General El Campesino
LIFE AND DEATH
IN SOVIET RUSSIA
by Valentin Gonzalez
and Julian Gorkin
Translated by lisa Barea
G. P. Putnam's Sons New York
BY INTERNATIONAL PRESS ALLIANCE CORPORATION
AH fights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, must not be repro-
duced in any form without permission. Published on the same
day in the Dominion of Canada by Thomas Allen, Ltd., Toronto.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 52-5275
Manufactured in the United States of America
Van Rees Press * New York
I GREW UP in a hard school I come from Estremadura,
and Estremadura is one of the most backward provinces
of Spain. Next to the great estates and the untilled land,
which used to belong to the grandees, live peasants with-
out land and often without bread. It is a thankless strug-
gle to wrest a living from that harsh soil, broken up by
steep, wild mountain ranges. And it has bred a race of
men who are rough, willful, and stubborn: men of action.
Most of the peasants of Estremadura could neither read
nor write, but they had character and personality. They
had pride and a fierce belief in human dignity. In the era
of Spain's great conquests, Hernan Cortes, conqueror of
Mexico, and Francisco Pizarro, conqueror of Peru, both
came from Estremadura.
Such is the region from which I come. I was born in a
tiny hamlet, to one of the humblest families. My name
was Valentin Gonzalez. But I carried it only for the first
fifteen years of my life. In a country where the revolt
against oppression and authority never ceases, rebels de-
My father, Antonio Gonzalez, launched me on my road.
He was an anarchist by instinct, a born rebel He came
from peasant stock, but was first a road maker and later a
miner in Penarroya. Like so many Spaniards, he was im-
patient of restraint, hostile to authority, and a believer in
direct, violent action. Also, he had an ardent desire for
justice and a feeling of solidarity with his fellow workers
which made him ready to sacrifice himself for the good
My early years were spent in an atmosphere of cease-
less struggle against the oppression of the monarchy. The
most bitterly hated servants of the regime were the civil
guards. Between them and ourselves there was war to the
knife. On their side was all the power and the resources
of the government, on ours nothing but the will to fight
It has been said the name by which I am known, El
Campesino, "The Peasant," was given to me by Russian
agents at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, as a
trick to win the sympathies of peasants and land workers.
This is not true. The name was given to me by the Spanish
police on my first arrest, because I took the part of the
peasants during a strike. I was fifteen at the time. My
name was earned fairly, and I have not dishonored it
At sixteen I won my first victory over the civil guard.
There was a strike in the coal mines of Penarroya which
spread to other industries and to trade. Strikebreakers
were brought into the district. The strikers fought to keep
them out; the civil guard protected the blacklegs. It was
a tough, violent struggle. Hatred became murderous.
I wanted to strike a real blow. In this I was inspired not
only by my father, but also by a leading terrorist called
El Degollado, "The Cutthroat/' It was easy enough to get
hold of dynamite in the mines. I made a bomb.
The civil guard had set up a post between one of the
factories and the railway embankment. This was my
target. Because of the frequent heavy rains of Penarroya,
the hut was raised above the ground by props, like a man
on stilts. I decided to put my bomb underneath and blow
up the post.
My comrade in the venture was another young terrorist
known as El Virulento. He was two years older than I.
We set out in the night under a bright moon. By creeping
along in the shadow of the houses we managed to reach
the post unseen. Then we planted our bomb and made off.
We had not gone far when we heard a terrific explosion.
The bomb destroyed the hut and killed four civil guards.
Nobody grieved for them, not in those days and in that
El Degollado told us to go to Cordoba and stay in
hiding there; he let us have some money for it. But I
remembered the advice my father had given me: "If
you're on the run, take to the hills. Money will betray
you; civilization will betray you; women will betray you.
The mountains never will."
' El Viralento and I hid in the small hill village of El
Hoyo. Thirty hours after the explosion, the civil guards
arrested my father. They beat him unconscious, but he
swore he had no idea where I was.
We were in a hill district famous as the hide-out of
"noble bandits," of men who robbed the rich and helped
the poor. We lived like bandits ourselves. We were out-
laws, hunted men in spite of our youth, and there was a
price on our heads.
The mountains never betrayed us. Nor did the people
of the mountains. Peasants sent us food through the
shepherds who climbed the steep slopes with their flocks.
We used our shoelaces to make snares for rabbits and
partridge. In this fashion we lived for seven months.
From time to time we left the hills during the night to go
down to Penarroya or another little town. But we risked
leaving our shelter once too often. We were just trying to
board a goods train at Penarroya when seven armed men,
four of them civil guards, surounded us. They first
marched us through the streets, then they beat us up and
threatened us with torture unless we led them to the
headquarters of the secret terrorist committee. We re-
In the prisons of Pefiarroya, C6rdoba, and Fuente Obe-
juna, they tortured us to make us betray our friends. They
beat us with heavy whips. They crushed our feet in a
vise. They tightened the handcuffs on our wrists till the
circulation was stopped, and left us so for three or four
days on end.
El Virulento's spirit resisted their tortures, but his body
did not. He died in jail from his sufferings. It was the end
of a short and hard life. He had been an orphan, without
family or relations. Half bandit, half revolutionary, and
wholly a terrorist, he died before he really started to live.
His death was not quite in vain. It brought me my
freedom. The lawyers who had undertaken our defense
used his death to throw the whole blame on him. They
got me free.
I found that I had become a sort of hero among the
workers or peasants. The peasants proudly repeated the
name the police had given me: El Campesino, the peas-
ant. And I was proud because they were proud of me.
During the months I was in the prison of Fuente Obe-
juna, my cellmates were anarchists. What I learned from
them strengthened me in my political beliefs and in my
firm will to fight oppression by every possible means, in-
cluding violence. It encouraged me even more that peas-
ants sent me food while I was in jail. As soon as I was
released, I took up the fight again. I stayed in Penarroya
illegallyand became the leader of a band of pistoleros,
gunmen who were out to harass the enemies of the
Then the war in Morocco broke out.
