"Go and wait for me in the auto," the general told me when I reported to him one day. He had a habit of not revealing where we were going. We might be visiting the Control Commission, or we might be going to the flying-ground to fly to Moscow or Paris. Either he considered that his subordinates should guess his thoughts, or he kept the route secret, in the manner of prominent personages, to prevent attempts on his life.
His secrecy did not prevent his grumbling at his fellow travelers for not making preparations for the journey and arming themselves with the requisite materials, or even for traveling with him at all. Before the war he had been the first secretary of the Party District Committee in Sverdlovsk. During the war he was a member of the War Council and commander of the rear behind the Volkhov front-line army group; he was the Party's eyes and ears in the army organization. These Party generals never directly intervened in the planning or execution of military operations, but no order was valid until they had countersigned it.
I found Major Kuznetsov sitting in the auto. "Where are we going?" I asked.
"Somewhere or other," the adjutant replied unconcernedly. He was used to the general's ways and did not worry his head about the object of the journey.
We took the autobahn and drove to Dresden, where we drew up outside the Luisenhof. Innumerable red-pennoned automobiles surrounded it. On the steps of the hotel a group of generals was standing among them the double hero of the Soviet Union, Colonel-General of the Tank Army and military governor of Saxony, Bogdanov. These generals were the various military commanders of Saxony, and they had been summoned to Dresden to report to the high command of the S. M. A. Dresden and Berlin. The S. M. A. had received a mass of complaints and accusations concerning the activities of the local commandaturas. The various military commanders had received no instructions whatever after the capitulation and each was pursuing whatever policy he thought fit. The majority of them were half-educated men who had come to the forefront during the war, and they were completely unfitted for the tasks arising from peacetime occupation.
Before General Shabalin went off with General Bogdanov to have a consultation prior to the conference he whispered something into his adjutant's ear. Major Kuznetsov turned away and took me with him. "Come and help me look for an automobile," he said.
"What sort of automobile?" I asked in surprise.
"One for the general," he said briefly. "You'll see how it's done."
With the air of people objectively interested in car models we walked along the row of cars in which the commandants of the Saxony towns had come to the conference. As soon as a commander took over a city after the capitulation, thus becoming its absolute ruler, his first concern had been to requisition the finest car available. So now we were attending an exhibition of the finest models of the German automobile industry, from the rather conservative Maybach to the most modern creations of Mercedes-Benz. The new owners were already gone to the hotel, leaving the drivers, ordinary soldiers, in the cars.
Major Kuznetsov made a leisurely examination of the various cars, kicking the tires with his toe, testing the springs, and even looking at the speedometers to see what mileage had been covered. Finally his choice fell on a Horch cabriolet.
"Whose car is this?" he asked the soldier lolling comfortably behind the wheel.
"Lieutenant-Colonel Zakharov's," the soldier answered in a tone suggesting that the name was world-famous.
"Not a bad little bus," Kuznetsov decided. He ran his fingers over the buttons of the instrument panel, took another look at the car, and said: "Tell your lieutenant-colonel he's to send this car to Karlshorst, for General Shabalin."
The man gave the major a sidelong glance, but only asked distrustfully: "And who is General Shabalin?"
"After the conference your lieutenant-colonel will know exactly who he is," Kuznetsov answered. "And report to him that he's to punish you for not saluting General Shabalin's adjutant."
Looting activities were organized strictly in relation to rank and merit. The ordinary soldiers acquired watches and other small items. Junior officers picked up accordions; senior officers... The classification was complicated, but it was closely observed. If fate put a lieutenant in the way of acquiring a double-barreled sporting gun of the Derringer mark, it was no use his hoping to keep it. It was better for him to relinquish it voluntarily rather than have it taken from him. Sooner or later it would find its way into a major's possession. But it would not remain with him long, unless it was well concealed. This general principle was applied with particular severity to cars. You couldn't hide a car.
The Saxony commandants had lost their sense of proportion through their exercise of local plenipotentiary powers and had committed a tactical error in bringing such a large number of attractive cars to their superiors' notice. They paid for this by losing half the cars that were parked outside the hotel. When a second conference was held some months later many of the commandants arrived almost in carts. Of course they had got hold of quite good cars again by then, but they had left them behind.
Some three hundred officers, ranking from major upward, were assembled for the conference. They included several generals, the commandants of Dresden, Leipzig and other large cities, who also were to take part in the exchange of experiences. The heads of the Dresden S. M. A. were seated at the presidium table, which was covered with red cloth. General Shabalin sat with them as the representative of the S. M. A. supreme authorities at Karlshorst.
