Prisoners of the System
“Let me introduce you," - colonel Kondakov said, ‘lieutenant-colonel Dinashvili.’
I shook hands with a man in gray civilian clothes. His white shirt was open at the collar and he was not wearing a tie: an exaggerated negligence in civil attire, characteristic of the professional officer. A puffy face, whitish complexion, obviously long unacquainted with sunlight. A weary indifference in the black, staring eyes. A flabby handgrip.
At the request of the M. V. D.’s Central Operational Group, Colonel Kondakov and I had gone to their headquarters. There were certain matters in their hands, which overlapped analogous material in Colonel Kondakov’s department, and so the M. V. D. had invited the S. M. A. into consultation and assistance. Kondakov studied the reports of previous examinations of certain prisoners, and other material relating to them. The first case was that of a former scientific worker in the laboratory at Peenemunde, the headquarters of German research into rocket-missiles.
‘A slight delay!’ the lieutenant-colonel said with a glance at the door. ‘I’ve given orders for him to be made rather more presentable first.’
‘Have you had him long?’ Kondakov asked.
‘Some seven months,’ Dinashvili answered in a drowsy tone, as though he had not slept a wink since the day of his birth. ‘We received certain information from agents, and decided to take a closer look at him.’
‘But why... in such circumstances?’ the colonel asked.
‘He was living in the western zone, but his mother is in Leipzig. We ordered her to write to him and ask him to visit her. And now we’ve got to keep him under lock and key until the question’s cleared up.’
‘But how did his mother come to agree?’
‘We threatened to expropriate her greengrocer’s shop if she didn’t. We told her we only wanted to have a friendly talk with her son,’ Dinashvili explained with a yawn.
A little later a sergeant brought in the prisoner. The chalky whiteness of the man’s face and his feverish, deeply sunken eyes were more eloquent than all the M. V. D. endeavors to make him more presentable.
‘Well, you get to work on him, and I’ll take a rest.’ Dinashvili yawned again and stretched himself out on a sofa. The prisoner, an engineer and expert on artillery weapons, was of particular interest to us, for according to agents’ reports he had worked in the ’third stage’, as it was called, at Peenemunde.
The ’first stage’ was concerned with weapons already tested in practice and being produced serially; the ’second stage’ dealt with weapons that had not gone beyond the phase of tests inside the works; the ’third stage’ was concerned with weapons that had not got farther than the planning phase. We knew all about the results of the work of the first two stages, but the ’third stage’ represented a gap in our knowledge, for almost all the designs and formulae, etc., had been destroyed at the time of the capitulation. No factual material whatever had fallen into our hands; our only source of information was the oral testimony of a number of persons.
Judging by the reports of the interrogations so far made, the prisoner held for examination had worked among a group of scientists whose task was to produce guided rockets for anti-aircraft defense. The German decision to explore this line of activity had been due to the fact that the Allies’ air-offensive powers had greatly outstripped Germany’s air-defense resources.
The rockets were planned to be shot from special mountings, without precise ranging on the target. At a certain distance from the target plane, highly sensitive instruments built into the rocket head automatically directed the missiles and exploded them in the target’s immediate vicinity. The Germans had already effectively exploited the same principle in magnetic mines and torpedoes, so causing the Allied fleets serious losses in the early days of the war.
In the case of a rocket the problem was complicated by the much greater velocity both of the missile and of its target, by the smaller dimensions of the target, and by the fact that an aeroplane is constructed mainly of non-magnetic metal. Nonetheless, we had indications that the Germans had actually found the solution to these problems. But there were many contradictory opinions as to how they had done so, whether by radar, photo-electric cells, or in some other manner.
The reports of the interrogations showed that the prisoner had been ordered to reconstruct all the formulae and construction plans of the V-N rocket out of his own head. Colonel Kondakov turned the inquiry in a very different direction. After comparing the available data he tried to determine the position the prisoner had occupied in the complicated system of the Peenemunde scientific staff. He clearly saw that one individual could not possibly know every aspect of the work on the project, as the M. V. D. demanded.
‘Would you be prepared to continue your work in a Soviet research institute?’ he asked the prisoner.
‘I’ve already asked again and again for an opportunity to prove the accuracy of my statements,’ the prisoner replied. ‘Here I can prove very little. You understand.’
The gray form lying with his back to us on the sofa came abruptly to life. The lieutenant-colonel sprang to his feet. ‘You want your freedom? Then why did you flee to the West?’ He stormed and raged at the prisoner, who shrugged his shoulders helplessly.
‘I propose to place him at the disposition of General...’ Kondakov turned to Dinashvili, mentioning the name of the general who was in charge of the Soviet research station at Peenemunde. ‘There we’ll get out of him all he knows.’
‘But supposing he escapes?’ The lieutenant-colonel gave the prisoner a distrustful glance.
‘Comrade Lieutenant-Colonel,’ Kondakov smiled stiffly, ‘for us the decisive question is how we can extract the greatest possible advantage from each individual case. I shall apply to higher authority to have the man transferred to Peenemunde.’
We turned to the next case, which was connected with an idea for a really fantastic invention. Plans had not gone beyond the stage of the inventor’s own calculations and sketches, and had never been tested by any official German organization. The man had been living in the French zone, and had offered his project to the French authorities for their consideration. The interested Soviet quarters had learnt of his plans through the intermediary of the French Communist Party, and they had put the case in the hands of the M. V. D.
How the German inventor had been brought to the Soviet zone was not mentioned in the reports; one learned merely that he had been ten months in the cellars of the Potsdam Operational Group, and had been encouraged to continue work on his invention with all the numerous means it possessed of ’bringing influence to bear’.
We were confronted with a fairly young man, by profession - an electrical engineer who had specialized on low-tension current problems. During the war he had worked in the research laboratories of several important electro-technical firms concerned with telemechanics and television. He had been working on his invention for a number of years, but the plans had only begun to take practical shape towards the end of the war, by which time the German military authorities were no longer interested in such things.
He began to explain his invention, referring to the works of leading German scientists in the field of optics, for support. It was to consist of two instruments, a transmitter and a receiver. The transmitter, a comparatively small instrument, was intended to be dropped some miles behind the enemy lines; and when in operation the receiver, situated on the other side of the front, would show on a screen everything that was happening between the two instruments; in other words, all the enemy’s dispositions and technical resources. The use of a series of transmitters and receivers would provide a survey of any desired sector of the front.
There was no indication in the reports of the reason why the M. V. D. had held the prisoner for ten months. With their characteristic distrust, its officers assumed that he was attempting to conceal details from them, and tried every means of forcing him to say more than he actually knew.
