"Siemens in Arnstadt: that's under your control, isn't it?"
The head of the Administration for Industry handed me a code telegram struck across diagonally in red to indicate that it was secret. It read: 'Electronic measuring instruments discovered. Object of use unknown. Suspect atom research. Awaiting instructions. Vassiliev.'
Colonel Vassiliev was the S. M. A. plenipotentiary at the Siemens works in Arnstadt, as well as the director of the scientific research institute for television, which was attached to the works. He was an experienced and reliable man: if he mentioned 'atom research' he had reason for doing so. I held the telegram in my hand, waiting for Alexandrov to say more.
"We must send someone there. As the works is under your direction it would be best if you went yourself," he said.
"It would be as well to take someone from the Department for Science and Technique with me," I observed.
Half an hour later the deputy head of the Department for Science and Technique, Major Popov, and I left Karlshorst for Thuringia. We reached Arnstadt just before midnight, and went straight to Colonel Vassiliev's house, right opposite the works. He had been phoned that we were coming, and he and his assistant were waiting for us.
"What have you discovered, Comrade Colonel?" Major Popov asked.
"Let's go to the works at once and you'll see for yourself," Vassiliev said.
Accompanied by the commander of the works guard we made our way through the darkness to the far end of the yard, to the warehouse for raw materials and finished production. A guard challenged us outside; and inside, before a sealed door, we found a second armed guard. When the seal was removed we passed into a great warehouse packed with half-assembled electrical equipment: unfinished war production-a scene common to all the German factories immediately after the war.
Vassiliev halted beside several large, long wooden cases. They contained enormous glass utensils with spherical swellings in their middle; they were packed with great care, and held by special clamps.
The equipment was similar to the ordinary cathode tubes used in oscillographs, but was much bigger. It was an easy deduction that it was connected with electrical measurement, and the type of insulation used showed that it was intended for high-tension current of enormous voltage, such as is employed in cyclotrons for experiments in atom-splitting. One of the pieces had a special attachment for taking photo of the process. Judging by its construction it was not intended for measuring continuous charge, but a single, sudden, enormous application of current.
The cases were marked: 'With great care, glass', but we vainly looked for any indication of where they had come from or whom they were consigned to. They bore only indecipherable rows of numbers and letters.
"How did they get here?" I asked Vassiliev. "They couldn't have been produced in this works."
He only shrugged his shoulders.
Next morning we opened an official inquiry. All the people who might be expected to have some knowledge of the mysterious cases were summoned one by one to Vassiliev's office. The warehouse men knew nothing, for the cases had not been opened on delivery to the warehouse, and had lain until Vassiliev had discovered them. The technical staff said the instruments had not been produced in Arnstadt, but had probably come with other material from the Telefunken and Siemens chief works in Berlin. We felt convinced that they did not even know precisely what instruments they were being asked about.
We decided to send a wire direct to Karlshorst, asking for the help of experts from the Special Group. The Special Group is the highest Soviet organization for scientific research in Germany, and is attached to the M. V. D. Department for Science and Technique in Potsdam. They have full powers to make direct contact at once, if necessary with all the scientific research organizations in the Soviet Union.
It did not surprise us to find the mysterious apparatus in the Siemens warehouse at Arnstadt. During the later years of the war all the large German works shifted their industrial plant and established branches and depots in areas less subject to air attack. Moreover, immediately before the capitulation the more valuable installations and stores of raw material were removed and secretly deposited in various remote parts. We often came across most interesting material in the least expected places.
It was of great importance to find out who had ordered this apparatus to be made, and whom it was intended for. To discover this, we must first ascertain where it had been produced. Only a very few German works could have made it, the most important of these being at Siemensstadt, in the British sector of Berlin. That was beyond the scope of our authority - at least, officially.
On the other hand, the Telefunken works were at Erfurt, and they were concerned with producing huge transmitter valves for broadcasting stations. Telefunken-Erfurt was perfectly able to handle such a contract. Moreover, the technical directors at Erfurt were in constant business contact with Siemensstadt, and had a pretty good idea of all that went on in other Telefunken works. There we should find the threads linking up with the mysterious apparatus at Arnstadt.
We decided that Colonel Vassiliev should await the arrival of the Special Group experts, while Major Popov and I visited the Telefunken works at Erfurt.
