1. No record of the toast referred to has been found.
  2. See vol. ii, document No. 1417, section vi .
  3. Cf. post, pp. 31, 85.
  4. Erich Kempka.
  5. See The United Nations Conference on International Organization, San Francisco, California, April 25 to June 26, 1945: Selected Documents (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1946; Department of State publication No. 2490), p. 317.
  6. document No. 35.
  7. The correspondence between Davies and Molotov has not been found.