The Wings of a Slave
At the beginning of 1947, Mikoyan, member of the Politburo and plenipotentiary extraordinary of the Soviet Council of Ministers for the economic assimilation of the occupied areas and the satellite countries, made an exhaustive inspection tour of the Soviet zone. Afterwards he had a long conference with Marshal Sokolovsky and his deputy for economic questions, Comrade Koval.
This conference discussed the results of the economic reorganization of the Soviet zone. The land reform, which had been accomplished shortly after the capitulation, had not achieved any decisive economic effect. This fact did not disturb or even surprise either Mikoyan or Marshal Sokolovsky. With its aid certain necessary tactical results had been achieved; in particular, a basis had been laid for an offensive against the peasants, as well as the prerequisites for the final collectivization of agriculture.
In the industrial sphere, after the mass dismantling process and the socialization of the small enterprises as landeseigener Betrieb (district-owned works), the S. M. A.’s biggest measure was the practical unification of all the Soviet zone basic industry in an enormous industrial concern known as ’Soviet Joint Stock Companies’. This measure, which had been dictated by Moscow, came under special consideration at the Mikoyan-Sokolovsky conference.
Late in the summer of 1946, Comrade Koval, the commander-in-chief’s deputy for economic questions, had returned from a visit to Moscow, bringing with him new secret instructions. Shortly after, mysterious documents began to circulate between the Administration for Industry, the Administration for Reparations, and Koval’s office.
These documents were referred to in whispers as ’List of or ’List of 235’. The figure changed continually; it indicated the list of enterprises, which it was proposed to transform into Soviet Joint Stock Companies. The lists were sent to Moscow for confirmation, and they returned in the form of appendices to an official decree concerning the organization of an ’Administration for Soviet Joint Stock Companies in Germany’.
This administration, which took over the former Askania Company’s building in Berlin-Weissensee for its headquarters, controlled thirteen Soviet joint stock companies in the more important industrial spheres, and these thirteen included some 250 of the larger industrial works in the Soviet zone. By the statutes of the new concern 51 per cent of the shares of the works thus included were to be Soviet-owned. Thus practically the entire industry in the Soviet zone came into Soviet hands, not only by right of conquest and for the duration of the occupation, but also for all future time.
At the 1945 Potsdam Conference, in which Stalin had taken an active part, great attention had been paid to the question of de-cartellizing German economy, and it had been decided to liquidate the big German industrial concerns, which were regarded not only as an important economic factor, but also as a political factor frequently aggressive in its nature. As a result, one of the first items on the agenda of the Allied Control Commission was this question of the liquidation of the German concerns, and in his time General Shabalin was active in pressing for the matter to be tackled.
But now, again on orders from Moscow, the largest industrial concern not only of Germany, but perhaps of the whole world was founded. Its economic and also political importance surpasses anything of the kind existing hitherto in Germany or in Europe. And this super-concern is no longer in German but in Soviet hands. In the present struggle for Germany and Europe the S. A. G. (Sowjet Aktienge-sellschaften) will be a strong weapon in Kremlin hands.
All the economic measures taken by the S. M. A. in Germany, like the Kremlin’s economic policy generally pursue far-reaching political aims. The object of this transformation of the Soviet zone is to fetter it with powerful economic chains. It provides a necessary economic basis for a further political advance.
Mikoyan was not the only member of the Politburo to visit: Germany about this time. Beria, the Soviet Minister for Home Affairs, made a similar tour of inspection through the lands of Eastern Europe and eastern Germany. He, too, had a long conference with Sokolovsky and the head of the S. M. A. Administration for Internal Affairs, Colonel-General Serov. This conference discussed measures to strengthen the internal political front. The sequence of events was logical enough: the master for extermination affairs followed the master for economic exploitation.
One of the results of Beria’s visit to Karlshorst was a further purge of the S. M. A. personnel. A growing number of the officers who had been with the S. M. A. from the beginning were recalled to the Soviet Union. Their place was taken by new men from Moscow; they were recognizable at first glance as the purest of Party-men. The change of personnel in Karlshorst was in full accord with the Kremlin’s post-war policy, which was directed towards placing all the key-points in Party hands. Once more one could not help being struck by the difference between ’nominal Party-men’ and ’pure Party-men’. Almost every Soviet officer was a Party-member, but the Party was far from regarding them all as ’pure Party-men’.
More than eighteen months had passed since Karlshorst had been transformed into the Berlin Kremlin. Since then both the world and Karlshorst had been subjected to many changes. Many of these changes had been the result of Karlshorst’s own activities as an advanced post of Soviet foreign policy. Parallel with this there had been a change in the international atmosphere, and the people in Karlshorst had been the first to become conscious of it.
We were left with only the memory of the time when Russians had been welcomed everywhere as liberators and allies. The Kremlin’s post-war policy had left not a trace of the sympathy which Russian soldiers had won in the world. The Russian people’s heroism and self-sacrifice in the fight for their native country had assured the Soviet Union a leading place among the world powers, and had led to unexpected results.
The Kremlin had decided to exploit this situation for the aims of their foreign policy. Instead of the breathing space, which the Russian people had hoped for and expected, they now had to carry all the burdens involved in the Kremlin’s risky political game. Menacing clouds were again beginning to gather on the horizon. It was the people in the Karlshorst outpost who saw those clouds most clearly. We were not fond of talking about the danger of a new war, but we thought of it, and our hearts sank.
As events developed, we were more and more forced to think about this danger. It seemed stupid and unnatural, but the facts spoke for themselves. Many people tried to convince themselves that the Allies’ post-war dissensions were simply in the nature of disputes over the division of the spoils. But that was a poor pretext. We Soviet officers were too well grounded in the Marxist-Leninist theory of world revolution to believe it.
We, the Soviet men who stood on the bounds of the two worlds, and who had lived through all the development of relations between the Allies since the capitulation, we who had been personally convinced that the West was genuinely striving, and still is striving, for peace, and who had seen the sabotage of every attempt to achieve friendly cooperation with the Soviets - we knew a great deal that our people at home did not and could not know.
We well remembered the first few months after Germany’s capitulation. The Western Allies demobilized their armies as swiftly as transport conditions allowed. Meanwhile the Soviet command as swiftly brought up its shattered divisions to fighting strength, completing their complement of men and officers, and supplying new tanks and aeroplanes. We racked our brains over the question: what for?
Perhaps it was necessary to have an armed fist when negotiating at the diplomatic table? Subsequent events showed what it was all for. The Kremlin regarded the will to peace as a mark of weakness, and democracy’s demobilization as providing an opportunity for further aggression. What else could the democracies do but re-arm? That meant a new armaments race instead of Russia’s peaceful economic restoration; it meant all that we had known so well before the war. And where would it all lead to?
