The Marshal’s Emissaries
So I fled from Moscow back to Berlin
I closed the door of my Karishorst apartment behind me, went to my desk, sat down and stared miserably at the calendar. I had two more weeks of leave: what was I to do with them? Report for duty before my time was up? Some would think me mad, others would call me a careerist. Visit my friends? I would be asked too many questions which I had not the least desire to answer. I had been in a great hurry to get away from Moscow; but what I had hurried for, where I was hurrying to, I had no idea.
In the end I decided to take a rest, and spent the next few days visiting bathing resorts, deliberately making for the most frequented spots, lying on the sand and watching the alien, carefree world all around me. At first I got a tremendous kick out of this occupation. But after a time I began to experience a mortal boredom with seeing the same packets of sandwiches and the same childish antics of grown-up people day after day.
Ten days before my leave expired I reported to the head of the Administration for Industry, and expressed my desire to resume my duties. Alexandrov looked pleasantly surprised. “Well, did you have a good rest in Moscow?” he asked.
“You couldn’t have turned up at a more opportune moment.” He got down to business. “Over half of our staff are on leave, and at this very moment the supreme commander has given us an urgent and responsible commission. We’ve got to collect material against the dismantling organizations to send to Moscow.”
He spent the next half-hour discussing the tension that had arisen between the S. M. A. Department for Reparations and the Special Committee for Dismantling set up by the U. S. S. R. Council of Ministers. In order to justify the S. M. A.’s attitude we had to collect as much incriminating material as possible about the Special Committee’s activities. The Administration for Industry had been ordered to put at the supreme commander’s disposition a Special Commission consisting of several engineers.
Officially their task was to coordinate the work of the S. M. A. and the Special Committee, but unofficially they would be charged to collect in-formation exposing the dismantlers. The commission was to make visits to all the most important industrial works in the Soviet zone.
“If you agree, I’ll nominate you as a member of the commission,” Alexandrov said in conclusion. “Especially as you know German, for it will be necessary to make close contacts with German works directors.”
Continual traveling and visits to factories! For the next few weeks, possibly even for months, I would be free of Moscow, and Karishorst too! I could not hope for anything better at that moment, and I readily agreed to Alexandrov’s suggestion. Next day I was appointed to the Coordination Commission, which was responsible directly to the Supreme Commander.
So here was a Soviet citizen who had fled from Moscow, a Soviet officer who could find no peace in Karishorst, who at the same time was an emissary of the S. M. A. Supreme Commander, working for Moscow. A fortuitous coincidence? No! Rather a law of progression.
The gray automobile sped through the chilly autumn air. The road drummed monotonously under the tires. A covey of partridges flew over the bare field beside the road.
“Let’s take a pot-shot,” Major Dubov proposed, reaching for his double-barreled gun, which was stuck behind the seat.
“Why bother?” I answered. “In any case we’d have to hand our bag over to someone else.”
“All the better!” the major laughed. “It might be a way of getting someone to talk. Vassily Ivanovich, to arms!”
Our driver, Vassily, was an elderly man, a former soldier. He lowered one of the car windows, then turned off the road. The partridge’s thinking apparatus is rather restricted: it won’t let a man come anywhere near it, but you can almost drive over it in a car.
Karlshorst lay behind us. In our pocket we had a plenipotentiary document signed by Marshal Sokolovsky, valid for the district of Thuringia, and empowering us to carry out a special commission for the S. M. A. Supreme Commander in Germany. That would be sufficient to open all doors in Thuringia. But if that failed to achieve its purpose, we had a second document ready, giving us ’full powers to check up on the fulfillment of the S. M. A. order No.... and the decree of the U. S. S. R. Council of Ministers dated... ’
These resounding documents were chiefly intended for General Dobrovolsky, who was plenipotentiary of the Special Committee for Dismantling and also Soviet director of the Zeiss works at Jena. Although he was a hundred-per-cent civilian, and formerly had been director of a Soviet optical works, and in addition was a member of the ambiguous tribe of ’dismantlers’, he enjoyed some authority, since he held strongly entrenched positions in Moscow.