Under the monarchy, the Spanish Army was violently
unpopular. This became worse when the army was en-
gaged on a violently unpopular war. The regular officers
of the Spanish forces in Africa maintained discipline by
treating their men with the same brutality with which
they treated their enemies, the Moors.
I shared the people's hatred of the army, the military
caste, and the Moroccan War. By then I had reached the
age when I was called up for military service. The police
detained me and handed me over to the unit for which I
was destined. I deserted at the first opportunity, They
tracked me down, arrested me, and took me to Seville
together with other deserters. There were many like my-
self who had no intention to fight for the monarchy
against which they had been battling all their conscious
lives. I deserted again. When I was rounded up for the
third time, they took no chances with me. They kept me
in handcuffs till after our landing in Ceuta, when they
delivered me to my unit at Larache.
My record as a deserter did not recommend me to
my sergeant, Su&xez. This man was a common criminal
who had gone straight from M&laga jail to the Spanish
Army in Morocco, thanks to a law which reprieved con-
victs with prison sentences of less than ten years if they
enlisted for five years. Su4rez not only insulted and beat
the soldiers in his unit, he made them fight each other
for the sake of his fun. He showered punishments on us
without rhyme or reason. His men hated him. He hated
me. He hated me because I did not cringe before him.
It made him see red that I was not afraid of him. One
day when the company had formed, Suarez ordered "El
Campesino, step forward/ 3
I stepped from the ranks. He strode up to me and,
without saying a word more, slapped my face with all
I didn't move. I said, "Sergeant, you aren't strong
enough to knock me down."
He roared, "Silence! Step back!"
I knew what I was going to do, but I bided my time.
If my revenge was to be complete, it had to be planned
in such a way that I avoided punishment. One night the
Moors attacked Larache. The skirmish gave me my
chance. I killed Suarez. My officers and my comrades in
the ranks suspected mebut what proof could there be
about a death in battle? After that day I noted that my
officers took care not to be rude to me. And the other
soldiers became more friendly.
They fed us badly at Larache, and one day our pa-
tience gave out. A group of us, myself at its head, broke
into the kitchen and destroyed such stocks of food as
there were. I was locked up. They told me I would get
at least six years in the fortress of Cadiz. But in fact this
incident brought me, not into military prison, but into
the ranks of the Communist Party.
I believed myself alone, abandoned, and friendless.
Then Joseito came to see me. He was in the navy, but his
duty took him to and fro between Cadiz and Larache
with supplies for the army. He brought me tobacco and
food to eke out the prison fare. Best of all, he found an
officer in the Army Legal Corps who had liberal ideas,
took on my case, and worked so well for me that I was
set free after fifteen weeks.
This was the beginning of my friendship with Joseito,
It turned out that Joseito knew about my history and
my political ideas. Now he undertook my further political
education. I had read nearly all the important books and
pamphlets of Spanish Anarchist literature. Joseito gave
me Communist books and periodicals to read.
We Spaniards, and especially we of Estremadura, are
individualists. Anarchism comes more naturally to us
than communism. But little by little Joseito replaced my
individualistic notions with the collective doctrines of
the Communists. He roused my enthusiasm for the Rus-
sian Revolution. He convinced me of the need for a Com-
munist Party and International, with disciplined members
who were willing to sink their personalities in the com-
mon cause and obey orders from above without a ques-
tion. The grandeur of the Bolshevist Revolution over-
whelmed me. I felt that Spain, too, was ripe for revolution.
And I asked Joseito, "What can I do?"
It was decided that I should start a secret antimili-
tarist paper under the title Bandera Roja, "Red Flag."
Joseito was going to direct its policy, but I was to be
responsible for it and distribute it among the soldiers.
"A real Communist/' Joseito explained, "must do his
work, and get others to work, without getting caught.
It's up to you to show that you deserve the Party card/'
I made the army pay for the costs of the paper which
attacked it: I pinched army supplies, sold them, and used
the money for the production of Bandera Roja.
Joseito taught me that the Moors were right to defend
their independence against the Spaniards who had in-
vaded their land. I was not hard to convince. And when
I am convinced, I act. As soon as I was disembarked at
Alhucemas, with French and Spanish units, I made con-
tact with two Moors and began to supply them with
arms and ammunition.
Later on, when I came back to Larache, I went to see
the captain who had been my counsel in the food mutiny
case. He said, "Take a bit of advice from me. Get out of
here and quick!"
"Why?" I asked.
"YouVe had dealings with the Moors, haven't you?"
"They know about it," he said. "You may be arrested
any moment. And this time I wouldn't be able to get
I had entered Larache in uniform. I left it in civilian
clothes which my counsel got for me. He also let me have
a map of Morocco. At night I crossed the frontier into
the Riff, and was at once arrested by the Moors who took
me for a spy. It is a wonder they didn't shoot me at once.
I told them about my collaboration with the two Moors,
and for seventeen days they dragged me all over their
territory, trying to find the two men who could confirm
my tale. I was lucky. We found them, and the Moors
accepted me as their friend. They gave me a horse, arms,
and Arab clothing. I lived among the Berbers, sharing
their everyday existence and adopting their ways. There
is much Moorish blood in Spain, and I must have my
share of it. I looked sufficiently like a Moor to pass for
one of them.
At the end of the Riff War, the Madrid Government
decreed an amnesty for offenders of my sort. I could
safely go back to Larache with the Spanish prisoners of
war whom the Moors now released. But the army had no
use for me. My record had convinced my superiors that
I would be more dangerous for them as a soldier In the
ranks than as an enemy. Yet in spite of the amnesty it
did not seem wise for me to return to Spain as a civilian
with the papers I carried. They did not give me a clean
Luckily I found a sergeant with an exemplary service
record, who had six children to feed and needed money.