When political passions begin to play on national sentiments - something the Kremlin particularly desires - when the armaments race is at its height, it will be difficult to determine who began it all and who is to blame. And then, quite naturally, each side will accuse the other.
But this time, we members of the Soviet occupation forces know one thing perfectly: no matter what comes, all the blame for the consequences will lie solely and simply on the shoulders of the men in the Kremlin. This time we know who started to play with the gunpowder barrel. This time we have no doubt of the prime and original cause of the new war danger.
The more the atmosphere darkened, the more monotonous grew life in Karlshorst. The days dragged past, gray and boring. On one of these gray days I went to do my usual twenty-four-hour tour of duty on the staff, which I had to perform once a month.
The officer on duty in the S. M. A. staff headquarters had to spend the daytime in the commander-in-chief’s waiting room, and during this time he acted as assistant adjutant to the marshal. During the night he was alone on duty in the marshal’s office, and acted as adjutant.
At six o’clock in the evening I took my place as usual in the waiting room. Marshal Sokolovsky was in Potsdam, so the place was empty. The adjutant left at half-past seven, leaving me in charge, alone. To inform myself on current matters I glanced through the files on the desk and all the documents. The time passed imperceptibly, my only interruption being telephone calls.
At midnight, in accordance with regulations, I took the marshal’s seat at the desk in his room, in order to be ready if direct calls came through. It was quite common for the Kremlin to ring up in the middle of the night, and then the telephonogram had to be taken down and passed on to its destination.
As I sat at the desk I began to order the papers littered over it. Among them was a duplicated Information Bulletin. This bulletin was intended only for the higher staff, and was a top-secret document, with every copy numbered. I began to look through it.
The contents were very illuminating: they were a detailed collection of all the things that the Soviet press carefully ignores or even flatly denies. If a Soviet citizen dared to speak of such things aloud, he would be accused of being a counter-revolutionary, with all its con-sequences. But this was an official information bulletin for the use of the S. M. A. commander.
It is a serious mistake to attempt to justify the Soviet leaders’ conduct by arguing that they are not acquainted with a particular problem, or lack information on it. At one time peasant representatives made a habit of traveling from remote villages on a pilgrimage to the Kremlin gates. They naively thought that behind the Kremlin walls Stalin did not see what was happening all around him, that they had only to tell him the truth and everything would be altered. The peasants’ representatives sacrificed their lives, and everything continued as before. The Soviet leaders are fully informed, and are entirely responsible for anything that occurs.
In the middle of the night I resolved to ring up Genia. I made contact with the Moscow exchange, and waited a long time for an answer. At last a sleepy voice sounded: “Well?”
“Genia,” I said, “this is Berlin speaking. What’s the news in Moscow?”
“Ah, so it’s you!” I heard a distant sigh. “I thought you’d dropped out completely.”
“Oh no... not completely. What’s the news?” "Nothing. Life’s a bore..." “How’s your father?” "Gone off again." “Where to this time?”
“He sent me a silk gown recently. So I expect it’s somewhere there... But how are things with you?”
“I’m sitting in the marshal’s chair.” "Are you intending to come to Moscow soon?" “When I’m sent.”
“I’m so bored here alone,” she said. “Do come soon!”
We had a long talk, and dreamed of our future meeting, thought of all we would do, discussed plans for the future. It was a dream to which we resorted in order to avoid the present. At that moment I regretted that I was not in Moscow, and sincerely wanted to go back.
The sleepless night passed. The day arrived, and with it generals from the provinces fussed around, German representatives of the new democracy lurked timidly in corners. Just before six o’clock in the evening, when my turn of duty ended, an engineer named Sykov came in to talk over a proposed hunting expedition with me. We were interrupted by the telephone. I picked up the receiver and replied with the usual formula: “Officer on duty in the staff.” It was Koval, the commander’s deputy on economic questions, and my immediate superior.
“Come and see me for a moment.”
’He asked for me personally,’ I thought as I went to his room. ’What’s the hurry?’
He greeted me with the question: “I suppose you don’t happen to know what this is all about?” He held out a sheet of paper bearing an order from the S. M. A. staff headquarters. I took it and read:
’The directing engineer, G. P. Klimov, being a highly qualified specialist in Soviet economy, is to be demobilized from the Soviet Army and freed from duty in the Soviet Military Administration to return to the Soviet Union for further utilization in accordance with his special qualifications.’
For a moment I could not grasp its import. It left me with a decidedly unpleasant feeling. There was something not quite in order here. A certain formal courtesy was always observed towards responsible personnel; in such cases there was a preliminary personal talk.
“You haven’t yourself applied to be transferred to Moscow?” Koval asked.
“No,” I answered, still rather preoccupied.
“It’s signed by the chief of staff, and there was no prior agreement with me.” Koval shrugged his shoulders.
Five minutes later I walked into the office of the head of the Personnel Department. I had had frequent opportunities to meet Colonel Utkin, so he knew me personally. Without waiting for my question, he said:
“Well, may I congratulate you? You’re going home...”
“Comrade Colonel, what’s at the back of it?” I asked.
I was interested to discover what was at the bottom of the unexpected order. Workers in Karlshorst were not recalled to Moscow without good reason. As a rule, when members of the S. M. A. applied to be returned home the staff turned down the request.
“I’m disturbed not so much by what the order says, as by its form,” I continued. “What does it mean?”
Utkin was silent for a moment or two, then he said with some reluctance: “The Political Administration is involved. Between ourselves, I’m surprised you’ve held out here so long as you’re a non-Party man.”
I shook hands with him gratefully. As I turned to leave he advised me: “Bear in mind that after your frontier pass has been issued you must leave in three days. If there’s any necessity, hang out the transfer of your work.”
I left his room with a feeling of relief. Now everything was clear. As I went along the dimly lighted corridor I was gradually possessed by strange feeling; I felt that my body was receiving an influx of strength; my soul was mastered by an inexplicable feeling of freedom. I had had exactly that same feeling when I first heard of the outbreak of war. And I had had it when I first put on my military uniform. It was the presentiment of great changes to come. It was the breath of the unknown in my face.
Now, as I walked along the corridors of the S. M. A. headquarters I again felt the breath of this unknown. It slightly intoxicated me
I went home through the empty streets of Karlshorst. Behind the fences the trees were swinging their bare branches. The harsh German winter was in possession - darkness and stillness. A passer-by saluted me - I answered automatically. I was in no hurry. My step was slow and thoughtful. It was as though I were not taking the well-known road home, but standing at the beginning of a long road. I looked about me, I took in deep breaths of air, and I felt the ground beneath my feet as I had not felt it for a long time. Strange, inexplicable feelings swept over me.
Hardly had I shut the door of my apartment when Sykov came in. By my face he saw at once that something had happened. “Where are you being sent to?” he asked. “Moscow,” I answered briefly. “What for?”