General Bogdanov opened the conference by stating that certain things had come to the ears of the S. M. A. which suggested that the commandaturas had a warped idea of their tasks. He called on the officers present to 'exchange their experiences' and to submit the defects in the commandaturas' work to pitiless criticism. He gave it to be understood that the S. M. A. was much better informed than they realized. So it would be better to discuss these defects themselves rather than wait for the S. M. A. to attack. In other words, if any one of them felt guilty he should expose as many of his neighbors' sins as possible in order to obscure his own.
A lieutenant-colonel was the first to speak: "Of course there are certain defects in the work of the commandaturas, but they're chiefly due to the lack of control from above. The military commandaturas are left to their own devices, and that leads to...." The officer who had undertaken the task of self-castigation began very uncertainly and looked round at his comrades as though seeking their support. But they all had their eyes fixed attentively on their toecaps. General Bogdanov tapped his pencil expectantly on the table. The lieutenant-colonel went on: "Many commandants are losing sight of their duty; some of them have been demoralized and bourgeoisified. So far as they're concerned the moral cleanliness of the Soviet officers is... er... er..." He felt that he had flown too high, and resolved to bring the question down to earth. "Take Major So-and-so, head of the commandatura in the town of X, for example...."
"No pseudonyms, please," General Bogdanov interrupted. "We're all friends here."
"Well then, take Major Astafiev, for example," the lieutenant-colonel corrected himself. "Since his appointment as commandant of the town of X it's notorious that he's gone to pieces. A little way outside the town there's a castle, formerly belonging to a prince, which he's made his residence. And there he lives in a style that not even the tsarist courtiers and boyars knew. He keeps more servants in the castle today than its former owners had. Every morning, when Major Astafiev deigns to open his eyes, he hasn't got the least idea where he is until lie's drunk half a bucket of pickled-cucumber liquor to clear his head after the previous night's drinking bout. And then, as befits a real gentleman, the major sticks out his dainty feet and one German woman draws the stocking on to his left foot and another German woman draws on the right. A third stands ready with his silk dressing gown. And he can't even put on his trousers without help from abroad."
There was a ripple of laughter in the hall. The gallant major's style of living obviously impressed the conference.
"But these are only the flowers; the fruits are still to come," the lieutenant-colonel exclaimed. "Major Astafiev has reduced cohabitation with German women to a system. He has a special commando squad whose one task is to scour the district to get hold of women for him. They're locked up for days in the commandatura cellars before they arrive at the major's bed.
"Recently, after one of his regular orgies, the major felt quite a longing for some fish soup. Without thinking twice about it he ordered the sluices of the castle lake to be opened so that the fish could be caught for him. He had a few small fishes for his supper, but many hundredweight of fish perished. Surely, comrades and officers, such behavior must arouse your indignation?"
His words provoked amusement rather than indignation. Each of the officers recalled similar incidents within his own experience, and shared his impressions with his neighbors.
"Major Astafiev's case," the speaker ended, "is of interest simply because it is typical. The situation is fundamentally the same in commandatura after commandatura. It is our duty to show up and brand such shameful activities, to call the fools to order and make them realize the existence of proletarian legality."
The look of amusement vanished from the other officers' faces; their eyes again studied their boots. With the mention of responsibility and legality the affair had taken an unpleasant turn. The Soviet officers were well acquainted with Soviet law. It is based on the principle of the psychological education of the collective, and so it often resorts to the use of 'scapegoats' who have to atone for the collective sins. In such cases the law is applied with unusual severity, as a deterrent.
Soviet law turns a blind eye to peccadilloes. A man is not run in for simply knocking out someone's tooth or breaking a window. There are more important matters to be attended to; for instance, a man can be given ten years for gleaning socialist ears of corn from the fields, or five years for stealing a piece of socialist sugar in a factory. Teeth and windowpanes are still private property, and so do not merit the protection of socialistic law. The result is that all feeling for legality is lost, and if this process goes too far, steps are taken to find a 'scapegoat'. It is highly unpleasant to be a scapegoat. One can get away with a great deal, only to find one is in danger of death for some really trifling offense. If the higher authorities of the S. M. A. had decided to put salutary measures into force under the pretext of harmless self-criticism, the situation must be pretty bad. And then some of the town commandants would be going before a military tribunal. Who would be the scapegoat? There was a distinct feeling of strain and nervousness in the hall.
General Bogdanov's calculation was sound. The lieutenant-colonel's opening speech, which quite possibly had been arranged in the S. M. A., was followed by a succession of recriminations. The commandants devotedly flung muck at one another, while the secretaries took down every word in shorthand. Finally it came to the generals' turn; the commandants of Dresden and Leipzig added their say. It was a rare sight to see a general standing like a schoolchild in the center of the hall and making confession of his sins. And if he referred to his general's epaulettes and tried to justify his conduct a voice shot at him derisively from the presidium: "No mock modesty, General. We're all friends here."