He sold me his papers, and so I was equipped with an
unblemished character. I made straight for Madrid.
This was the year 1929. 1 reported at the headquarters
of the Spanish Communist Party. The Party considered
that I had earned my membership card. I became a mem-
ber in due form. Then I started work as a road contractor.
I kept as .much of my earnings for myself as I needed
for urgent necessities. The rest I handed over to the
Party. I was a full-fledged Communist.
THEN CAME the Civil War.
On July 18, 1936, news reached Madrid that the mili-
tary caste had risen in arms against the Spanish Republic.
When I look back on the day that followed, I wonder
how it could have held, so much bloodshed and battle,
and how I could have seen so much of it. I was among
the Republicans who stormed the Cuartel de la Montana,
the barracks which the Fascists had turned into their
fortress. Later I joined the fighting for the airfield of
Cuatro Vientos. And in the end I found myself with
governmental forces operating in the town of Guadala-
jara, thirty miles from the capital
And then came another nightmarish day. General
Mola was reported to be marching on Madrid. I rounded
up some twenty men, and we went to the mountain pass
of Somosierra, the key point where Mola had to be
stopped if he was to be stopped at all It was my first
command: twenty-nine men, two lorries, rifles, and one
machine gun. I did not know It then, but this was the
beginning of the famous Forty-Sixth Division, the "Cam-
pesino Division/' the largest formation of shock troops
in the Spanish Republican Army. But at the start our
group did not carry my name. We adopted that of Cha-
paev, the great guerrilla fighter of the Russian Revolution.
Thus we set out, not even in uniform, with our single
machine gun, meaning to stop General Mola's regular
soldiers. Fortunately we were not left alone. A column
under Colonel Cuerva who was killed two days later
joined us soon. Then Captain Galan, an active Com-
munist who constituted himself my military adviser, put
four hundred men under my command. It was not ex-
actly a strong force to pit against trained soldiers, but
it was enough. We beat Mola's troops back and not only
made three hundred prisoners, but also took ammunition
and lorries which were badly needed. Madrid was saved.
I had a head wound and was sent to a hospital. But I
could not stay there idle while the fighting was going
on outside. After two days I went back to my post,
though it was another month before I could get rid of
For my services at Somosierra I was given the rank
of captain, in front of my unit in formation. The Com-
munist Party were determined to profit by the distinction
I had won; at the ceremony in Buitrago, the members of
the Central Committee and even a representative of the
Comintern were present.
I heard that the Fascists had captured Villavieja and
held my brother a prisoner there. I moved on Villavieja,
took the place back, and freed my brother. This feat
brought me the offer of another promotion. I refused. As
a lifelong antimilitarist I hated the officers of the army
and all they stood for. My new rank of captain was quite
Galan disagreed with me. He had been made a colonel
in the meantime, thanks to one of those rapid promotions
of the Civil War, caused mainly by the lack of high-
ranking officers on our side. Galan wanted me to accept
higher rank, possibly because he wished to see the higher
command in the hands of Communists. Whatever the
reason, he called two thousand militiamen together and
proposed my promotion to them. By acclamation they
voted me a major and the officer commanding the sector
of Buitrago. This was a nomination by the fighting men
themselves, and I accepted it.
Almost in spite of me, my command was growing. On
August 6, Largo Caballero visited us, confirmed my rank
on behalf of the government and more important pro-
vided uniforms for my militiamen. Now they really began
to look like soldiers.
Gal&n urged me to make an appeal to die Castilian
peasants, asking them to join the militia. I had doubts
about it. If they had not risen already in defense of the
Republic, why should they rise if I called them? Yet so
it was. Nobody was more astonished than I when thou-
sands of peasants responded to my appeal and volun-
teered. Why did they do it? Because they hated profes-
sional soldiers as much as I hated them, and would not
listen to their appeals, not even to the appeals of those
who had remained loyal to the Republican Government.
To me they listened because they knew I felt as they did;
Because I was El Campesino, the peasant, one of them.
With the peasant volunteers I organized seven bat-
talions. We had barracks of our own in Madrid. I used
professional soldiers who had remained loyal as instruc-
tors and advisers, but I still did not trust them as leaders.
They were with us now, but before that they had been
soldiers, and therefore against us wasn't our enemy in
the field the military caste?
The war was going badly for us. From the start the
Fascists had the help solid, substantial help from the
Italians and Germans. We got no help from the Russians
until two months after the outbreak of the fighting, and
even then it was not on the same scale. And we did not
get it for our own sake. But I did not see that at the
time. I should have seen it, but I did not. I was blind.
Again Madrid was in danger. On November 4, Largo
Caballero, the premier, who prepared for the transfer
of his government to Valencia, asked General Miaja and
myself to save the city. I took six battalions and posted
them at the most dangerous and vulnerable spots.
The decisive days were November 6-9. But many
people in our own camp did not realize that they might
be decisive, because they had given Madrid up for lost.
The world expected the fall of Madrid from one hour to
the next. And the world should have been right; Madrid
was ripe to fall. It should have fallen, if the men, women,
and children had not united to save it, as no civilians had
ever united in defense of their homes.
I am no talker; I am a doer. This time I had to talk.
We held a mass rally in the largest theater of the capital,
and I spoke to the crowd. I told them, "Stop crying. The
Fascists won't enter Madrid. But if we want to stop them,
you must turn out, all of you, men and women, children
and old people, and dig trenches, and build fortifications
round the town. People of Madrid, arise!"
We went out in lorries and collected everybody we
found in caf6s, theaters, and in the streets. And they
came. They worked the whole night with an enthusiasm
and a will to resist that might have shamed the govern-
ment which had abandoned its capital.
The enemy expected to take Madrid on the tenth.
Early that day, while I was inspecting the outposts with
two of my officers, I saw two Fascist tanks coming up.