Without taking off my greatcoat I went to my desk and silently drummed on it with my fingers. “But why?” he asked again.
“I haven’t provided myself with the red book soon enough,” I answered reluctantly.
He stared at me commiserately. Then he put his hand in a pocket, took out a long piece of red cardboard and turned it over in his fingers.
“What would it have cost you?” he asked, gazing at his Party-ticket. “You shout your ’Hail!’ once a week at the Party meeting, and afterward you can go to the toilet and rinse your mouth.”
His words made an unpleasant impression on me. I instinctively reflected that that piece of cardboard must still be warm with the warmth of his body. As though he had guessed my thoughts, he went on: “I myself remained at the candidate stage for six years. Until I couldn’t keep it up any longer.”
His presence and his remarks began to irritate me. I wanted to be left to myself. He invited me to go with him to the club. I refused.
“I’m going to have a game of billiards,” he remarked as he went to the door. “A cannon off two cushions, and no ideology about it.”
I remained standing by my desk. I was still wearing my greatcoat. The coat round my shoulders strengthened my feeling that I was on my way. I tried sitting down, but jumped up again at once. I couldn’t sit quietly. Something was burning inside me. I wandered about the room with my hands in my pockets.
I switched on the radio. The cheerful music plucked at my nerves, and I switched it off. The telephone bell rang. I did not bother to answer it. The German maid had prepared my supper; it was waiting on the table for me. I didn’t even look at it, but paced from corner to corner, my head sunk on my chest.
The order had burst the dam, which had long been holding me back. I felt that inside me everything was shattered, everything was in turmoil. And at the same time something was slowly crawling towards me from afar. Something inexorable and joyless.
Today I must cast up accounts.
Today only one thing was clear: I did not believe in that which I had at the back of me. But if I returned to Moscow - I must at once join the Party, a Party - in which I did not believe. There was no other way. I would have to do it in order to save my life, to have the right to exist. All my life thenceforth I would lie and pretend, simply for the sake of the bare possibility of existence. Of that I had no doubt. I had examples before my eyes. Andrei Kovtun, a man in a blind alley. Mikhail Belyavsky, a man beyond the pale. Major Dubov, a man in a vacuum. But wasn’t I a man in a vacuum too? How long could that continue?
I would have a home, and wait for the nocturnal knock at the door. I would get married, only to distrust my own wife. I would have children, who might at any time betray me or become orphans ashamed of their father.
At these thoughts the blood rushed to my head. My collar choked me. A hot wave of fury rose in my throat. I felt so hot that my greatcoat seemed too heavy for me. At the moment I still had my greatcoat round my shoulders and a weapon in my hand. I didn’t want to part from that coat, or from that weapon. Why not?
If I returned, sooner or later I would go under. Why? I had no belief in the future. But what had I had in the past? I tried to recall that past. When I first saw the light of this world the flames of revolution were playing in my eyes. I grew up to be a restless wolf-cub, and those flames continually flickered in my eyes. I was a wolf-cub of the Stalin generation; I fought with teeth and claws for my life and thrust my way forward. Now the Stalin wolf-cub was at the height of his powers, surveying the point he had reached.
Today I had to confess to myself: all my life I had forced myself to believe in something I could not believe in, even from the day of my birth. All my life I had only sought a compromise with life. And if any one of my contemporaries were to say that he believed, I would call him a liar, a coward. Did such men, as Sykov really believe?
I strode about my room, my eyes on my boots. They had trodden the earth from Moscow to Berlin. I remembered the flaming and smoking years of the war, the fiery font in which my feeling of responsibility to my native land was awakened. Once more I saw the Red Square and the walls of the Kremlin lit up with the fiery salutes of victory. Days of pride and glory, when one cried aloud with excess of emotion. In my ears sounded once more the words that had throbbed in my breast: ’Among the first of the first, among the finest of the finest you are marching today across the Red Square.’
Now I was marching from one corner of my room to the other, like a caged wolf. Yes, the war had knocked us off our balance. Blinded by the struggle for our native land, we forgot a great deal in those days. At that time it could not be otherwise, there was no other way.
Those who took another way.... With a bitter pang I recalled the early days of the war. I am deeply grateful to Fate that I was saved the necessity of making a very difficult decision. By the time it came to my turn to put on the soldier’s greatcoat I knew clearly that the way of the Russians was not with the Germans. And I fought to the end. I fought for something in which I did not believe. I fought, consoling myself with hopes.
Now I no longer had those hopes. Now I felt that we had gone wrong, we had not accomplished our task, but had trusted to promises. That was why I did not want to take off the greatcoat. It wasn’t too late yet!
Now menacing clouds were again gathering on the horizon. If I returned to Moscow, I would once more be confronted with the same bitter decision as in June 1941. Once more I would have to defend something I had no wish to defend.
Still more, now I was convinced that the men in the Kremlin were leading my country along a road to perdition. Nobody was threatening us. On the contrary, we were threatening the entire world. That was an unnecessary and dangerous game. If we won, what good would it do us? If we were defeated, who would bear the guilt, and who would pay the Kremlin’s accounts? Every one of us!
I had passed through days of anxiety for my country, through battles and through victory. And in addition I had seen with my own eyes all the bitterness of defeat. Germany in the dust was a good example of that. Germany was writhing in the convulsions of hunger and shame - but where were the guilty ones? Were only leaders guilty, or the entire nation?
If the war broke out, it would be too late then. War has its own laws. Those whom the Kremlin had turned into enemies would regard us as enemies. They did not want war, but if war was inevitable they would wage it to defend their own interests. So what was left for us to do: be again a chip in the hands of criminal gamesters?
Hour after hour I walked about my room, with my greatcoat round my shoulders. It was long past midnight, but I had no thought of sleep. There was a void behind me and a void before me. I had only one conscious and definite realization: I could not go back. One thought hammered continually in my head: what was I to do?
Not until early in the morning did I feel tired. Then I lay down on my bed without undressing. And I fell asleep with my greatcoat drawn over my head.
During the next few days I began to hand over my work, bit by bit. Following Colonel Utkin’s advice I deliberately dragged out the process. Without yet knowing why, I sought to gain time. And continually I was oppressed with the same tormenting thoughts and the one inexorable question: what was I to do?
On one of these days I stepped out of the Underground station on Kurfurstendamm, in the British sector. I was wearing civilian clothes; my boots squelched in the damp ooze of melting snow. The familiar streets seemed strange and unfriendly. I walked along aimlessly, running my eyes over the nameplates at the entrances to the houses. My finger played with the trigger of the pistol in my coat pocket.
Finally I made my choice of nameplate and went into the house. It had been a luxurious place - it still had a broad marble staircase. Now the stairs were unlit, a chilly wind blew through the unglazed windows. After some difficulty I found the door I was seeking, and rang the bell. A girl with a coat flung round her shoulders opened to me.
