One day I picked up my telephone to answer a call, and heard an unknown voice: "Is that the staff of the Soviet Military Administration?"
"Good day, Klimov." Then, after a brief pause: "This is the Central Administration of the M. V. D. in Potsdam."
"Oh yes. Whom do you want?"
"A major in the State Security wishes to speak to you."
"By all means. What about?"
"A highly personal matter," the voice said with a hint of irony, to go on with exaggerated courtesy: "When can I talk to you?"
"At any time."
"We'd like to pay you a visit after office hours. Be at home this evening. What's your address? But it doesn't matter; we've got it here. Till this evening, so long."
Frankly, I thought it was only an acquaintance of mine playing a stupid joke. A silly trick, especially on the telephone. When I got home that evening I lay on the sofa reading the papers, completely forgetting the promised visit. I didn't remember it even when the bell rang. I went and opened the door. In the hall an officer was standing. The hall light shone on a blue cap with a raspberry band, and on blue-edged tabs.
No doubt of it: a M. V. D. uniform. It was the first time I had seen that raspberry band since the end of the war, for the M. V. D. officers in Germany usually wore normal military uniform or civilian dress. But now they were calling on me in my own apartment! I felt an unpleasant emptiness in the pit of my stomach. Then the thought flashed through my mind: 'But he's alone. So it can't be so bad; it's not usual to send only one when an arrest is to be made.'
"May I come in?" The visitor walked past me with a confident step.
I did not look at his face. Startled by the unexpected visit, I tried to think what it meant. Without waiting for my invitation the officer took off his coat and cap, turned to me, and said:
"Well, old fellow! If we'd met on the street I wouldn't have recognized you either. But now make your guest really welcome."
I stared dumbfounded at the officer's face. He was obviously delighted at the impression he had made. I recognized him as my old school colleague and student friend, Andrei Kovtun, whom I had long believed to be dead.
One hot day in July 1941 Andrei and I were standing in the street, watching a column of infantry march past. Yesterday they had still been peaceful citizens. Today they had been led into the Russian bath, their heads had been close-cropped, they had been put in uniform, and now the ragged, silent column was on its way to the unknown. They sang no songs; their faces expressed only resignation to fate. They were wearing old, completely faded uniforms, the heritage of previous generations of soldiers.
"What do you think, how will it all end?" Andrei asked me.
"We'll pull through," I answered, for the sake of saying some-thing.
"I think the Germans will get here quite quickly," he said in an enigmatic tone, giving me a searching look.
Andrei was an amusing fellow, outwardly as well as inwardly- not good-looking, but sturdily built, tall, rather bandy, with arms too long for his body. His head seemed to go flat at the sides, and was stuck on an absurdly long neck. He was terribly proud of his thick, bristly hair, and had even let it grow into a shock that made him look like a tsarist cossack.
He was all out of proportion, and had a savage appearance. His eyes were too black, his skin far too swarthy, and much too freckled for a grown man. I often used to say to him jokingly: "Andrei, if scientists should happen to dig up your skeleton some day in the distant future, they'll be delighted: they'll think they've discovered a specimen of a cave-man." In those days he bubbled with youthful energy and seemed to exude the scent of black earth and steppe winds.
His chief characteristic was an inordinate self-esteem. When we were at school together we often went out to the lakes about fourteen miles from the city. Andrei took a rod and nets, and I an old sporting gun. On the way we always had a race to see who could walk the faster. He laid down the conditions right to the last detail, and set off at a great pace, looking back again and again to see whether I was keeping up, or possibly felt like giving up. After an hour or more of this he would stop, quite out of breath, and say condescendingly: "Yes, you've got some idea of how to walk. We'll call a halt, otherwise I'm afraid you'll have a stroke." He lay down on the grass at the roadside and gasped: "Of course, your gun's lighter than my rod.... Otherwise I'd have beaten you. Now we'll swop over."
Later, when he became a student, he found another outlet for his self-esteem: he ardently studied the lives of the great. He did this by simply rummaging through the library catalogues for books, which had titles beginning with the word 'great'. He was never put off, even by some three-volume work like Great Courtesans in World History.
Whenever he visited me at home he always sat astride his chair and drummed his fingers on the table without saying a word. Then he would turn his flat face to me and ask in the tone of an inquisitor: "I expect you've heard of Cleopatra. But can you tell me who Messalina was? Well?" When I couldn't answer the question he was absurdly delighted. As a rule I didn't fall into the trap, but resorted to counter-questions. If he asked what stone Nero used for his spectacles I would say contemptuously: "That's just stupid! But you tell me the difference between a cohort and a phalanx. That's a man's question, that is!"
