Chapter 35


Minden was a small pleasant town in the province of  Germany known as Westfalen,  not far from Hannover. On one of the more elegant streets located near a hill crowned with a statue of a German king,  a few villas housed a group of English civilians.  Nothing on the outside of those villas  indicated the occupation of the tenants. Two of the villas were assigned to the institution with whom I, out of necessity, accepted employment. Not that I had any basic objections against intelligence work as such and my political sentiments were certainly on the Western side, but I had always done it as a service to my Country,  not as a way to earn my living.

Perhaps because of my English friend in Berlin I was accepted without any interview or verification and almost with haste.  I soon understood the reason for my welcome.  The three older gentlemen who ran that intelligence cell had, as their main task, to keep their ears to the ground for any interesting items of news that may seep from Poland, collect and analyze them for emerging patterns. It was supposed to be done by interviewing newly arrived refugees and arranging intelligence contacts with Poland. All  new arrivals in the British Zone, Poles or people presenting themselves as such, were gently but firmly directed to our Minden address for an interview. After this they were given some food rations and a ticket to a destination they desired inside  West German territory, mostly to the American Zone where employment opportunities were supposedly better. My new employers had quite a few difficulties collecting the intelligence material expected of them. One reason was that they had left Poland in 1939 and by now were light years behind in understanding the situation in their country of origin and the psyche of the average refugee who could easily sell them a story which they had no means of verifying. Also,  my bosses  were presumably staff officers and had never worked in the field. They had fought the war from an office in London and in their later years were not eager to take risks. Minden was not a place suitable for a listening post, but Berlin  was. Among other attributes Berlin was only an hour's drive from the Polish  border. But it was a frightening city in  which one could easily disappear without a trace. The occasional excursion to Berlin by one of them and news from the rare new refugee who managed to reach West Germany surely did not fill the expectations of their British bosses.

My arrival seemed to be a solution: for a start I would be doing the interviews and what was more important would be able to verify them, and they could deliver more reliable reports to England.
My bosses occupied one of the villas. I suspected I was never invited there because of the great difference in military rank between us and their lack of willingness to lift the veil of mystery about their intelligence activities. I alone occupied the other two storied villa where I conducted the interviews when ever there were some refugees or people claiming to be so staying over for a day or two.  An older German woman attended to the housekeeping and cooking. She did quite a good job  converting for my benefit the modest military rations into fine meals. I on my part  would always make sure that she did not go home hungry. Occasionally, when there were no transients in the house I enjoyed the pleasant company of a friend of the housekeeper, a young woman  whose parents were Polish immigrants to Westfalen in search of work. They left her a legacy of the Polish language and a legend of the country of their birth. She was a very sad lady; her husband, a German soldier, was somewhere in a Soviet  POW camp if he was alive at all. With the help of the housekeeper  I talked her into having  dinners with me. My employers did not object since they did not pay for the food anyway. Sometimes we would spend long hours talking, as I told her about the land of her parents and she corrected my somewhat crude German and taught me expressions which could be useful to me.

For the first few weeks there was hardly a day that did not present people for interview. In most cases they were not  recently arrived refugees if they were refugees at all. Some of them were the human flotsam of  the war  who  had “misunderstandings” with the law in Belgium or Holland and who, by registering as  new refugees hoped for a fresh start, perhaps emigration which was out of the question with even a minimal police record. Their input to my intelligence gathering was minimal although most of them tried to produce a plausible story with talent worthy of a better cause. Each was given a one way train ticket mostly to the American  Zone  where formalities with Zuzuggenehmigung were not so strictly observed and where they could join the American  equivalent of guard companies. Of course a brief stay in Minden with three meals a day and a clean bed at night always had value for the homeless.

I doubted that my part intelligence / part charitable activity was exactly what the British expected. However, they were not paying me; I worked for room and board only and for that I was doing enough. I suppose my bosses also realized that my efforts would not fill their intelligence quota. Soon they started asking me if I would be interested in traveling back to Berlin. I was interested for a number of reasons, one of them was to try to get Janek and a few other Poles out of there. The other reason for  agreeing to return to Berlin was that, since I had already decided to get involved in intelligence work, I would rather do it in a more meaningful way, and Minden was not the place for it. Berlin would give me more independence and more direct contact with the British whom I preferred to my Polish intermediaries. I did not mind working against the Soviet Union  but I did not like being used. Meanwhile I was still being exploited; the gentlemen from the neighboring villa wanted me to travel to Berlin entirely by my own means which meant using my smuggling connection instead of traveling there safely by British air shuttle available for that purpose.  They apparently wanted to show their British bosses that they had their independent ways of gathering intelligence.  We had quite an argument about it and finally compromised . I agreed to use my smuggler but demanded  my own Personalausweis and Interzonenpass, with my own description and fingerprint issued  by the Joint Control Commission of Germany.  It was issued to the West German citizen named Heinrich Radke, a person I once had known which made the name easier to remember. That at least partly reduced unnecessary risk. I also requested some money explaining with a dose of sarcasm that even the most dedicated intelligence agents have to eat sometimes, some clothes to replace the shabby ones  I was wearing and a wristwatch. After all a Hannover merchant, as was stated in my new documents, does not travel without a wristwatch and wearing badly worn clothes. They were pretty stingy with the cash but bought  me an inexpensive wristwatch, and one of them drove me to a Polish DP camp in nearby Bielefeld where through connections I was given a dark suit and some underwear from their store. In response to my demand they also promised that anyone that I may send to them from Berlin  would get a free fare to wherever he wanted to go.

Spring was already in the air when I was driven to Hannover to meet my friendly smuggler, this time with my own "legal" false papers...