In the spring of 1945 one of the officers studying at the college was the victim of an extraordinary, an idiotic incident. He had just graduated from the last course of the Japanese Department, and had already been nominated to a senior post in the foreign service; in addition, he was happily married. He seemed to be on the threshold of a brilliant future. And yet...
Two of the college buildings fronted on to the street, with a gap of some fifty yards between them. An ordinary fence blocked this gap, and General Biyasi, who took great pride in the outward appearance not only of the students but also of his buildings, ordered the old fence to be taken down and one more worthy of the college erected. When the old fence was taken down the students found they had a very convenient route through to the car-stop on the street, whereas previously it had been necessary to make a considerable detour to leave by the main door.
As a result, all the college began to come and go through the 'new gateway'. When the general discovered what was happening he had a one-man guard posted at the gap, giving him the strict command that nobody was to be allowed to pass through. But how can one man be expected to hold a fifty-yard front against an entire college, his own comrades into the bargain? So the general sent for the guard and personally gave him a dressing-down, threatening him with the clink.
"But what am I to do, General?" the man pleaded. "Shoot?"
"Of course! A guard post is sacred. You know your service regulations," General Biyasi answered.
At the close of studies for the day a crowd of officers once more poured through the gap. The guard shouted and threatened them till he was hoarse. In vain. But in the distance the general's tubby form was to be seen on a tour of inspection. At that very moment the 'Japanese' captain was passing the guard, taking no notice of his shouts.
"Halt!" the man shouted desperately.
The captain went on his way, apparently sunken in thought.
"Halt, or I'll fire!" the guard roared again.
The captain went on; but the general steadily drew closer.
Almost frantic, the guard threw up his rifle and shot without taking aim. It was four in the afternoon, the street was crowded with people, and the man was so agitated that if he had taken deliberate aim he would almost certainly have missed. But now the captain dropped to the sidewalk with a bullet through his head. During the war he had not spent one day at the front, he had never heard the whistle of a bullet; but a few days after the war had ended he was struck down by a comrade's deadly bullet, in a Moscow street.
Of course nothing happened to the guard. Although the affair was really scandalous, the general sent him a message expressing his gratitude for 'exemplary performance of his duty'. In such cases the guard is free from blame. The army regulation says on this point: 'When on guard it is better to shoot someone who is innocent than to miss an enemy.'
This incident involuntarily turned ray thoughts to reflections on fate. 'No man can avoid his destiny,' our forefathers used to say. We don't believe that any more; or rather, we have been taught not to believe it. Then there is more room for belief in the leader.
At that moment I had every reason to reflect on my destiny. I had finished the college course, and was standing on the threshold of a new phase in my life. I saw clearly the crossroads that lay before me, but I saw even more clearly that once I had set out along any one of those roads there could be no turning back. At the moment I had at least some possibility of choice, so I must give ample thought to the choice.
Recently I had heard rumors that I was being considered as a candidate for a teaching post at the college. One could not have had a more brilliant prospect. Practically speaking, that represented the finest opportunity a graduate could have. The teaching staff was in a continual state of flux, for it constituted an immediate reserve for the army General Staff, which always gave close consideration to the claims of college staff when there were special tasks to be performed abroad.
Today one might be sent to somewhere in Europe, tomorrow to America. Truly, the chosen individual usually went as an unassuming auxiliary member of an impressive delegation, but he always had independent and responsible special commissions to execute. And on return to Moscow he reported not to the civil authorities who had sent the delegation, but to the corresponding department of the General Staff.
Only a short time before, one of the college staff had been sent on a round tour of Czechoslovakia, Austria, and other countries of central Europe. He had gone as an 'interpreter' for a world-famous Soviet botanist, a member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. It is easy enough to guess what sort of plants the professor had in mind to bring home with the aid of such an 'interpreter', and who was principal and who subordinate.
Once attached to the college staff, one was at the starting point of many highly promising paths. The staff was very well informed on the backstairs questions of the General Staff. And personal understandings, patronage, connections, played a great part. In such a post one could always bring unobtrusive influence to bear. In a few words, membership of the college staff was the surest start to a career of which the majority of the students could only dream.