It has to be borne in mind that in the Soviet Union his Lory teaching begins with the Paris Commune. According to Soviet pedagogues all that happened before that event is to be related to the Darwin theory; namely, evolution from ape to man. Man really made his first appearance only in 1871. By the law of action and reaction we felt an invincible antipathy to the 'barrel-organs', as we called the history teachers, and preferred to go and play football.
The result was that it was unusual for a student to have any knowledge of antiquity and the middle ages. To acquire such knowledge one had to study such things for oneself, and it was very difficult to get hold of the necessary books. I first read textbooks on the history of antiquity when I was a university student, as a change from boring differential calculus and integrals. I don't know why Andrei came to take an interest in the ashes of Alexander the Great: probably it was just his self-esteem. He assumed that he was the only student who could ever think of such an idea, and he was highly astonished when he found I could answer his importunate questions.
Another outstanding feature of his character was his deep, instinctive hate of the Soviet regime. He hated it, as a dog hates a cat. I found his attitude incomprehensible and often rather un-pleasant-1 was more liberal in my views. Andrei's father was an independent shoemaker, so, according to Soviet ideas, he belonged to the propertied class which was condemned to be liquidated, though all the property he owned was a pair of callused hands and a back bowed with much labor.
I expect Andrei heard quite a few bitter curses at Stalin and the whole 'communist band of robbers' even in his cradle. I could find no other explanation for his conduct when he took me aside at school and whispered anti-Soviet verses into my ears: the sort of thing one finds on the walls of lavatories. Usually I refused to be drawn into any argument. We were both sixteen, but I remembered that in a local school three scholars had recently been sent to prison for 'anti-Soviet activity'.
During our student days he often came round to my place. We were not exactly inseparable friends: my impression is that he had no intimate friends whatever. His friendship was based mainly on one-sided contests on every possible issue. He felt a constant desire to excel me in examinations, and in general knowledge of the humanities. I was amused at his extraordinary ways, tried to haul him down from the clouds to earth and make him realize that even he had still a long way to go to perfection.
My feeling for him was not so much one of friendship as of interest, because he was a very unusual fellow. Although he had never done me any wrong, I always kept him at a certain distance. But he honored me in a condescending sort of way with his friendship, or rather his rivalry, explaining that I did have some understanding at least of 'higher things'.
He regarded himself as insuperable, unique. Among us students that gave rise to continual joking and banter. One thing in his favor was that, despite his self-esteem, he never took offense. He simply kept away for a time, and when he had got over it he turned up again as if nothing had happened.
On one occasion, while we were studying at the Institute for Industry, at the beginning of the school year he came round to my place and seated himself, as usual, astride a chair. I was bent over the table, occupied with a plan, and took no notice of him. But this time he had especially important news. At first he preserved a mysterious silence in order to provoke my curiosity. I saw that he was bursting to surprise me with his news, but I pretended that I hadn't noticed.
"Haven't you heard yet?" At last he could hold out no longer. I calmly went on with my drawing.
"Of course you haven't!" He dropped his voice almost to a whisper. "There are some simply marvelous girls in the first course this year. I was in the students' hostel of the Faculty of Chemistry yesterday. They're stunning! One of them I saw is a real princess. I've managed to find out her name - it's Halina. And I've thought out a plan and I want to talk it over with you. Oh, drop your stupid drawing! I've arranged things with devilish cleverness. First I found out what room Halina occupies.
Then I discovered whom she has in with her - there are four altogether. Next I sought out the ugliest of the lot and enchanted her all the evening like Mephistopheles. Now the toad thinks I'm head over heels in love with her, and she's even invited me to go and see her. Get that? And in her room I shall find.... Halina!" He capered about joyfully, and made some indefinite grunts and groans of rapture at his own cleverness. "So it's already half achieved. Only I can't go along by myself. I need a companion. You're going with me!
"Anyway, you're not dangerous as a rival," he added, fully conscious of his own superiority.
I was highly astonished. We all regarded him as a woman-hater. His appearance was so unprepossessing that he never achieved any success with the girl students. He was in the habit of saying: "Women haven't any understanding. They see only the outer shell, they're not interested in the soul." Then he would mutter: "Besides, all the greatest men were lifelong bachelors." So something unusual must have happened to make him suddenly wax enthusiastic about feminine charms.