Although Marshal Sokolovsky had issued the strict order that all members of dismantling organizations were to wear civilian dress, Dobrovolsky was behaving as though he had never heard of the order. Whenever Sokolovsky met Dobrovolsky, the marshal always addressed the general in an ironically friendly tone, using the civilian form of address, ignoring the military regulation that military men were always to be addressed by their rank.
Apart from his childish attachment to the insignia of his rank, Dobrovolsky was also notorious for his rudeness. He had been known to throw officers down the steps when they arrived to check up on his activities, or had refused to allow them into the works at all, politely telling them: “If you don’t like it, complain to Moscow.” But in order to make a complaint it was necessary to have evidence, and that could not be obtained from the Zeiss works except through Dobrovolsky.
So far as the Soviet Military Administration had internal enemies and antagonists at all in Germany, they were to be found mainly among the people collectively known as dismantlers. General Zorin, head of the Administration for Reparations and Deliveries, had made a number of futile attempts to work with the dismantlers, but at last he had given up all hope.
Now all his communications with these bodies, who frequently were only five minutes away from Karlshorst, were made through Moscow, in the form of complaints, demands, and reports on failures to accomplish the reparations plan because of the dismantlers’ activities. But they only laughed and continued to search through the Soviet zone for anything that the S. M. A. had not so far succeeded in sequestrating. But even sequestration was not of much value, for the dismantlers quickly made contact with Moscow, with the result, as a rule, that an order came through to the S. M. A. to hand over the object in question to the dismantlers.
Among the chief duties of the S. M. A. Economy Department were the securing of deliveries on reparations account and ensuring that German industry worked within the limits of the peace potential fixed under the Potsdam Agreement. The very task of reconciling these two functions was a difficult one, to put it mildly, as one can see especially when the scope of the reparations plan is borne in mind. But then a third power intervened, and so far as we were concerned it was an uncontrollable factor, for this third power - the dismantlers - was responsible directly to Moscow.
The work of the dismantling organizations was directed by the Special Committee for Dismantling set up under the Soviet Council of Ministers, and therefore by the Council of Ministers itself, together with the ministries directly interested. The result was a kind of socialist competition: two milkmaids assiduously milking the one cow! One of the milkmaids behaved like a poacher, got as much as she could and went her way. That was the dismantlers. From the other the masters first demanded milk, then hung the half-dead cow round her neck with the demand to go on milking and milking. That was the S. M. A. No matter what happened to the cow and the two milkmaids, the masters got their milk down to the last drop.
As soon as the Red Army crossed the German frontier special army trophy brigades were entrusted with the task of collecting and valuing the spoils of war, even to the extent of dismantling industrial plant. When it was found that these brigades could not cope with their task special dismantling organizations came more or less arbitrarily into being, and these were later coordinated under the Special Committee for Dismantling.
Every People’s Commissariat, the chief administrations of commissariats, and even single Soviet works and factories sent their own dismantling brigades to Germany. Dismantling became all the rage. Things went so far that even the State Lenin Library in Moscow sent its own specialists to dismantle Goethe and Schiller, while the Moscow ’Dynamo’ sports stadium hurriedly sent its football team to Germany in search of a swimming pool suitable for dismantling.
The dismantlers were given military rank on the following basis: a technician became a lieutenant, an engineer a major, a director became a colonel, and a higher ministerial official a general. The authorities that had created the dismantlers did not worry themselves unduly over this problem. But it gave the S. M. A. all the more headaches when it came to have dealings with these homemade officers. As time passed they grew more and more fond of their get-up, and the S. M. A. had no little trouble in dismantling them again.
Major Dubov had been sent with me on this trip because he was an expert on optics and precision machines. In addition, there was the positive advantage that he and Dobrovolsky had been fellow students. While he was drawing the general into reminiscences of former days I would be free to prepare the downfall of our enemy and rival No. 1.
In the case of the Zeiss works the conflict of interests between the S. M. A. and the Special Committee was particularly glaring. After the first spasm of dismantling in Germany, which the S. M. A. had neither the time nor the desire to prevent, economic considerations began to be thought of. From the very beginning the Special Committee had insisted that the Zeiss works be to be completely dismantled and transferred to the Soviet Union.