We captured one of them, the other turned to flight. The
lieutenant who commanded the captured tank carried
plans for a simultaneous attack on Madrid from nine
directions. Forewarned as we now were, we could meet
the Fascists at every point. They were surprised by our
resistance and withdrew. For the second time Madrid
The Russians had begun to play their game in Spain.
There was the famous Fifth Regiment. All the Com-
munist and more-or-less-Communist writers, journalists,
and poets praised it to the skies. They called it unique,
and it was unique.
From the beginning, it had been a Communist regi-
ment. Rut for the first two months of the war, before the
Russian intervention, it had been a regiment of Spanish
Communists. Then it was a unit of militiamen. Its com-
mander was Major Rarbado, member of the Central
Committee of the Party. Its political commissar was
Enrique Castro. Like so many other old-time Commu-
nists, Castro was disillusioned by Moscow at a later stage;
he has published a book which explains why he lost faith
in Russian Communism.
One of the first steps after Russia began to take a hand
in the Civil War was a change in the command of the
Fifth Regiment. The Communists replaced Rarbado by
Lister, who was a typical Stalinist, always putting Russia
first and Spain second or perhaps nowhere. Like Mo-
desto, the second of the two men on whom Russia mainly
relied during the Civil War, Lister was Moscow trained
in every sense. To complete their control of the Fifth
Regiment, the Moscow Communists also used two leaders
behind the scene. One was Major Orlov, personally dele-
gated by Stalin, and the other, Major Carlos J. Contreras.
Nowadays Contreras is known under another name; he is
Vittorio Vidali, leader of the Communists in Trieste.
The Russians sought to establish the supremacy of
reliable Communist detachments over all the military
forces on the Spanish Republican side, through the Fifth
Regiment, and also through the International Brigades
which they controlled with the help of the Frenchman
Andre Marty and the Italian Longo, who called himself
Gallo in Spain. They saw to it that the Fifth was the best
equipped regiment, and had ample funds, and that it
enjoyed the advice and instruction of Russian technicians
as well as of other foreign specialists operating under the
close control of Russian agents. The Fifth Regiment was
practically independent of the Defense Ministry. For that
matter, it was practically independent of the Spanish
The Communists succeeded in terrorizing the profes-
sional soldiers who served with them. Those who played
the Communist game were rewarded with promotions
and glorified by the Communist press in Spain and
abroad. Those who showed opposition were discarded,
unless they had very strong political support. An example
was the case of General Miaja. At the beginning he held
out against the Communists; it was decided to remove
him from his command. Then he learned of his danger
and submitted to Communist direction. At once the Com-
munist press made a favorite of him. Other officers took
this object lesson to heart.
In spite of Russian determination to keep the Fifth
Regiment under the control and direction of Moscow-
trained leaders, it was made part of my command on the
orders of Largo Caballero, with the approval of the Rus-
sian military advisers. My first shock brigade had been
organized at Alcala de Henares and included six bat-
talions plus two companies of guerrillas. The Fifth Regi-
ment was nominally added to this command. It was done
at the time when the Russians made most of me, using
my popularity with the masses they had not been able
to reach otherwise. Ilya Ehrenbourg wrote a series of
articles about me, in which he called me "the Chapaev
of the Spanish Revolution." Eventually my brigade be-
came the Forty-Sixth Assault Division.
The arrangement by which the Fifth Regiment was
in my command, but under the orders of Lister, offered
more advantages to the Russian-trained Communists
than to me. They were in a position to get the credit for
my victories and let me take the blame for their blunders.
For instance, when I took the Cerro de los Angeles, the
Communist press celebrated it as Lister's victory. In
fact, what he had done was to lose the position and retire
to Perales de Tajuna, where he consoled himself by f east-
ing. I had the job of regaining the ground he had lost;
and then he emerged once again to reap the credit.
During that time the Russian agents, working mainly
from the headquarters of the International Brigades at
Madrid and Albacete, organized the execution not only
of people who opposed the Communists directly, but
also of those who showed reluctance in following their
directives. And because the Fifth Regiment was on paper
part of my command, they could pile the responsibility
for a great number of those acts on me. They found it
useful that the name of a commander who was a promi-
nent Communist should inspire terror, behind the lines
as well as at the front and that this man was someone
who did not belong to their inner circle. They looked
further into the future than I did. I had been brought
up in a school of terrorism. I did not shrink from violence.
The reputation which was built up around my name did
not bother me then.
I am not pretending that I was not guilty of ugly things
myself, or that I never caused needless sacrifice of human
lives. I am a Spaniard. We look upon life as tragic. We
despise death. The death of a bull in the ring, the death
of a man in war, seems a fitting end to us. We do not
torture our consciences about one or the other. Through-
out the Spanish War, I held power over life and death in
my hands. I do not say that I always used it wisely or
even justly. I do not apologize for anything I have done.
It was a bitter war. It was not pretty on either side.
But Republican excesses, such as they were, were nothing
compared with Franco's. It was Franco who mobilized
Moorish troops against his countrymen, and gave them
free rein. And the excesses of which I may have been
guilty myself were nothing compared with those of the
Moscow Communists. I did not slaughter my comrades
in arms for disagreeing with my political opinions.
Once the Communist caucus used me as a cover and
made me arrest one of our supporters. This was when
they thought Madrid lost. Modesto and Miaja called me
in and told me that the colonel commanding the assault
guards of the national palace the former royal palace-
had revolted against the government, and his men with
him. This was astonishing news, for the assault guards,
a body formed by the Republican Government in 1931,
had been constantly loyal to it, in contrast to the reac-
tionary civil guards. But I had no reason to doubt what
Modesto and Miaja told me. At their request, I took some
men with me and arrested the colonel and his guards.
Then I handed him over to Modesto. Only later did I
find out that there had been no such thing as a mutiny
or revolt. The colonel's only fault was that he was neither
a Communist nor the tool of Communists.