A little later I did meet the princess he was out to capture. It need only be added that our friendship and rivalry were extended to include Halina.
We both received diplomas as engineers, passing the State Examination Commission in the spring of 1941. Now the world lay open before us. Despite all its attractions, student life had not been easy. Over half the graduates of our course had had to pay for their studies at a high price: tuberculosis, gastric troubles, and neurasthenia. But we had been fighting for our future, and now it lay before us in all its allurement. We had a definite profession, which promised improvement in our material conditions and the possibility of putting long-nursed plans into execution.
Then came 21 June 1941.
There are very many who will never forget that date. The war came like a bolt out of the blue. It shattered all our plans at one blow. We had to renounce all our personal and private life for several years. Yet we accepted the war with great calmness. Germany stood for us as a symbol of Europe, but for the majority of the young, thinking people of Russia, Europe was a forbidden paradise. The complete ban on contacts with the outer world had its negative aspects: many of the young Soviet people greatly exaggerated the reality, and thought of Europe as the incarnation of all that they were striving for in intellectual and material respects.
During the early days many of us accepted that the war was the signal for the world communist revolution, that it was a logical maneuver engineered by the Comintern, staged by Stalin, and those who thought so were alarmed. But when the first reports began to come in of the Germans' incredible successes and the Red Army's catastrophic defeats, they were reassured. Many people genuinely welcomed the war. Particularly such a war! Secretly they thought of it as a European crusade against Bolshevism. That is a paradox, and very few people in Europe suspected its existence. Russian people now prefer not to be reminded of it: the later disillusionment was too bitter.
Hitler played his greatest trump, the people's trust, into Stalin's hands. Before the war the majority of the young Soviet thinking people had had no faith whatever in Soviet propaganda, or at least treated it with great skepticism. The war taught them a bloody lesson that they will never forget.
In those days, if Andrei caught me, anywhere, it didn't matter where; he excitedly drew me aside and told me the latest reports from the front. The German reports, of course. He swore that Kiev had fallen long before the German troops had got anywhere near it. He greeted every Soviet defeat not only exultantly, but also with a really bestial malignity. He already had visions of himself leading a terrorist band, and was mentally counting the communists he would hang with his own hand.
The war drove Andrei and me in different directions. I had my first letter from him at the end of 1941. It was written on a dirty scrap of paper, and every line expressed a hopeless depression. It was not a letter; it was the cry of a hound howling to the moon. He was with a training unit somewhere in the rear. To make things worse, it was a unit for special training: when the course was finished they were to be dropped as partisans in the German rear. He had been a constructional engineer; now he was an officer in the pioneer corps. That determined his future work: the organization of diversionist activities in the enemy rear.
After reading the letter I felt convinced that the day he was dropped he would go over to the Germans.
I received a second letter from him much later, after some twelve months. The paper was headed with a German staff heading, which Andrei himself had crossed out. As I read it I was not a little amazed at the amount of hypocrisy a man can achieve. It was written in an exalted style and consisted solely of a hymn of praise of the fatherland, the Party, and the government. He wrote:
'Only here, in the enemy rear, have I come to realize what "homeland" means. It is no longer an abstract conception, but a living essence, a dear being, the fatherland. I have found what I previously sought in vain: the meaning of life. To triumph gloriously or go under. But if I survive, to have a chest loaded with decorations. I am now a member of the Party; I have three orders and have been recommended for promotion. I am in command of a partisan force, which corresponds, roughly to a regiment in numerical strength, but our fighting power is even greater. I was a fool when I decided to be an engineer. Now for the first time I know what I have to do: when we have won the war I shall work in the N. K. V. D. and change my name to Orlov.'
Little Nero no longer had any doubt of the outcome of the war. He wanted to join the N. K. V. D. because he regarded that institution as the quintessence of the Soviet regime. His letter went on to detail how many bridges his unit had blown up, how many trains it had derailed, and how many of the enemy it had wiped out. I had no faith in this regeneration. I simply assumed that when writing the letter he had had one eye on the military censor. The authorities form their moral and political opinion of an officer largely on the content of his letters, and his promotion therefore depends on them to a large extent. I assumed that his self-esteem and desire for a brilliant career had swamped all other feelings in him. I felt thoroughly angry, and replied:
'I'm afraid you and I may find ourselves on opposite sides of the table. Citizen Orlov': a clear hint at his future career as a N. K. V. D. officer.