In this case Colonel Kondakov tried a different tack from the one he had taken with the rocket specialist: he attempted to find out how far the inventor had realized his ideas in practice. He was interested not only in the theory but also in the feasibility of its application. He plied the man with expert questions in the field of wireless telegraphy and television. The man passed the test with honor. But, with an obstinacy rarely met with behind the walls of the M. V. D., he hesitated to give up the key details of his invention. Possibly he was afraid the M. V. D. would liquidate him as an unnecessary and inconvenient witness when he had told them.
‘Would you be prepared to demonstrate that your plan is technically feasible within the walls of a Soviet research institute?’ Kondakov asked him.
‘Herr Colonel, that’s the one thing I wish for, the one thing I’ve asked for again and again,’ the man answered in a quivering voice.
‘He’s lying, the swine!’ a voice shouted from the sofa. Dinashvili sprang to his feet again. ‘He’s only looking for an opportunity to escape. Why did he offer his invention to the French?’
‘I propose to place this man at the disposition of Colonel Vassiliev in Arnstadt,’ Kondakov told the M. V. D. officer. ‘If Vassiliev takes a negative view of his proposals, you can have him back and settle the matter as you wish.’
‘The way you’re going on you’ll let all my prisoners escape,’ Dinashvili fumed.
We devoted the rest of the day to examining various documents, chiefly agents’ reports on German scientists and technicians in the western zones. We had to decide how far these people could be of practical use to the Soviet Union. If we thought they could be, the M. V. D. took further steps to ’realize the opportunity’.
We were finished late in the afternoon. Glancing at the clock, I decided to phone Andrei Kovtun. When I told him I was in Potsdam he invited me to call on him in his office.
Several months had passed since our first meeting in Karlshorst. Meanwhile, he had been visiting me almost every week. Sometimes he arrived in the middle of the night, sometimes towards dawn. If I offered him some supper or breakfast, he only waved his hand wearily and said: ‘I merely wanted to drop in for a little while. I’ll have a nap on your couch.’
At first I was astonished by these irregular, purposeless visits; he seemed to find a morbid pleasure in talking about our school and student days. He went over the tiniest detail of our youthful experiences again and again, always ending with the exclamation: ‘Ah, they were great days!’ It sometimes seemed to me that he came and talked to me simply to escape from his present circumstances.
I asked Colonel Kondakov to drop me outside the building of the M. V. D. central administration, where Andrei worked. A pass was already waiting for me at the inquiry office. In the dusk of the summer evening I walked through the garden and up to the second storey, where Andrei had his room.
‘Well, pack up!’ I said as I entered. ‘We’re going to Berlin.’ “Hm! You’re finished for the day, but I’m only just beginning,” he snarled.
‘What the devil did you ask me to come here for then?’ I said angrily. After spending the day in Lieutenant-Colonel Dinashvili’s company I felt an urgent desire to have some fresh air as soon as possible.
‘Don’t get worked up, Grisha! I’ve often been to your place, and you’ve never been here before.’
‘I’ve already spent all day in a similar hole,’ I retorted, making no attempt to conceal my annoyance. ‘I’ve no wish to stick here. If you like, we’ll go to Berlin and see a show. If not....’
‘You’d like to see a show?’ he interrupted. ‘Well, you can see a good show here too. Things you’d never see in a theater.’
‘I don’t feel like it today,’ I insisted.
‘Now listen, Grisha!’ He changed his tone, and his voice recalled the days when he had sat astride my chair. ‘For a long time now I’ve been interested in a certain question. To make you understand, I shall have to go rather a long way back. You and I have nothing to conceal from each other. Nobody in the world knows me better than you do.’
He was silent for a moment or two, then he added: ‘But to this very day I don’t know you....’
‘What is it you want to know then?’ I asked.
He went to the door and turned the key. Then from sockets in the wall he pulled several plugs attached to cords running to his desk.
‘Do you remember our childhood?’ he said as he leaned back in his chair. ‘You were a boor just like me. And you must have had the same sort of sensitive reaction as I had. But you never said a word. In those days it used to make me mad with you. But now I must regard it as something praiseworthy. Do you know why?’
I made no comment. After a moment he went on, staring under his desk:
‘It’s an old story. I was fourteen years old when it happened. On the very eve of the October celebrations I was summoned to the school director’s room. He had another man with him. Briefly and simply, this man took me to the G. P. U. There I was accused of having stuck cigarette butts on Stalin’s portrait, and other counter-revolutionary crimes.
Of course it was all sheer lies. Then they told me that as I was so young they were prepared to forgive me if I was prepared to work with them. What could I do? I was forced to sign a document condemning me to collaboration and silence. And so I became a N. K. V. D. spy. I hated Stalin with all my heart, I decorated the toilet walls with anti-Soviet slogans, and yet I was a N. K. V. D. spy. Don’t get anxious! I never denounced anybody. When they pestered me too much I wrote in charges against similar spies. As I was in touch with the G. P. U. I knew their people. It didn’t do them any harm.’
He fidgeted in his seat and said without raising his eyes: ‘I was mad with you in those days because you didn’t share your thoughts frankly with me. I was convinced that you thought as I did. When we were students... do you remember Volodia?’
He mentioned the name of a mutual friend who had graduated from the Naval Academy shortly before the war broke out. ‘He used to talk to me openly. But you were always silent. And all the time it went on like that. I joined the Young Communists. You didn’t. Now I’m in the Party. You’re not. I’m a major in the State Security Service, and at the same time I’m a bigger enemy of the system than all my prisoners put together. But are you still a convinced Soviet citizen? Why are you so silent, damn you?’
‘What is it you want from me?’ I asked with a strange indifference. ‘An avowal of counter-revolutionary sentiments, or assurances of devotion to Stalin?’
‘Ah! You don’t need to tell me that!’ He shook his head wrath-fully. ‘I simply regard you as my best friend, and so I’d like to know what you really are.’
‘Then what am I to say to you?’
‘Why don’t you join the Party?’ He gave me the vigilant look of an interrogating officer.
‘It isn’t difficult for me to answer that question,’ I said. ‘It’s more difficult for you to answer the question: ’Why did you join the Party?’’
‘Wriggling again!’ he cried in a blind fury, and let slip a foul curse. ‘Forgive me, it fell out!’ he said apologetically.
‘It’s all because your life flatly contradicts your convictions, Andrei,’ I said. ‘But I do only just so much....’
‘Aha! So that’s why you don’t join the Party!’ he exclaimed with unconcealed malevolence.
‘Not entirely,’ I protested. ‘When I flew from Moscow here I had every intention of joining the Party on my return.’