“Can I see Herr Diels?” I asked.
“What about?” she asked pleasantly. “A private matter,” I curtly answered.
She showed me in and asked me to wait a moment. I sat in the lawyer’s cold, dark reception room, while the girl disappeared. A few moments later she returned and said: “The Herr Doctor will see you.”
I entered an enormous, unheated office. An elderly gentleman in gold-rimmed spectacles rose from his desk to meet me. “What can I do for you?” he asked, offering me a seat. He rubbed his frozen hands, probably expecting some ordinary case of divorce.
“My request is rather unusual, Doctor,” I said. For the first lime in my intercourse with Germans I felt a little awkward.
“Oh, you needn’t feel any constraint with me,” he said with a professional smile.
“I am a Russian officer,” I said slowly, instinctively lowering my voice.
The lawyer smiled genially, to indicate that he felt highly honored by my visit. “Only the other day another Soviet officer called on me with a German girl,” he said, obviously seeking to encourage me.
I hardly listened to his explanation of why the other Russian officer had visited him. I was thinking with chagrin: ’I’ve made a bad start...’ But it was too late to retreat, and I decided to speak out.
“You see, I’m being demobilized and sent back to Russia. I shan’t burden you with explanations as to the why and wherefore. To put it briefly, I want to go to Western Germany.”
The smile vanished from his face. For a moment or two he did not know what to say. Then he prudently asked: “Ah... and what can I do about that?”
“I must get into contact with the Allies,” I said. “I wish to ask for political asylum. I can’t do that myself. If I’m seen with any Allied official or if I’m observed coming out of an Allied office... that’s too great a risk for me to run. So I’d like to ask you to help me.”
The silence lasted some minutes. Then I noticed that Herr Diels was behaving in a queer manner. He fidgeted restlessly on his chair, searched for something in his pocket, turned over the papers on his desk.
“Yes, yes... I understand,” he murmured. “I, too, am a victim of the Nazi regime.”
He took out a letter-case and hurriedly ran through innumerable letters. At last he found what he was seeking, and with a trembling hand held out a paper to me. It had been carefully reinforced at the folds and obviously was in frequent use.
“You see, I’ve even got a certificate testifying to that fact,” he said.
I glanced through the document. It stated that the possessor was a victim of Nazism, and almost a communist. I again had the unpleasant feeling that I had come to the wrong address. I realized that the lawyer was afraid of something and was trying to secure himself.
“Herr Doctor, to be frank I’d rather deal with the most rabid of Nazis at this moment,” I said as I handed back his document.
“Who recommended you to come to me?” he asked irresolutely.
“No one. I took a chance. I have to act in the knowledge that I cannot trust anybody in my immediate surroundings. I hoped you’d be in a position to help me. But if you can’t for any reason, at any rate there’s no reason why you should do me any harm.”
Herr Diels sat sunken in thought. Finally he appeared to come to some decision. He turned to me again. “But tell me, what surety can I have that you...” He concentratedly turned the pencil over and over in his hand and avoided looking me in the face. Then, as though making up his mind, he raised his eyes and said a little hesitantly: “... that you’re not an agent of that... of the G. P. U?”
The former name of that well-known organization jarred in my ears. Apparently the Germans didn’t know its present name yet. Despite the seriousness of my position, his question made me smile. The very thing I feared in others I was myself suspected of. I simply shrugged my shoulders and said: “I haven’t had an opportunity to think that one out as yet, Herr Doctor. All I’m concerned with at the moment is with saving my own head from that... G. P. U.”
He sat very still, thinking aloud: “You speak German well... too well... And besides, this is all so abnormal...” He stared at me fixedly, as though trying to read my thoughts, and said: “Good! I’m an old man and I have experience of men. I believe you’re speaking the truth. Where do you want to go?”
“To the American zone.”
“But why the American zone?” He raised his eyebrows in astonishment.
“Herr Doctor, when a man takes such a step from political considerations it’s natural for him to seek refuge with the strongest enemies of the people he’s escaping from.”
“Yes, but this is the British sector. I have no contact with the Americans.”
I realized that this was tantamount to a refusal, and I made one last attempt:
“Perhaps you could recommend me to one of your colleagues who has got contact with the Americans?”
“Oh yes, I can do that,” he answered, reaching for his telephone book. He turned up a name in the book, then rose heavily from his desk and went to the door, remarking: “Excuse me a moment. I’ll write out the address for you.”
He went into the reception room. I heard him speaking to his secretary. Then he exchanged a few words with another visitor. The telephone bell rang more than once. Somebody came and went.
The minutes dragged past. It was very cold in that unheated room and I began to shiver. I felt a perfectly stupid feeling of utter dependence on the decency of someone who was a complete stranger. I settled deeper in the armchair, drew my coat closer round me and put my right hand in my pocket. I slipped back the safety catch of my pistol, and turned the barrel to cover the door. If a Soviet military patrol came in I would open fire without taking my hand out of my pocket.
At last the lawyer came back, and held out a slip of paper to me. On it was an address, typewritten. I could not help wondering: ’Is that from prudence, or simply the German habit of always using the typewriter?’
Suppressing a sigh of relief, I left the house. The streetcars and automobiles were noisy in the gray dusk of the winter evening. People were hurrying along on their way home; each one had somewhere to go. I felt a wretched feeling of loneliness. I drew my cap down over my eyes and plunged into the Underground.
After a long journey and long wandering through unknown streets at night I found the address Herr Diels had given me: a villa on the outskirts of the city. Dr. von Scheer occupied quite a high position, and it was not easy for me to get a personal interview with him. When at last I was alone with him in his study and explained the reason for my visit he at once got down to business. He took a photocopy of a document from his desk drawer, and showed it to me. It stated that he had official relations with the Soviet central commandatura. I was confronted with all the familiar seals and signatures. I pulled such a face that he could not help smiling.
“What surety have I that you’re not an agent of this... well, you know!” he asked. He winked and gave me a friendly slap on the knee.
I could only shrug my shoulders.
Dr. von Scheer proved to be a businesslike man. After a brief talk he agreed to have a chat with some Americans he knew, and asked me to call again in two days’ time. I went home wondering whether he was at that moment telephoning to the Soviet commandatura to inform them of my visit.
Two days later I went to keep the appointment. I had very mixed feelings: hopes of success, and expectations of an ambush. He curtly informed me that his talks had been fruitless. The Americans didn’t wish to have anything to do with the matter. Evidently for the same reason: ’What surety have we...?’
I thanked the doctor for his kindness, groped my way down the steps of his house, and strode through the darkness of Berlin. I could not use my automobile with its Soviet registration number, and I had to go home by streetcar. So once more I stood on the rear platform, surrounded by bustling people on their way home from work.