The last letter I had from Andrei reached me a year later. It revealed the well-considered, mature thought of someone who had come to manhood. He reported that he now commanded a group of regular partisan units, amounting in strength to approximately an army division. His units were active in a district corresponding in area to a Central European state. The official army communiqués made references to their military achievements. He no longer listed the orders he had received, and only mentioned casually that he had been awarded the title Of 'Hero of the Soviet Union'.
So my friend and rival had really carved himself out a career. Andrei was fond of boasting, but he was not a liar. During these years great changes had occurred in the souls of the Russians, and I was genuinely proud of his success. In conclusion, he wrote that he was moving westward with the advancing front into the Baltic States, that the work there would be difficult and there might be an interruption in our correspondence. That was the last I had heard of him. I thought with regret that his career was closed, and mentally put R. I. P. after his name.
Now he was standing in front of me, alive and unscathed, risen from the dead, a man in the prime of life. On his chest a gold five-pointed star, the highest Soviet distinction for military prowess, glittered above several rows of ribbons. All his being radiated the calm assurance of a man who is accustomed to command; his features had lost their angularity and had acquired a distinctive, masculine, handsome quality. Only his character hadn't changed: he had planned to give me a surprise that would make my heart sink into my boots 1
"It's a long time since we last met, brother. Prepare a fitting reception for your guest," he said. His voice was different, strange; it had a note of patronage, as though he was used to ordering people about.
"You certainly are a stranger," I said. "But why didn't you warn me? Now I haven't the least idea how to celebrate your return from the dead. Why didn't you write?"
"You know what the words 'special task' mean? For two whole years I couldn't even write to my mother. But how are you? Are you married, or are you still ploughing a lonely furrow? Tell me all that's happened to you, from beginning to end. How did you get on in the war?"
"Like everybody else," I answered. I was not yet recovered from the surprise, and felt a little awkward. He had changed so completely: would we find any common language?
"There were various ways of fighting during the war," he commented. "You know, the wise got the rewards while the stupid fought. But that's all past now. What are your plans?"
"About ten in the morning I shall go to my office," I answered. "Very praiseworthy. So you're still a realist?" Our conversation was formal and artificial, as though time had washed away the intimacy of our youthful years.
"Ah, those were wonderful times, our student days. It might be a thousand years ago," he said thoughtfully, as though he had guessed my thoughts. "Tell me, how did things go between you and Halina? I felt sure you'd marry her."
So he had not forgotten the princess of our student days. I too willingly turned our thoughts back to those years. I offered him a cigarette, but he refused it. "So you still don't smoke?" I asked.
"I tried it in the forests, out of sheer boredom. But I just didn't take to it," he replied.
I knew that in the old days he could not stand spirits. I set a flask on the table before him, and he studied it as though it were medicine.
"That's my biggest defect: I can't drink," he said. "At home, I've got some of the choicest wines from Goring's private cellar, but I never touch them. That isn't always easy for me. Others can empty a bottle and find oblivion; I can't."
"Are you beginning to be troubled by conscience?" I asked. "If I remember aright, you had a tremendous desire to be a Robespierre at one time. Oh, and by the way, is your name Orlov now?"
"No, I was just intoxicated then. A kind of drunkenness," he replied. I caught a note of uncertainty in his voice.
"Tell me, Andrei, what made you write such idiotic rot in your letters? Were you writing with one eye on the censorship?"
"You may not believe it, but I wrote exactly as I felt at that time," he answered. "Today it seems idiotic to me too. To tell the truth, the war years were the happiest time of my life, and will always remain so. In the war I found myself. I waded in blood, but I was absolutely convinced that I was right, I was doing a great and necessary work. It all seemed as clear and clean to me as a field of virgin snow. I felt that I was lord of our Russian earth, and was pre-pared to die for it." He spoke slowly, with an almost imperceptible falter in his voice.
The self-confidence was gone. "Then what do you really feel now?" I asked. "These days I often lose that absolute conviction," he went on as though he hadn't heard my question. He stared into vacancy. "I've killed lots and lots of Germans! Look!" He thrust out his sinewy, swarthy hands towards me. "With these hands I've put out I don't how many Germans. Just wiped them out: we partisans didn't take prisoners. I killed, and I felt happy in killing. For I was convinced that I was doing right.
