Much is known about the Yalta Conference of February 1945 and the “big three” (Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin) who met to decide on a fair distribution of power as World War II teetered toward an end in Europe. Churchill, Roosevelt and American ambassador W. Averell Harriman also brought their adult daughters, Sarah, Anna and Kathleen, respectively. Their fathers needed their help with matters big and small, from Kathy’s Russian language skills, to Sarah’s astute observations, to Anna’s daily efforts to protect Roosevelt’s rapidly failing health. The “little three,” as they became known, wrote letters to family and friends about their time at the edge of the Black Sea, and Catherine Grace Katz draws from them to great effect. The Daughters of Yalta: The Churchills, Roosevelts, and Harrimans: A Story of Love and War is a splendid, colorful tapestry of details, as witnessed by three smart young women making the most of their extraordinary moment in history.
For Churchill, the sovereignty of Poland was a promise he intended to keep. For Stalin, retribution for his country’s crippling losses was critical. Roosevelt needed Soviet help in the Pacific as the war with Japan waged on, but his hope for a United Nations mattered even more. Together, these men would set the world’s balance of power for decades to come, for better or worse.
For the women, excluded from the daily discussions and monitored closely by Soviet security guards, there was much to observe on their own, including caviar- and vodka-infused meals, the vagaries of Russian hospitality and the conference delegates’ quirks. Kathy, a journalist, was a seasoned diplomat in her own right, having joined her father at his posts in London and Moscow. The U.S. president had grown to depend on Anna, who kept his secrets so well that few knew how ill he was. Sarah was allowed to leave her post with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in Britain to accompany the prime minister. For each, it was a lifetime’s dream come true.
Through their sharp eyes and Katz’s talented retelling, the Nazi and Soviet ravages of the Crimean countryside become a vivid backdrop to the Allies’ hope for lasting peace. Yalta would become synonymous with diplomacy that dangerously disappointed, opening the door to Soviet expansion and revealing its ruthless power. Yet, in a more positive light, it may also have presaged women’s contributions to international diplomacy.