It revealed the mentality of a mass trained in absolute obedience. If the order comes from above to confess their sins, they all confess. Those who cannot boast of past sins confess their future ones. The commandants expose their 'deficiencies' and swear to be good children in future, and pay attention to papa. For the papa in the Kremlin is always right.
Someone in the hall rose and addressed the presidium: "May I ask a question, Comrade General? It isn't quite to the point, but I'd like to have advice."
"Well, out with it. What's troubling you?" Bogdanov said in a friendly tone.
"My commandatura is right on the Czech frontier," the speaker began. "Every day a horde of naked people are driven over the frontier into my area. I've put them all into cellars for the time being, we can't have them running about the streets like that, and I've nothing I can dress them in."
"How do you mean, 'naked'?" General Bogdanov asked.
"Just naked," the commandant replied. "Like newborn babes. It's shameful to see them."
"I don't understand. Where do these naked people come from?"
"They're Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia. The Czechs first strip them, and then send them across the frontier to me. They tell them: 'You came here naked, and you can go back naked.' They're being transferred to Germany under the Potsdam Agreement. It's a joke for the Czechs, but it's a headache for me. What am I to dress them in, when my own men are going about in rags?"
"There's a bank in my town," another commandant added his bit. "The bank director and I have inspected the private safes in the strongroom. They contain a large quantity of gold and diamonds, a real mountain of valuables. I've ordered it all to be sealed up. But what am I to do with it?"
It was characteristic that not one of the commandants complained of difficulties with the German population. They had no diversionist activities to report, or unrest. Their own men gave them much more trouble.
"The occupation machinery must be in control of the tasks set by our occupation policy," General Bogdanov told the assembly. "We must maintain the prestige of our army and our country in the eyes of the people of the occupied country. The commandaturas are the lowest link in our contacts with the German population."
After the conference there was a banquet for all who had been present. Major Kuznetsov, an officer of the S. M. A. Dresden, and I had a table in a window niche. The commandants had recovered a little from the unpleasant experiences of the conference and were trying to restore their lost self-confidence by relating their heroic deeds of wartime. In this they had much assistance from the unlimited amount of drink available. The officer of the Dresden S. M. A. looked round the hall and remarked to me:
"This reminds me of the Moscow Underground. The Under-ground's wonderful, but the people using it don't match it. Marble all round you, and hunger clothed in rags."
I asked Major Kuznetsov, whom because of his position, as adjutant was familiar with the general procedure: "What do you think will happen to Major Astafiev and the others who have been censured?"
"Nothing!" he answered with a smile. "In the worst case, they'll be transferred to other commandaturas. Even professional rogues are needed. Besides, these dolts are genuinely devoted to the Party, and to such men much is forgiven."
I was surprised to hear the major and the other officer expressing their opinions so frankly. But the frankness was due to the remark-able atmosphere that prevailed in the Party and all over the Soviet Union after the war. Everybody had the feeling that they had won their freedom, they had come out victorious. The feeling was general, but it was strengthened in those who had contacts with the west and could observe the striking contrasts between the two worlds.
During our stay in Dresden General Shabalin was a guest of General Dubrovsky, head of the Administration for Economy of S. M. A. Saxony. Dubrovsky's villa had formerly been the residence of some big German businessman. It had a beautiful garden, and after the conference Major Kuznetsov and I walked about the garden for a time. While we were out there Misha, the general's chauffeur, brought us an order that we were to go at once to General Dubrovsky's room.
There we found a rather different kind of meeting in progress. The two Soviet generals were sitting on one side of the desk, and opposite them were the German city fathers, the head of the German administration for Saxony, and the burgomaster of Dresden. The burgomaster spoke perfect Russian, and until recently he had been a lieutenant-colonel in the Red Army. They were discussing Saxony's economic tasks under the occupation regime. This subject was disposed of with amazing ease. The burgomaster was not only an obedient executive, but also a valuable adviser as to local conditions. We made no orders or demands; the burgomaster recommended efficacious measures, and we confirmed them.
Only once did the burgomaster clearly reveal any consciousness of his German origin. When the great shortage of pitprops came up for discussion General Shabalin proposed:
"There's plenty of forest around here, cut it down."
The burgomaster, the former lieutenant-colonel in the Red Army, clapped his hands in horror. "If we cut down the forests, in five years our nourishing land of Saxony will be a desert!" he exclaimed. A compromise decision was come to, to look for other resources, and meanwhile to exploit the local forests.