We notified the S. M. A. control officers, Lieutenant-Colonel Yevtikov and Lieutenant Novikov, that we were coming to Erfurt, and found them waiting for us in the former directors' office. When we explained the reason for our visit they breathed a sigh of relief; they had obviously been expecting one of the regular inquiries into their failure to comply with production plans and reparations deliveries.
We questioned all the engineers working in the department for transmitter valve production, and came upon several essential clues. Shortly before the capitulation they had executed some special orders for gigantic electrodes and other parts for some quite unknown and completely new type of construction. The constructional plans had come from Berlin, and the parts, when manufactured, were to be sent there, presumably for assembly. The work was strictly secret. When we persisted in asking the origin of the commission and the constructional plans, the technical head of the transmitter valve department said uncertainly: "Berlin-Dahlem ... I think..."
That was good enough. During the war Berlin-Dahlem had been the headquarters of the secret laboratories for atomic physics engaged in atom-splitting experiments.
At this stage Colonel Vassiliev telephoned from Arnstadt to report that the Special Group experts had arrived. I knew that Lieutenant-Colonel Yevtikov was a sluggish sort of individual, so I asked Lieutenant Novikov to get reliable men to start a thorough search immediately for anything that could have any connection with the mysterious order, and to place anything found under lock and key and post a military guard over it. Lieutenant Novikov was an energetic and able man, an engineer by profession, who later, when the Telefunken-Erfurt was transformed into a Soviet A. G. company, was appointed chief engineer to the works. While he set to work on the inquiries, Major Popov and I drove back to Arnstadt.
In Vassiliev's office we found a group of men who were obviously scientists and thoroughly at home in laboratories and research institutions. Together with them there were several taciturn men in civilian dress, which took no part in the discussion of technical points and kept mainly in the background. But one could see that they were the real bosses: they were the M. V. D. shadows.
The experts had already examined the mysterious apparatus, and without asking them any questions we felt that they confirmed our suppositions. Major Popov reported on our visit to Telefunken-Erfurt. Now we had the unpleasant feeling that our report was acquiring the features of a judicial interrogation; it was as though the M. V. D. shadows suspected that we might be concealing something. Even in dealings with Soviet officers that institution applies its quite distinctive methods.
A searching examination of the technical employees at Arnstadt continued all that day. Each individual had to pledge himself in writing to the strictest secrecy. Towards evening the apparatus was all taken to Berlin, under reinforced escort and with the greatest of precautions.
Accompanied by Major Popov and myself, the Special Group experts went on to Erfurt. Yevtikov had already been ordered not to let anybody leave the works who was likely to be required for questioning.
The inquiry went on all night: the taciturn men with the pale faces seemed to make no difference between night and day. The inquiry was held in Yevtikov's office, but he, Major Popov, and I, spent the night in an adjacent room, whence one or another of us was summoned to establish some fact or to give information, as we were well acquainted with the activities of the Telefunken works. The Special Group acquired not only a mass of fresh material, but also a list of the German scientists and engineers who had been directly concerned with carrying out the secret commission. Once more the threads linked up with the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute and the secret laboratories for atomic physics in Berlin-Dahlem.
One of the leading German atomic physicists was Dr. Otto Hahn, a pupil of Max Planck. A number of the German scientists who had been working in his laboratory fell into the hands of the Soviet authorities after the capitulation and were taken to the Soviet Union, where they were afforded every possibility of continuing their research. Such famous German scientists as Professor Herz and Dr. Arden are now working in Soviet Research Institutes connected with atomic research under the general direction of Professor Kapitza, who is also head of the Supreme Administration for the scientific research organizations attached to the Ministry for Special Weapons.
By the last few months of the war the Germans had cyclotrons for atom splitting at their disposition. But the catastrophic situation at the fronts and the destruction of the German heavy-water plant in Norway by the R. A. F. forced them to suspend attempts to solve the secret of the atom. Before the final capitulation they scattered all the atom laboratory equipment in spots which seemed safe from discovery. The Soviet authorities set up Special Units to search exclusively for the secret weapons on which Hitler had set such great hopes.
During the month following our finds at Arnstadt all who had had anything to do with it were once more summoned to Potsdam-Babelsberg, to the headquarters of the Special Group. Somehow or other it had got hold of some valuable clues, both from German scientists working in the Soviet Union and from many others living in the German western zones. At times one cannot but feel admiration at the precision and speed with which the M. V. D. works. It is with good reason that this highly responsible field of research has been en-trusted to it.