At one of the stops close to the Control Commission a Soviet officer got on, and stood beside me. He was an elderly, benevolent-looking man, with a document-case. Evidently he had been detained in the Control Commission and so had missed the service omnibuses. At the sight of the familiar uniform I felt a touch of anxiety.
Suddenly he turned to me and asked me some question in German. I answered in German. As I did so I felt a clutching at my heart. Here was the beginning of it all! I no longer trusted anybody; I did not even dare to admit that I was a Russian.
As I changed from one streetcar to another I noticed a German policeman not far off. With no clear idea of what I had in mind I went up to him and asked where I could find the American consulate. He evidently guessed I was not a German, and shone his lantern over me from head to foot.
In post-war Germany foreigners who were not wearing Allied uniform or did not possess an allied passport were beyond the legal pale. I had often seen such people wandering aimlessly about Berlin. The policeman evidently took me for one of these, and stared at me suspiciously. He was used to such individuals avoiding the police like the plague. “We don’t give such information,” he answered at last, and shone the lantern at me again, evidently half minded to ask me for my documents. It was well that he didn’t, for I would have been in an awkward predicament: German police were under orders to salute Soviet officers.
The policeman walked away. I had a feeling of breathlessness in my chest. This incident marked the beginning of the road I had decided to follow. Where I was going I would have neither a pistol nor a valid document assuring me a place in life.
As I opened the door of my Karlshorst apartment I heard the telephone ringing. I did not bother to answer. I didn’t want to see or speak to anybody. I felt that I must have time to think over all that had happened, and to consider the future.
Once more I began my restless wandering from corner to corner. So my attempts to make contact with the Allies had been futile. It wasn’t so simple as I had thought. It had had one result: now I saw clearly that I had got to act at my own risk.
In thus attempting to make contact with the Allies I had been concerned not so much with the formal aspect of the matter, as with its principle. I knew there was a secret agreement between the American military governor and the Soviet command, under which both parties bound themselves to hand over deserters. The British had been more far-sighted; they hadn’t made such an agreement. But this foresight was not much of a guarantee to a man who was familiar with the ways of the military secret service. Although I had been demobilized, and so could not be regarded as a deserter, I had nothing to show that I was a political émigré.
The Soviet military authorities had ways of dealing with the situation in which I was placed. They simply made serious criminal charges against any Soviet citizen who attempted to flee, and demanded his extradition on the ground that it was international practice to hand over criminals. Close acquaintance with Lieutenant-Colonel Orlov, the S. M. A. chief military prosecutor, had enabled me to know a great deal about such matters.
This explains why I attempted to make contact with the West before going over. It was a point that would occur to anyone. But this was only a superficial aspect of the problem, which confronted me. There was another, deeper aspect, which had not occurred to me until now.
As I walked from corner to corner, reviewing my conduct during the past two or three days, what I had done began to seem an unpardonable stupidity. I simply must not lose all sense of reality. The powerful thought of my break with the past had dominated my mind too much. I had cut myself loose from my past life, and now I was like a blind kitten in a new world. My rejection of half the world had engendered the erroneous idea that the other half was immaculate. I must look the facts soberly in the face.
I regarded myself as an engineer, and I had forgotten that I was an officer on the Soviet General Staff, one who had been trained in the highest of Kremlin schools. Even at this stage I could still make a triumphal return to Moscow, and travel abroad a month or so later to take a post in a military attaché’s office, to command a whole staff of secret agents, buying and selling those with whom I had just been seeking refuge. And I, who trusted nobody, was demanding trust in myself. Who would believe me, when I myself didn’t know what was going on within me? I was conscious of only one thing: a spring had snapped, and the former mechanism was useless. Had I any right to expect trust? I, an erring Stalin wolf-cub?
As I strode about my room I heard the words: “An unforgivable stupidity, Comrade Klimov!” I started as I realized that I was talking aloud.
To think of making contact with the Allies! It was just as well that nothing had come of it! I should know, better than most, the generally accepted rules of the secret war. The other side welcomed only those who had gained its confidence. I knew exactly how that confidence was to be won. A man was of interest to them so long as he brought some benefit. If he were regarded as stupid enough, he was used for propaganda purposes, and finally was flung on the rubbish heap. At times refugees are exchanged against agents who have been caught. It is all done quietly and without fuss. Was that the road I wanted to take?
“You haven’t learnt my teaching well, Comrade Klimov!” I heard General Biyasi’s voice in my ears.
I knew that the Soviet intelligence service often sends agents to the West in the guise of refugees. They are covered so well that they remain undiscovered for years. The West is fully aware of this trick. It is true that a Soviet instruction had laid down that, as a rule, people of Russian nationality were not recommended for such activities. On the one hand, Russians arouse suspicion at once; on the other hand, the Soviet regime trusts its own people least of all. But that was a detail the West did not know.
My inward break with the world of lies had quickened a terrible longing for the truth. I sought trust. But what did I need their trust for? I wanted only one thing: to be left in peace. I had no idea what I should do next. All I had achieved so far was renunciation of the past. In my soul there was now a vacuum. I must have a breathing space in which to find new sense in life. I was slowly but surely coming to the decision that I must disappear, must lose my identity - until I had found a new identity.
I had drawn a line beneath the past. But I had not thought of the future. My first attempt to make contact with the other world had compelled me to think of it. Now I tried to systematize all the possibilities open to me.
As I was demobilized, I was freed from my oath, and by the rules of international etiquette I was free to go where I liked. I wanted to renounce my Soviet passport and become a stateless political émigré. Let me say that I would never advise any of my comrades to take such a step. If you wish to become a political émigré, you must renounce your Soviet passport, but not your country.
That means that you renounce all legal support from a powerful state. You stand naked and disarmed in this imperfect world, which reckons only with him, who is strong, whether his strength consists in firearms, or money, or tanks. Today the Kremlin has raised the entire world against it. Concealing their distrust and fear, the people of the outside world will smile hypocritically and shake the hands of those who possess Soviet passports, but will vent their impotent feelings on you, the political émigré, because you haven’t one. That is one aspect political emigration.
Life in a strange land is not easy. I have seen living examples In Berlin I frequently came across certain people who deserved the (utmost commiseration. They spoke Russian, but they were afraid to talk to me. Sometimes they minded my car while I was at the theater and were grateful when I gave them a packet of cigarettes. That is another aspect of political emigration.
Until long after midnight I wandered about my room. The house was as still as the grave; Karlshorst was asleep. All around me was the infinite sea of an alien world. I felt its cold, indifferent breath. At last I lay down on my bed without undressing, thrust my pistol under the pillow, and fell asleep.
Several more days passed. All this time I was living a double life. I spent the first part of the day in Karlshorst, handing over my work, putting my papers in order ready for the return to Moscow, receiving the congratulations and good wishes of my acquaintances. I had to give the impression that I was glad to be going home. I exchanged addresses, I promised to write from Moscow. During the second part of the day I wandered about wintry Berlin, visiting my German friends and cautiously sounding the ground. I must find out the road by which people went to the West.