The head of the German Saxony administration was only a figurehead; a member of some democratic party, he was a feeble creature, ready to sign any document without looking at it. At his back was our man, a German who yesterday had been wearing Soviet uniform, but today a hundred per cent German, a burgomaster. He shrank from no effort to extract as large an amount of reparations as possible. The 'class-enemy' had been displaced overnight, the other members of the population were paralyzed with terror, and our people worked under the guise of a 'new democracy'.
Next day we drove to Halle, the capital of the province of Saxony. Here Shabalin met his old friend General Kotikov, head of the S. M. A. Administration for Economy at Halle. Later, General Kotikov acquired wider fame as the Soviet commandant of Berlin. He was a very pleasant man, and a hospitable host.
At Halle there were similar conferences to those at Dresden. First an intermezzo with the town commandants, and then General Shabalin checked up on the work of the new democracy. The local German leader had lived for fifteen years in Pokrovsky Street, in Moscow, so he and I were almost neighbors. He was even more assiduous in his task than his colleague at Dresden. General Shabalin had to dampen his ardor as he presented a long list of measures to be taken in the direction of socialization.
"Not so fast!" Shabalin said. "You must take the special features of the German economy and the transition stage into account. Put your proposals before General Kotikov for consideration."
On our way back to Berlin there was an unforeseen delay: one of our rear tires burst. Our driver had neither a spare cover nor a spare inner tube, and not even repair materials. The general raged. Whatever happened he wanted to be in Berlin before nightfall. Apparently he had no great trust in the efficiency of the city commandatura.
Kuznetsov and I exchanged glances: we would have to do some-thing to get hold of a tier, for in his fear Misha had lost all the powers of invention for which Soviet drivers are renowned. There was only one possibility: we would have to 'organize' a tier from a passing auto. Nowadays that was an everyday incident on the German country roads. We blocked the road according to all the rules of the military art, held up cars and submitted them to a thorough inspection. We found not one tier to fit our 'Admiral's' wheel. To the amazement of the people we held up, they were allowed to continue their journey. Our control post must have been an imposing sight: the general himself stood at our side, displaying his badges of rank.
After some time a remarkable procession of automobiles came slowly along: several covered lorries, painted in rainbow colors, and plastered with garish playbills. A traveling circus. Only a blackhaired Carmen was lacking to complete the scene. A jeep closed the picturesque column with an American captain at the wheel.
I tried to discover who was in charge of this show. But while I was wondering what language I would need to use in order to make myself understood, a modern Carmen jumped out of the jeep and addressed us in the genuine washerwoman's lingo of the Berlin district of Wedding. For a moment Major Kuznetsov and I forgot what we had halted all these lorries for. That flower from Wedding was devilishly beautiful! No wonder the American captain was risking the dangerous journey along the roads of the Soviet zone. For such a woman one would forget all Eisenhower's and Zhukov's regulations taken together. We tore ourselves with difficulty from the enchanting view and began to examine the tiers. Finally we came to the jeep.
"What about the jeep? Will its wheels fit?" Kuznetsov asked Misha.
"The holes fit. We'll limp a bit, but they'll get us home."
So the problem was solved. Soon we would have a supplementary delivery on lend-lease account. In any case the jeep had a spare wheel: an unnecessary luxury.
I told Carmen what we wanted, and pointed to the jeep's spare wheel. The general mentally recalled the Potsdam agreement and the technique of intimidation. "Ask the American if he has a pass for the Soviet zone. And what he's driving in these parts for?"
But both the artist and her patron were glad to get away so cheaply without any psychological pressure: a car wheel in exchange for violating the Potsdam Agreement and a journey through the Soviet zone! I made a note of the captain's Berlin address, so that we could return the expropriated wheel to its owner. Later I told Misha more than once to do so, but I fear the wheel got transformed into a bottle of vodka and found its way into his stomach. If the American captain should ever chance to read these lines, I express my thanks to him again and my apologies for the incident.
Night was falling as we approached Berlin. The general grew fidgety and told Misha he was not to drive through the American sector on any account. He was to find a road through Rudow.
That was easier said than done. Whichever way we turned, we found ourselves on roads running through the American sector, and so in the end we had to pass through it. The general flatly refused to take the normal route along the Potsdamerstrasse, and ordered Misha to wind his way through the southern suburbs until we reached the Soviet sector. Misha only shook his head. To have to travel through Berlin at night in the summer of 1945, and through unknown suburbs, was a difficult task.