While the Special Group was solving the problem of the Arnstadt equipment the S. M. A. made a further important discovery. From Suslov, the Scientific and Technical Department's representative for Thuringia, the head of the department, Colonel Kondakov, received a telegram announcing that 'The Levkovich Group has come upon a secret store of equipment whose purpose is unknown'.
Colonel Levkovich was the head of the Dismantling Group operating in Thuringia. Such discoveries were by no means rare; dismantling teams had more than once come across double walls, with special installations or machinery concealed between them. Because of this a circular had been issued, instructing that all the walls of dismantled works were to be sounded. The dismantlers also searched systematically for plant removed from factories and works immediately before the capitulation.
Kondakov sent two of his officers to Thuringia immediately. In the abandoned galleries of an unfinished underground factory, situated in a forest, they saw carefully packed apparatus which apparently had been intended for use in connection with very high-tension transformers or discharges such as are required in laboratories researching into the problems of high-tension current.
They were especially struck by the remarkable scale of this apparatus, and especially the insulation. Although the experts from Karlshorst had never had anything to do with cyclotrons, they thought at once of atomic research, and cabled for experts from the Special Group.
A few hours later the experts arrived from Babelsberg; their car was escorted by a second containing a force of soldiers in green caps: M. V. D. special troops. One glance at the plant convinced the experts of the significance of the find. A cipher cable was sent to General Pashchin, in the Ministry for Special Weapons at Moscow, and the following day a group of M. V. D. experts left Moscow to take over the plant. As soon as they arrived the area, with a circumference of several miles, was sealed off with M. V. D. guards. From that moment neither the men from Karlshorst nor those of the Special Group from Babelsberg were allowed to visit the area until the entire equipment had been removed to the Soviet Union.
Later, Colonel Kondakov explained that we had not discovered anything new in the sphere of atomic research in Germany. Similar equipment was being made in the U. S. S. R. before the war, under the supervision of Professor Kapitza. Owing to wartime difficulties, Germany had been unable to conduct the research on any large scale. The purely scientific and theoretical aspects of problems associated with the atom have been known to the scientists of many countries for many years past, and Germany failed to find the solution to the problem of splitting the atom chiefly because of technical difficulties -above all, that of constructing the necessary plant and providing the energy for splitting the atom.
One must remark on the striking difference between the Soviet and the foreign press in its handling of atomic questions. We - officers from Soviet Russia, who stood on the bounds between two worlds, saw the difference more clearly than anybody else did. While in general the Soviet press maintained an excessive silence, the foreign press was vociferous, and reminded one of a woman going into hysterics at the sight of a mouse. The fuss made over the atom bomb is indicative of fear and shows a lack of sense of reality. In the last resort the atom bomb alone cannot decide the destiny of the world. Man has already produced the atom bomb, and he will always be mightier than the atom.
"It's amazing how much fuss is being made over the atom bomb," Colonel Kondakov remarked one day.
"Yes, and the reports always come from 'reliable sources'," his assistant. Major Popov smirked. "Sometimes from circles close to Karlshorst, sometimes 'direct from Moscow'."
"To tell the truth, the foreign press knows more than we ourselves do," the colonel sighed. "Their continual quest for the sensational..."
His remark was typical of the attitude of responsible Soviet officials. Each of us knew exactly so much as he had to know in order to perform his duties. And the majority of us went to great trouble to know as little as possible. While the world was shivering with atom fever our life pursued its normal course. I am reminded of a comparatively unimportant yet significant incident that occurred in my everyday life about that time.
Shortly after my return from Thuringia the Administration for Reparations sent me a file containing constructional plans, accompanied by a note: 'We send you the prototype plans for a standard house-cottage intended for workers' colonies in the Soviet Union, in accordance with reparations Order No... We re-quest you to check the electrical installations for the proposed project and confirm them. We also request you to prepare an overall plan of electrical installations for a total of 120, 000 houses, and to notify us which works are in a position to execute such an order. Petrov: Head of the Electro-Industry Department of the Administration for Reparations.'
The plans included constructional diagrams for an ordinary German one-family house, consisting of three rooms, kitchen, bathroom, and toilet. In the basement there were a coal cellar and washhouse.
I and several other engineers studied the plans with much interest. "When we go back to Russia we'll get a little house like that," one of us remarked.
