Chapter 33


After only a few days in Berlin it became clear that although we were free  the city was a dangerous island on which to stay and to move further to West Germany on the other side of the Iron Curtain was, in our circumstances, almost impossible. The capacity of West Berlin to care for hundreds of thousands of refugees was stretched to the limits and  city hall was willing to pay the cost of air travel for any refugee who could prove that a financially responsible  person or institution was willing to sponsor him or her. Travel by car or train through  Soviet territory was for obvious reasons out of question.

Jadwiga, as I mentioned before had her husband to sponsor her in  the British Zone of West Germany and was just waiting for the formalities to be completed. Janek had a cousin named Kotwica also working for the IRO in the American Zone  who was trying to help. I knew noone to whom I could write, certainly noone to act as sponsor.  Luckily, having  a fairly good command of German  I  could search on my own for a way out of the Berlin trap. Isolated from the outside  world as we were in Poland, I knew that there was a war going on in Palestine between the Jews and Arabs. "Why not try" I thought. ďAfter all the Jews are fighting for their independence; perhaps they can use me". While attending to some formalities in the IRO office  I climbed to the second floor office of HIAS to volunteer. "We would be glad to take you, but our war ended last year", was the polite answer. Next I visited the French sector of Berlin. I had to travel through  Russian controlled territory to get there, the roundabout way being very long and complicated. As usual I did not have  the fare and had to bluff my way by flashing my English-print, IRO ID card, which did not make  travel any safer. Once there I visited the offices of the French sector command to inquire about the possibilities of joining their Foreign Legion. "No problem" they said, "here is the address of the nearest Legion recruiting office in Koblenz in the French Zone of West Germany". "Well," I thought,   "once I get there I won't need your Legion"; I thanked them and returned the same way  to the British sector.

Early in the New Year (1950) Janek and I left the bunker and moved to a rented room in a private dwelling. It was made possible by the West Berlin administration which in order to ease the overcrowding of refugee shelters and to improve their safety - Communist agents occasionally raided the shelters kidnapping people -  paid fifteen marks monthly to everyone who could rent private lodgings. While still in the shelter we had  met a young Pole from the Upper Silesia region of Poland - another disputed territory bordering Germany -  who because of his Germanic sounding name, Gruenberg, was rejected by the IRO as a German and by Germans as a Pole and was designated a Staatenloose.*  He made his living doing minor spying for the Americans who paid him with cartons of cigarettes. Gruenberg rented a room from an older widow and her daughter whose husband, probably a Nazi party member judging by the procession of men's brown shirts worn by both women,**   was lost in the war melee. There was a tiny room next to Gruenberg's which the women rented to us for fifteen marks. The place was practically unheated but very clean. That arrangement provided us with a fifteen mark saving since we were paid per person not per room. As in the shelter we continued to  receive from the nearest distribution point a daily soup ration and, every five days, a loaf of bread a little sugar and margarine. Usually I would eat my food allotment in one day while Janek would divide it into five rations. Occasionally a friend, who worked for room and board as a servant to some  old lady, would bring  slices of dried bread which he saved for us. Our mornings were spent searching the sidewalks for something to smoke. Some days I would go to Kurfuerstendamm 140   where in a Jewish café I would have to convince a local merchant  to trust me with a carton of American cigarettes which I would sell  for him on the street. Then followed hours of walking the sidewalks of Kurfuerstendamm calling in the local slang: "Ami Zigaretten zwo Mark". The patrolling policeman pretended not to notice. After returning the money to the owner of the merchandise I would get twenty pfenigs  for my labors, the price of a loaf of bread. One day we paid the owners of the apartment extra  money for hot water to wash our under clothes which had not seen water for nearly two months. It took a long time for them to dry in the cold apartment, and meanwhile  selling the cigarettes on the street without any undergarments  was a rather trying experience especially as my outer garments afforded little protection from the cold.