This incident left me in control of the royal palace,
which had been the residence of Alfonso XIII. I found it
disappointing, in spite of its enormous size. It lacked the
magnificence I had expected. With my aides I went
into the king's bedroom. It was decorated with splendid
mirrors and gilt woodwork. Its chief piece of furniture
was a huge screen. Across one of the walls stood the
king's bed, also gilt, eight feet long and six feet wide,
and in a recess above its head was a great crucifix.
"Well," I said to my aides, "who wants to sleep in
the king's bed tonight?"
They seemed frightened by the idea, as if they felt a
vague superstition. One of them said openly that it would
bring bad luck.
"All right," I said, "in that case the bed of the king is
And that night, El Campesino, the peasant, slept in
the bed of Alfonso XIII, the last decadent sovereign of
what had once been one of the most powerful empires
of the world.
He had owned a very comfortable bed.
A MORE SIGNIFICANT story is the story of Teruel,
and I have to tell it.
At the time of the Fascist rising, this important Ara-
gonese town fell into the hands of the rebels. General
Sarabia won it back for the Republic towards the end
of 1937. It was a victory of more than military impor-
tance. Republican morale had fallen low at this period,
and the recapture of Teruel gave the people new faith
and new courage.
It also gave renewed prestige to the Socialist leader
Indalecio Prieto, under whose orders as minister of de-
fence the action had been carried through. The Commu-
nists did not like this. Prieto was no pawn of theirs and
stood in their way. While he remained at the head of the
Defense Ministry, with his influence undiminished, they
could not hope to gain complete control of military
affairs. Thus they set out to torpedo Prieto, at the cost
of losing Teruel.
The first step was to remove General Sarabia. As long
as he commanded at Teruel, nothing could be done. Not
only was he the man who had worked out the campaign
for recapturing the town, and therefore the last to risk
its loss, he was also a faithful friend of Prieto. The Com-
munists managed to get Sarabia transferred elsewhere,
and at the urgent request of the Russian Generals Gre-
gorovich and Barthe, Modesto was made commander
in his place. Then they began to put their plot into prac-
tice. The advanced defense positions of Teruel were held
by Anarcho-Syndicalist divisions. These units were de-
nuded of artillery. Without heavy guns, they could not
possibly hold out; they were sure to be driven back from
their positions. Teruel would be lost. But the Anarcho-
Syndicalists as the troops immediately responsible, and
the Socialist Prieto as the minister of defense, would be
discredited at a price.
Though I did not quite see through the scheme, I was
not stupid enough to miss the point of the steps which
had been taken. I asked Gregorovich, "What is it you're
trying to do? liquidate the popular front? Do you really
think we Communists are strong enough to hold out by
"It's not a question of liquidating the popular front/*
Gregorovich answered, "but of making it do what we
want. WeVe got to discredit the Socialists and the Anar-
cho-Syndicalists, and show people that the Communists
are the only ones who can hold Teruel."
I protested, but Gregorovich and Modesto reminded
me of the discipline of the Communist movement. And
I obeyed. I still had not grasped the full extent of their
plans. Because I was not Moscow trained, they did not
consider me safe enough to be trusted with them. I knew
they were risking Teruel, but thought it was nothing worse
than a miscalculation. Only later did I discover that not
the endangering but the actual loss of Teruel was a neces-
sary part of their campaign to discredit and discard
Their campaign also included my own removal.
It was not that I had earned the hostility of the Rus-
sian Communists by that time. I had not. They were still
giving me great publicity as a Communist hero, and con-
tinued to do so long after Teruel. But I didn't belong to
the inner circle. I was a Spaniard, even if I was a Com-
munist, and never forgot it. I was not devoted to Soviet
Russia above everything. I sometimes talked back. They
used me while my work served their ends. If ever my
death were to serve them better, they would be able to
spare me. Now they felt that my death would serve
At the beginning, they had used the name of El Campe-
sino to rally the peasants. Later, they had used it to
build up fear and terror. Now they intended to use El
Campesino to provide a martyr for the cause. Commu-
nists have never underrated the importance of martyrs.
Unfortunately for me, fortunately for them, I would
have made a good martyr.
The Anarcho-Syndicalists had to be driven back to
compromise them; Teruel had to be lost to compromise
Prieto and the Socialists. But the Communists had to be
the last defenders of the townthis would add to their
prestige. So I was left with my men to defend a forlorn
hope to the last. If we all were killed, if I was killed, the
Communists would be able to blame Prieto for the loss
of Teruel and for the loss of El Campesino. Modesto
and Gregorovich had decided that I should render this
final service to the Party. The only thing was, they failed
to inform me of it.
The Fascist offensive against Teruel, directed by
Franco in person, lasted from January 21 to February 9,
1938. The advanced positions were lost, and I quickly
found my force of 16,000 men surrounded. Outside the
town, Lister and Modesto commanded six brigades and
two battalions. They could have helped me. They did
nothing of the kind. Even worse, when Captain Valde-
penas wanted to come to my rescue, they prevented him
from doing so.
But I have little taste for martyrdom. I fought back.
Shut up in Teruel, besieged and encircled by the Fascists,
my men fought on splendidly. Of the nine hundred men
of my One Hundred First Brigade, who bore the brunt
of the attack, only eighty-two survived. I decorated all
of them when the battle was over.
At the last stage, fighting was going on inside Teruel
itself, around the bull ring. All the nearby buildings were
in ruins. In these ruins, the Fascists were intrenched on
one side, we on the other. I was directing the defense
from a cellar.
Then word was brought to me that the Fascists were
shouting across to our men, "El Campesino is dead sur-
render! WeVe killed El Campesino surrender I" I ran
out of the cellar, jumped on to the rubble which was our
parapet, and shouted, "Where are those bastards who say
El Campesino is dead? Here I am! Do you think I look
The Fascists were so surprised that they did not even
remember to fire at me. Then my aides got hold of me
from behind and pulled me back just in time. The bullets
started whistling overhead just as they hustled me back
into my cellar.