When I first heard that I was being considered for such a prospect I had decidedly mixed feelings. On the one hand, it meant life in Moscow, mingling in the new leading circles, the broadest of possibilities, an extensive field of activity, alluring prospects. But... There was a very weighty 'but'. That road led in one direction. One glance back or aside and you were finished. If you wished to travel that road, you must be completely free from inner conflict and possess perfect faith in the rightness of what you were doing.
Of course there are substitutes for these things: hypocrisy, careerism, lack of principle in the choice of means. I was an educational product of the Stalin era and had had ample opportunity to see that in the Soviet Union these substitutes played a fundamental role. And yet, could I be satisfied with them? I was not a naive youngster, nor was I a philanthropist: I could justify the application of dubious means in order to achieve a higher end. But before I could do so in this case I had to be perfectly sure that the final goal was beyond criticism. And, despite my own personal desires, I did not feel that surety.
After the jubilant days of victory the atmosphere in Moscow had grown gray and monotonous. A fresh breeze was blowing in Europe; a great historical transformation was being accomplished there. College students who returned from short official journeys to the west had interesting things to report. It would do me, too, no harm to get to know the patient I would be called upon to cure.
For me, personally, the best thing would be to be sent to one of the European occupied countries. There, in a new environment, in lands where we had gained the victory, in creative work I could recover my shaken equilibrium and return to Moscow full of confidence, full of faith. In any case, I would still be part of the General Staff Reserve.
These reflections provided the stimulus to a conversation I had with Lieutenant-Colonel Taube.
Professor Baron von Taube was one of Colonel Gorokhov's deputies in the Educational Department. In the college he was regarded as a kind of museum piece, and yet, because of his extraordinary range of knowledge, and his capacities, he was irreplaceable. Despite his compromising 'von', his name carried weight and his word was quite often of decisive significance. The students regarded him as an extremely cultivated man, a practical and observant officer and teacher, with whom one could talk openly.
Besides Lieutenant-Colonel Taube, Major-General Ignatiev, too, had a good name in the college. In his youth he had been a page to the last tsar, and then had studied at the tsarist General Staff Academy; later he had been tsarist military attachй in Paris for many years. After the revolution he remained abroad quite a long time as an йmigrй, but in the 'thirties, for unknown reasons, he took the road to Canossa. His memoirs, Fifty Years in the Ranks, enjoyed a great success among the students.
Now the former Guards officer. Count Ignatiev, was wearing a general's uniform again, and had been appointed historian of the Red Army. Naturally, he was not trusted, and his chief task was to proclaim the Soviet regime's tolerance towards repentant sinners. In his memoirs he gave a vague reason for his return, but in Moscow it was openly said that he had got tired of washing dishes in Paris restaurants.
During the last year or so of the war a number of more or less well-known йmigrйs had returned to the Soviet Union. For instance, the once famous writer Kuprin had recently arrived in Moscow. It is said that when he walked out of the railway station he put down his case and knelt to bow his head to his native earth in sight of all the people. When he got up he found his case had vanished.
Only recently, Belyavsky and I had heard a concert given by Alexander Vertinsky. His public appearance was quite unexpected, and most people were delighted, regarding it as confirmation of a new, liberal course in governmental policy. It is true that he could appear only at small clubs in the suburbs. But the very fact that he could appear was more important and more pleasant than his performance. A smell of morphine came from the stage, and the human wreck that walked on, accompanied by his wife, a young singer, made a wretched and sentimental impression. The past is more pleasant in memory than in its resurrection as a corpse from the grave.
It may not have been in their minds, but the government took a clever step in letting the young generation see the old world in this form. With our own eyes, without propaganda, we clearly saw how far our world and our interests had advanced in the meantime.
Lieutenant-Colonel Taube listened closely to my superficial arguments-naturally, I made no mention of the personal reasons leading me to ask to be sent abroad-and promised to speak in favor of the proposal to the higher authorities, while not withdrawing my candidature for the college staff.