At that time we were approached by a certain older Polish gentleman who apparently flew in from time to time from the British Zone in search of fresh .news from his native land. It was obvious from the start that he did not do this for purely sentimental reasons. He invited Janek and myself to a café, fed us some pastry and asked many questions about Poland. He was not very eager to talk about himself and the organization he was working for and when we asked him to  help us get out of Berlin he remained uncommitted. We met him twice within  several weeks. He gave the impression that he felt very uncomfortable  in Berlin.  I noted his address in  the West   although neither Janek nor I counted on any help from him.  We suspected that he was a former  Polish intelligence officer left in England after the war ended and now employed by  British Intelligence. I personally encountered British Intelligence when towards the end of January I received a written request to visit at my convenience a specific room in Lancaster House. Berlin's Lancaster House so called by the British was a large undamaged office building housing the administration of the British sector. I went there the next day and was received by a  young Englishman fluent in German, who  treated me with courtesy and even apologized for taking up my time. However, he said, it was important to him to have a talk with me. We spent long hours talking about the political, economic and social situation in Poland. He was interested in the mood of the population and in my views of the  developing situation there. I had no good reason to be cautious with our former allies or try to censor my opinions. My lack of loyalty to the Kremlin-controlled regime in Poland was well noted in my dossier kept by the Internal Security Ministry there.

At some point during the long interview my host sent for tea and sandwiches from the office cafeteria and we talked until the end of office hours. He wanted me to return the next day to continue our conversation, but I had to refuse, explaining I was in the midst of arranging my transfer to the West. He did not show any surprise but being obviously very keen on  further conversation invited me to his house for a few drinks that evening. I agreed but asked  if I could bring a friend who was more fluent in German than I. That night Gruenberg  and I found his bungalow in the quarter designated for  British personnel. He was living  alone and the supper prepared by him consisted mostly of military field rations but it tasted heavenly. We talked until well past midnight,  smoking our host's cigarettes and finishing his whiskey. When we were leaving he wished me luck with my attempt to get to West  Germany (unofficially of course since it was illegal) and gave me advice which proved to be very useful later.  "In case" he said " you ever have any problems with the Allied authorities in West Germany tell them to inquire in Lancaster House in Berlin; you can give them the room number" he added.

As mentioned before, I had continued searching for a way out of Berlin. Roaming about town I had noticed the presence of an unusually large number of travel agencies (Reisebuero). There had to be a good reason for their existence; obviously they were not promoting  pleasure excursions to Siberia. They had to have some connection with  travel in a westerly direction. I started visiting one travel agency after another asking naively if they could make arrangements for me to travel to West Germany. In each case I was assured that they would be glad to oblige, but I would have to possess a valid Personalausweis***   and a special passport-like travel document called Interzonenpass which could only be issued by the occupation authority.

I suspected that in this city where almost anything could be bought and sold quite cheaply  (for instance for a drunk Russian sergeant kidnapped and delivered to the Americans one could get up to five hundred western marks) there had to be a way to bypass the existing restrictions. I continued visiting  travel agencies until one day, as I was leaving one of them, an employee called me aside and with few  preliminaries informed me  that for the sum of forty western marks his friend could supply the necessary documents and transport me by car to West Germany. I arranged to meet him the next day and rushed to somehow obtain the necessary forty marks. Between Janek and myself  we had  fifteen marks saved from the rent allowance, but that was all. Jadwiga had numerous messages for her husband in case I should see him on the other side (she was still waiting for her transit papers), but was  in no hurry to offer financial help and I did not feel like asking. Our  scheme would have probably collapsed if it had not been for our neighbor Gruenberg or strictly speaking, his girl.  Our friend Gruenberg had a girl whom he wanted to marry, but there were reasons why he could not do it in Berlin. In the first place he, as a Staatenloss legally did not exist and no civil or religious authority could marry him.  Furthermore the girl,  Teresa,  was Hungarian but some of her ancestors were of German origin and as such in the aftermath of the war  she was, together with thousands of other Hungarians, forcibly resettled in the Russian zone of occupied Germany. Teresa who was not yet eighteen was living in the hostel for girls in the Russian sector of town, and her only relative was an aunt  who was her legal guardian. Her aunt utterly refused to consider her niece marrying a person who did not legally exist and who could not demonstrate how he made his living.