‘You had?’ He stressed the word derisively.
‘There’s no point in arguing over grammatical tenses, Comrade Interrogating Officer.’ I tried to turn the talk into a joke. I had the singular thought that the major of the State Security Service sitting opposite me suspected me of sympathizing with communism and was trying to convict me of this sympathy.
‘Grisha, putting all jokes on one side,’ he said, staring straight into my eyes, ‘tell me, are you a blackguard or aren’t you?’
‘And you?’ I retorted.
‘Me?... I’m a victim....’ He let his eyes drop. ‘I have no choice. But you’re free.’
There was a dead silence. Then that hysterical, toneless cry came again: ‘Tell me, are you a blackguard or aren’t you?’
‘I do all I can to become a good communist,’ I answered thought-fully. I tried to speak honestly, but my words sounded false and hypocritical.
He sat for a time without speaking, as though seeking a hidden meaning in my words. Then he said calmly and coldly: ‘I think you’re speaking the truth, and I believe I can help you.... You want to learn to love the Soviet regime. Isn’t that so?’
As he received no answer, he continued: ‘I had an acquaintance. Today he’s a big shot in Moscow. He did it like this: He arrested a man and accused him of making or planning to make an attempt on Stalin’s life, a blow against the Kremlin, of poisoning the Moscow water supply, and similar crimes. Then he handed him a statement already drawn up and said: ’If you love Stalin sign this!’’ Andrei smiled forcedly and added: ‘And I can help you to love Stalin. Agreed? I’ll arrange a little experiment for you. I’m sure it will help you in your endeavor to be a good communist.’
‘What am I to do?’ I asked, feeling thoroughly annoyed. This conversation was getting on my nerves, especially as it was taking place in the M. V. D. headquarters. ‘I have no intention of signing any statement. And I certainly shan’t come here to see you again.’
‘One visit will be enough.’ He smiled sardonically and looked at his watch. ‘The show will be starting in a moment. But now, not another word.’ He replaced the plugs of the telephone cords in their sockets. He opened a drawer and took out various documents, and after checking them reached for the telephone. From the conversation that ensued I gathered that the investigating officers sub-ordinate to Andrei were at the other end of the line. Finally he nodded with satisfaction and replaced the receiver.
‘Act one, scene one. You can think of your own title later,’ he said quietly, and switched on a dictaphone in front of him on the desk. Two voices sounded in the stillness of that large room: a pleasant, feminine voice in pure German, and a man’s voice speaking German with a pronounced Russian accent.
‘If you don’t mind, Herr Lieutenant, I’d like to ask about my husband,’ the woman said.
‘The only definite thing I can say is that his fate depends wholly and entirely on your work for us.’
‘Herr Lieutenant, it’s exactly a year since you promised me that if I fulfilled certain conditions my husband would be released in a few days,’ the woman said.
‘The material you’ve brought in to us recently has been unsatisfactory. It would be very unpleasant for me if we were forced to take certain measures. You might happen to meet your husband in a place where you wouldn’t wish to.’
The woman gave a suppressed moan. Andrei switched off the dictaphone, took a sheet of paper out of a file and handed it to me. It was a decision of a M. V. D. military tribunal, condemning a man to twenty-five years’ forced labor ’for terroristic activities directed against the Soviet army’s occupation forces’.
‘He’d been a communist since 1928,’ Andrei explained. ‘Spent eight years in a Nazi concentration camp. One month after the beginning of the occupation he resigned from the Communist Party. He talked too much. You see the result. His wife works as a translator for the British. She enjoys their trust because she’s the wife of a man who has been persecuted by the Hitler regime. Since we imprisoned her husband they trust her even more. Until recently she was an extremely valuable agent of ours.’
He nodded to me to be silent, and switched on the dictaphone again. This time two men were talking, also in German.
‘You’ve come well out of the test recently. Now we want to give you a more responsible commission,’ said a voice speaking with a Russian accent. ‘At one time you were an active member of the National Socialist Party. We’ve given you the chance to join the S. E. D. Now we expect you to justify the trust we’ve placed in you.’
‘Herr Captain, even when I was a member of the N. S. D. A. P. - and I was only a member because of circumstances-1 always sympathized with the ideals of communism and looked hopefully to the East,’ a voice said in pure German. ‘Today the S. E. D. has a large number of members who formerly sympathized with the ideas of national socialism,’ the first voice replied. ‘We’re particularly interested in these nationalistic tendencies among the S. E. D. members.
Such people are really working for the restoration of fascism, and they’re the most bitter enemies of the new, democratic Germany. And as a former national-socialist you’ll be trusted by such people more than anyone else will. In future your task will be not only to register any such expression of opinion, but also even to sound your comrades’ moods and tendencies. You must pay particular attention to the following people.’ He read out a list of names.
Andrei cut off the dictaphone and looked at a document: "A Gestapo spy since 1984. Has worked for us since May 1945. So far, on the basis of his reports 129 arrests have been made. He’s been accepted in the S. E. D. on our recommendation.
‘Ah, here’s a case of love in the service of the State,’ he remarked as he opened another file. ‘Baroness von... Since 1928 has been running a matrimonial agency for higher society and has simultaneously owned brothels. A Gestapo agent since 1936. Registered with us since July 1945. Has two sons prisoners of war in the U. S. S. R. The head of the prisoner of war camp has been ordered not to release them without the special instructions of the M. V. D. Are you interested in pretty girls? Look!’
He handed a portfolio and a card index across the desk. On the portfolio cover was a series of numbers and pseudonyms; they corresponded with similar references in the card index, which contained personal details. At the top of the portfolio was the photograph of a gray-haired, well-set-up woman in a white lace collar.
I opened the portfolio: it contained a number of sheets to which the photographs of young, beautiful girls were attached. These were the baroness’s protégées, and with their unusual beauty they were a credit to her philanthropic institutions. In addition to the normal personal details each sheet bore an entry: ’compromising details.’
Beneath the picture of a happy, smiling, fair-haired girl this entry commented: ’Fiancé served in the Wafien-S. S. In Soviet hands since 1944. 1946, syphilis.’ The next photograph was of a girl with the eyes of a young doe; it had the note: ’Father a member of the N. S. D. A. P. Interned in U. S. S. R. 1944, illegitimate child.’ Next came a brunette and the comment: ’Registered with the police on account of prostitution. 1946: illegitimate child by a negro.’
All the comments provided exact dates and factual material. ‘The baroness’s house is in the American zone,’ Andrei explained, ‘and her sphere of activities corresponds.’ He took the photo of the girl with doe’s eyes from me, noted the code number, took a file bearing the same number from his desk and said: ‘Look!’