The general was pulling the wool over our eyes. He could not have been seriously afraid of an attempt on our lives or some under-hand design. There was no ban on Allies traveling through one antherís Berlin sectors at that time. We had no secret documents with us. So, obviously, even on this occasion he was putting across some ideological bluff. Our auto crept slowly through the back streets. From time to time our headlamp picked out the figure of an American sentry. Or rather, figures, for they were always in pairs!
The gallant soldier blinked angrily in the powerful beam, but his lady-friend quickly got over her alarm and smiled. Needless to say, they had no suspicion that a Soviet general was gazing at them from the darkness of the car. Shabalin snorted; it was all further evidence of the moral degeneration of the American army.
After long wanderings among the ruins and allotments of the Berlin suburbs, in the light of our headlamp we saw a yellow arrow with the inscription: Karlshorst.
The first post-war conference of the Big Three was held in Potsdam from 17 July to 2 August; it has gone down in history as the Potsdam Conference.
In thinking of the Big Three at the Potsdam Conference one is inevitably struck by a gap: the familiar name of President Roosevelt was missing. He had died only a few days before the victory to which he had devoted so much strength and energy. One may find some consolation in the circumstance that he did not have to witness the crumbling of his illusions, on which he had based all his plans for a new ordering of the post-war world.
During the conference Stalin went with the supreme representatives of the Western Allies on a car-tour of Berlin. One consequence of this trip was an order to the experts of the S. M. A. Air Administration to make a report to Stalin himself on the details of the Allied attacks on the city. The ruins of Berlin spoke more clearly than the newspaper reports and the statistics of bomb tonnage. As one drove through Berlin and saw the endless ruins, one might have thought that someone had shattered the enormous city with an equally enormous hammer. A comparison of the effects of the German air attacks on Moscow with the state of Berlin after the Allied attacks was provocative of thought. It was no casual interest that prompted Stalin to call for a special report.
While the Big Three were negotiating, the S. M. A. was going on with its work. One of the first Soviet measures to have a radical influence on the internal structure of German economy was Marshal Zhukov's Order No. 124. In this he decreed the confiscation of the vast wealth of former National Socialists and further, apparently quite incidentally, issued directions that preparations were to be made for the State to take over basic industries and for a plan of land reform to be drawn up. The German authorities were not yet used to Soviet methods, and could not read between the lines.
Order No. 124 contained no precise figures. It was packed with demagogic phrases and it conferred comprehensive powers on the German authorities. The German 'people', in the persons of their 'finest representatives', were themselves to draft the plan and present it to the S. M. A. for consideration and confirmation. Simultaneously with the issue of Order No. 124, General Shabalin was given secret instructions on how it was to be put into force. These instructions laid down the precise nature of the reforms whose formulation was ostensibly to be left to the German autonomous authorities.
I had more than one opportunity to see how the process of creating a land reform was carried through in General Shabalin's private office. A solid-looking Maybach auto drove up to the entrance of the Administration, and a colorless individual in civilian clothes got out irresolutely. He was the Landrat, by favor of the S. M. A. the head of a district administration, and one of the 'finest representatives' of the German people. In the general's waiting room he stood in a cringing attitude, his coat over his arm, a shabby document-case gripped under his elbow, his hat pressed against his belly as though to defend him against a blow. With an ingratiating smile he cautiously lowered himself into a chair and waited patiently for an audience.
At last he was summoned into the general's room. An interpreter explained to Shabalin the Germans' plan for land reform in the federal State of Saxony.
"What do they propose as the upper limits of land-holdings this time?" the general asked.
"One hundred to two hundred morgens, according to the individual case, Comrade General," the interpreter answered after a glance at the land-reform draft in his hand.
"Idiots! The third draft and still no good whatever! Tell him we can't agree to it."
The interpreter translated. The Landrat kneaded his document-case helplessly between his hands, and began to explain that the proposed draft had been drawn up to secure the greatest possible economic advantages from the land, in view of the conditions of the State. He tried to explain the specific conditions of Saxony's agriculture, and said that under the hard conditions imposed by nature it was absolutely vital to observe a close constructive relationship between cattle-breeding, forestry, and agriculture. Then he dealt with the peculiar features of the thorough mechanization of German agriculture; mechanization based on small farm conditions. He expressed a genuine desire to find the best solution to the problem raised by Order No. 124.
Even when it was not absolutely necessary that I should attend, I always tried to be present at discussions of this kind. On closer inspection, Germany's apparently planless economy proved to be organically so interlocked that it afforded a very interesting study for a Soviet expert. It was an exceptionally precise and complicated piece of mechanism, in which there was very restricted scope for experiment. Frequently I saw the German experts throw up their hands in despair when the general gave them advice or submitted demands which would have perfectly fitted Soviet conditions in new planning or reconstruction. They exclaimed with one voice: "That's equal to suicide."
