World War II: Behind Closed Doors episode 4 – The story of the first meeting of the ‘Big Three’, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, at Tehran. Plus, the secret history of the Soviet attempt to cover up the mass murders at Katyn.
Joseph Stalin was a tyrant responsible for the death of millions, yet he was also a vital ally of Britain and America during the Second World War. How was it possible for Churchill and Roosevelt to deal with one tyrant, Joseph Stalin, in order to help beat another, Adolf Hitler? That’s one of the key questions at the heart of this new six part landmark history series.
The series uses dramatic reconstructions, based on extensive fresh research in Russian and Western archives, and extraordinary testimony from witnesses of the time, including former Soviet secret policemen who have not spoken before on camera.
This fourth episode focuses on the behind the scenes story of the first meeting of the ‘Big Three’, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, at Tehran, as well as the secret history of the Soviet attempt to cover up the mass murders at Katyn.
World War II: Behind Closed Doors episode 4
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was a British statesman who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, during the Second World War, and again from 1951 to 1955. Although best known for his wartime leadership as Prime Minister, Churchill was also a Sandhurst-educated soldier, a Nobel Prize-winning writer and historian, a prolific painter, and one of the longest-serving politicians in British history. Apart from two years between 1922 and 1924, he was a Member of Parliament (MP) from 1900 to 1964 and represented a total of five constituencies. Ideologically an economic liberal and imperialist, he was for most of his career a member of the Conservative Party, which he led from 1940 to 1955, though he was also a member of the Liberal Party from 1904 to 1924.
Of mixed English and American parentage, Churchill was born in Oxfordshire to a wealthy, aristocratic family. He joined the British Army in 1895 and saw action in British India, the Anglo-Sudan War, and the Second Boer War, gaining fame as a war correspondent and writing books about his campaigns. Elected a Conservative MP in 1900, he defected to the Liberals in 1904. In H. H. Asquith’s Liberal government, Churchill served as President of the Board of Trade and Home Secretary, championing prison reform and workers’ social security.
As First Lord of the Admiralty during the First World War, he oversaw the Gallipoli Campaign but, after it proved a disaster, he was demoted to Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He resigned in November 1915 and joined the Royal Scots Fusiliers on the Western Front for six months. In 1917, he returned to government under David Lloyd George and served successively as Minister of Munitions, Secretary of State for War, Secretary of State for Air, and Secretary of State for the Colonies, overseeing the Anglo-Irish Treaty and British foreign policy in the Middle East. After two years out of Parliament, he served as Chancellor of the Exchequer in Stanley Baldwin’s Conservative government, returning the pound sterling in 1925 to the gold standard at its pre-war parity, a move widely seen as creating deflationary pressure and depressing the UK economy.
Joseph Stalin – World War II: Behind Closed Doors episode 4
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, born Ioseb Besarionis dzе Jughashvili, was a Georgian revolutionary and the ruler of the Soviet Union from 1927 until his death in 1953. He served as both General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1922–1952) and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union (1941–1953). Despite initially governing the country as part of a collective leadership, he ultimately consolidated power to become the Soviet Union’s dictator by the 1930s. A communist ideologically committed to the Leninist interpretation of Marxism, Stalin formalised these ideas as Marxism–Leninism while his own policies are known as Stalinism.
Born to a poor family in Gori in the Russian Empire (now Georgia), Stalin attended the Tbilisi Spiritual Seminary before eventually joining the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. He went on to edit the party’s newspaper, Pravda, and raised funds for Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik faction via robberies, kidnappings and protection rackets. Repeatedly arrested, he underwent several internal exiles. After the Bolsheviks seized power during the October Revolution and created a one-party state under the newly formed Communist Party in 1917, Stalin joined its governing Politburo.
Serving in the Russian Civil War before overseeing the Soviet Union’s establishment in 1922, Stalin assumed leadership over the country following Lenin’s death in 1924. Under Stalin, socialism in one country became a central tenet of the party’s dogma. As a result of the Five-Year Plans implemented under his leadership, the country underwent agricultural collectivisation and rapid industrialisation, creating a centralised command economy. This led to severe disruptions of food production that contributed to the famine of 1932–33. To eradicate accused “enemies of the working class”, Stalin instituted the Great Purge, in which over a million were imprisoned and at least 700,000 executed between 1934 and 1939. By 1937, he had absolute control over the party and government.
The Katyn massacre was a series of mass executions of nearly 22,000 Polish military officers and intelligentsia carried out by the Soviet Union, specifically the NKVD (“People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs”, the Soviet secret police) in April and May 1940. Though the killings also occurred in the Kalinin and Kharkiv prisons and elsewhere, the massacre is named after the Katyn Forest, where some of the mass graves were first discovered.
The massacre was initiated in NKVD chief Lavrentiy Beria’s proposal to Stalin to execute all captive members of the Polish officer corps, approved by the Soviet Politburo led by Joseph Stalin. Of the total killed, about 8,000 were officers imprisoned during the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland, another 6,000 were police officers, and the remaining 8,000 were Polish intelligentsia the Soviets deemed to be “intelligence agents, gendarmes, landowners, saboteurs, factory owners, lawyers, officials, and priests”. The Polish Army officer class was representative of the multi-ethnic Polish state; the murdered included ethnic Poles, Polish Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Polish Jews including the Chief Rabbi of the Polish Army, Baruch Steinberg.
The government of Nazi Germany announced the discovery of mass graves in the Katyn Forest in April 1943. Stalin severed diplomatic relations with the London-based Polish government-in-exile when it asked for an investigation by the International Committee of the Red Cross. The USSR claimed the Nazis had killed the victims, and it continued to deny responsibility for the massacres until 1990, when it officially acknowledged and condemned the killings by the NKVD, as well as the subsequent cover-up by the Soviet government.