Day after day went by without result. The normal period of preparation for departure to Moscow was three days. I had already taken two weeks.
As time passed it became increasingly difficult for me to play this double game. With every day my stay in Karlshorst grew more dangerous. I must reckon with the possibility of a showdown, and take pre-cautionary measures. Like many of the Soviet officers in Germany, I had quite a collection of trophy weapons. Now I thought of them, and took out a German automatic pistol from behind the cupboard. After loading it I hung it on the hat-rack at the door, and covered it with my greatcoat. Then I put several spare clips and a box of cartridges close at hand. This, in case there was an attempt to arrest me in my rooms. Next I loaded my large-caliber parabellum, my officer’s pistol, which I had kept from the front-line days.
Next day I drove out of Berlin, stopped my car in a dense wood, and began to test my weapons methodically, as though engaging in firing practice. The brief bursts of the automatic shattered the frosty silence of the winter evening. The heavy bullets of the parabellum tore into the young pines. There must be no letdown! Anything you like, except being left helpless. I did not think much - I feared only one thing: a letdown.
Each night, after my long and fruitless wanderings about Berlin, I would return home tired and depressed. I was sunk in apathy. Evidently there was nothing else for it but to go off on my own to the West, and hope to be lost in the flood of German refugees.
I sat down at my desk. I had no desire for food or drink. But I terribly longed to have some living creature with whom I could share my thoughts. I felt utterly weary and exhausted. Suddenly I remembered that I had not cleaned my weapons after my drive to the woods. To escape from my thoughts I began to oil the pistol. That gave me some measure of relief.
The night peered in at the window. My room was half in darkness. My only light was the desk-lamp, burning brightly beneath its shade. In the yellow light the oily pistol gleamed coldly. I stared without thinking at the lifeless metal. That gleam drew me, held my eyes.
I tried to tear my gaze away, and looked about me. I caught sight of a dark, hunched figure standing on one corner of my desk. Just where light and darkness met a black monkey was crouching. Crouching and gazing at me.
This large bronze statuette had been given me by one of my acquaintances. On a square pedestal of black marble were scattered rolls of parchment, books, retorts, the material symbols of human intellect. Over them crouched a repulsive black ape, squatting with an important air. It held a human skull in its hairy paws, and was staring at it with doltish curiosity. The sculptor had conveyed in bronze all the vanity of human wishes. I set the statuette on my desk, and took little notice of it as a rule.
But now as I looked at the figure it seemed to stir. I felt mad with myself: was I beginning to suffer from hallucinations? I tried to think of other things, of the past. Once more I recalled the years of war, the Red Square, the Kremlin. Once more the intoxicated cry of inflamed emotion roared in my ears: “First of the first, among the finest of the finest.”
“Tomorrow you will be last among the last, defeated among the defeated,” I heard a voice.
Now I tried to think of the future. But before me opened a gray void. I saw that I had to renounce all my past life; I must lose my identity and vanish into the nothingness.
Into the nothingness.... Perhaps there was an even simpler way of doing that. I looked at the shining barrel of my pistol, reached for it, and played automatically with the safety catch.... It was so simple....
The emptiness of these days I was passing through pressed me down. All my life I had done my duty, even when I had doubted that it was my duty. I had regarded duty as being the result of faith in the infallibility of the fundamental principle, and had searched obstinately for that central core of rational existence. Today I was convinced that the principle was false. So what?
Yet again my thoughts turned back to the past: I thought of the impatience with which I had looked to the end of the war, of the passion with which I had dreamed of peaceful life. And now, just when I could return to that peaceful life, just when my dreams would come true, I was throwing it all behind me and going off in the opposite direction. Why? I felt instinctively that the reason sprang out of the danger of a new war. I felt that otherwise I would have returned home despite everything and would have continued to share my joys and sorrows with my country. The possibility of a new war aroused deep and conflicting feelings in me. But where was the connection?
There are feelings buried so deep in the heart that one cannot trust oneself to speak them out. I had the fate of Germany before my eyes. Now I felt convinced that a similar fate awaited my own country. I knew the criminals who were leading my country to perdition, and I did not wish to share in their crime. I was going out today in order to fight them tomorrow. I didn’t want to admit to these thoughts: they seemed like treachery. And yet to betray a traitor is to be faithful to the fundamental principle. To kill a killer is a praiseworthy deed.
I lit another cigarette from the dying butt and flung myself back in my chair. I felt an unpleasant, bitter taste in the mouth. In the chilly silence the words beat through my head monotonously:
’It is not enough to love your country and freedom, you have to fight for them. Now you see no other possibility of fighting than to go over to the other camp and fight from there. That is your way back to your fatherland.’
On the seventeenth day I was issued my frontier pass. It was valid for three days, and before the end of the third day I must cross the Soviet frontier at Brest-Litovsk. Whatever happened, I could not remain more than another three days in Karlshorst.
The dusk was settling in Berlin when, after another day of fruitless wandering, I decided to call on a German acquaintance, the director of a factory, which I had visited from time to time on official business. During these visits I had had many quite frank political conversations with him. That evening, too, we quickly turned to discussion of the future of Germany. I gave expression to my view that the Germans were too optimistic about it.
“You underestimate the internal danger,” I said. “You’re blindly waiting for the end of the occupation. But even if the Soviet forces are withdrawn from Germany, there will be very little change in the situation. Before that time comes Germany will have been bound hand and foot, she will have been sold wholesale and on a long-term lease!”
“By whom?” the director asked.
“That’s what the Socialist Unity Party (S. E. D.) and the People’s Police are for.”
I knew he had recently joined the S. E. D., and so my words could not be very pleasant for him to hear. He looked at me sidelong, was silent for a moment, then said slowly: “Many of the members of the S. E. D. and the People’s Police have different thoughts from what the occupation authorities would desire.”
“So much the worse, if they think one thing and do another.”
“At present we have no other way out. But when the decisive moment comes, believe me, the S. E. D. and the People’s Police will not do as Moscow hopes.”
“I wish you success!” I smiled.
After a momentary silence the director turned the conversation into another channel:
“Well, and how are things going with you?”
Weary and cold, I only waved my hand hopelessly and sighed:
“I’m going back to Moscow....”
He evidently caught the disillusionment in my tone, and stared at me in astonishment. “Aren’t you glad to be going back home? In your place I...”
“I’m quite prepared to change places with you,” I retorted.
He threw me another swift glance and interpreted my words to his own satisfaction. “So you like Germany more than Russia?” he asked.
“I could do, if I were not a Soviet officer,” I replied evasively.
“The victors are envious of the vanquished!” He shook his head thoughtfully. He rose and began to walk about the room.
Suddenly he halted in front of me and asked:
“Then why don’t you remain here?”