There was no hope of holding Teruel any longer. Now
the task was to try to save my men and as much as pos-
sible of our equipment. We fought our way out, through
the encircling forces, at the cost of a thousand men.
Among our casualties was one of my aides. He fell
at my side, killed instantly. I wanted to save his body
and took it on my back. But I soon realized my folly and
laid the body down in the snow. My cloak was soaked
with his blood. I threw it away. This act gave rise to the
second report of my death. My cloak was of a special pat-
tern, made for me in Madrid to look like those the Rus-
sians wore. My men recognized me by it in the field.
Also it had the stars of a commander in chief.
This cloak was picked up and brought to Franco. He
called in newspaper correspondents and showed them
the bloodstained cloth and the identifying stars. The
report went out: "El Campesino is dead." Even the
Republican Government believed it. An official telegram
informed my wife that I had been killed in action.
As soon as I had led the survivors of my command to
safety, I rang up Prieto. "El Campesino speaking," I said.
*Tve broken out of Teruel with most of my men and a
good deal of our material."
"You're joking," said Prieto. "El Gampesino is dead.
Who is that speaking?"
"Go to bloody hell," I started, but Prieto interrupted
me: "Now I recognize you," he said. "I know you by
When I found out that two hundred guns were avail-
able in Valencia and could have been transferred to the
Anarcho-Syndicalist units to hold Teruel, I was furious.
I demanded that Lister, who had clearly left me in the
lurch, be removed from his post. But the Russians pro-
tected him and that was that.
Two months later Prieto, whose position had been
weakened by the loss of Teruel, was forced to go after
a Communist mass meeting conducted by La Pasionaria,
at which he was accused of negotiations with the Fascists.
Dr. Negrin, the premier, took over the Defense Ministry
himself. The Russians thought they could manage him
more easily than the stubborn Prieto.
And Franco had taken Teruel.
THE WAR was going from bad to worse. It was no
longer possible to doubt what its end would be, and this
end was very near.
The war cost me my family. My father had organized
and led the largest group of militiamen in Estremadura,
12,000 strong. As arms they had what they could get,
hunting rifles, pistols taken from civil guards, and home-
made bombs. For two months they had been fighting in
the region between Salamanca and Caceres to prevent
Franco from getting arms or reinforcements of Moorish
troops via Portugal. Then my father was captured. My
sister Maria was arrested. The Falangists hanged both
of them. It was for my father's exploits that they were
executed; but it was because they were my next of kin
that their bodies were left hanging for a week, with
placards on them announcing triumphantly that these
were the father and the sister of El Campesino.
Because the Fascists could not kill me, they killed my
wife and my three children. All the men of my family
were wiped out, and all of the women, except one cousin.
My younger brother, who fought like a lion in the war,
was taken prisonerI cannot understand how, being my
brother, he let himself be taken alive! When they were
through with him, they shot him. I was fatal to all those
who were related to me.
At the beginning of the disastrous war, when we had
a very different vision of its end, Colonel Francisco Galan
and I had sworn not to shave until the day we entered
Burgos, the capital of Franco. I had grown a thick, black
beard, not long, but tightly curled. It was not well
groomed; we had no time for beauty treatments in our
campaigns. But it had become my hallmark, a distin-
guishing feature by which I was recognized everywhere.
With defeat upon us, a distinguishing feature became
a bad thing to have. It was obvious that we were not
going to enter Burgos. Galan shaved off his beard and
advised me to shave off mine. I said I would. It so hap-
pened that some ardent Communists in Galan's com-
mand saw him without his beard and questioned him
about it. He told them that I was going to follow his
A little later I was called to the Central Committee of
the Communist Party in Madrid "on urgent business/*
It never occurred to me to connect the summons with my
beard, and I went. When three Russian generals backed
by La Pasionaria urged me not to sacrifice my beard, I
thought they were pulling my leg. At first they spoke
with a grin, joked, and compared my beard to Samson's
mane. But when they saw that I would Tiot take them
seriously, they all became very grave and earnest. To my
amazement I found that the "urgent business" for which
they had called me away from my post consisted in that
beard of mine. They told me that I had to keep it; it had
become legendary. If I shaved it off people would take
it as a bad omen. A clean-shaven Campesino would no
longer be El Campesino.
One of the Russian generals said, "Your beard isn't
your personal property. It belongs to the Spanish people,
to the Revolution, to the International. You have no
right to shave it off. It is a matter of Party discipline."
They even made the Secretary-General of the Party,
Jose Diaz, ring me up during our conversation, to con-
vince me of the "political importance" of keeping my
beard. I kept it.
I kept my beard until Valencia. We were still resisting
at Valencia, but we knew that our only hope was to hack
our way out and reach the coast elsewhere. My aides
believed that my chances would be better if I got rid of
that easily identifiable beard. But I refused to cut it off.
I had promised to keep it, and I repeated to them what
the Russian generals had told me.
My aides had no respect for the wisdom of Russian
generals. They grabbed me, tied me to a chair, and
tackled my beard. The more I swore at them, the more
they roared with laughter. So they scraped off my beard
and some of my skin with it. Then they wrapped it up in
a piece of paper and hid it under the roof of the house.
But first they wrote on the wrapping, "This is the beard
of El Campesino. It belongs to the Spanish people. One
day we will come back for it.**
We got into our powerful car with as many arms as
we could handle. Then we roared out of Valencia towards
the southwest coast. We had to cross the eastern prov-
inces of Spain and part of the south. Here and there
Franco supporters had set up road blocks and control
points. But, though the Fascists had won the war, they
had not yet managed to establish order. Everything was
in wild confusion. The roads were choked with fugitives,
civilians and soldiers, some seeking a place where they
could hide, others going to surrender themselves.
