THE LIMITS OF COMMITMENT
Janek left. Until the moment of departure he pleaded with me to give up whatever I was doing and go with him. I half promised to do this soon. We established a method of contacting each other but I was not yet ready to attend exclusively to the safety and well-being of my person. Escape from Poland, the problems of getting out of Berlin and helping others do so, had a risk factor that kept my adrenaline at a level I enjoyed. I was almost terrified at the prospect of settling down to life in one of those Labor Companies where nothing ever happened and there was no hope for an independent future. I knew that I was being taken advantage of, but residency in Berlin gave me an occasion to do some useful activity. Perhaps it alleviated a slight feeling of guilt for fleeing my Country which persisted despite all the rational arguments I had to justify it. Perhaps I was not yet ready to sever the emotional umbilical cord connecting me to my Motherland.
To my surprise and great relief, nearly ten days after our misfortune in Babelsberg Heniek Holtz appeared in Minden. As I rightly suspected, the KGB supervisor had left his inexperienced Volkspolizei charges alone for a spell and, their proletarian vigilance was so wanting that not only did they fail to arrest the rest of us, they also omitted to note even the make of our car. Holtz said that he almost felt sorry for the poor slobs when their Russian mentor gave them a well deserved dressing down. The Russians took Holtz to their headquarters in Potsdam and questioned him for hours at a time every day. They had not a thing against him except unspecified suspicions; however he had to be very careful not to show that he understood when they spoke Russian among themselves. The meals were adequate and they did not beat him. After a few days of fruitless grilling, they brought him back to Babelsberg and ordered one of the passing West German drivers to take him to Hannover. From there he had hitch-hiked to Minden. He had quite a few valuable observations concerning Russians in Potsdam. We gave him a ticket to the American Zone where he expected to find his older brother.
A few days after my arrival from Berlin we had an important meeting at which it was agreed that Dubielak would replace me as resident agent in Berlin and while there, would try to establish a clandestine route across the Polish border by means of freight barges hauling coal from Poland. The barges sailed from East Berlin via a network of canals and up the border river Oder (Odra) towards the Polish coal fields. Once the necessary connections were established I, an obstinate romantic, agreed to return to Poland for a few weeks on a spy mission. It was not as crazy as it seemed; "Waska", a Russian acquaintance of mine in Berlin, was doing it every few months for the Americans. For some time he had even been on their regular payroll holding the rank of sergeant until he had an affair with an army major's wife; they then had to transfer him to civilian status although they still appreciated his spying services.
I had to wait for my new "Polish" documents until the end of May, and then decided to travel to Berlin to be closer to the action. Because of my new identity I flatly refused to take my usual route with the autobahn smugglers. It would have been extremely stupid to take unnecessary risks before the major task, besides the fact that I carried on my person Polish documents as well as a few hundred American dollars, a combination which alone would qualify me in Russian eyes as a spy. There was also the chance that somebody may have remembered my face from previous encounters.
To get a civilian airline connection to Berlin I had to travel to Hamburg by train; use of the British military shuttle would automatically link me to Britain in the eyes of those watching Berlin airport. That day the weather was poor and my flight was postponed two or three times. I left Minden very early in the morning on an empty stomach anticipating a bumpy flight. In those days a comfortable flight depended very much on good weather. However, it was close to noon and I decided to have something from the airport restaurant. The choice was very limited and I ordered the only warm dish, a hamburger. No sooner had I started to eat than my flight was announced and I had to gobble my hamburger, consisting mostly of bread and onions, and rush to board my plane.
The flight took one hour and twenty minutes and the twin engine DC-3, otherwise a sturdy aircraft, behaved like an old elevator whose carrying gears were missing teeth; every few minutes we would drop a few floors down and then climb again. All the passengers were sick; I lasted until Berlin was in sight. I found Dubielak very busy. Before my own task could begin however, certain events took place which turned our attention in a different direction.Apparently a few entrepreneurs in West Germany, probably locals with some Polish participation, had made an arrangement with East Zone German smugglers living by the Oder river to bring from Poland the family members of Polish émigrés who could afford the fee. Their motives may have been altruistic or strictly business; the fact remained that the Oder smugglers did not take risks for the sake of charity.