Besides the lieutenant-colonel, I brought influence to bear on other people who had some say in the allocation of posts to college graduates.
Some time later I was summoned to Colonel Gorokhov. He greeted me as an old acquaintance.
"Ah, Major Klimov! I'm glad to see you!" he began affably, as though to see me was all he wanted of life. I at once took guard. The more affable he was, the more unexpected the conversation might prove to be.
"So you didn't follow my advice after all. You turned your back on the Eastern Department." He shook his head mournfully. "I wouldn't forgive you, except that you've had such good reports."
I remained silent, waiting for him to come to the point.
"So you would like to have the opportunity to work in perfect freedom?" came the friendly question.
I raised my eyebrows in astonishment.
"We were thinking of keeping you here," he went on. "But now it's proposed to give you an opportunity to prove yourself in a different post. I take it that this has come about not entirely with-out your intervention...."
He looked at me ironically. No doubt he had guessed long since what part I myself had played in getting transferred from the Eastern to the Western Faculty.
"I do not object to your being sent abroad," he said after a brief silence. "I think you don't, either."
I tried to look unconcerned. It is better for an officer of the General Staff to avoid displaying excessive curiosity.
"You have just one defect," he continued. "Why haven't you yet joined the Party?"
"I've been at the college only a year, Comrade Colonel," I replied. "And one has to have the recommendation of three Party members, one of whom must have worked together with the candidate for at least two years."
"And before you came to the college?"
"I've never had the opportunity to remain two years in one post."
I felt like telling the colonel frankly that I considered a man should join the Party only when he had become a leading member of society, and not in order to use his membership as a springboard for his career. The majority of the present-day 'true communists' worked to the latter principle. It was they who made the most stir, in order to show how 'true to the Party line' they were. But those who had achieved something by their own merits, and in con-sequence, for good or ill, had to join the Party, were usually passive and silent camp-followers.
But could I have told him all that? It would have meant that I was myself uncertain, dubious. And if a Soviet citizen wishes to live, from the day of his birth he must believe absolutely in the infallibility of the Party line. I would have shown myself a poor student of his college if I had told the colonel such things.
"I hope that by our next meeting you will have remedied this defect," he said in conclusion. "Apart from that, our reports on you are excellent. Your case will be remitted to the army Personnel Department, and they will notify you of your future post."
After this conversation I waited to go through the usual examination by still higher instances.
The students of our college normally had to pass very thorough-going tests, but before being appointed to a post abroad even they were customarily subjected to a questionnaire test by the Mandate Commission of the Red Army Personnel Department and the Foreign Department of the Soviet Communist Party. One could never be sufficiently on one's guard. It was always possible that meanwhile someone or other had become 'worm-eaten', or important changes might have occurred among his or his wife's relations.
One of the most unpleasant features of Soviet life is the collective responsibility of all one's relatives. No matter how beyond reproach a man may be as a member of Soviet society, if any even of his distant relations comes into conflict with the Narcomvnudel he is automatically entered in the category of 'politically unreliable'.
During the war there was a special category of 'unreliable', which were not called up for military service. Many of them had to serve in labor battalions. They were not issued weapons and were kept at a safe distance from the front. They consisted mainly of people whose relatives had made too close acquaintance with the Narcomvnudel. Anyone who had personally come into contact with the Narcomvnudel or was on their black lists was rounded up and interned in the first few days of the war.
If any 'unreliable' offered to go as a volunteer to the front, he was arrested at once and sent to a Narcomvnudel camp. The military command knew what value to set on this kind of patriotism. The Soviet government reckoned that despite the long years of re-education, the feeling of loyalty to one's father, or mother, and one's own blood was stronger in the Russian soul than the husks of communist teaching.
During the later years of the war, owing to the great shortage of manpower some of the 'unreliable' were taken into the regular army. Although the majority of them had had higher education and were officers on the reserve, they had to go to the front as privates.