"But do you know what I'm doing now?" His face twitched nervously; there was a note of suppressed resentment in his voice, a peculiar resentment, as though he was furious with himself. "Now I'm killing the German soul and German brains. Goebbels once said:
'If you wish to subject a people, you must rob it of its brains.' That is my job now. The snag is that in this procedure your own brain threatens to go. We are interested in Germany only in so far as it is necessary to secure our own interests! Very sound! But things are going too far. However, that's not really the crux of the matter. How can I put it...?"
He was silent for a time; then he went on slowly, carefully choosing his words: "I'm tormented with accursed doubts. It seems to me... that what we're trying to kill here... is better than what we have at home. I don't feel any pity for the Germans, but I feel pity for myself, and for ourselves. That's the crux of the matter. We're destroying a well-developed cultural system, reorganizing it to match our own pattern, and that pattern... to he'll with it! Do you remember what our life was like?"
"Tell me, Major of the State Security Force, what is the job you're doing at the moment?" I asked.
"And another thing: talk a little more quietly. German houses have thin walls."
"What am I doing at present?" he repeated my words. Then, evasively: "Various things. Besides the tasks usually assigned to the M. V. D. we have many others of which nobody outside has any suspicion. For instance, we have an exact copy of your S. M. A. organization, only in miniature. We control all your work, and we give a hand when radical intervention is called for, swift and without fuss. Moscow has less trust in Sokolovsky's reports than in ours.
"I expect you know from experience than an M. V. D. lieutenant can issue orders to your army colonels, and an M. V. D. major's word is binding on your army generals. Yet it is only an unwritten law that that is so: a general takes for granted that it is a law, and that if he disregards or fails to comply with it the consequences can be very unpleasant.
"You know the Political Adviser Semionov, and Colonel Tulpanov?" he asked, but added without waiting for my answer: "We have contact with them very rarely, but they're always conscious of our fatherly care. Right down to such details as would ensure a full hall and a sound moral tone in our Soviet House of Culture here.... And we often invite Wilhelm Pieck and other leaders to visit us for friendly conversations"-he ironically stressed the words 'leaders' and 'friendly conversations'. "We never even shake hands with them, so that they shouldn't get any Voltairian ideas into their heads. We don't bother with velvet gloves, not like your Tulpanov.
"Only a man who has worked in our organization can know all the depths of human turpitude. All our guests slink in on tiptoe. If they no longer please us, it isn't far to Buchenwald. Pieck and his fellows know that well enough. A number of their colleagues are already stewing in their own juice there.
"The democratization of Germany... Hm!... All the bakers and sausage-makers are to be sent to Siberia! The property-owners are to be liquidated as a class! We turn their places into Red Corners and call them after Pieck or some other dog. Do you know how we purged Berlin after the capitulation? It took us just one night. Thirty thousand people were taken from their beds and sent straight to Siberia. We already had the lists prepared while our troops were still the other side of the Oder. We got all we needed from the local communists."
He was silent for a moment, crossed his legs and studied his knee. "We can hardly shake off the servile scum. You know, after the capitulation there were literally queues of voluntary denouncers and informers waiting to be interviewed by us. Once I gave orders for a whole mob of these human abominations to be driven out of my waiting room with rifle butts. I simply couldn't stand any more."
His words reminded me of the typical attitude taken by Soviet soldiers to the German 'political comrades'. Shortly before the Soviet and American forces made contact a group of Russian soldiers fell in with a single German. He had a rucksack on his back, and was wheeling a cycle loaded with all he possessed. He was going eastward. When he saw the Soviet soldiers he shouted enthusiastically: 'Stalin good... I'm communist... Comrade...' He tried to explain that he was on his way to the Soviet Union, and intended to build communism together with them.
The soldiers looked at one another without a word, turned him round to face the west, and gave him a good-natured push. When he resisted, and tried again and again to go east, the soldiers got wild and took away his rucksack and cycle. After they had given him a communist baptism he could hardly move a limb. As he pulled himself together and turned to go back the soldiers called after him: "Now comrade is a real communist. Yours is mine. Stalin-good!" They were perfectly convinced they had done him a good turn, they had saved his life.
The officials of the K. P. D. - S. E. D. decorated their car radiators with red flags and felt that they were lords of creation as they drove like the fire-brigade about Berlin, with no regard to the speed limit. Whenever a Soviet soldier or officer driving a car met such a man he regarded it as a matter of honor to undertake the crazy 'comrade's' ideological re-education. The higher the 'comrade's' Party ranks the greater the honor of smashing in his radiator and his mug. "So that he won't be in such a hurry to get to communism in future," was the usual comment in such cases.