The electrical installations were checked, the plans approved, and the Administration for Reparations sent them on to Moscow for final approval.
A little later I found the file again on my desk, with an accompanying note: 'On the instruction of the U. S. S. R. Ministry for the Building Industry I request you to make certain requisite modifications in the project. Petrov.'
Curious to see what improvements Moscow had ordered, I unfolded the plans. To begin with, the washhouse had been abolished; the Ministry considered that the washing could be done just as well in the kitchen. Second, the verandah was eliminated. Quite understandable: the tenants weren't to loll around on verandahs.
After the modifications had been made accordingly, the project was returned to Moscow for approval. A few weeks later I found it on my desk yet again, this time accompanied by the laconic remark: 'Please make the necessary alterations. Petrov, '
This time the changes were pretty drastic. Without a word of explanation the bathroom and the toilet had been abolished. Every workers' colony has public baths, so why a bathroom to each house? But the toilet? Apparently the Moscow authorities were of the opinion that such things were unnecessary so long as there were bushes around.
The plans for electrical installations had been provided with a plentiful crop of thick red question marks. For instance, in the bedroom there were question marks against the wall plug, the bedside lamp to be attached to it, and the cord to enable it to be worked from the bed. The 120, 000 workers' dwellings had been refashioned to meet the Soviet requirements. The cottages had been turned into ordinary huts. As finally 'modernized', the project was the subject of bitter jest among the engineers of our department, and none of them expressed any desire to live in such a house.
From one-fourth to one-third of the budget for the current five-year plan for the 're-establishment of Soviet Economy', i. e. some 60 milliard rubles, goes directly or indirectly into atom re-search and development. But if a man, the lord of creation and the creator of the atom bomb, needs to perform his natural functions, let him run to the nearest bush. So the State interest requires!
In the high summer of 1946 a number of commissions from various Soviet ministries arrived in Karlshorst to inquire into the possibilities of allocating reparations orders and of exploiting the finished production lying in the warehouses of German industrial works. Two representatives from the Soviet Ministry for Shipbuilding invited me to travel with them through the Soviet zone to study the situation on the spot.
Colonel Bykov, Captain Fedorov, and I set out from Karlshorst to go to Weimar. On the road I got to know my companions quite well. They were both extremely pleasant fellows, and ignored military regulations so far as to use the familiar Christian name and patronymic, rather than the prescribed rank and surname. They were not professional officers but engineers. And besides, they were in the navy; anybody who has had anything to do with seamen knows the difference between the navy and the army.
On our arrival at Erfurt we put up at the Haus Kossenhaschen, which had been turned into the staff headquarters of the dismantling teams working in Thuringia. We sat in the old-fashioned, oak-paneled hall, talking while we waited to be called to lunch. I had been here often before, so the scene was familiar to me. But my companions had left Moscow only a few days previously, and they were keenly interested in all that was happening.
"Tell me, Gregory Petrovich, what's going on around here? Are they preparing for an expedition to the North Pole?" Colonel Bykov asked me in an undertone. The strange inquiry was due to the fact that all the dismantling officers bustling to and from were wearing enormous boots of reindeer hide, although it was a very warm summer day. And these men in fur boots carried sporting guns with them wherever they went, even taking them into the dining hall.
"No," I answered. "It's only that the dismantlers have found a store of German airmen's arctic equipment somewhere or other, and now they're enjoying the pleasure of trying it out. And they've got their guns with them because they're going off to hunt immediately they've had their dinner."
"An amusing lot!" The colonel shook his head. "Haven't they really got anything else to do?"
"The position's rather complicated," I explained. "The main work of dismantling was finished some time ago now, and the majority of them haven't anything to do. But they aren't having a bad time here, so their chief activity in life at present is to drag out whatever they're doing. As they're directly under Moscow control, the S. M. A. can't do anything about it."
"In Berlin we were told that many of them have accumulated enough to retire for the rest of their lives," Fedorov remarked.
"Recently the S. M. A. Department for Precision Tools did take up one case," I said. "It involved the director of the State Watch and Clock Works No. 2. He had been sent to Germany to dismantle the watch and clock industry. Soon after his return to Moscow the S. M. A. discovered that while here he had acquired many thousand gold watches and several dozen kilograms of gold illegally."