It contained the girl’s reports as an agent. Photos of American soldiers. Numbers; dates; love letters, for attestation of the signatures; details of places of service, personal manner of living, political attitude, American home addresses.
‘What are the American addresses for?’ I asked,
‘If we need to we can always make contact with the individual concerned. It’s even easier for us to do so there than here,’ Andrei replied.
He pointed to a special folder in the file: it contained photographs of the girl in an American lieutenant’s company. First came Leica amateur snaps, reflecting all the stages of the progressive intimacy. Then, on a special sheet, numbered and dated, were photographs of a different kind. The technical finish revealed the work of an automatic micro-film camera. Unequivocal pornographic pictures, perpetuating love not only in its nakedness, but also in its perverted forms. On every photo the American lieutenant was clearly recognizable.
‘That young man’s also working for us now,’ Andrei grinned. “In America he had a young and wealthy fiancee. When he was faced with the choice either of compromise in her eyes, with all that it entailed, or quietly helping us, he preferred to help. Now he’s sending us quite valuable material.
‘That’s only just a sample of the baroness’s work,’ he continued. ‘We have others of her kind, all engaged in exploiting the prostitutes in all the four zones of Germany. Quite an extensive enterprise, as you see.’
‘But does it pay?’ I queried.
‘More than you’d think. Prostitution and espionage have always gone hand in hand. We’ve merely given these activities a new, ideological basis. We approach every single case individually. And in addition almost every one of these women has a relative in our hands. Our system is the cheapest in the world.’
‘You must have seen men condemned to death,’ I remarked. ’Tell me, have you often met men who died believing in the truth of what they were dying for?”
At the beginning of the war I often saw S. S. men about to be shot," he said thoughtfully, rubbing his brow. ‘They used to shout: Heil Hitler!’ When I was with the partisans I sometimes had to stand by and watch while Germans hanged Russians. And as they stood with the rope round their necks they cursed the Germans and shouted: ’Long live Stalin!’
I knew some of them personally, and I knew they had never said words like that before. Yet as they stood waiting for death they shouted ’Long live Stalin!’ I don’t think it was because they believed them, I think it was a matter of personal courage. They simply wanted to give expression to their contempt for death and the enemy.’
‘And now you’re engaged in destroying the enemies of the State,’ I continued. ‘According to the History of the C. P. S. U. the capitalists and landowners have long since been exterminated. So those you have to fight against today are children of our new society. If they’re enemies, how are they to be classified? Are they ideological enemies, or are they simply people who by force of circumstances have done something punishable under the M. V. D. code?’
‘Why do you ask that?’ He looked at me distrustfully.
‘The question’s interested me for some time now, and who could answer it better than a major in the M. V. D.?’
‘Damn you, Grisha!’ He sighed unexpectedly. ‘I thought I’d put you through it and so relieve my own feelings. But there you sit like a post, and now you’re starting to grub around in my soul. You’ve raised a question that’s been troubling me for a long time.’ He spoke more slowly. ‘If it’s a question of ideological enemies, then today all the nation is our ideological enemy. Those who fall into the hands of the M. V. D. are only victims of a lottery. Out of every hundred charges brought by the M. V. D., ninety-nine are pure inventions.
We act on the principle that every man is our enemy. To catch an enemy red-handed you have to give him the opportunity to commit a hostile act. If we wait, it may be too late. For their name is - million. So we seize the first to hand and accuse him of what you will. Thus we liquidate a certain proportion of the potential enemy and simultaneously paralyze the will of the others. That’s our prophylactic method. History itself has forced us to resort to it. But such a system has certain positive aspects too...’
‘You still haven’t answered my question,’ I said. ‘Have you ever met a real enemy? A man who gazed straight into your face and declared: ’Yes, I am against you!’?’
The major looked up at me from under his brows. ‘Why don’t you yourself come and work for the M. V. D.? You’d make a remark-ably good examining officer,’ he muttered. ‘I’ve deliberately been dodging the question; you see, I have a living answer to it... Only, I didn’t intend to bring him to your notice. I’m afraid it might have an unhappy effect on our friendship.’
He looked at me expectantly, and hesitated. As I raised my head I saw the clock. It was long past midnight, but the building was living its own life. From the corridor came sounds comprehensible only to people intimate with the work of the M. V. D. From time to time there was a cautious knock at the door, and Andrei went out of his room, locking the door behind him. Again and again our conversation was interrupted by telephone calls.
‘Good!’ he said at last, as I did not reply. ‘But I ask you not to draw any conclusion about me from what you see.’ He picked up a telephone: ‘Comrade Captain, what news of 51-W? Still the same? Good! Have him brought up for examination. I shall come along with another officer.’
We went down to the next floor. Here there was no carpeting in the corridor; the walls were painted with gray oil-paint. We entered a room. At the desk opposite the door sat a captain of infantry. Andrei answered his greeting with a nod, went to a sofa by the wall, and buried himself in examination reports. I sat down at the other end of the sofa.
A knock at the door - a sergeant in a green cap reported: ‘Prisoner No. 51-W, at your disposition, Captain.’ He was followed by a dark figure with hands crossed behind him. A second guard closed the door.
‘Well, how are things, Kaliuzhny?’ the captain asked in a friendly tone.
‘Is it such a long time since you saw me last, you hound?’ The words burst from the prisoner in a cry of boundless hate and con-tempt, suppressed pain and mortal yearning. He staggered right up to the desk and stood there, his legs straddled. I saw that his wrists were handcuffed. The M. V. D. handcuffs only prisoners who are candidates for death, or are particularly dangerous.
‘Well, what’s the position?’ Have you remembered anything yet?" the captain asked, without raising his head from his scrutiny of the papers on his desk. The answer came in a rushing, largely in-comprehensible stream of curses directed against the captain, the M. V. D., the Soviet government, and, finally, the man whose portrait hung on the wall behind the desk. The prisoner leaned forward, and it was impossible to tell whether he was on the point of dropping with exhaustion or making ready to strike his tormentor. His guards, one on either side, seized him by the shoulders and thrust him down on a seat.
‘Now let’s talk to each other quietly,’ the captain said. ‘Would you like a smoke?’ He beckoned to the guards, and they removed the handcuffs. There was a long silence, while the man took a greedy draw at the cigarette. A gurgling sound came from his chest; he coughed painfully and spat into his hand.
‘Here, enjoy this, Captain!’ He stretched his hand across the desk, revealing black clots of blood in the bright light of the desk lamp. ‘They’ve damaged my lungs, the hounds!’ he croaked, as he wiped the blood on the edge of the desk.