During the many years of the Soviet experiment the number of those who had suffered repression reached such an enormous figure that without doubt the automatically 'unreliable' group constitutes the most important social stratum of the new Soviet society. Both sides have got to seek a way out of this complicated situation. Men want to live, and the regime needs men. But between the reconcilement of these two necessities there is an insurmountable obstacle: the questionnaire. Many of these 'unreliable' have never seen their 'evil genius', they have never had anything to do with him, and naturally they make no mention of him when filling up their questionnaires.
The authorities know quite well that the questionnaire is not filled in with strict accuracy, but they often find themselves forced to 'overlook' this inexactitude. Their terror policy has driven the Soviet rulers into a blind alley: if one accepts the Soviet classification, there are fewer immaculate and reliable citizens in the Soviet Union today than there were thirty years ago. And so, if the case is not highly important, or if there is urgent need for any particular individual, they check the details of his questionnaire less strictly. On the other hand, in important cases they trust no questionnaires whatever, nor even the opinion they have themselves formed concerning the person under consideration, so they put him under examination again and again, with hysterical distrust and a meticulous scrupulosity.
Between three and six months elapse between the first candidature and the final appointment to a foreign post, during which period the candidate is subjected to various checks. Thus, the local Narcomvnudel in his place of residence has to check his statements relating thereto, and if it is established that some distant relative, it may be, has vanished without trace in mysterious circumstances, that in itself is sufficient to dispose of the candidate. Any circumstance not clarified is taken as a negative factor.
I was expecting to be summoned to the Personnel Department of the General Staff; but a few days later I received the order to report to the head of the college. This was outside the normal routine, and I was rather troubled to know what lay behind it.
Opinions concerning the head of the college, General Biyasi, were wildly contradictory. One section of the students rather suspiciously expressed great enthusiasm for his unusual ability and declared that he was a highly cultured man, that at one time he had been Soviet minister to Italy and was not only perfect in all the languages covered by the college, but could even read human hearts and discover one's most secret thoughts. No doubt these students would climb higher up the diplomatic ladder than those who declared that the general had begun his career by selling Halva and fruits in the Tiflis market, and who considered that his only out-standing qualities were his glossy exterior and his floridly mellifluous manners and speech.
Anybody summoned to the general's room could never be certain of the outcome. We were always ready at any time for the greatest of surprises. For instance, only recently the entire Japanese Department, with the exception of the last course, had been reorganized for the preparation of army translators in a short course of instruction. The disillusioned would-be diplomats were assured that it was only a temporary measure, that they would all have the opportunity to continue their studies later. But meanwhile they were sitting all day grinding at Japanese military terminology. This reorganization occurred immediately after the Yalta Conference, and the rate of instruction was accelerated to such an extent that the students gave one another unequivocal glances.
The plan clearly indicated the date by which the training had to be completed, and therefore the way the wind was blowing. For that matter, from the beginning the secret clauses of the Yalta agreement were no secret for us. We saw the point when we were informed that the members of the foreign legations would be very glad to make the acquaintance of any of us. Before that, if any one of us had ventured to exchange a few words with a foreigner in the streets of Moscow without special permission, he would have been presuming too much on the powers of his guardian angel.
Before taking up a post abroad certain of the students were put through a special course of instruction in rules of conduct and good manners in relations with foreigners. In such courses a student would often be given individual instruction suited to the country to which he was assigned. And frequently special emphasis was laid on learning the modern dances of western countries or the art of relations with ladies, including the art of breaking hearts, which is one way of getting to diplomats' private safes. In these courses General Biyasi had no rival as an instructor.
After my rather gloomy reflections I was not a little surprised when he briefly informed me that by the command of higher authorities I had been posted to the staff of the Soviet Military Administration in Germany. Evidently I was regarded as so reliable and so thoroughly proved that a further check-up before my departure was superfluous.