From the aspect of military strategy that was sound. But there were difficulties in the way. The crux of the matter was that the industrial plant of the Zeiss works was of comparatively little value; in fact it included no machinery that did not exist in the U. S. S. R. already.
The value of the Zeiss works inhered in its experts, starting with the ordinary workmen polishers, who had worked there all their lives and who passed on their experience from generation to generation, and ending with the engineers, who had laid down the classic formulae for optical mechanics. Without these men the whole of the Zeiss works would not have been worth a brass farthing in the Soviet Union. But to transfer the works complete with the staff would have been too difficult and too risky an undertaking.
An attempt was made to find a compromise by proposing that Soviet workers and technical staffs should be sent to Jena to make special studies. After their return to the Soviet Union they were to take over the dismantled plant and apply the technical experience of the Zeiss works. This plan was put into operation to some extent, but inadequately. The Kremlin was very reluctant to let its children travel to foreign parts, even to occupied Germany, for they might learn other things besides the technical experience of the Zeiss works.
The first round of dismantling proved unprofitable. The Zeiss equipment dismantled and sent to the Soviet Union made very little practical contribution to the country’s economy. Meanwhile the main works, which had thus been amputated, excelled all expectations, for it continued to turn out genuine Zeiss products to the astonishment even of General Dobrovolsky, who, after the dismantling was completed, had remained in Jena as Soviet director of the works. He was relatively little interested in this production, since it went to the S. M. A. Administration for Reparations and all the laurels fell to his sworn enemy, General Zorin.
On the other hand, the S. M. A. was deeply interested in the works, for its production was beginning to play an important part in the reparations account. If a second round of dismantling were to occur - and Dobrovolsky was persistently pressing for it - the S. M. A. would lose a considerable contribution on that account. As the Council of Ministers would never reduce the figure set for reparations, new sources would have to be found for reparations deliveries, and as time passed this presented increasing difficulties. And now a duel began between the S. M. A. and the Special Committee. Dobrovolsky solemnly assured Moscow: “If I finally dismantle Zeiss, and it is set up in the Soviet Union, within twelve months it will be achieving a production worth a hundred million rubles.”
The S. M. A. parried with the counter-blow: ’The first dismantled section of the Zeiss works already set up in the Soviet Union has so far achieved a deficit of fifty million rubles, and requires continual subsidies, whereas the half-dead Zeiss works in Jena is bringing us yearly reparations deliveries to the value of twenty million marks.’
The conflict took an unexpected turn for both sides. After studying the reports of both parties Moscow ordered: ’A corresponding number of highly skilled German experts is to be drawn from the staff of the Zeiss works at Jena and its subsidiary undertakings for work in the optical industry of the Soviet Union, chiefly in the dismantled Zeiss undertakings; they are to be recruited on the basis of individual contracts and transferred to their new assignments.
The selection of these experts and the execution of this order are entrusted to the director of the Zeiss works at Jena, Comrade Dobrovolsky. Simultaneously it is decreed that the restoration of the main undertaking Zeiss-Jena be to be forced in accordance with previous decrees. Signed: Minister for Precision Industry, by plenipotentiary powers from the Council of Ministers of the U. S. S. R.’
So Dobrovolsky had achieved a partial success. It had been decided that the first step was to dismantle the Zeiss experts. But what was one to make of the fact that one and the same decree demanded the destruction and also the ’forced restoration’ of one and the same undertaking?
Some days previously, in the Tagliche Rundschau I had read a nauseating letter written by one of the German specialists who had been sent to the Soviet Union on the basis of an ’individual contract’, which really meant compulsion. The happy expert hastened to inform the world that he was doing very well and was earning 10, 000 rubles a month. At this same period Marshal Sokolovsky was receiving 5, 000 rubles a month. The average Soviet engineer receives 800 to 1, 200 rubles a month.
The deed was done: a considerable proportion of the workers and technical staff at Jena was sent to the East ’on the basis of individual contracts’. The Zeiss output fell. Dobrovolsky celebrated his victory, and sought to convince everybody of the soundness of his theory that the Zeiss works must be dismantled completely. But now Major Dubov and I were traveling to Jena as spies venturing into the enemy camp.
“Why, old colleague, how’s things?” Major Dubov shook Dobrovolsky’s hand effusively.