‘Listen, Kaliuzhny...’ the captain said in a pleasant tone. ‘I’m terribly sorry you’re so pigheaded. You were a model citizen of the Soviet Union, the son of a worker, a worker yourself. A hero of the patriotic war. Then you go and make one mistake....’
‘That was no mistake!’ The words came hoarsely from the other side of the desk.
‘We know how to value your past services,’ the captain continued. ‘Atone for your guilt, and your country will forgive you. I only want to make your lot easier. Tell us who the others were. Then I give you my word as a communist...’
‘Your word as a communist!’ The bloody rattle conveyed inexpressible hate. ‘You viper, how many have you already caught with your word of honor?’
‘My word is the word of the Party. Confess, and you will be given your freedom!’ The captain had difficulty in controlling himself.
‘Freedom?’ came from the bloody mask that had been a face. ‘I know your freedom! I shall find your freedom in heaven...’
‘Sign this document!’ the captain held out a sheet of paper.
‘You wrote it, you sign it!’ was the answer.
‘Sign!’ the officer ordered in a threatening tone. Forgetting the presence of the two men sitting silently on the sofa, he swore violently and snatched up a pistol lying on his desk.
‘Give it here, I’ll sign!’ the prisoner croaked. He took the sheet of paper and spat on it, leaving clots of blood clinging to it. ‘Here you are... With a genuine communist seal!’ His voice rose in malignant triumph. He slowly raised himself out of his chair and slowly bent over the desk to face the pistol barrel. ‘Well, now shoot! Shoot, hangman, shoot! Give me freedom!’
In impotent fury the captain let the weapon sink, and beckoned to the guards. One of them sent the prisoner to the floor with his pistol butt. The steel handcuffs clicked.
‘You don’t get away so easily as that!’ the captain hissed. ‘You’ll call for death as if you were calling for your mother before we’re finished!’ The guards hoisted up the prisoner and stood him on his feet. ‘Put him to the ’stoika’,’ the captain ordered (Torture by being kept constantly in a standing position.).
With an unexpected, desperate writhe the man wrested himself free. With a vehement kick he sent the desk over. The captain sprang away, then, howling with rage, flung himself on the prisoner He brought his pistol butt down heavily on the man’s head; a fresh purple patch appeared above the crust of congealed blood.
‘Comrade Captain!’ Andrei Kovtun’s voice sounded sharply.
As the man was dragged out of the room the captain gasped out ‘Comrade Major, I ask permission to close the examination procedure and transfer the case to the tribunal.’
‘Keep to the instructions I’ve given you,’ Andrei replied coldly and went to the door.
We walked silently along the corridor.
‘You wanted to see for yourself,’ Andrei said moodily as he (closed the door of his room behind us. He spoke hurriedly, as though anxious to justify himself, to forestall what he felt I was bound to say.
‘Why was he arrested?’ I asked.
‘For the very question you were so interested in,’ Andre answered as he dropped wearily into a chair. ‘He was a man who openly declared: ’Yes, I’m against you!’ All through the war he was with us, from the very first to the very last day. He was wounded several times, decorated several times. He was to be demobilized after the war, but he voluntarily signed on for longer service. And then, a month ago, he was arrested for anti-Soviet propaganda in the army. His arrest was the last straw. He tore his shirt at his breast and shouted: ’Yes, I’m against you!’’
‘How do you explain his change?’
‘Not long before he had had leave in Russia. He went home - and found the place deserted. His old mother had been sent to Siberia for collaboration with the Germans. To avoid starving, during the war she had washed crockery for them. And in 1942 they send his young brother to work in Germany; after the lad’s repatriation he was condemned to ten years in the mines. And apart from that, our prisoner saw what was happening at home. When he returned to duty he began to tell others what he had seen and heard. The rest you know for yourself.’
‘What did the captain mean by his reference to ’the others’?’ I asked.
‘Oh, the usual story.’ Andrei shrugged his shoulders. ‘Out of one man we’ve got to unmask a whole counter-revolutionary movement. There you have the clear evidence that every man is an enemy,’ he continued in a monotonous tone. ‘Outwardly he was an exemplary Soviet man. One of the sort that during the war died with the shout ’Long live Stalin!’ on their lips. But when you go deeper...’
‘So you regard him as an ideological enemy?’ I asked.
‘He hasn’t any idea yet,’ Major Kovtun answered. ‘But he’s already come to the point of saying ’no’ to the existing regime. He is dangerous chiefly because he is one of millions. Throw a lighted idea into that powder barrel and the whole lot would go up!’
I was silent. As though he had divined my thoughts, Andrei whispered helplessly: ‘But what can I do?’ Then, with sudden vehemence, he cried: ‘What did you want to see it for? I’d already told you...’
In the dusk of the room his face changed, it expressed his weariness. His eyes were dull and expressionless. He fidgeted with restless, nervous fingers among the papers on his desk.
‘Andrei!’ I cried, and turned the lampshade so that the light fell full on his face. He huddled himself together, raised his head and stared at me blankly. I glanced into his eyes: they were fixed and dilated; the pupils showed no reaction to the strong light.
‘You know what light-reaction is, don’t you?’ I asked as gently as I could.
‘I do,’ he answered quietly. His head sank on to his chest.
‘It means you’ve reached the end of your tether,’ I said. ‘In a year or two there’ll be nothing left of you but a living corpse.’
‘I know that too,’ he muttered still more quietly.
‘Can’t you find any other way out than morphine?’ I asked, putting my hand on his shoulder.
‘I can’t find any way at all, Grisha... I can’t,’ his lips whispered. ‘You know, I’m often pursued by delusions,’ he said in a perfectly expressionless tone. ‘Always and everywhere I’m followed by the scent of blood. Not just blood, but fresh blood. That’s why I come to you sometimes so unexpectedly. I’m trying to get away from that smell.’
‘Pull yourself together, Andrei!’ I rose from my chair, took my cap down from the hook, and glanced at the clock. ‘It’s six already. Let’s go for a drive.’
He opened a cupboard and took out a civilian suit. ‘Every one of us has to own a suit of civilian clothes,’ he explained as I gave him a questioning look. ‘Nowadays I use it to get away from the accursed stench.’
Before we finally left the room, he took a book out of his desk drawer and handed it to me, saying: ‘Take and read it. I’ve seldom read anything to compare with it.’
I read the name of the book: Abandon Hope... and of the author: Irene Kordes.