And so it happened this time. The general played with his pencil, puffed thoughtfully at his cigarette, blew out the smoke in rings. He did not even ask for the German's arguments to be translated to him. He regarded it all as empty noise. When he considered he had given enough time to the matter he knitted his brows and turned to the interpreter:
"Tell him the plan has got to be revised. We must look after the interests of the German peasantry, not those of the large landlords."
The general was a classic example of the Soviet official, who, being only an automatic executive organ, is incapable of considering argument put forward by the other side or of subjecting an issue to independent criticism. Yet he was deciding the whole economic future of the Soviet zone.
The German rose to his feet in consternation. All his arguments had been useless. The draft of the land reform would be subjected to many further revisions, until the 'independent' German proposal corresponded in every detail with the secret instructions, which the general kept in his safe.
The land reform was not so much an economic as a political measure. Its object was the destruction of one of the strongest groups in German society, above all economically, and to create a new group in sympathy with the new regime. In the next phase, i. e., after the consolidation of the new regime, the first group would be physically destroyed, while the second would make acquaintance with the formula so well known in the Soviet Union: 'The land to you, the fruits to us.'
I often felt sympathy for the Germans I met in General Shabalin's office. The majority was communists. In one way or another they had fought the Hitler regime, and many of them had suffered for their convictions. After the German collapse they welcomed us joyfully, some regarding us as their liberators, others as their ideological allies. Many came to see us because they wanted to work for the benefit of a future Germany. It goes without saying that among them were the inevitable opportunists.
Before any German was entrusted with any responsible position the S. M. A. subjected him to a thorough test of his political reliability. As they regarded us as their ideological allies, they did not hesitate to express their views frankly. And then one saw all too clearly what a great conflict there was between the convictions and desires many of them possessed and the instructions they received from the S. M. A. The S. M. A. wanted silent executives, not equal partners. The time was bound to come when these men would be faced with a choice: either to carry out orders without protest and become obedient tools, or clear out and make room for others.
We had other visitors to the administration besides the German official authorities. The Scientific and Technical Department had some particularly interesting callers. Before the war the head of the department, Colonel Kondakov, had been head of the Department for Higher Military-Educational Institutions, a sub-section of the All-Union Committee for Higher School Affairs. He was an elderly and very cultivated man who knew his job and had much human understanding.
One day Kondakov came up to me in the corridor. He had a look of despair on his face. "Gregory Petrovich," he said to me, "be a good sort and give me a hand."
"Why, what's wrong, Comrade Colonel?" I asked.
"Some German in my room's reducing me to despair. He's invented some devilish device and is offering it to us. He won't tell us the details, and we can't make any sense of what he's saying."
In the colonel's room I found a fair-haired German; he introduced first himself then his young, doll-like wife to me.
"Well, what is it you've got?" I asked.
"First of all, Major, I must draw your attention to the fact that I am greatly interested in offering my invention to the great Soviet Union, where it will be used for the benefit of the toilers..."
"Good, but what is it?" I interrupted as he paused for breath.
"I don't want my invention to fall into the hands of the Americans, though I know they'd pay me more. I don't like the imperialists. I'm a convinced communist and..."
"All right! We'll take that for granted," I interrupted again. "What exactly is your invention?"
After an hour I was still no more able to make any sense of his remarks than the colonel had been. He had invented some very mysterious motor with an incredible performance and many other attractive features. He gave us to understand that it would bring about a revolution in warfare, and assured us he had kept it secret for years at the risk of his life, because he didn't want the 'fascists' to use it to the detriment of humanity. He asked to be given the opportunity to carry on his work and prepare models. The trouble was that all his calculations; plans and models had been destroyed during the American bombing attacks. In exchange for our assistance he bound himself to place the patent at the service of the Soviet government.
I asked him to supply me with a list of the things he needed for his work. As though that was all he had been waiting for, he opened his case and handed me a statement which included all the desires of the heart: money, means of existence, even cigarettes, but none of the things which were necessary to an inventor of such a machine. He asked for a period of six months in which to carry it all through.
I felt a strong desire to kick him out, and was sure he was trying the same trick on all the four occupation authorities. The colonel decided to give him a chance to justify his claims. But he muttered to himself: "You wait! If you're trying to make a fool of me you'll find yourself in a cell."
Such characters were regular visitors to all our departments. But it goes without saying that the Scientific and Technical Department was chiefly occupied with more important work. The people it was interested in did not come to the S. M. A. of their own accord. Usually they had to be sought for and brought in.