"That certainly should provide for the rest of his life," Fedorov remarked with conviction in his tone. "If only for a lifelong free lodging."
"I doubt whether he'll get that," I commented.
"Why do you?" The captain was astonished.
"Well, the circumstances were reported to the higher authorities, and they hushed it all up."
"But why?" Fedorov still failed to understand.
"Don't ask me!" I replied. "Apparently they prefer not to bring such people into disrepute. 'Don't wash dirty linen in public', says the old saying. His wasn't the first case of its kind."
"And he's a Soviet director!" the colonel exclaimed indignantly.
I could not help smiling bitterly. Nodding towards the dismantling officers bustling about, I said: "In the Soviet Union all these people are either high ministerial officials or factory directors. And hardly any of them are very different from that director I've just told you of. You can take my word for it. We in the S. M. A. are getting more and more of that sort of case brought to our notice."
There was an awkward silence, broken only when the headwaiter summoned us to the dining hall.
We spent two days visiting factories and works in the Erfurt district. My companions were especially concerned with orders for special electrical installations in warships, and in particular in U-boats. I was struck by the interest they showed in the life going on around us - I had been more than a year in Germany now, and I was not so impressed by the contrasts as I had been at first.
Among the works we visited was the Telefunken factory; my companions wanted to find out whether it could undertake reparations orders for naval receiving and transmitting apparatus. As we drove along the drive to the offices the colonel exclaimed: "Look at that, Victor Stepanovich! Tennis courts!"
Captain Fedorov also stared through the window at several courts surrounded with a high wire-mesh wall. Around the courts there were flowerbeds, and a little square where one could rest. The captain gazed with intense curiosity at the tennis courts, the garden, and the nearby factory buildings, as though the very fact that they were all to be found together within the factory walls was noteworthy in itself.
In the Soviet Union it is continually being proclaimed that the workers need to have opportunities for rest and recreation within the factory area. But as a rule the idea never gets beyond the proclamation stage, and such facilities are to be found only in a few works which serve as showplaces. But now, in Germany, the two Soviet officers were seeing things, which they had been told at home, were the achievement exclusively of the Soviet system.
Not far from the office building there were several rows of cycle stands all of them empty.
"But where are the cycles, Gregory Petrovich?" the captain asked me.
"Now that's really too simple!" I retorted. "In Russia, of course."
"Oh, of course!" he smiled. "But there must have been a lot here at one time. Almost one per worker."
After we had discussed our business with the Soviet control officers and the Telefunken directorate's representatives, Colonel Bykov turned to me with an unexpected request: "Couldn't you arrange for us to go over the works? So that we can get to know the labor processes and organization?"
The technical director was quite willing to take us round. We went right through the production departments, from beginning to end of the process. In a great hall where electrodes were being wound and assembled for wireless valves several hundred women and girls were sitting at tables. The director explained the details, but Colonel Bykov did not listen to him. The colonel had fallen a little way behind, and was unobtrusively surveying the hall.
His eyes passed slowly over the huge windows, over the high walls, the ceiling, and rested for a moment on the glass partitions that separated one sector from another. As a high ministerial official and head of one of the main departments in the Ministry for Shipbuilding he was well acquainted with working conditions in the Soviet Union, and it was obvious that he was quietly comparing them with conditions in this German works.
As we were leaving the hall Captain Fedorov drew me back. "Gregory Petrovich," he said, "how do you like this seat?" He perched himself on one of the seats, all of the same pattern, used by the women workers. It was fitted with a padded backrest, and its height was adjustable.
"What do you find interesting about that seat, Victor Stepanovich?" I asked him.
"To start with, it's comfortable. For a worker it's absolutely luxurious. But quite apart from that, did you notice the seats they had in the factory office?”
"No, I didn't."
"They're exactly the same," he said with a faint smile. "Directors and workers, they all sit on the same seats. And they're really comfortable, too."
As we went on, the technical director began to complain of the difficulties they met with in regard to labor power; workers tended to come and go as they liked, and this had a detrimental effect on output. "It takes four weeks to train a new worker," he said. "But many of them don't stay longer than a fortnight. And absenteeism is very common."
"But haven't you any means of stopping it?" the colonel asked in astonishment.
The director shrugged his shoulders. "A worker can be away three days without good reason," he explained. "If he's away any longer he must obtain a doctor's certificate."
"Then how do you stop slacking and shifting from one works to another?" the colonel asked.