‘I don’t get much time for reading,’ I answered, as a rapid glance at its pages showed that the book was about the Soviet Union. ‘And I’ve read enough of this stupid kind of literature. And look at its date of publication: 1942!’
‘That’s just why I want you to read it,’ he answered. ‘It’s the only German book about the Soviet Union that every German ought to read. I personally find it particularly interesting because she spent four years in prison; she was held for interrogation by the M. V. D.’
Later I did read the book. The writer, Irene Kordes, was living with her husband in Moscow before the war. During the Yezhovshchina period (The period of the great purges of 1936 - 1938 to which most of the political émigrés living in the Soviet Union fell victims. Yezhov was head of the N. K. V. D. at the time; in 1939 he himself was dismissed and shot.) they were both arrested simply because they were talking German in the street.
That was sufficient for the M. V. D. to charge them both with espionage. There followed four years of misery and torment, four years of examination in the cellars of the notorious Lubianka and other Soviet prisons. After the Soviet Union signed the pact of friendship with Hitlerite Germany in 1939 she was set free and sent back to her own country. Her husband disappeared within the N. K. V. D. walls.
It is a striking circumstance that the book was published in 1942. This German woman displayed a true grandeur of spirit. After living for four years in conditions that would have led anybody else to curse the regime and the country, and even the people, who willingly or unwillingly bore the responsibility and guilt for the Soviet system, Irene Kordes had not one word of reproach or accusation to say against the Russian people. She spent four years in hell, together with hundreds of thousands of Russian people who shared her fate; and during that time she came to know the Russians as few foreigners have done.
The first rays of the rising sun were gilding the crowns of the trees as Andrei and I left the building. He drove our car along the autobahn. He sat silent; his features seemed waxen and sunken in the gray light. His driving was spasmodic and restless. As we drew near to the Wannsee he took his foot off the accelerator and looked at the clock. ‘You haven’t got to be in the office till ten,’ he said. ‘Let’s drive to the lake and lie for an hour on the sand.’
Gentle waves were curling over the surface of the lake. Mews were flying overhead, or gliding low to send up spray from the crests with their wings. The fresh morning breeze drove away the leaden weariness of my sleepless night. We undressed and plunged into the water. The farther we swam from the bank the more strongly was I conscious of the freedom and expanse, of an inexplicable desire to swim on and on. I felt a rare inward relief, as though the waves would wash us clean of the blood of the past night.
After bathing we lay on the sand. Andrei watched the few early bathers. I gazed at the sky, at the white, fleecy clouds.
‘Well, have I helped you in your endeavors to become a true communist?’ he asked in a wooden tone, and tried to smile.
‘You’ve shown me nothing new,’ I answered. ‘Many things in this world look unpleasant when seen close up.’
‘So you excuse all these things?’
‘One must attempt to comprehend not merely a part, but the whole. Not the means, but the end.’
‘So the end justifies the means?’ he said bitterly. ‘You’ll make a better bolshevik than I.’
‘I am a child of the Stalin epoch,’ I replied.
‘So in your view everything is for the best!’
‘I’d like to believe that....’
‘Then what stops you now?’
‘I’m afraid I lack the wider vision,’ I said slowly. ‘When I’ve solved the problem of the expediency or inexpediency of the final goal it will be easy.... In either case it will be easy.... That is my final answer, Andrei. Until then we’d better drop further talk on the subject. Meanwhile, I think you should take some leave and have a thorough rest.’
‘That won’t help,’ he sighed. ‘I need something else.’ “You must either find a faith that justifies your present activities, or...” I did not know how to go on.
‘It’s rather late for me to seek, Grisha.’ He shook his head and stared at the sand. ‘I’ve burnt my wings. Now I must creep.’
Little Lisa was a charming child. When she went for walks with her old governess along the Gogolevsky boulevard in Moscow the people sitting on the benches used to say reprovingly to their children: ‘Just look at that pretty little girl. See how well she behaves!’
On hearing such remarks, Lisa would pull haughtily at her velvet dress, and deliberately speak in a louder tone to her German governess. The people whispered in surprise: ‘They must be foreigners.’
Lisa’s father was one of those men who have the gift of adjusting themselves to life. He had joined the Party at the right time, he knew when to say the right word, and even better when to keep a still tongue in his head. Thus he rose to the directorship of a large commercial trust in Moscow. High enough to exploit to the full all the material advantages of his official position, yet not high enough to be forced to take the risk of responsibility for the undertaking.
He had prudently brought up his sons in the spirit, which had ensured himself a successful career. But he had intended to marry his daughters to men who could guarantee them not only material well-being, but brilliant society life. Lisa was the younger daughter, and her father’s favorite. From earliest childhood she was the subject of rapturous admiration on the part of her relations and family acquaintances, and the naive envy of her child companions.
The years passed, she grew up, and graduated from school. When the time came to decide on what she should do next, after consultations with her father she resolved to enter the Moscow Institute for Foreign Languages. There she could be sure of comparatively easy studies and the prospect of an equally easy position when she left; the Institute was known to be a starting point for careers in the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, the Commissariat for Foreign Trade, and other governmental bodies. The young girls of Moscow retailed many strange rumors of the massive yellow building in Metrostroyevskaya Street; Lisa thought of its doors as opening on to a terra incognita.
Thanks to her excellent knowledge of German, and her father’s connections, she had no difficulty in entering the Institute. In her very first year she won the professors’ notice by her keen intelligence and her success as a student. She considered it a matter of honor to be outstanding in her subjects. She had always been used to admiration, and as the years passed she had developed a morbid craving for it.
Now she attempted to win the admiration and envy of those around her. She went to great trouble to excel the other students in every possible respect: in study, in behavior, and in dress. The professors began to hold her up as an example to the others, while her colleagues looked down their noses at her eccentric behavior. The young men turned to stare after her slender figure and were astonished at her provocative conduct and her dress.
One morning in the autumn, during her second year at the Institute, on reaching the door of the lecture hall she was called aside by a senior girl, who whispered: ‘Lisa, you’re wanted in the Special Department. You’re to report there at once.’
The Special Department was situated next door to the rector’s office. None of the students knew exactly what functions the department performed: they could only surmise. Lisa knocked shyly at the door, and went in. Behind a desk sat a woman with the exaggeratedly self-confident air of women who occupy men’s positions. Now this woman took a file from a steel cupboard behind her, and glanced first at the file, then at Lisa. The minutes seemed endless. Lisa stared with longing through the window at the house-roofs opposite and thought: ’It’s either arrest or expulsion from the Institute.’
The woman held out a sealed envelope to her, and said: ‘At nine this evening you’re to call at the address on this letter. Hand in your name at the inquiry office. They’ll be expecting you.’