“Where’s here?” I asked indifferently.
“Why, go to one of the other zones!” he exclaimed. He made a vague gesture, surprised that I had not myself thought of such a simple idea.
“But is that so simple?” I asked, pricking up my mental ears, but remaining outwardly unconcerned.
For some time he said nothing. Then, apparently coming to a decision, he turned and said in a rather lower voice: “If you wish to remain in Germany there’s nothing simpler than to get across the green frontier.” (’Green frontier’ - a common phrase for crossing frontiers illegally. - Tr )
I listened still more closely, and asked:
“Maybe, but what is the American attitude to you if you do?”
He made a contemptuous gesture. “Oh, spit on the swines! They’re no better than....” He bit his lip.
I smiled involuntarily. I had the impression that this director, this member of the Socialist Unity Party, was prepared to go to any lengths to reduce the Soviet Army by just one fighting unit! I knew him well; I had no reason to suspect that he was acting as a provocateur. I sat silent. If he was so anxious to win me, let him talk a little more!
“I have many acquaintances in Thuringia,” he went on. “If you like, I can give you letters of recommendation to people of trust. They’ll willingly help you to get to the other side.” "But how about documents?"
He shrugged his shoulders: “Today every third man in Germany has false papers.”
“Where can you get hold of them?”
“I know a man who’ll be very glad to help you in that direction.” He smiled a little smile, and added: “And by the way, he’s an officer in the People’s Police.”
Now I decided to show my hand. I changed my tone; my words sounded strong, almost harsh. “Herr Director, you must pardon my reserve. The question we’re discussing has been decided long since. If I hadn’t met you I’d have had no other choice but to make my own way to the West.”
He was silent for a moment; then he said:
“Even when I had only business relations with you I noticed that you were different from the others. They have only one word: ’Hand over! Hand over!’” (He used the Russian word: ’Davai! Davai!’)
We got down to discussion of the details. He promised to provide me with documents in case I found it necessary to remain in Berlin and against the possibility of my being stopped on the road. After we had arranged to meet next day, I left his house and went into the street. It was still as dark and as bitterly cold as two hours before. But now I did not feel the cold; the air seemed to have a vital freshness to it.
Next day I met him again. With true German reliability he set a German identity card on the desk in front of me. At the window a young, fair-haired German with a military carriage was standing. The director introduced us to each other. Two men in civilian dress shook each other’s hands, and clicked their heels from sheer habit. We filled in the identity card. A bitter smile crossed my face as I read my new name: my German sheepdog had had the same name. For the first time in my life I had my fingerprints taken. A German police seal was stamped over my photograph. I had a feeling that after stamping it the German looked at me with different eyes.
The officer of the People’s Police went so far in his kindness as to say he would himself accompany me to the frontier. He had already obtained a few days’ leave, and would take the opportunity to visit relations in Thuringia.
To provide against all contingencies I decided to take with me one of my old official authorizations for a visit to Thuringia, stating that I was traveling on a special commission for Marshal Sokolovsky. If the German police checked my papers on the road they would see Soviet documents and these had the same effect on them as a snake on a rabbit. If a Soviet patrol made a check, in the car would be a man who had lost his identity.
We arranged that the police officer was to drive to a street just outside Karlshorst at one o’clock the next afternoon, and then would ring me up.
As I was saying goodbye to the director, he asked me:
“But tell me! Why, in reality, have you, a Soviet officer, decided to turn your back on the Soviet Union?”
“On the same ground that you, a member of the S. E. D., have decided to help this Soviet officer,” I replied, warmly shaking his hand.
Next day I sprang out of bed before daylight had fully come. I felt an unusual influx of strength and energy. Today, whatever happened, I had got to leave Karlshorst. Twenty days had passed since I had been given the fateful order. My frontier pass expired today, and before its close I must be in Brest-Litovsk. If I were found in Karlshorst, I would have great difficulty in explaining my presence. Every unnecessary minute that I remained here increased the danger.
I had ordered a ticket and reserved a seat in the Moscow train. Be-fore I left Berlin I would call on the military commandant at the Schlesische station and register my departure. Now I must leave my apartment in a state indicating that I had gone back to Moscow. I made my final preparations. Lighting the stove, I destroyed the contents of my desk. An inexplicable feeling of freedom possessed me. Packets of documents, authorizations bearing the S. M. A. seal, flew into the stove. Photographs of myself were melted in flame: myself against the ruined Reichstag, among the marble statues of the Siegesallee, in the Tiergarten, with Marshal Zhukov and General Eisenhower on the Tempelhof airfield.
Letters from dear and loved friends were consumed to ash. My last spiritual bonds with the past went up in smoke. I was seized with a passion for destruction. The feeling that I was cutting myself off from all my past life, together with the absolute emptiness of the future, left only one gnawing desire alive within me: to destroy everything with my own hands. It did not even occur to me that these documents and papers might be of use to me some time or other, that it might be better to put them somewhere in safe keeping. I was quite indifferent to what might happen to me in the future. Today I was a man who had lost his identity, a man without a past, without a name, without a native land.
I sat down at my desk and wrote letters, which I intended to post in the Karlshorst post-box. In all probability I would never have another opportunity of writing to these people. Every letter consisted of only one brief sentence: ’Today I am traveling to Moscow’, together with a last greeting, and my signature. In all my personal letters my signature always clearly revealed the mood in which I had written. Today the signature was clear, firm, and sure, like a judicial sentence. It would tell the recipients everything.
My mind went over all the possibilities of a failure in my plans, and all that must be done in each instance. I had enough weapons and cartridges. The one thing I knew for certain was that I would not be taken alive.
I shaved and dressed with unusual care; I even scented my handkerchief. At that moment I realized why sailors have the custom of putting on their best underwear and uniform when going into battle. The long days of inner conflict, of tormenting search for a way out, the consciousness of continual danger, had left their traces. Now I felt that my nerves were strained to breaking point. I knew that sooner or later there would come a reaction, a discharge î tension. I must get to the frontier and across, and then I could lie down and close my eyes. There I would be indifferent to the entire world. One way or another, at that point I would be only a corpse, living or dead.
I looked at the clock, and suddenly had the alarming thought; supposing my guide should change his mind, or was afraid to drive right up to the Berlin Kremlin? Then there would be nothing for it but to go out, thrust my hands in my pockets, and make my way westward with the aid of a map. But again I thought that it would all be settled today, and that comforted me.
With my greatcoat flung round my shoulders I began to wander once more from corner to corner. The room was cold and empty. My footfalls sounded very loud on the bare floor. The clock struck twelve. Still another hour. I was emptied of all thought. I only waited for that ring.
There was a sharp ring at the doorbell; the sound cut through the tense silence. I stood listening. For days I had not answered any telephone calls and had not opened the door to callers. The bell rang again: long, insistently. I put my right hand in my coat pocket and listened. The bell rang still more imperatively. With a deliberately unhurried step, my hand still in my pocket, I went to open it. I opened it with my left hand.