The Scientific and Technical Department was really only a collecting and clearing point for the similarly named department attached to the Narcomvnudel. Colonel Kondakov sifted the incoming material, assessed its value, and passed it on to the cognate department of the Narcomvnudel in Potsdam, where highly qualified Soviet experts in all branches of science and technique were installed. From which one can assume that Moscow had more faith in the Narcomvnudel than in the S. M. A.
The chief task of the S. M. A. Department was to search for brains. Moscow had a high estimation of German brains. So, for that matter, had the Western Allies, and consequently from the very first day of the occupation bitter struggle went on between the western and eastern allies. At the capitulation, Thuringia and a large part of Saxony were in the hands of the Americans. Two months later, in accordance with agreements, this area was handed over to the Soviet occupying authorities.
During his inspection tours General Shabalin asked the military governors how far the S. M. A. order to seek out and register German experts had been carried through. He was astonished and indignant at the rapid and thorough work, which the 'damned Allies' had put in. During their brief stay in Thuringia and Saxony the Americans had mopped up all the cream of the German scientific and technical spheres. Outstanding scientists, valuable research laboratories, technical archives, were all carried off.
Scientists who received instructions to be evacuated could take with them not only all the material they needed for their work, but whole establishments together with their scientific collaborators, as they thought fit. In this province the Soviet authorities found only comparatively unimportant lecturers and assistants. The Zeiss works at Jena were regarded as particularly valuable booty. But from Jena, too, the Americans had been able to withdraw all the leading technical staff. Zeiss could manage to carry on with the staff that remained, but it could not advance. The same applied to the research institutes in Dresden and Leipzig.
Another circumstance of great importance was the fact that the majority of the leading German scientists had fled westward while the Red Army was advancing. And so the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, one of the greatest scientific institutions in the world, and of especial interest to Moscow, proved to be as useful to us as the ruins of the Coliseum.
To put up a good show to Moscow, the S. M. A. did its best to represent that the third-rate scientists who fell into their hands were men of the utmost importance. Assistants in Messerschmitt's laboratory were declared to be his closest collaborators. The usual methods of Soviet leadership: the plan descended from above, and sand was flung up from below.
On the plea that it was a necessary step to secure the peace, the S. M. A. sought all over Germany for military experts. Its representatives hunted assiduously for constructors of V2's, jet-planes, and heavy tanks. And swarms of petty swindlers haunted the S. M. A. offices, offering their services in the perfection of deadly weapons.
Colonel Kondakov's assistant in the Scientific and Technical Department was a Major Popov. One day he and I were discussing the latest technical achievements of the air-arm, with particular reference to the Luftwaffe and the American Flying Fortresses, the B-29's. "We've got them now," he said casually. "You remember the papers reporting in 1943 that several Flying Fortresses went off their course after a bombing attack on Japan, and were interned in the Soviet Union?"
"Yes, I remember," I answered.
"That was a really delicate affair," he commented. "And rather different from how the papers reported it. When the Forts were discovered over our territory a squadron of especially fast Soviet fighters was sent up after them. They overtook the Americans and signaled to them to land. The Americans had been ordered that they were not to land in any unknown area with Flying Fortresses. The Forts were the latest achievement of American aviation technique, and they were a dead secret. In the event of a forced landing being necessary, the crews had orders to take to their parachutes and blow up their machines in mid-air.
So the Forts continued to fly over the Siberian taiga without taking notice of our pursuit. The Soviet fighters fired a warning salvo with their rocket-guns, broke up the bomber formation and forced one to land on the landing ground at Khabarovsk. The crew was given a right hearty reception. But despite all attempts to persuade them, the Americans refused to leave their machine until an American consul had arrived.
A consul wasn't to be found all that easily, but in the presence of the crew the whole machine was sealed up, from nose to tail. Our people solemnly stuck the seal in the American commander's pocket, and assured them that everything was in order, they could spend a couple of hours quietly in the Intourist hotel until the consul arrived. But while Intourist was entertaining the crew with all the pleasures of earth the cables between Moscow and Khabarovsk hummed with secret requests and answering secret orders. Planes loaded with the finest Soviet experts were hurriedly dispatched from Moscow.
The Americans were persuaded, and where necessary forced, to spend the night in the hotel and meanwhile a feverish activity set in on the landing ground. The seals were removed, and the Soviet engineers, technicians, and constructors swarmed over the machine by the light of searchlights. I was one of the technicians sent to carry out the Kremlin's order 'to commit everything to paper'. We spent several days studying the bomber, while the American crew were kept interned."