Lisa glanced at the address: the letters began to dance before her eyes. They read: ’Lubianskaya Square, entrance 8, room 207.’
That day she was unusually abstracted. She heard very little of what the professors said, but in her head the words drummed incessantly: ’Lubianskaya Square, nine o’clock.’ Punctually at five to nine she passed through the gates of the N. K. V. D. central offices in Lubianskaya Square. The lieutenant on duty phoned to someone then handed her a pass. She went to the room given on the letter and knocked almost inaudibly with her knuckles.
‘You’re punctual; that’s a good sign.’ The young man in civilian dress who opened the door smiled as he spoke. ‘Please come in!’ He pointed affably to a comfortable chair by the desk. She dropped into it, and planted her feet firmly on the floor.
The young man smiled again, pleasantly. ‘May I offer you a cigarette?’ He pushed a box of expensive cigarettes across the desk. Her fingers trembled, she had difficulty in opening the box and taking out a cigarette. She did not know what to make of this warm reception.
‘Would you like some tea? Or coffee?’ the obliging young man asked. Without waiting for her answer he pressed a button on his desk, and a few moments later a tray of coffee, cakes, and a tablet of chocolate arrived. To cover up her uncertainty and shyness she took a cake. But somehow she had difficulty in getting it down.
‘Have you any idea why I’ve invited you to come and see me?’ he asked, lighting a cigarette and studying Lisa from one side. ‘No... I haven’t,’ she answered in a trembling voice. ‘We’ve been interested in you for a long time now,’ he began, leaning back more comfortably in his chair. ‘You’re a cultivated and an attractive girl. I might go so far as to say very attractive. And you’re from a good Soviet family. Your father’s an old Party member. You yourself have been active as a Young Communist in the Institute. We’ve received very favorable reports about you.’
He paused and glanced at her, to study the effect of his words. The expression of anxiety and excitement gradually faded from her face, to be replaced by one of tense expectation.
‘We not only punish enemies of the Soviet regime,’ he continued. ‘We’re even more concerned to see that the numbers of genuine Soviet people should increase. As we’ve had such good reports about you we consider it our duty to take some interest in your future career.’ He paused again. ‘Tell me, we’re right, aren’t we, in regarding you as a true Soviet citizen and in wishing to help you in your career?’
‘I’m still too young,’ she said in some embarrassment. ‘So far I’ve not had the opportunity...’
‘Oh, I quite understand,’ he interrupted. ‘You’ve always wanted to prove your devotion to the Party, but so far you haven’t had the opportunity: that’s it, isn’t it?’
‘I... I’ve always tried...’ she stammered.
‘I know. I’ve taken some trouble to find out about you before asking you to come and see me. And now we think we can test you in action. You’re studying in the Institute for Foreign Languages. You know that after graduating many of the students will be given the opportunity to work together with foreigners, or even abroad. That’s a great honor. I’m sure you’d like to belong to that select few, wouldn’t you?’
‘Of course. Comrade,’ she readily answered; but then she prudently added: ‘If it’s in the interests of the Party and the government.’ She now realized that this evening visit to the N. K. V. D. by no means held out the unpleasant prospects it had suggested to her. And she resolved to exploit all her powers to grasp the attractive possibility that seemed to be looming up on the horizon.
‘Call me Constantine Alexievich,’ the man said in a friendly manner, as he pushed the tablet of chocolate across to her. ‘I see you’re a clever girl. Work with foreigners, or even abroad: you know what that means! It means Lyons silks, Parisian perfumes, and the best restaurants in the world. It means special privileges, high-society. An easy and fine life filled with pleasure. Men at your feet...’
He took a breath and gave her a swift glance. She was sitting motionless as though entranced; her eyes were shining with excitement. The chocolate began to melt in her fingers.
‘But all that is possible only on one condition,’ he said with a hint of regret. ‘That is, that you have our complete trust. Not everybody has that. It has to be won.’
His last words seemed cold and hard. For a second she again felt helpless and afraid. But in a moment her longing for a brilliant existence and admiring glances shattered all her doubts and fears.
‘What have I got to do?’ she asked practically.
‘Oh, we’ll give you various commissions that will provide you with opportunities to show your devotion to the party,’ he explained in a careless tone. Then, as though she had already indicated her assent, he added in a businesslike tone: ‘You will be given additional schooling. And instructions will be issued to you for each separate commission... as well as the requisite means to achieve the task.’
‘But perhaps I shan’t be equal to your demands,’ she feebly objected, for she hadn’t expected matters to develop so quickly, and instinctively she tried to secure a way of retreat.
‘We shall help you. Besides, from the personal knowledge we already have of you we know very well what you can do. Now may I ask you to sign this document?’ He pushed a form across the desk and showed her where to sign. She glanced rapidly through it: it was a formal promise to collaborate and not to talk; in the event of breaking this promise she was threatened with ’all necessary measures to defend the State security of the Soviet Union’. Her radiant vision of a brilliant future seemed to turn a little dim. He handed her a pen. She signed.
Thus she achieved her desire for a brilliant life. And thus the N. K. V. D. added one more to its list of agents. Before long, without interrupting her studies at the Institute, Lisa was transformed into a model siren.
During the war there were no Germans in the true sense of the words living in Moscow. So she was introduced into the small circle of German anti-fascists who had arrived as political émigrés in the Soviet Union and had managed to survive the continual purges. But soon this work proved to be without point, as the only German communists left in freedom were themselves secret agents of the N. K. V. D., and that organization had introduced her to them only in order to provide yet one more cross-check on the reliability of their spies. But the Germans had grown cunning through experience, they glorified Stalin and repeated the fashionable slogan: ’Smash the Germans.’ She was disgusted with this way of showing devotion and grew angry at the lack of opportunity to prove what she could do.
Constantine Alexievich, who was her immediate superior, quickly became convinced of her keen intelligence and unusually wide cultural horizon. She was capable of starting and carrying on a conversation on any subject. Now she was entrusted with the task of spying on higher Party officials, and had the opportunity to visit the exclusive clubs of the various People’s Commissariats and even the very special club attached to the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs.
The results of her work were stored away in the N. K. V. D. files and prisons. The fact that she was kept at work on the ’internal front’ for a long time is testimony to her success. In the N. K. V. D. view, work among foreigners is comparatively unimportant. Where foreigners are concerned the N. K. V. D. is interested in external details and factual material. But spies working among the ’beavers’, i. e., the important Soviet Party men, are expected to discover their secret thoughts and moods: a complex task, and calling for real art on the part of those engaged in it.