"We can be proud of you in every respect," the general explained. "But don't forget: wherever you may find yourself, you are and will remain one of us!" He put special emphasis on 'us'. "From now on you are under a different command, but we can order your recall at any moment we wish. If necessary you are fully entitled to get into contact with us over the head of your future superior officers. As you know, that is strictly forbidden in the army, but we are an exception to the rule. Your future destiny depends on how you show up in your practical work. I hope we shall meet again later..."
The general's words left me unusually calm. During the war I had been full of enthusiasm and ardor for all I experienced; I had definite objectives in front of me. But now I was filled only with icy calm. The same calm that I had felt in June 1941, on the outbreak of war. Then it had been due to the tense expectation of coming experiences. But now I simply could not understand why it was. Our inner world is the reflection of our surroundings. Now I was quite deliberately putting my inner world to the test. In active work, in the interplay of international interests, I would find the rational basis of our Soviet existence. One could hardly have a more suitable spot for that than Berlin.
"I feel sure you will justify the trust the fatherland is placing in you, in sending you to the most important sector of the post-war front. The work to be done there is more important and more responsible than in war-time," he ended, as he shook my hand. "I wish you every success, Major!"
"Thank you, Comrade General!" I replied, looking him straight in the eyes and responding to his vigorous handshake. After all, wasn't I going to Berlin in order to come back to Moscow a better Soviet citizen than I could be today?
During the winter I had solved a riddle that puzzled me in regard to Genia. Her mother had returned to Moscow in January; all through the war she had worked as a doctor in front-line hospitals, in order to be near her husband. Now she had been demobilized.
Anna Petrovna was the exact opposite of her daughter Genia. Her greatest interest in life was to talk about her husband. I needed no little patience and endurance to listen to the same story and display the same interest for the umpteenth time: how they had got married, how he was never at home because he devoted all his time to his service, how hard it was to be the wife of a professional officer.
She gave me long descriptions of her and his parents, simple people; of his gradual advancement, and then his breathtaking career during the war. Anna Petrovna was extremely pleasant and frank. Though she was the wife of a well-known general, she was not at all conceited about his position; on the contrary, she had a partiality for telling stories about the lack of culture and the ignorance of the new aristocracy. She had a clear realization of the responsibility her husband's high position placed on her, and she tried her utmost to keep up with the times and with him. Both outwardly and in her character she fully justified the place she held in society.
There was a general tendency among Soviet people to regard the new aristocracy very skeptically, as a lot of upstarts. To a large extent this was because quite unknown people had come to the top during the revolution. That had been perfectly natural. Later on these same people were appointed to leading State positions, for which they were often fitted neither by their knowledge nor by their capacity for the particular job. One thing has to be granted to the leading Soviet officials, they had a restless energy and inexhaustible perseverance. As time passed the revolutionary old guard grew still older, they outlived their day, and their incapacity for- the new tasks showed up more and more obviously.
Meanwhile new cadres of specialists were being developed in all branches of activity. They came from the masses of the people, but they had the requisite education and special professional training, and they acquired practical experience in responsible activity.
The bureaucratic ulcer burst at the beginning of the war, and it became necessary to replace the tarnished heroes of the revolutionary period by younger leaders of the Soviet school. Inevitably, during the war years, and especially in the army, new and talented military leaders who had been vegetating unrecognized came to the forefront.
The pre-war Party and bureaucratic aristocracy spent their days in the same luxury and magnificence that the tsarist aristocracy had formerly been reproached with. During the war, in order to save the situation, the finest members of the nation replaced them, perhaps only temporarily. Genia's father belonged to this elite. And Anna Petrovna was unusually proud of her husband's career. Her only regret was that it had practically put an end to their family life.
I had not seen Genia while I was taking my State examination, and had only phoned her occasionally. But now I had my assignment to Berlin in my pocket, and I could call on her again. I hardly expected the affectionate reception she gave me; it was so demonstrative that even Anna Petrovna shook her head disapprovingly. "Don't forget that I'm here too," she remarked.
"Grisha!" Genia said as she whirled me like a top round the room. "Daddy's been home two whole weeks.... Just imagine: two whole weeks! Come and see what he's brought me."