Without my beard I slipped past at most of the control
points. Even so, Falangists recognized me three times
and tried to arrest me. We shot our way out with our
automatic weapons. Three times our route was marked
by the bodies of those who had tried to stop us.
By a miracle we reached the coast, at the little fishing
village of Adra, twenty-five miles from Almeria on the
road to Malaga. The Franco forces had not yet moved in.
Adra was still run by a Socialist administrator called
Belmonte. He gave us shelter in his house which also
served as the office of the local council of which he was
Night fell. Suddenly the calm was shattered by shots,
shouts, the sound of tramping feet, and the clatter of
hoofs. The soldiers of Franco had reached Adra.
The Fascist commissioner presented himself at Bel-
monte's office. We had only just time to hide in another
room and lock the dftor. Through the thin partition wall
we could hear the voices of the new administrator, his
wife, and his assistants. They had brought a wireless
set along, to pick up official messages. Someone turned
it on. From our hide-out we listened. It broadcast the
message that El Campesino was somewhere in the region.
Survivors at the last road block where they had tried to
stop us had given the alarm.
The radio ordered, "El Campesino must be taken,
dead or alive."
We could hear the Fascists in the next room discussing
it. The commissioner gave order to his assistants to post
sentries on all the roads and send scouting parties to look
for us. "Let's get out of here," I said to my friends.
We burst into their midst, firing as we entered. The
Fascists had no time to act. We killed all who were in
the room and rushed out into the streets. The noise of
our shooting had roused the sentries outside. As we
emerged, they opened fire. We returned it even while
we were making for the harbor. The running battle went
on all the way from the house to the beach. Belmonte's
wife was hit and fell. It looked as if she had been killed
on the spot, but there was no time to stop and find out.
We ran on.
Several motor launches were moored in the small har-
bor. We picked out the boat which seemed biggest and
most powerful, and pushed off. As we were moving away
from the shore, we saw our pursuers putting out after
us. We ceased our fire so as not to betray our position,
and plowed through the black waves without lights.
Thanks either to the darkness or to our choice of a boat.,
we shook off our enemies.
The engine chugged steadily, our bow cut the water
into twin fans of white foam. We set our course for Africa.
CROSSING THE Mediterranean was not difficult. Our
tank had not enough petrol for the whole long passage,
but we stopped a fishing boat and commandeered as
much as we needed. Turning eastwards-we would have
landed in Spanish Morocco otherwise we followed the
African coast to Oran, in French territory. There I at once
got in touch with French Communists. They told me that
I had been reported dead again. The Spanish radio had
announced that I was believed to have been killed. It was
quite a reasonable assumption. The Fascists at Adra
had no inkling that I was involved in the skirmish there.
The last news of me had come from the third control
point where we had shot it out. Afterwards-nothing. It
was natural to think that I had been killed in the fight.
The wife of the French Communist leader, Maurice
Thorez, and two Communist deputies went with me to
Marseilles and on to Paris. I was given a triumphant
welcome by the Politburo of the Party and by its
parliamentary group. One might have thought I had won
the war instead of losing it.
It was decided that I should go to Russia. Where else?
I was an exile and a Communist. I had nowhere else to
go. I had no business anywhere else on the face of the
earth. The French Communist officials gave me an end-
less questionnaire to fill in, as they did to the other
Spaniards and members of the International Brigades
who were to be sent to Soviet Russia. My comrades
docilely answered the innumerable questions and re-
corded their private histories down to the last details. I
threw the questionnaire back and told them, "The Rus-
sians knew me well enough. I don't have to answer all
The ship which was to take me to Russia was waiting
at Le Havre. She was a Russian ship, a combined cargo
and passenger boat which normally plied the route from
Leningrad to New York via London, and was considered
the newest and most luxurious Soviet vessel afloat. This
time she had been sent especially from Leningrad to Le
Havre to pick up the most important Communist fighters
of the Spanish War.
When I came to Le Havre, the official car of the Soviet
Consul was waiting for me at the station. It took me
straight to the ship, which weighed anchor at once. She
had been waiting for me; all the others were on board.
We sailed on May 14, 1939.
There were about three hundred and fifty passengers:
more than half the Politburo and the Central Com-
mittee of the Spanish Communist Party, the commanding
officers of the Fifth Regiment, and some thirty leaders
of the International Brigades.
With us came the famous Soviet writer Ilya Ehren-
bourg. I had met him in Spain and had not liked him.
He had spent most of the Spanish War in the most ele-
gant hotels, had driven round in the most expensive
cars, and all at the expense of the Spanish people. Offi-
cially he was nothing but the most brilliant war cor-
respondent of Pravda. But his intimate contact with the
Russian Army and G.P.U. people in Spain made me
suspect that he had other, less straightforward missions
Perhaps I ought to have been grateful for his flattering
articles, but I wasn't. For one thing, he had published a
story of my life which was full of blatant falsehoods.
And then his oily, theatrical, and Jesuitical ways annoyed
me. I tried to keep out of his way on board, but he seemed
to stick to me like a burr. In a sugary tone and a half
confidential, half patronizing manner he began to give
me good advice. I had to consider myself as subject to the
discipline of the Communist International and not to that
of the Spanish Party. Because of my role in the Civil
War, I stood a good chance of being regarded as the chief
of the Spanish immigrants in the U.S.S.R., provided I
showed that I had a clear grasp of my position and its
limits. The true and only fatherland of Communists all
over the world was the Soviet Union, and our indispu-
table head was Comrade Stalin.
I remember that I answered him hotly, "I'm a Spaniard
above all and will always be. Anyhow, I don't intend to
stay in Moscow for more than a few months. Then I'll go
back to Spain and organize the guerrillas."