“What wind has blown you here?” The general welcomed his old comrade in a somewhat unfriendly manner. He behaved like a dictator in the works, and simultaneously like the commander of a besieged fortress. Especially when his visitors smelt of the S. M. A.
I stepped aside and turned to study examples of Zeiss products which were attached to the wall, to give the impression that I was not in the least interested in business matters. But when Major Dubov had drawn Dobrovolsky into his private office I set to work to turn the general’s flank.
Through a communicating door I passed from Dobrovolsky’s waiting room into the waiting room of the German director. I showed the woman secretary my documents with Marshal Sokolovsky’s signature, and expressed a wish to see the director. He was very glad to see me, and hurriedly got rid of the visitors who were with him. He was a fairly young man, a member of the Socialist Unity Party. Only recently he had been a worker in the packing department of the works. Now he was the director. Just the sort of man I wanted to get hold of. Not intelligent, but an energetic executive.
“Well, Herr Director, tell me how things are going!” I said. I knew quite well that two feelings were struggling for mastery within him: his fear of Dobrovolsky and a feeling of professional or national duty, if such conceptions exist at all for members of the Socialist Unity Party. He must realize that the S. M. A. stood for the interests of the works, so far as its continued existence was concerned. I had no need to explain the situation to him; he knew it very well. He only wished to be assured that Dobrovolsky would not learn anything of our conversation.
Despite his apparently quite genuine desire to spike Dobrovolsky’s guns, my talk with him did not get me very far. I thanked him for his exceptionally useless information and asked his permission to talk to the higher technical staff, ’just to elucidate certain details’. He was so forthcoming as to put his office at my disposition. A few minutes later a gaunt man in horn spectacles and a white overall came in. He was a being of a different cut. I stared at him silently, and smiled, as though he were an old acquaintance. I had already gathered information concerning the technical managers of the works. After a few preliminary remarks concerning Zeiss and its production we understood each other.
I told him frankly that, although I was not moved by any philanthropic impulses, my object nonetheless was to free the works from Dobrovolsky’s terror regime. In this particular instance we were involuntary allies. I assured him that our conversation would be kept a dead secret. He declared himself ready to place his knowledge and experience at the disposition of the S. M. A.
“What in your view are the bottlenecks in the work of the undertaking, Herr Doctor?” I tried to minimize the catastrophic situation by using the euphemistic word ’bottlenecks’.
“It would be simpler to specify the bottles!” he replied with a mournful smile. “There’s a shortage of everything. But the chief thing is that we’ve been deprived of our brains, our specialists. And that damage cannot be made good for decades.”
He went on to paint a pitiful picture. Unlike Soviet industry, German industry depends to a particularly high extent on the cooperation of related enterprises. In the Soviet Union economic considerations were sacrificed in order to achieve autonomy in industry whether large or small, both on a national scale and in regard to individual and factories. This issue was decided not so much by economic as by military strategic factors.
The basis of capitalist economy is that production should at least pay its way. The structure of any enterprise and its viability are governed by strictly economic calculation and an active balance. Western economists would consider it absurd that in the Soviet Union the majority of the chief and basic industrial undertakings work at a loss and are dependent on a State subsidy, which the State through its plan pumps out of light industry by over-pricing means of consumption, and from collectivized agriculture.
“At the moment we are still working with old stocks and semi-manufactures. We are not getting any new deliveries. When these stocks are exhausted...” the technical director threw out his hands in despair. “Our former suppliers in the Soviet zone have largely ceased to exist. The promised raw materials from the Soviet Union haven’t started to come in yet. It is practically impossible to obtain anything from the western zone. We’ve already tried sending lorries over the frontier illegally, at our own risk, in order to renew commercial contacts and thus get hold of something. But that is no solution.”
We Soviet engineers were frequently amazed at the vitality of German industry, despite all the difficulties of total warfare, the capitulation, and the dismantling process. At the capitulation, stocks of raw materials in many German works were often larger than those held by Soviet works in peacetime.