In the gray twilight of the wintry day I saw a man in M. V. D. uniform. I stared at him with unseeing eyes, and felt my pistol barrel slowly lifting the lining of my pocket. The man stood silent and motionless. I made an effort and looked into his face. Then I realized that he was Andrei Kovtun. He did not enter as was his usual habit, but stood stock-still, as though he could not make up his mind.
“May I come in?” he said at last.
I did not answer. How had he known that I was still here? What had he come for? I did not want anybody to see my apartment at this moment; there was much in it that contradicted the impression of a man about to leave for Moscow. I looked at him again. All his face expressed an unusual, mute question.
“Come in!” I said curtly. I placed myself so that he could go only to my study. He went ahead of me and tried not to look about him. His step was listless and irresolute. I glanced out at the staircase, then closed the door. My heavy pistol knocked against my thigh, so I shifted it to my tunic pocket.
He dropped heavily into his usual chair. I had no idea what to say to him, and switched on the electric fire, simply for the sake of doing something. As I did so I glanced through the window, and noticed that his car was empty.
“So you’re off?” he said in a peculiar tone.
“And so you didn’t want to say goodbye to me?”
There was a painful silence. He did not expect any answer. He leaned his head against the back of his chair, stared up at the ceiling, then closed his eyes. He sat in his greatcoat and cap, not even drawing off his gloves. Only now did it occur to me that we hadn’t shaken hands.
I glanced at the clock, at the telephone, then again at Andrei. I had not seen him often since our journey to Moscow. I had the impression that he was avoiding me. Now I realized how much he had changed since that time. His face was haggard, aged; the shining skin was drawn tightly across his forehead. His features were set in the expression common to people incurably ill. All his bearing expressed hopeless weariness.
The minutes passed. He sat without stirring, his eyes closed. I stared through the window into the street, and aimlessly tapped my foot on the floor.
“Am I in your way?” he asked quietly. For the first time I caught a tone of uncertainty, almost helplessness, in his voice. I felt a wave of pity for him. He was only the empty husk of a man. But I did not trust him; his M. V. D. uniform forbade that. I glanced out into the street again. If they were to come for me now, Andrei would get my first bullet.
At that moment the doorbell sounded again. A short, uncertain ring. Only a stranger would ring like that. I went out and opened the door. Two small, mute figures were standing outside. I saw their white, childish faces, their hands blue with the cold. Refugee children.
“Khlepa!” - the Russian word for bread sounded queerly distorted in the mouths of these German children. “Khlepa!” The word was quietly repeated. In their eyes was neither entreaty nor expectation, only childish helplessness. I felt a lump in my throat. These wretched figures seemed like a spectral premonition of that which awaited me.
Without speaking I beckoned to them to enter, found my old military kitbag in the kitchen, and filled it with everything I could. They had difficulty in dragging it to the door. I saw them out.
As I closed the door I heard a vague muttering behind me: “That wasn’t just chance.... That’s a sign....” I stared at Andrei in amazement. He drooped his head, avoiding my gaze, and whispered:
“God sent them.”
He dropped back into his chair. The clock said half-past twelve.
I realized that I had not had anything to eat all the morning. I must have strength for whatever lay ahead. I cut some bread and butter, and forced myself to eat. I put a second plate in front of Andrei. As I leaned over the table I saw that his eyes were fixed on my coat. The greatcoat had swung open, and the butt of my pistol was poking out from my tunic pocket. I felt my mouth go dry.
Before returning to the U. S. S. R. Soviet officers had to hand over all their weapons. Any attempt to smuggle a weapon across the frontier was sternly punished. A major in the State Security Service would know that best of all. I drew my greatcoat round me as casually as possible and gave him a sidelong look. There was no astonishment in his eyes; his face was quite tranquil. The hands of the clock crept nearer to the appointed hour.
“In all probability we shall never see each other again.” Andrei broke the oppressive silence. His words were not said in a questioning tone, but rather as an answer to his own thought. “... And you didn’t want to say goodbye,” he added sorrowfully.
I was silent; I pretended I had not heard his remark.
“All my life I’ve never trusted you.” His words came slowly and quietly. “When I did begin to believe in you, you did not believe or trust me....”
His words cut me to the heart, but I could not say anything in answer. I knew only one thing: in a moment the telephone would be ringing, and if anybody got in my way I would shoot.
Again I caught myself wondering: how had he known I was still here, and that I was going today? During these latter days there had been many possibilities... Perhaps he had learnt the news in the course of his official duties? Perhaps in his pocket he had an order for my arrest? I forced that thought away from me, and got up and walked about the room.
Andrei’s voice, the voice of a major in the State Security Service, came as an answer to my thoughts:
“Don’t be angry at my coming here...”
The clock ticked like falling drops of water.
Quietly, almost inaudibly, he went on:
“If I hadn’t come, others would have...”
I wandered about the room, glancing from time to time at the clock.
“Perhaps you’d like to borrow my car?” he asked.
“So you’re going, and I remain.” He spoke again. “I can be of more use if I remain at my post... If you ever think of me, Grisha, then remember... I do what I can.”
Once more the silence filled the chilly room-broken only by the clock ticking.
“Won’t you give me something as a keepsake?” He spoke again. His voice sounded strangely unsure, almost unhappy.
I looked round my empty room. My gaze rested on the black monkey crouching on the desk. I stared at it fixedly, as though expecting it to move.
“Take that.” I nodded at the bronze statuette.
“A black ape is sitting on the world,” he muttered. “And a man strives after the good, the pure... and then you see that it’s all filth...”
The telephone bell rang out like a pistol shot. Unhurriedly I picked up the receiver. I heard the words in German:
“The car is here.”
“Very good!” I answered, also in German.
“Well... now I’ve got to go.” I turned to Andrei.
He rose heavily from his chair and went with a wooden step to the door. I followed him. With a forced movement, as though he was mortally weary, he drew his greatcoat down. The collar caught in the gold epaulette of his tunic. He stared at his shoulder, then pulled on his greatcoat so violently that the epaulette was ripped away.
“The wings... of a slave!” the words sounded heavy and slow in the silence. They were uttered with such a depth of bitterness that involuntarily I shivered.
“I wish you a good journey!” he said, and held out his hand. I took his hand and shook it. He stared into my eyes, tried to say some-thing, but only gave me another firm handshake and went down the stairs. I gazed after him, but he did not turn round.
I stood listening until the sound of his car died away. Several minutes had passed. It was time I was going.
I had already handed in the keys of my apartment, and now I had only to shut the door. For a moment I hesitated on the threshold, then slammed the door hard behind me. The lock clicked home. Now there was no way back.
I turned and walked out of the house: to face the future.