How united were the Big Three at the Yalta Conference in 1945?

The sources have been carefully selected from the Churchill Archive to explore the question of how far the Yalta Conference showed a united front between the main three powers with particular focus on the case of Poland. Through this exploration students should be able to form an answer to the key question of whether Britain, America and the USSR really did come to a sound agreement at Yalta.
Teachers could ask students to work through the entire collection or get individuals, pairs or groups to assess a smaller selection before reporting back. It is probably better, however, to try and get the students to use the entire collection if possible. This way they can move beyond the sources as a collection of individual documents and use them more in the way an historian would, as a collection of documents which illustrate the past more effectively as the sum of their parts.
With this basis in mind, students who have looked at the collection might then be challenged with tasks which extend their thinking and understanding. For example:

Activity 1: How united were the Big Three at the Yalta Conference in 1945?

You might ask students if/how the sources provide an answer to this question.

Source Support the statement Do not support the statement Evidence to support your judgement from within the source
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Activity 2: Developing the debate

Students can succumb to the temptation to make quick judgements based on single sources, allowing themselves to assume that at face value the source tells the full story. As historians, they must develop their skills of interrogation of sources in order to piece together the historical picture with greater accuracy. It might be useful to ask them to discuss the following assertions in groups to deepen their thinking.

  1. The Big Three had different broad objectives in mind for Yalta.
  2. With the war not yet over, any decision made at the conference could only be considered temporary.
  3. Stalin held the ‘trump card’ of being in situ in Poland, and therefore could determine how far he went along with the Yalta agreements.
  4. The ideological differences between Churchill and Roosevelt on one side, and Stalin on the other would not be an issue regarding the decision on Poland.
  5. The lack of Polish involvement in the Yalta decisions was of little consequence to the Big Three.

Activity 3: Reaching a judgement and taking the question further

Students may return from Activities 1 and 2 with further questions for investigation. The sources suggest that Churchill was clearly a supporter of the Jews, and paid huge consideration to their plight amidst the atrocities of the Holocaust; however there is little evidence of direct action to alleviate their suffering. This raises questions:

  • How much power did Churchill have to affect the future of Poland after the war was over?
  • Was Poland really a top priority for Churchill and Britain or was it one of many issues which had to be carefully negotiated to reach an overall acceptable result?
    Students could use the sources and/or further research to help reach a judgement on these questions, or take their own questions further.

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