In May and June 1945, immediately after the fall of Berlin, Soviet dismantlers hurriedly dismantled the industrial plants at Siemensstadt, the heart of the German electro-technical industry. Even then, before the Potsdam Conference, it was known that the capital of Germany was to be occupied by all the four allies. Officially this decision was taken on 5 June 1945, by inter-allied agreement. But the Western Allies’ entry into Berlin was artificially delayed for another month. The reason? Dismantling. The Soviet dismantling brigades worked feverishly day and night in the sectors of Berlin to be handed over. And they dismantled in earnest: right down to the pipes of water closets.
A year later I visited Siemensstadt in the company of Colonel Vassiliev, who had been in charge of the dismantling operation in these works. He shook his head in astonishment. “Where on earth have they got all this new plant from? Why, we even removed the cables from the conduits!” The German directors greeted the colonel genially as an old acquaintance. “Ah, Colonel, how are things with you? Have you any orders for us?” And that without a hint of irony, simply with an eye to business.
The Zeiss technical director continued: “We’re trying to meet and we are meeting demands so far as we can. But it is being achieved only against an ultimate exhaustion of production. This is an internal process which so far is barely perceptible; but one day it will lead to a complete standstill.”
I asked him to draw up a report, together with an economic analysis of the state of the undertaking. I would collect these documents on my way back to Berlin. I once more assured him that his name would not appear in my report to Marshal Sokolovsky. I took the same line with two other technical managers. I had to get a general picture of the situation, though in fact there was little difference between their stories.
During a visit to the head of the Economic Department of the Jena commandatura I learned more details of Dobrovolsky’s activities. In regard to the Zeiss works the commandatura was working for both sides. It readily helped Dobrovolsky to draw up ’individual labor contracts’ for the Zeiss specialists to be sent to the Soviet Union, and just as readily it communicated all the details of this special measure to the S. M. A. representative.
We obtained no new information from the head of the S. M. A. Economic Department in Thuringia, but he was loud in his complaints about Dobrovolsky: “He’s sabotaging the S. M. A. work shamelessly. He doesn’t care what happens to reparations, so long as he enjoys Moscow’s favor. ’So many units of installations sent to the address of the Ministry for Precision Tool Industry.’ But he doesn’t care a damn what benefit is derived from them. And now in the Soviet Union men are being put in prison because they can’t make use of the plant.”
That was quite true. For instance, in one German works a serial installation of a hundred specialized machine tools for the mass manufacture of a certain article was dismantled and sent to Russia. But on the way one of the special machines attracted the interest of another dismantler, and without more ado it was readdressed to a new consignee.
When it arrived at its destination it was discovered that a little mistake had been made; it was a special machine that could not be used in that works at all. So without unnecessary fuss it was scrapped. But when the rest of the series arrived at the rightful destination and they set to work to install them, it was found that one machine was missing. Yet without it the entire series was useless. There was no hope of finding a substitute for the missing item, so the whole lot was scrapped. The total cost was charged to ’capital investments’, and several men were brought to trial for sabotage.
Our car sped through the frosty winter air of Thuringia; Karlshorst’s emissaries drew up the balance sheet of their work. Sokolovsky would have material for another report to Moscow and for further charges against Dobrovolsky. But there would be no change in the situation. The Kremlin knows what it needs.
Major Dubov was more interested in the purely technical aspect of the affair. One day he unexpectedly asked me: “Do you know the story of Zeiss at all?” Without waiting for my reply he went on: "It’s a very interesting and striking story. While they were still alive old Zeiss and the scientific founder of the works, Professor Ernst Abbe, transformed the enterprise into a foundation. A foundation statute strictly bound the administration; the supreme management was vested in representatives of the town’s municipal council and representatives of the works.
The district of Thuringia appointed the foundation president. So you had a kind of voluntary socialization of the works without the disadvantages of a state capitalistic enterprise. The revenues have contributed greatly to the material and cultural prosperity of the city of Jena. And that is precisely what we in Russia came too later, only in a different form.
“And in addition....” Major Dubov gazed out of the window and said, apparently incidentally: “In addition, under the founder’s will all the workers and employees in the works directly participate in the profits. Which is exactly what should happen in the ideal socialistic society, according to our theories. But that has existed in the Zeiss works for decades, and still exists today.”
Our driver, Vassily Ivanovich, whose presence we tended to overlook, pushed his cap on to the back of his head and added: “Not exists, but existed... until we arrived.”