On July 17, 1945, two months after Germany surrendered to the Allies at the end of World War II, President Harry S. Truman came face to face with Marshal Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union, one of the most brutal autocrats of all time.

The meeting between Truman and Stalin took place in a suburb of the devastated city of Berlin just before the opening of the Potsdam Conference. Truman, Stalin, and Great Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill, leaders of the three largest Allied nations, were gathered there to discuss the political future of Europe and the conduct of the war still raging in the Pacific. Having assumed the Presidency just three months earlier, Truman had not met “Mr. Russia” and “Mr. Great Britain,” as he privately referred to his Allied partners, and was looking forward to the conference as an opportunity to establish a personal rapport with them.

Stalin came to call on the President at noon. Truman was unruffled and spoke plainly. After the meeting, which lasted two hours, Stalin stayed for lunch. Later that afternoon, Truman scribbled in his diary, satisfied that the Soviet leader was someone he could deal with.