Caught in this almost hopeless situation Gruenberg decided to send Teresa to the West and then follow her some time later in the hope that they could have a future there. He could not however go with her because if caught he would be considered a kidnapper since the girl was a minor. The fact that Teresa resided in the Soviet sector did not matter because in criminal cases  the western and eastern German police scrupulously cooperated. Knowing about my plans and my financial problems Gruenberg proposed to finance my passage on the condition that I take Teresa with me and take care of her until he could join her.  I did not know what awaited me on the other side and, taught by the Berlin experience,  did not expect much.  Being responsible for  the well-being of a pretty young woman added quite a burden, but I liked them both and sympathized with their predicament  so I agreed. To avoid any entanglements with the law we would be traveling as strangers.

The next morning I met with the intermediary who had approached me in the travel agency and arranged for  passage for two persons to the town of Hannover in the British Zone of West Germany.  He noted my physical attributes and I had to give him a  description of the general appearance of the girl needed for the documents.  Here the smuggling business was built around the fact that, probably due to post-war shortages, both the  Personalausweis and  Interzonenpass were not equipped with photos of the bearer, only with his or her fingerprints. Some people in the transit business (something like a long distance taxi service) quickly discovered there was more money in transporting  illegal passengers than  legal ones and found a way to adapt the process: the smuggler's friends and relatives in West Germany applied and received from the British occupation authority the necessary passes to visit Berlin or even East Germany and passed  them on to him.  He on his part would match the legally obtained documents, including original IDs, to the illegal passengers. This process was rather ingenious in that it  reversed the age long tradition of fitting the document to suit the bearer to that of fitting the bearer to suit the document. The fingerprint did not present any problem because the check points were not manned by guards with the necessary expertise or equipment to make the comparison. The German respect for official documents and  for the law bordered sometimes on naiveté. For this reason the smugglers appeared to  trust the locals far less than someone like myself.

On a cold January morning, hours before dawn Teresa and I were picked up by our driver at a specific street corner.  Two passengers, probably legal ones, were already  in the large sedan. We both knew the details of our  assumed identities but the documents were in the hands of the driver who, by  regulation, was responsible for his passengers. The streets of Berlin were still empty when we started towards the autobahn designated as a Corridor between West Berlin and a free world.

As we had found when entering the city almost two months previously, we had to pass the so called "Ring" of controlling police posts surrounding Greater Berlin. This time it was at a  place called Babelsberg. Without being stopped we passed the British  border post manned by  M.P (Military Police) and, driving slowly across  a few hundred meters of no-manís-land  as the road signs requested, we arrived at the booth sheltering the guardians of security of the Soviet Zone. Because the Soviets from the beginning wanted to give the German Democratic Republic the trappings of an independent state all the border points were manned by Volkspolicei only, the real masters staying out of sight.

Our first encounter went without a hitch.  A policeman approached the car checked the papers of the driver and then took our interzonenpasse's from the driver and called each of us by the name shown. He did not seem unduly suspicious and, as  expected, did not bother to compare the ID,s with passes. In a few minutes we were again on our way. We were driving on the superhighway which  served according to a four party agreement as the only overland  route to West Germany except for an almost parallel railroad. There were also two air "Corridors" which during the Soviet blockade  of the overland routes were the only way of supplying  free Berlin. Even now Russians occasionally slowed or stopped the overland traffic or arrested whomever they wanted without any resultant censure. The journey seemed awfully long. Besides occasional short exchanges between the other two passengers and the driver there was complete silence in the car. Teresa and I played strangers and kept our mouths shut despite the fact that she was absolutely fluent in German and my own facility with the language was also passable after two months of constant practice. At that time in Germany  accidental travel companions did not usually engage in conversation. Even the passing scenery was exceptionally monotonous. We had some anxious moments at the midway control point opposite the town of Magdeburg.  A few other cars had halted there and all the passengers had to leave their vehicles and pass through a narrow corridor in a nearby building where a police officer checked our papers and asked each one a few simple questions like name, destination, purpose of travel and such. It was one of the harassment tactics quite often used to make life miserable for traveling westerners.  After that it was a smooth ride to the last and most important obstacle: the border point in Helmstedt.

*    "One who does not belong to my country", stateless and without any rights.
**    Part of the uniform of Nazi party members which they often themselves called "Brown Shirts".
***  Personal identification.

140  One of once most elegant avenues of Berlin then mostly in ruins including the once beautiful church called  "Gedaechtniskirche" (Memorial Church).