The fact that a B-29 had landed in the Far East of Soviet Russia was reported at the time by Tass, and one could take it for granted that everything went as Major Popov declared. But, after discussing the difficulties of the job and the services he personally had rendered, he gave the story a more romantic ending:
"One of the members of the crew, who suspected that there was something wrong somewhere, managed to get out of the hotel at night and make his way to the landing ground. There he saw what was happening to the 'sealed' machine. He returned and told his comrades. They had a short-wave transmitter which was to be used in emergencies, and they at once sent a code message to American headquarters. Meanwhile Washington and Moscow were engaged in a lively exchange of notes over the interned aircraft.
By the time the crew's report reached Washington the Soviet technical brigade had done its job. The crew was escorted to the landing ground, and the commander was solemnly invited to convince himself that the seals had not been broken. Stalin sent an extremely cordial cable to President Roosevelt, informing him personally of the machine's release. A few minutes before the B-29 was due to leave, Stalin received a cable from the President: 'Accept the B-29 as a present from me.'
"When the Soviet pilots took over the gift in order to fly it to Moscow, they came up against unexpected difficulties. It was far from easy to get the gigantic craft airborne. So one of our best test pilots for heavy machines was specially sent from Moscow. After studying it for two weeks he managed to get it up and flew it safely to Moscow. For which he was awarded the title of '???? of the Soviet Union'.
"Several of the Central Construction Bureaus attached to the People's Commissariat for Aviation In Industry were assigned the task of preparing the manufacture of this type of machine. The first test machines were ready by the last year of the war. A little later a number of aviation works in the Urals began serial production. Tupolev and the gifted designer Petliakov were entrusted with the creation of the Soviet 'Flying Fortresses'."
As time passed more people arrived to work in the S. M. A. On entering General Shabalin's outer office one day I saw a young woman leaning back in an armchair. She had one leg crossed over the other, a cigarette in one hand, and was conversing gaily with Major Kuznetsov. She left brilliant crimson traces of lipstick on her cigarette when she took it out of her mouth. She threw me a swift, appraising glance, then turned back to the major. There was something distinctive about her behavior, the exaggeratedly slovenly attitude, the way she took deep draws at her cigarette, the twist of her carmined lips. She was waiting to see the general. When she had gone in I asked Kuznetsov:
"Who is that beauty?"
"She's been an interpreter to one of the dismantling generals. Now he's gone back to Moscow and the chief of staff has recommended her to our boss. Apparently she's to be his interpreter."
And so Lisa Stenina became General Shabalin's interpreter, his private interpreter, as she always emphasized. She spoke German perfectly, was well educated, well read, and clever. And she had several other unusual qualities.
She used make-up far too much. Although she looked at least twenty-five, she maintained that she was not more than seventeen. And although all her documents referred to her as Elizaveta Yefimovna, she always introduced herself as Elizaveta Pavlovna. Yefimovna was plebeian, but Pavlovna sounded like a Pushkin heroine.
Lisa was not in the army, but she always wore an officer's coat with lieutenant's insignia over her silk dress, declaring she had nothing else to wear. Of course, that was sheer imagination: she wore the coat only for show. She had an unbridled tongue. And she was fond of discussing very delicate political questions. But above all she liked to impress. At every opportunity she mentioned that her sister was married to General Rudenko. If her audience failed to show any sign of interest, she added that General Rudenko was head of the Soviet Purchasing Commission in America. And if that didn't do the trick, she confided that he wasn't simply our trade representative in America, he was head of Soviet intelligence there.
Once she was absent from the office a whole day without permission. She turned up in the interpreters' room late in the evening, but in a shocking state: terribly scratched, her clothes torn, her head bound up.
I was informed by phone of her arrival ten minutes before the close of office hours. I went to find out what had happened.
"Where have you been?" I asked her anxiously.
"A colonel invited me to go for a ride and took me into the forest. Well, and then...."
"And then I suppose you made a fool of him," I surmised.
"Where's your cap?" someone asked.
"Lost," she answered, to convey all the seriousness of the situation from which she had emerged victorious.
"And have you lost nothing else, my dear Lisa?" I asked, in an assumed anxious tone. She gave me a devastating look.
"Now what are we to do with you?" I asked commiseratingly. "As you're a lieutenant, you should be put under arrest for arbitrary absence from duty. What will the general say?"
"That's my concern; you needn't worry about that, Comrade Major."
"Poor Lisa!" I sighed.
A day or two later Major Kuznetsov remarked to me casually: "I hear you're always teasing Lisa. You want to be careful with her."
"Take my advice. Even the general's afraid of her. Give it a moment's thought. She hasn't been assigned to the general by chance. Understand?" He lowered his tone. "I tell you as a friend: don't play with fire."
Later on I learned rather more about Lisa Stenina and her past.