The Karlshorst commandant, Colonel Maximov, only laughed when such incidents were reported to him. They were not simply acts of crude barbarism. After the Soviet soldiers had lived a while in Germany they spoke with respect and even with envy of the Germans. But they called the German communists rogues and venal riffraff. Any Soviet citizen who has seen Europe is quite convinced that only degenerates in the pay of Moscow can be communists.
"Oh, and by the way, what were you doing in Petersburgerstrasse recently?" Andrei asked the direct question.
I stared at him in amazement. It was true that I had been in Petersburgerstrasse a week before. A Moscow girl acquaintance named Irena had invited me to call on her. She had graduated from the Institute for Foreign Languages in Moscow and was now working in Berlin as a teacher of German.
The house I had visited differed very little from the others in the street; it had no nameplate or red flag to indicate that it was used by the occupation authorities. But hardly had I opened the door when a man in the uniform of the M. V. D. frontier guards barred my way. My officer's uniform and my identity papers were not of much use. Before I could enter the house Irena herself had to come down and identify me.
The house was used as the school for the M. V. D. censors, and they lived as though in barracks. The conditions were very strict, as they are in all M. V. D. establishments. Although Irena was not on the M. V. D. strength, but was simply an outside employee, she had to obtain her employer's permission to go out, even on Sundays. When she went out she had to enter the time she left and the object of her going in a record book; on her return she had to enter the time and sign her name again. As she herself admitted, they all lived like semi-prisoners.
"How do you know I was in Petersburgerstrasse?" I asked Andrei. "That's simple: I took a preliminary look at your personal file, only not the personal file you have in your Personnel Department here. If I'm not mistaken, not long ago you saw 'Eugene Onegin' at the Admiralspalast, and you've seen the 'Petrushka' ballet too, haven't you? I can even tell you whom you went with."
He looked at me sidelong, to see what impression he had made. Evidently he was just as fond as ever of cheap effects.
"But that's not a crime at the moment: the Admiralspalast is in the Soviet Sector. But I advise you not to visit theaters in the other sectors, for that will be placed to your debit. Understand? We keep our own books on every S. M. A. officer, right up to Marshal Sokolovsky. At present your personal record is perfectly in order, and I congratulate you.
"Oh, and while we're talking about the Petersburgerstrasse, we've got one or two other interesting institutions there: a special school for German instructors, for instance. They're the framework of the future German M. V. D. There are certain things that it's more convenient to leave to the Germans. I'm only surprised at the enormous amount of trouble they give themselves. There are times when I can't help thinking that some of them really believe they're helping to build a finer Germany. And these petty hacks never even get supplementary rations, like the Special-Troika does. You know what the Special-Troika is, I expect. The Germans call the triumvirate Grotewohl, Pieck and Ulbricht simply and briefly the G. P. U. And for simplicity's sake we ourselves have christened them the 'Special-Troika'." (A reference to the days of the revolutionary Extraordinary Tribunals, which usually had three members - Tr.)
He went on to tell of the slogans with which the walls of German toilets are embellished. "Do you know what S. E. D. stands for?" he asked. "The Germans say: 'So ends Germany.' (So endet Deutschland.) Maybe they themselves don't suspect how right they are. That will be clear to them when Germany is renamed the German S. S. R. and the present S. E. D. is known as the German Communist Party. Of course it's not the name but the thing behind it that's important."
For the sake of both of us I felt that I had to comment: "You're saying some very remarkable things. If it were anybody else, I'd report it to the proper authorities without hesitation. But as they're being said by a major in the State Security Service I must take them as deliberate provocation. So I think it unnecessary to do anything about it. Go on until you get bored."
He looked at me and laughed. "But you're a prudent fellow! Reinsurance can't do any harm. To reassure you, you can take every word I have said as provocation. In those circumstances I can speak even more frankly."
He got up from his chair and strode about the room. Finally he halted before my bookcase and studied the books. With his back to me he continued:
"It's really amusing to see how readily whole nations put their necks into this yoke. Take Germany. If Stalin had all Germany in his hands the Germans would dance to his pipe as one man. You know how they think: 'Orders are orders!' Of course one would have to create the prerequisites first: the form of an independent German state, with a premier and other puppets. You have to play up the German national pride. And when the right men are in charge the Germans will vote unanimously for a German S. S. R.
