Stalin has no use for a scandal now and acts as if he had not understood Churchill’s “infamy.” The “Generalissimo” turns to Roosevelt, who is still playing keep smiling. In a jesting, flippant tone the American president answers the Bolshevik dictator:
“It is clear that a compromise must be found between your conception, Mr. Stalin, and that of the Prime Minister. We can say perhaps that we agree to, not 50,000 but perhaps a smaller number, let us say about 49,500 war-criminals that should be summarily executed.”
“Compromise,” the American magic formula for solving insoluble problems at this time also has something disturbing about it for the English. Also disturbing is the menacing laughter with which not only the Russians but even the Americans approve the “wit” of their president.
Decades later, one would still like to doubt whether a democratic president who had led his population into war to preserve humanity and justice could, with such cynicism, consent to the murder-plan of the Red Genghis Khan. But we get our account of this scene from his own son, Elliott. The younger Roosevelt participated in the evening session of the Teheran Conference. In his book As He Saw It (Duell, Sloan,and Pearce), published in New York in 1946, he narrated all the details for us (pp.188-191). Eleanor Roosevelt wrote the foreword, so that that this account is authenticated by the president’s own family.
Son Elliott reveals that Papa Roosevelt “smiled furtively” during Stalin’s first toast to the murder of 50,000 officers.
Stalin seems to have been wounded by Churchill’s reproach of “infamy” not so lightly as it initially seemed. That Staling was not merely trying to make one of his uncouth jokes, Elliott’s revelation proves; Stalin subsequently approached the scion of the war-president, seeking support.
The younger Roosevelt answers instantly:
“Isn’t that all a fairly academic question? Russian, American, and British soldiers are taking care of this problem on the battlefield for most of these 50,000. And I hope that fate overtakes not only the 50,000 war-criminals but also many hundreds of thousands of Nazis besides.”
Son Elliott thus leaves the mass-murder of officers quite clearly to the “Christian Soldiers,” to American, and – despite Churchill’s outburst – to British soldiers, but not without escalating the toll from 49,000 to many hundreds of thousands. He has far surpassed his father’s example; the younger Roosevelt pleased Stalin:
Stalin beamed with satisfaction. He came around the table and laid an arm around my shoulders. An outstanding answer! He drank to my health. I blushed with joy.
Churchill was still furious, finding no relief even in brandy, and left the opulent table early, apparently in a thoroughly bad mood. Perhaps he was harried in his dreams by the disturbing crimes of Katyn, about which he must already have known at that time. Why was Stalin supposed to proceed more cautiously with Germany’s military elite than with the Polish military elite? Why was he supposed to exterminate German and Polish class-enemies less brutally than the Czarist nobility, the Russian intelligentsia, the Slavic farmers, and all other opponents of his dictatorship?
Roosevelt’s assent to Stalin’s Mongolic methods – the slaughter without trial, the total negation of all Western principles of justice – had shocked Churchill because it was unexpected. How would the public of the democratic world react to such brutalities?