"If the worker comes within the categories I have just referred to we have no powers of dismissal. On the other hand, if he wishes to throw up his job we can't make him work," the director replied.
"I'm not thinking of dismissal, I'm thinking of the necessity to make a man work," the colonel persisted. The director stared at him blankly. "I beg your pardon?" he said. The colonel repeated his remark.
"We have no legal means of compelling a worker to work. We can only dismiss a worker who violates the labor code," the German answered.
There was an awkward pause. The worst punishment a German worker could suffer was dismissal. In the Soviet Union dismissal was frequently a worker's one, unachievable, dream. A Soviet director can deal with a worker entirely as he wishes. He can put a man on a poor and badly paid Job, and he can, or rather must, hand a man over to the law for arriving late, even if it were only a few minutes. But the worker has no right whatever to change his place of work without the director's agreement.
Arbitrary absenteeism is liable to lead to imprisonment. We Soviet officers were used to such discipline, and so we could not understand the German director's impotence. And he for his part was highly astonished at what he evidently regarded as our absurd questions. Two worlds: two systems.
"You were speaking of the labor code, just now," the colonel went on. "What labor legislation governing relations between employer and employee is in force today? Laws dating from the Hitler regime?"
"The German labor code dates mainly from the time of Bismarck," the German answered. "It has suffered only insignificant modifications since then."
"The time of Bismarck?" Bykov sounded incredulous. "But that's something like seventy years ago...."
"Yes," the director answered, and for the first times a look of pride showed in his face. "Germany's social legislation is one of the most progressive in the world... I mean in Western Europe," he hurriedly corrected himself as he remembered that he was talking to Soviet officers.
The colonel looked at the captain. The captain, for his part, looked at me. I was used to this kind of mute dialogue; it was the normal reaction of Soviet people to things that made them think, but which could not be discussed.
I took advantage of the fact that none of our control officers was near to ask the director why there had been a sudden fall in radio valve production during the last few months. When one inspects a factory it is best to talk with both sides separately.
"The main reason is the shortage of wolfram and molybdenum wire," he answered.
"But you were recently allocated a supply securing the production plan for six months," I retorted. "Haven't you received it from Berlin yet?"
"Yes, Herr Major, but don't you know..." he muttered in his embarrassment. "Hasn't Herr Novikov reported to you...?"
"He's reported nothing. What's happened?"
The director hesitated before answering:
"We needed the wire so urgently that we sent a lorry to Berlin to fetch it."
"On the way back the lorry was stopped...."
"What happened to the wire?"
"Herr Major, our men couldn't do anything...."
"But where's the wire?"
"As our lorry was approaching Leipzig at night another lorry blocked its way. Armed men with machine pistols forced our driver and the dispatching clerk to get out, and they took over the lorry and drove off. The wire..."
"Who were the bandits?"
"They were wearing Soviet uniforms," he answered reluctantly.
As we got into our car after leaving the director, Captain Fedorov asked:
"But who could have been interested in that lorry and its wire? D'you think it was some diversionists trying to sabotage reparations deliveries?"
"We're well aware of that kind of diversionary activity," I told him. "The lorry will be found abandoned in a forest in a day or two, with the wire still on it, but stripped of its tires and battery. I expect that's what Novikov is hoping for, too. That's why he hasn't reported the matter yet."
"But who goes in for that sort of thing?" the captain asked.
"You live here for any length of time and you'll find out." I avoided a direct answer.
From the Telefunken works we drove to a Thiel works for precision instruments and clocks. It was situated in a small village which we had difficulty in finding on a map. There were several other quite large industrial works engaged in armature production in the same village. It lay in a narrow valley between wooded hills, along the sides of which the Thuringian houses, brightly painted clung in rows. It was difficult to believe that this place was a workers' settlement.
"It looks more like a sanatorium," Fedorov remarked, and his voice expressed envy, or regret. "In this country workers live as if they were staying at a health resort."
We called on the S. M. A. control officers, who had taken up their residence in the villa of one of the factory owners. As we came away the colonel laughed and said: "Victor Stepanovich, what do you think these brothers of ours are most afraid of?"
"Lest they should be transferred somewhere else," the captain replied without stopping to think. And we all understood what he meant by 'somewhere else'.