In this case the smugglers were to bring over the border a young Polish woman whose fiancee was very active in an organization caring for Poles in the British Zone of Germany. When the appointed date passed without any news of a successful crossing our bosses in Minden, who were in some way connected with it, sent Dubielak a request to find out what had happened. From what he was able to ascertain, it seemed that while crossing the river at night something had gone wrong and the smugglers and the woman had to swim at least part of the way. Once on the German side the girl, obviously not used to swimming in the first half of May, collapsed and her guides fearing for her life took shelter in some unsafe place by the river where they were discovered and arrested.
Two smugglers and the girl were held in a police jail in a small town close to the Polish border. If there was any chance at all to get the arrested woman out of jail it had to be done before she was transferred to a larger city like Frankfurt on Oder or East Berlin. Using the public telephone booths in the Russian sector, Dubielak was able to stay in contact with the third smuggler which was not easy under the circumstances. I was helping him as much as I could if only by maintaining contact with Minden, keeping a watchful eye on the surroundings while he was on the phone ... and in other small ways. We knew that the young woman must still be sick since they had not transferred them yet, and, that our contact was trying to arrange something through intermediaries with the local police authorities. Finally we received the news that for a sum of four thousand western marks and an assurance of safe conduct to West Germany the chief of police of the town where they were held would be willing to bring the three of them by car to West Berlin. The offer looked on the level. If only the woman was to be freed I would have been suspicious - in this business you could never be hundred percent certain but it seemed all right to both of us. We were sure of cooperation on the part of the British authorities. To grant safe passage to the defecting Eastern police officer cost them nothing and would give them some political propaganda value. The sum of four thousand western marks may have seemed large to an Eastern small town police chief or to Dubielak, myself or an average Berliner, but in smuggling circles or on the black currency market it was not that much. There was no time to lose. Full of hope we notified Minden requesting immediate transfer of the money. We were sure that they could get the money, if not by themselves then certainly with the help of the girl's anxious fiancee and his friends.
Instead, Dubielak was instructed to make sure that there was no risk that the money be lost without freeing the girl. Dubielak, taking great risks himself did what he could but before he was able to convince his superiors, the girl and both arrested smugglers were transferred to Soviet Berlin... One thing I could not comprehend: why was the man whose girl was in trouble not there with us, why did he not do something about the money? We soon found out that the young engineer knew nothing about the demand for money. The men from the "other villa" had secretively held on to that information. I was disgusted and could not get over the lost opportunity to salvage three human lives for fear of losing a few thousand marks. Even if two of the prisoners were just paid smugglers they had not abandoned the sick woman to die on the river bank but had taken their chances, knowing full well what could happen to them.
I phoned Minden that I was returning and would explain my reasons when I arrived. It was not that I was afraid of being treated in a similar way if my back was to the wall. I understood the rules of the game and, knowing what the risks were, did not expect any special consideration. But this was different. I suspected that while they really wanted to at least save the girl, they were people whose time had already passed and they were still playing soldiers by their old rules.
I asked Dubielak to arrange through our British contact, my flight to Hannover on the military shuttle. Dubielak knew of my decision to resign from the planned excursion to Poland and of my reason for doing so. I inquired about his plans; he was equally disgusted with the failed rescue attempt on which he had worked so hard. He was not sure yet about his plans. We shook hands for the last time. *
Next morning I was in front of Lancaster House from where a special bus drove the shuttle passengers to the airport. The weather this time was good and the flight uneventful. The aircraft, a military transport, had very Spartan furnishings but nobody seemed to care. It also had to fly in the designated Corridor. I was the only non British passenger and the only civilian.
n Hannover the youngest of my bosses was waiting with his Volkswagen. Without resorting to elaborate explanations I informed him of my decision to withdraw my services. I returned all the money I had on me including the US dollars for the spying excursion, the wristwatch and both sets of fake documents, the German and the Polish one. They graciously let me keep the clothes procured for me from the American aid for Displaced Persons. I made a small bundle of my best clothes, changed into my old ones, placed my true papers in one pocket, my shaving kit in another and was ready to go. They did not offer to give me a ticket as so many others had received. And I asked for nothing. It was the German housekeeper who pressed in my hand a paper bag with a few hastily made sandwiches and wished me God-speed.
By early afternoon I was already
on my way walking by the side of the road "facing the southern wind".