Full of pride, she showed me quite a number of presents her father had given her. Even before this, whole cases of trophies had collected in their apartment. Each time one of the staff officers traveled from the front to Moscow he brought with him presents from the general. That was common in all the officers' families during the Red Army's advance into East Prussia. The junior officers sent only small articles, but the seniors even sent back solid items like furniture and pianos. From the legal aspect, robbery; in the wartime language they were called trophies. And besides, everybody considered that this was only taking back from the Germans what they had taken from us.
About this time there was a story running through Moscow about a front-line officer who sent a case of soap home to his wife. She did not stop to think about it but sold the whole lot at once in the market. A few days later she received a letter from her husband, in which he mentioned that one of the cakes of soap had a gold watch concealed in it. The story had various endings: one, that the woman hanged her-self; another, that she took to drink; a third, that she drank poison.
A massive radio set was standing in the General's living room. At first glance I could not decide whether it was a receiver or a transmitter. In fact he had got hold of a set perfectly fitted to his rank: it was a super-receiver, the latest model. I was about to plug it in and switch it on when Anna Petrovna raised her finger admonitorily: 'Grisha! For goodness' sake don't switch it in. Kolia [her husband] has strictly forbidden it."
"But what are you afraid of?" I asked.
"It mustn't be touched. Not for anything, not till the ban's raised. Even Kolia hasn't switched it on yet."
What do you make of that? A month after the war had ended a victorious Soviet general did not dare to listen to the radio until the Kremlin had expressly given him permission.
"Grisha, look at this!" Genia broke in. "A golden pistol!" She excitedly threw me something heavy in a yellow leather case.
Thinking to find some original design of cigarette lighter, or some feminine trinket, I opened the case and took out a gleaming gilded pistol of the German 'Walter' pattern. I noticed two lightning flashes, the sign of the S. S. And an inscription: "To S. S. General Adreas von Schonau, in the name of the Great German Reich. The Fuhrer."
"Now you'd better behave yourself!" Genia said as she produced a clip of cartridges. "It's all ready for use."
As she threw it down, the clip slithered like a snake over the sofa cushion. I noticed the small red heads of the cartridges.
"What an idea, to give anyone a pistol!" I said. "And you above all."
"Don't get the wind up. If you behave yourself nothing will happen to you," she reassured me. "And he brought two Opel cars back with him," she chattered on. "The 'Admiral' he'll drive himself, and the 'Captain's' for me. So see that you turn up tomorrow morning. You must teach me to drive."
"But listen, Grisha, what are your plans for the future?" she asked playfully, her new toys already forgotten. With the same unconstraint with which she had handled her gold pistol she laid my head on her breast and described a large questionmark with her finger on my forehead.
I hated to spoil her cheerful spirits. In my heart I began to feel regret that I would have to leave all this world behind the very next morning. But it had to be, and, anyway, it was not for ever.
"Tomorrow I'm flying to Berlin. I said slowly, staring up at the ceiling. I spoke very quietly, as though I were somehow in the wrong.
"What?" she said incredulously. "Is this another of your silly jokes?"
"It isn't a joke..."
"You're not flying anywhere. Forget it! Get that?"
"It doesn't depend on me." I shrugged my shoulders helplessly.
"My goodness! I'd like to skin you alive!" she exclaimed. "If you simply must see what it's like abroad, go and spend an evening at the operetta. Don't you feel any regret at going away again and leaving me behind here, with my everlasting, boring lessons?"
She looked almost with entreaty into my eyes; they revealed more than a mere request or whim.
"It isn't what I want, Genia. Duty..."
"Duty, duty!" she echoed. "I'm sick of that word."
All her carefree, joyful spirits were gone. Her voice was sad and earnest as she said:
"I was so happy to think you were not a professional officer. I suppose you think I've had a happy home life. If you want to know the truth, I'm an orphan!"
She suddenly sat straight up. Her face was pale; her slender fingers played nervously with the silk fringe of the cushion.