"Form and content!" he continued thoughtfully. "Take socialism and communism, for instance. According to Marx, socialism is the first step to communism. There are very strong socialist tendencies in the world today. Of course as modern society progresses it requires new forms. The Social-Democratic Parties, socialization under Hitler, the present socialistic trend in England. You can see it at every step. Well then, do all roads really lead to communism?
"Now look at what we've got in Russia. It's called socialism. By its form it really does seem to be socialism, for everything belongs to society in the shape of the State. But the content? The content is state capitalism or socialistic slave-ownership. The people pour out their blood and sweat to bring about the future communist paradise. It's all strongly reminiscent of the ass with the bundle of hay hung out in front of its nose. The ass puts out all its strength, but the hay always remains the same distance off. And the naive idealists of the West treat the concepts of socialism and communism as interchangeable, and voluntarily put their necks in the same yoke.
"Strange as it may seem, there is only one historical parallel to communist teaching, and that's Christian teaching. Only the Christian teaching was as orthodox as communist teaching is to-day, and that is precisely why it spread all over the world. The Christian teaching said to the soul of man: 'Share with your neighbor'. But history has advanced to the materialistic phase. The common law of communism is: 'Take from your neighbor'."
He sank into his chair, stretched out his legs, and leaned his head against the back. "After the capitulation I took for granted that we would be taking all the best Europe had got-after all, we were the victors-and then we would impose order in our own house. Instead, we've forced our own muck down these people's throats while we're draining our own people of their last drop of blood. Permanent revolution! Here I'm building communism on an all-German scale. In that job Wilhelm Pieck is my errand-boy, and meanwhile what is happening in our own country?"
An evil light gleamed in his eyes. He jumped up and took long strides about the room. His voice choked with fury: "Is that what I fought for?"
"Listen, Andrei," I said. "Assuming for the moment that your remarks are not intended as provocation, but that you really do feel and think as you say, how can you reconcile it with your work in the M. V. D.?"
He looked into my eyes for one moment, then shifted his gaze to some invisible point in the twilit room.
"You mean, why do I wear this raspberry-banded cap?" he asked. "Just for fun. Simply to enjoy the sight of others starting away from me. That's the only thing I get any pleasure out of now in my work. When one has a vacuum inside, one inevitably seeks some substitute in the outside world."
"You had that streak even in the old days, a la Nero!" I retorted. "But a man doesn't get far with that."
"You're quite right. Do you know what are the occupational diseases of M. V. D. officers?" He laughed maliciously. "Alcoholism is the least of them. The majority of the men are drug-addicts: morphine, cocaine. It's been statistically proved that three years' work in the operational organs is enough to turn a man into a chronic neurasthenic. In the Crimea there's a special M. V. D. sanitarium for treatment of the drug-addicts and impotents.
But it doesn't do much good. A shattered nervous system isn't easily restored to health. Normal men can't stick the work. And intelligence - that's the most dangerous thing of all in our profession. If you want to make a career in the M. V. D. you must be a scoundrel by vocation. The idealists have long since lost their heads, the old guard has become part of the history of the C. P. S. U. What are left can be divided into two main categories: those who do every-thing they're called on to do without offering any resistance, since they don't mind how they earn their bread, and those who're ready to betray even their own mother for the sake of their career.
You know the Soviet commandment: outwardly be your superior's slave, but inwardly dig his grave, so that you can take his place. The same holds true of the M. V. D., only much more so. No wonder they turn to cocaine and morphine.
"You know, when I get sick to death of it all I go out in the middle of the night, get into my car and drive like a madman through Berlin. At full speed along the East-West Axis. The British Military Police try to stop me, but what can they do? I've got an eight-cylinder Tatra. And then I drive through the Brandenburg Gate. A hair's breadth to right or left, and I'd be smashed to pulp. I'm even tempted to, sometimes.... It's so simple.... Only a hair's breadth.... You're all right; you're an engineer. That smells of oil and smoke. But everything around me reeks of blood.
"At the university I thought of engineering as a solid sort of profession. But when I got down to practice and saw what a lot engineers were I stayed on in the faculty only by sheer inertia. All the time I wanted something different, but now I don't know what I want. I know only one thing: my life will be ended with a bullet - my own or another's."