People living in the West would never guess what it is that most astonishes Soviet people, especially engineers, on their first visit to a German factory. It might be thought that the Soviet officers would gaze open-mouthed at the enormous buildings, the innumerable modern machines and other technical achievements. But such things have long since lost any power to surprise us. It is rather the western peoples who would be astonished at the size of Soviet factories and the scope of their technical achievement.
It is not western technique, not western machinery, that are new to us, but the place which man occupies in society and the State. We have to recognize the fact that men in the western system of free development of social relations enjoy far greater rights and liberties, that, to put it simply, they get much more out of life than do the Soviet people of the corresponding social stratum.
As we were traveling on to our next point of call that evening, not far from Jena a fault developed in our car's dynamo, and it stopped charging. To avoid running down the battery completely we switched off our headlamps and drove slowly through the night. On one side of the narrow road a steep cliff overgrown with trees towered above us, on the other side the cliff fell away into bottomless darkness. In the most God-forsaken spot of all, in the middle of a gorge, our auto petered out completely. We got out to stretch our legs while the driver examined the engine by torchlight.
A dark form pushing a cycle loomed out of the darkness.
"Can you tell us where we are?" I asked the German.
"You're at Goethe's castle," he answered. "It's right above your heads."
"But is there a village anywhere near?"
"Yes. You'll come to a bridge a little way along the road, and there's a village on the other side of it."
"I can't do anything to it, Comrade Colonel," our driver reported a moment or so later. "It'll have to go to a garage."
"Now what shall we do? Spend the night in the car?" my companions fumed.
"Of course not!" I said. "There's a village not far off. We'll go there for the night."
"God forbid, Gregory Petrovich!" the two sailors exclaimed in horror. "We can’t find a commandatura or an hotel for Soviet officers there."
"And very good, too!" I answered.
"Cut it out!" they objected. "We're not tired of life yet."
"Why did you say that?" It was my turn to be astonished.
"Have you forgotten where we are? Not a day passes without a murder being committed. It's been drummed into our heads that we've got to take the utmost care. We've been told not to let our driver spend a night in a car alone, for he's sure to be murdered if we do. You know for yourself what things are like."
"And where were you told all this?"
I couldn't help laughing. "Well, if that's what you were told in Moscow, it must be so. But you get a different view of it when you're close up to it. We shall sleep better in the village than in any commandatura hotel: I guarantee you that. After all, we've all got pistols in any case."
After long argument they agreed to take the risk of spending the night in a wild and strange village. They told the driver he was to remain in the car, and we set out to walk.
"But where shall we sleep there?" The captain was still dubious. "You can't wake people up in the middle of the night and force your way into their house."
"Don't worry, Victor Stepanovich. The very first house we come to will be a hotel. Would you care to bet on it?"
"But how can you be so sure that it will be an hotel?" Captain Fedorov asked. "Anyway, if you're right, we'll open a bottle of cognac."
"It's quite simple. We're traveling along a country road, and in Germany the hotels are always found in the main street, at the beginning and end of the village. That's an easy way to win cognac!"
"All the same, I don't like it." The captain sighed mournfully.
Some ten minutes later a bridge loomed up ahead of us. Immediately beyond it we saw light streaming through the chinks of window-shutters.
"And now we'll see who's right, Victor Stepanovich," I said, as I shone my torch on to a signboard, depicting a foaming tankard, fixed above the main door. "Here's the hotel."
A few minutes later we were sitting at a table in the bar-parlor. My companions cast suspicious glances around the room, as though they expected to be attacked at any moment. The room was decorated in the Thuringian manner, and had heavily carved dark oak furniture, and antlers on all the walls. The ceiling- and wall-lights were fashioned from antlers, too. At the back gleamed the chromium-plated taps of the bar, and two girls in white aprons stood smiling behind the counter.
After we had arranged rooms for the night, we ordered hot coffee. From our cases we took bread, sausage, and a bottle of cognac which the captain had brought with him as a 'remedy against the flu'!
"Ah, Gregory Petrovich, it's all right to drink, but we'll be slaughtered like quails later on," the captain sighed as he drew the cork. "You'll have to answer for it all to St. Peter."
"Would you like me to betray my little secret to you?" I said. "Then you'll sleep more quietly. I have to do a lot of traveling about on official business, and I've driven through Thuringia and Saxony again and again with a fully loaded lorry. In such cases there is a certain amount of danger, and you have to be on your guard. And when evening comes on and I have to look for quarters for the night... do you know what I do?"