"All my life I've only seen my father once a week, so to speak. We're almost strangers to each other. Have you ever stopped to wonder why he overwhelms me with presents? He felt just as I do. First it was China, and then it was Spain, then something else. And so all my life."
Her voice shook, her eyes filled with tears. She lost her self-control, the words poured from her lips like a passionate complaint, like a reproach against fate.
"My friends say I'm lucky; my father's chest is loaded with orders. ... But I hate those orders... They've taken my father from me ... Every one of them means years of separation. Look at mother! Hardly has she got over her tears of joy for father being home again, alive and well, when there are more tears over something new. Often we go a whole year without a letter from him... And he, too, always says: 'Duty! Duty!' And now you... I don't want to live a life like my mother's... I don't want to live only on your letters..."
She covered her face with her hands, her shoulders shook spasmodically. Then she buried her face in the cushion and wept bitterly, like a sick child.
I silently stroked her hair and gazed at the sunlit roofs of the house opposite, at the blue vault of the summer sky, as though it might prompt me to an answer. What was I to do? Here at my side was the woman I loved and who loved me; and somewhere, a long way off, was duty.
I spent the evening with Anna Petrovna in the living room. Genia had spread out her books on the dining-room table, and sat chewing her pencil; she was preparing for her finals. Anna Petrovna complained as usual about her lonely life.
"He was offered a post in the Artillery Department; but no, he must go and stick his nose in hell again. At Konigsberg he was wounded in the head, but that isn't enough for him. You'd think he'd got enough orders and decorations, and a high enough rank. But now he declares he's going to be a marshal. Stalin himself told him so at the reception. And now he's continually repeating it like a parrot."
The general had been urgently recalled to Moscow a few days before the capitulation of Germany. On 10 May 1945 he was present, with other high-ranking officers of the Red Army, at the Kremlin reception which the Politburo gave in celebration of the victory. Now another Lenin order decorated his broad chest, another star was added to his gold epaulettes. But Anna Petrovna was not destined to enjoy her husband's company for long. He had been entrusted with a new, secret commission; he spent all his days in the General Staff, and whenever she asked him where he was going this time he only answered: "You'll see when you get a letter with the field-post address."
She discovered where he had been sent only months later, when the war with Japan broke out. And even then she learnt it from the newspapers, which announced that the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet had awarded him a further distinction for special services in the struggle against Japan.
"How can he become a marshal now the war's over?" I asked her. "Whom will he be fighting next?"
"I don't know," she sighed. "He avoids talking politics with me. He's grown so cock-a-hoop since his last visit to the Kremlin. They're obviously thinking something up, if they're talking on those lines. Stalin's the be-all and end-all of existence for him. If Stalin tells him: 'You'll become a marshal,' he'll drag the marshal's star down from heaven if necessary."
'What new devilry is afoot now?' I thought to myself. 'The Kremlin doesn't talk idly.' But I saw all the import of Anna Petrovna's words only later, when sitting at the conference table in the Berlin Control Commission.
That was my last day in Moscow. Next morning I went to the central aerodrome. It was early, a mist hung over the earth; every-thing was very still and quiet. Innumerable transport machines, all of them 'Douglases', stretched their great wings over the out-fields. My heart was as light as the fresh morning air, as calm and still as the hoarfrosted field of the landing ground. I would be returning to Moscow in twelve months. And then the city would be even more dear to me than it was now.
Two officers came up; evidently they were traveling with me.
"Well, how's things, Major?" One of them greeted me. "Off to Europe?"
"Not a bad idea to see for yourself what old mother Europe really looks like," the second added.
The aerodrome came to life. Several other officers arrived, all of them assigned to the staff of the Soviet Military Administration. The S. M. A. had its own machines servicing the Berlin-Moscow route. On their return journey from Berlin to Moscow they were so heavily laden with important and urgent freight that they could hardly gain height. But from Moscow to Berlin they flew only half loaded. Our pilot waited a little longer, then shrugged his shoulders and signaled for permission to take off.