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Overture to the Cold War

A multimedia experience revisiting the Potsdam Conference

Watch a live panel discussion, moderated by Stanford professor Norman Naimark, featuring George P. Shultz, Stuart Canin, and Stanford professor Scott Sagan, that sheds light on what happened at Potsdam when Canin was there.

Potsdam Revisited Show Program

Between July 17 and August 2, 1945, near the end of World War II, President Harry Truman, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Premier Joseph Stalin, leaders of the three Allied powers, met in the Berlin suburb of Potsdam to discuss implementing Germany’s May 8 surrender.


This multimedia website, a companion to a Stuart Canin archive at the Hoover Institution Library & Archives, provides a record of a special event at Stanford University’s Bing Hall revisiting the Potsdam Conference seventy years later. We invite you to explore the Potsdam Conference from the diverse perspectives of scholars Norman Naimark, Scott Sagan, George P. Shultz, and violin virtuoso Stuart Canin, who performed a private concert at the first and only meeting between Truman and Stalin.

This page, designed to complement an archive at the Hoover Institution, documents the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War through the experience of renowned violinist Stuart Canin, who performed private concerts three times at President Truman’s request “to lighten the mood” of the Potsdam Conference between July 19 and July 27. Experience Canin’s story illustrated by primary materials, including letters he wrote to his parents in July 1945 and photographs he took while stationed in Europe.


Scholars may also wish to peruse oral history interviews recorded at Canin’s home in Berkeley, California in October 2014.

Potsdam was the third and final Big Three conference that set the terms
for the end of the Second World War.

The Allied leaders—representatives of the United States,

Great Britain, and the Soviet Union, the so-called Grand
Alliance—met in Tehran in November 1943, Yalta in February

1945, and then Potsdam from July 17 to August 2, 1945. In

the months separating Yalta and Potsdam, several key

changes took place. President Roosevelt died in April, leaving

Vice President Harry Truman to assume the presidency

and take up the final negotiations. Prime Minister Clement

Attlee defeated Winston Churchill in the British general

election and replaced him as Britain’s representative halfway

through the Potsdam Conference. Joseph Stalin attended

all three major conferences; by the time the Potsdam

Conference began in July, he effectively controlled all

of Eastern Europe.


Despite differing politics, the Allies shared common goals at

each conference: first and foremost, to end the war in victory.

After all, this had been the bloodiest war in the history of

the modern world; all were eager to bring it to an end by

any means necessary. The secondary goal was to secure the



The Allies achieved their primary goal of victory, but securing

the peace proved difficult. The events of the war and of

these conferences led almost inexorably to the Cold War,

from one set of dangers to another.

The Big Three triple handshake,

Charles Hodges Photographs, Envelope K, Hoover Institution Archives, courtesy of Hoover Institution Library & Archives, Stanford University

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