In the spring of 1945 Lisa graduated from the Institute as one of its best students. At this period many of the graduates were sent to work in the S. M. A. in Berlin, and Lisa went with them. Once more she was given special commissions. She was appointed translator to a member of the Special Dismantling Committee under the Council of People’s Commissars, simultaneously acting as his N. K. V. D. control.
When this general was recalled to Moscow on the completion of his task she was appointed to the personnel department of the S. M. A. Her personal file contained the remark: ’Employment to be given in agreement with the Administration for State Security.’ A few days later she became personal interpreter to General Shabalin, the economic dictator of the Soviet zone.
That was when I first met her. Soon afterward Major Kuznetsov gave me his secret warning concerning her. Did the general himself know what sort of people he had around him? After a time I came to the conclusion that he had good reason not to trust anybody.
His orderly, Nikolai, had served in the N. K. V. D. forces at one time. As is the custom in the Soviet Union, anyone who has ever had any kind of relations with the N. K. V. D. - not only their former workers, but even their former prisoners always remains in touch with them. Of course the general knew that quite well. Nikolai was his master’s orderly, and simultaneously his control.
Shabalin’s maid, Dusia, was a pleasant, quiet girl. At the end of 1945 all the Russian women who had been brought to Germany during the war and had later been employed by the Soviet authorities to fill subordinate positions were sent back home. To everybody’s astonishment Dusia remained behind. People assumed that she owed this to the general’s protection. But when the general returned to Moscow while Dusia still remained in Karlshorst it was assumed that she must have some other highly placed protector. Only a few suspected the truth.
She was a very pleasant girl, but I always felt that she suffered from some personal sorrow and vague depression. She knew what had happened to her friends who had been sent back to Russia, and she knew that in the end she would share their fate. Yet she had to work as an instrument in the hands of those same men who sooner or later would become her jailers.
Thus the general’s orderly, his maid, and his personal interpreter were all N. K. V. D. agents. I don’t think the general was so stupid as not to realize it. Even if he hadn’t noticed it, he must have known from experience that it must be so. And so, to simplify matters, he regarded all those who worked in close touch with him as informers for the N. K. V. D. Including me.
After Kuznetsov’s warning I was more on my guard with Lisa. I found out more about her from former friends of hers who had studied with her in the Institute, and who were working as translators in the Supreme Staff. She was not only inordinately ambitious, but also inordinately talkative; and in such circumstances the M. V. D. trust could not remain a secret for long. I gleaned other details of her from various sources.
One evening shortly after General Shabalin’s recall to Moscow, while she was waiting to be given a new appointment, she dropped in on me on some pretext. In Karlshorst we all had a habit of calling casually on one another, without waiting for special invitations. After looking round my apartment she made herself comfortable on the couch and declared: ‘You’re a poor sort of lady’s man, Gregory Petrovich. And to make matters worse, you’re a skinflint.’ As she tucked her feet up on the couch she added: ‘Bring a bottle of wine out of your cupboard and let’s feel at home.’
‘I already feel at home,’ I answered.
‘Don’t be so detestable!’ She purred like a cat. ‘I’m going away soon. Though I simply can’t endure you, I’d like to celebrate our parting.’
‘The feeling is mutual,’ I retorted. ‘And yet I’m sorry you’re going.’
‘So you really are sorry to part from me?’ She gazed at me with her dark brown eyes. ‘You admit it!’
So far as her feminine charms were concerned; what I found most attractive in her was the polish acquired from residence in a great city, her culture and knowledge, in combination with a superlative vulgarity. Such a combination involuntarily attracts by its very novelty.
‘I find you as interesting as the beautiful skin of a snake,’ I confessed.
‘But why do you avoid me, Gregory Petrovich?’ she asked. ’By all the signs you and I ought to understand each other better than anybody else."
‘That’s just the very reason, Lisa,’ I said. ‘Don’t be annoyed with me. Shall I tell you your fortune? You’ll marry an elderly general. That’s the only way in which you’ll be able to satisfy your demands on life. You regard life soberly enough to know that I’m telling the truth.’
She was rather disconcerted uncertain how to take my words, in joke or earnest. Then she began to talk sincerely and passionately, as though she wanted to justify herself:
‘Good! One confidence deserves another! Yes, I shall marry a man in the highest possible position. I don’t suppose he’ll be young. What is so-called ’pure love’ in comparison with what a man in a high position can offer me? I can pick up handsome young men in any street, and they’ll do as I tell them! Let other women run about without stockings and act ’pure love’. One must have power: money, or a high position. Then, and only then, can one understand how cheap love is...’
‘It’s a matter of taste.’ I shrugged my shoulders.
‘Not of taste, but intelligence,’ she retorted. ‘You’re old enough to understand that life is a struggle. That there are strong and weak. If you want to live, you must be strong. If you’re weak, you must serve the strong. Equality, brotherhood? Beautiful fairy stories for fools!’
‘You take a very critical attitude to life!’ I observed.
‘Yes. I want to be on top, not underneath,’ she continued in a dreamy tone. ‘You can only comprehend life when you see it from above. And to do that you need wings...’
‘I like you today, Lisa,’ I said almost sincerely. ‘Life is often far from easy. Often one looks for a fine fairy-story. As you say, fairy-stories are for fools. But... do you remember the story of Icarus? That’s a story for the wise. He, too, wished to have wings ... Do you know how the story ended?’
She looked up at me blankly. ‘What are you getting at, Gregory Petrovich?’ she asked uncertainly.
‘Oh, nothing! It’s just a mental association,’ I replied.
At the beginning of 1946 Lisa was appointed a translator to the Soviet delegation at the Nuremberg trials. She remained in that position for a year. Of course she had other tasks, her real tasks, to perform there too. But she is of interest because she is a shining example of a new type of Soviet personality, someone who is the educational product of the Stalin epoch, and exploits all the prerequisites for a successful life under Soviet conditions.
They have grown up in a milieu, which excludes mental freedom, freedom of thought, and their consciousness is automatically focused on the material aspect of existence. Their driving impulse is the desire to climb as high as possible up the social ladder. The means? People of Lisa’s type are trained not to think about the moral aspect of their activities. Soviet morality justifies everything that serves the Party interests.
One cannot help drawing a comparison between Andrei Kovtun and Lisa Stenina. They both serve one and the same institution. He carries out his task with all his inner being protesting, but with no possibility of changing his position in any way. Lisa, on the other hand, does her job quite willingly and deliberately. Andrei has already learnt only too well that he is the helpless slave of the system. Lisa is striving to get higher. And yet possibly she, too, will be pursued by the stench of blood before long.