"You make for a town where there's a commandatura hotel, of course," the captain answered with the utmost conviction.
"I did that once; but only once. After that first experience I've always tried to avoid towns where there's a Soviet commandatura and garrison. I deliberately pull up in the first village I come to and spend the night in an hotel."
"But why?" Colonel Bykov asked.
"Because it's safer that way. During my twelve months in Germany I've had to draw and fire my pistol three times... and in every case I had to fire at men in Soviet uniform... out to commit a robbery," I explained after a pause.
"Interesting!" the captain said through his teeth.
"I spent one night in an officers' hotel at Glachau," I went on.
"To be on the safe side I drove the lorry right under my bedroom window. Hardly had I gone to bed when I heard it being dismantled."
"Amusing!" the colonel commented.
"It wasn't at all amusing to have to chase through the streets in my underclothes and waving a pistol," I retorted. "I rounded up two Soviet lieutenants and a sergeant, called out the commandatura patrol, and had them arrested. Next morning the commandant told me: 'I quite believe you, Comrade Major, but all the same I shall have to let the prisoners go. I haven't time for such petty matters.
Let me give you some good advice for future occasions. Next time, wait till they've robbed your car, and then you'll have evidence to show. Then shoot them out of hand and call us in when you've done it. We shall draw up a statement on the affair and be very grateful to you. It's a pity you were in such a hurry this time.' "
At that moment a fashionably dressed young woman and a man entered the bar-parlor. They sat down at a table opposite us and lit cigarettes.
"All very well!" the captain said. "But there's one thing about this place I don't like: the people are too well dressed. Look at that fellow sitting opposite us with that dame. I wouldn't be surprised if they're former Nazis, who've hidden themselves away in this lonely spot. And now we've come and stirred them up. And did you notice that group of youngsters a little earlier? They came in, stood whispering to one another, and then slipped out again! It strikes me as highly suspicious."
"Well, I think the best thing to do is to go to bed," I proposed.
"Bed, maybe! But sleep?" the colonel retorted. "I think our first job is to see which side our window looks out on."
As soon as we went to our bedrooms upstairs, the colonel and the captain made a security check. They opened and closed the windows and tested the shutters. "We were told they throw hand-grenades through the window," the captain explained. He went into the corridor and tried to discover whether the adjacent rooms were occupied by members of the Werewolf organization (The organization planned by Nazis to carry on guerrilla resistance and terrorism after the war. - Tr.).
Finally he tested the door lock. My companions occupied one room, and I had the one next to it. Now, for the first time since I had arrived in Germany, I felt a little dubious. I bolted the door, thought for a moment, then took out my pistol and slipped it under my pillow. After undressing I put out the light and plunged beneath the enormous feather bed.
The following morning I knocked at my companions' door to awaken them. I heard sleepy voices, then the bolt was shot back. They were weary and worn out. I gathered that they had sat up till long past midnight, discussing whether they should get into bed dressed or undressed. Now, in the morning sunlight, all their fears and anxieties were dispelled, and they began to pull each other's leg.
"Tell us how you went to the toilet in the middle of the night with your pistol at the ready, Victor Stepanovich!" the colonel said, winking at me.
"Do you know who that well-dressed couple were yesterday evening?" I asked him. "The village shoemaker and his wife. And he's an old communist, too. I asked the landlord. And you took them for Nazi leaders!"
We had asked the landlord the previous evening to arrange for a mechanic to help our driver first thing in the morning. When we returned to the car we found them both hard at work. To pass the time, we climbed the steep path up to Goethe's castle, and were shown over the place by the caretaker-guide. When we returned the car was in order, and before long we were on our way again.
We journeyed through the length and breadth of Thuringia and Saxony for several days, controlling, sequestrating, requisitioning current production, and allocating orders on behalf of the Administration for Reparations. It was during this trip that I first began to experience an unusual feeling. It made me realize that the year I had spent outside the Soviet Union had not passed without leaving its effect on me. Somehow, a change had taken place within me. I was conscious of that as I worked and lived together with my two naval companions.
They provided a kind of standard measure against which I could check the process that was going on inside me. As I talked with them I was disturbed to realize that my thoughts and my outlook had been modified by comparison with those of Soviet people. What I felt was not a simple renunciation of what I had believed in favor of something else. It was an enlargement of my entire horizon.