I felt sorry for Andrei now. The man who had entered my room was in the prime of life, with a confident step and outlook, a man who seemed to have achieved his aim in life. But now I could tell from his own words that he was damned. And the calmness with which he spoke only accentuated my feeling.
But you're still an engineer too," I said. "And you're a Party member and a war hero. You can go back to your old profession."
"That's right out of the question," he answered. "There's no escape from the M. V. D. Have you ever met anyone who has? In the old days, work in the Cheka provided a way to a further, a different career. But now we've advanced in that respect too. Now you're asked: 'Why did you leave the M. V. D.?' Now such a step is a crime, it's desertion from the most responsible sector of the communist front. They'd never release me, except to put me behind bars.
"And besides, anyone who has had some power over other men finds it difficult to start catching butterflies and growing geraniums in a flower-box on the window-sill," he said with an unpleasant smile. "Power is a tasty dish. And you can't tear yourself away from it, you're only torn away."
His words reminded me of a man I had met in a front-line hospital during the war. He was a private in a punitive company. Before the war he had been an aviation engineer. He was a Party member, and when he was called up he was assigned to work in the N. K. V. D. They sent him to the Secret Department of the Central Institute for Aerodynamics in Moscow, where he was put on secret work in the field of constructing special high-flying machines driven by turbo-compression engines.
Nobody in Moscow suspected that almost all through the war a solo German Henschel circled over Moscow day after day. It flew at such a height that it was invisible to the naked eye. Only the experts knew the secret of the white smoke-clouds that formed and then slowly dissipated in the sky. The machine never dropped bombs; it only took photographs with the aid of infrared films. The Germans attached great importance to the regular photographing of the Moscow railway junctions, through which the main flood of military material passed to the West.
German machines flew over Moscow day and night, and they gradually began to get on the Kremlin's nerves. When the Soviet fighters attempted to go above their 80, 000 feet limit the Henschel calmly climbed still higher, then swooped down and shot up the Yaks and the MIGS. However, it did not often show the Soviet fighters such honor, and only made fun of them.
The Defense Council gave the Institute for Aerodynamics the urgent task of inventing means of combating these German reconnaissance planes, and the former aviation engineer, the newly commissioned N. K. V. D. officer, was given the task of controlling the work. Under the 'plan' drawn up by the N. K. V. D. higher authorities he was instructed to send them each month the names of a fixed percentage of spies, diversionists and wreckers.
The 'plan' was strict: every month a certain percentage of spies, a percentage of diversionists, and similar 'people's enemies'. Often, in addition, they sent him an urgent demand for ten 'spies' from the milling-machinists, or five 'wreckers' from the laboratory or metallurgical workers, the demand being made to meet the N. K. V. D.'s special needs for some urgent constructional project of its own.
After some months the lieutenant had a nervous breakdown. He was not very well acquainted with the ways of the N. K. V. D., and he put in a report with the request to be assigned to other work. A day later he was reduced to the ranks and sent to a punitive company. In the hospital where I came to know him he had had both legs amputated.
Andrei was right; there would be no way out of the M. V. D. for him.
"Where is Halina now?" he suddenly asked bluntly.
"Somewhere in Moscow."
"I have only one hope left now," he said dreamily. "Perhaps if I could see her again..."
There was a ring at the door. I went out, and came back with an acquaintance named Mikhail Sykov, who lived not far from me. He excused his invasion with the usual remark: "I happened to be passing, and saw your light was on, so I thought..." He broke off as he caught sight of Andrei. Andrei's face was not recognizable in the dusk; my desk lamp lit up only his blue and gold epaulettes and the numerous decorations on his chest. Sykov greeted Andrei, who only nodded without rising from his chair.
The newcomer obviously felt that he had called at an awkward moment. It isn't so easy to make conversation with a M. V. D. officer as with ordinary mortals. Besides, who knew what the officer was here for? On official business, quite possibly. In such cases it's much the best to make yourself scarce. Anyway, the taciturn major showed no inclination to talk. So Sykov declined the chair I offered him, with the remark: "I'll drop in some other time. I think I'll go and see who's around in the club."
He vanished as suddenly as he had arrived. Next morning he probably told everybody in his office that I was on friendly terms with the M. V. D., embellishing his story, of course. Among official S. M. A. circles my stock would rise: intimate relations with the M. V. D. were not without significance.
Andrei sat a little longer without speaking, then rose and re-marked: "I think it's about time I was going, too. Drop in and see me whenever you're in Potsdam."