He shook his head sadly, and explained that I would
have to get my impulsive temper and self-willed char-
acter under control if I wished to be a good Communist.
Then he added, "Now you must begin to study, get a
good political and military training, and carry out the
wishes of our leader." His words alarmed me, and I asked
him a few questions about the Soviet Union. In a mild
tone he said, "You'll have to prepare yourself for a shock
when you see what things are really like. You foreign
Communists have been idealizing the Soviet Union. So-
cialism isn't perfect yet. There are still many weaknesses
and failures and many enemies and saboteurs."
"Do you mean to say the Soviet paradise isn't any such
thing?" I asked naively.
With an ironic smirk he answered. "The 'paradise' is
a propaganda invention. After all, why should other peo-
ples learn the truth?" He finished by saying gravely,
"Spain lies behind you. The Soviet Union is now your
only country. Don't forget that, j^nd above all, don't
start any discussion."
Ehrenbourg must have known very little about the
Spanish mind. He certainly didn't know me. All that his
words achieved was to make me feel suspicious and
curious. For the first time I asked myself, with a feeling
of oppression and fear, what might be waiting for me in
I tried to get information from the leaders of the Inter-
national Brigades who had lived in the Soviet Union
before. They had been my good friends and comrades in
arms. Most of them were Germans who had gone to Spain
to fight against Hitler there, and they had felt happy to do
so. They had warmly responded to our Spanish direct-
ness and plain speaking. I thought they would tell me
the truth. But I found them quite changed; they were
depressed, fearful, or suspicious, but in any case inacces-
sible. It was more than clear that they resented my ques-
tions and did not wish to talk. Only those who had not
been to Soviet Russia before counted themselves lucky to
go there; the others sounded worried. It was as if they felt
the blow of having lost the war more deeply than we
Spaniardsperhaps because they knew how failures are
regarded in the U.S.S.R. ? whatever their reasons. There
was a wall between them and myself, which I had never
Only one of them dared talk with me. He was a veteran
German Communist who had done well in our war. He
had been classified as being an "anarchist 77 and "undis-
ciplined/' and had volunteered for service in Spain to
clear himself of those black marks. He was going back
to Soviet Russia because he had left his wife and two
children there as hostages. He told me that most of his
comrades were in the same situation. He was under no
illusion; from the moment he stepped aboard he knew
himself in the power of the N.K.V.D. Only when there
was no one in sight did he talk frankly to me, and even
then he kept his voice low.
It was this friend who first told me about the working
conditions and the life of peasants and industrial workers
in Russia, and about the regime, its bureaucracy, police,
and terror. When I reacted violently to some of the things
he said, he warned me, "You're a good Spaniard but an
undisciplined Communist, and you're going to pay for it.
Even you who come to the Soviet Union with a great
name and great fame! Will that save you?" He shook his
head. I answered, "I want to find out the truth, and I
don't mind paying the price/'
Our ship landed us at Kronstadt.
As soon as she entered harbor, two small launches
came alongside and N.K.V.D. men swarmed aboard,
some in uniform and others in plain clothes. They started
at once a thorough search of our luggage. Each passenger
was called in separately. Everything of the least value
was confiscated, even books, periodicals, photographs,
and personal letters. I had nothing with me but a small
bag with toilet things. "Here weVe a real revolutionary
general!" one of the agents exclaimed. The words were
approving, but the tone betrayed disappointment. Per-
haps he was sorry because I did not bring all the gold
and jewelry which the Franco radio said I had taken with
me from Spain.
My Spanish comrades emerged from their ordeal with
an air of sad bewilderment. They did not protest. Not
the careful search itself stunned them, but the rudeness
of the N.K.V.D. agents in dealing with Communist refu-
gees who were, after all, not quite unknown persons. I
think we all began to feel that nothing belonged to us
any more, that we did not even belong to ourselves any
Another kind of welcome was staged for us at Lenin-
grad. The port was decked with enormous posters bear-
ing the portraits of Stalin, Molotov, and Beria. Beneath
milled a crowd whose shabby clothing I noticed even
then. In an immense, barnlike structure in the port, long
tables were set out, loaded with flowers, savories, cakes,
and bottles of wine and vodka. They had sent a delega-
tion from Moscow to receive us representatives of the
government, the Comintern and the trade-unions. A
Colonel Popov presided. There were toasts and speeches
translated by a Russian interpreter whom I had known
in Spain two years earlier. I was called upon to say some-
thing. I said we had come to the Soviet Union to heal our
wounds and to find solidarity for our task of liberating
the Spanish people. A Russian replied in the name of
Stalin that the Soviet Union welcomed us as its guests of
honor and would place each one of us at the battle post
to which we were entitled. Our spirits rose, helped by
the good food and drink. Here was comradeship! We
cheered Stalin, the U.S.S.R., and the future revolutionary
Afterwards Colonel Popov came up to me, with the
interpreter at his elbow. From the beginning he had
singled me out for special consideration. Now he was
friendly, brotherly, and flattering. "General, we regard
you as the foremost representative of our Spanish com-
rades. I hope you will help us to know the others better,
so that every one gets the job for which he is best fitted.
Can you give us detailed information about them?"
My face must have registered my feelings, while I
stalled in my answer. Popov insisted smilingly, "We
trust you absolutely. What we want is to know our com-
rades thoroughly so that we don't make any mistakes
with them. You're a great Communist fighter. You should
have every interest in making our task easier."
The interpreter gave the last sentence a slight hint of
menace. I was not forthcoming. Popov became even more
urgent, and also more precise. He demanded informa-
tion about all those who had come on our ship their
behavior during our war, their remarks, if any, about
the Moscow trials, and their personal characteristics. I
parried the questions as best I could. I was sure he meant
to check my reports against the statements in the ques-
tionnaires my comrades had filled in, and against the
answers he would get from others. It also might have
been a way of testing me.
After the ceremony, we were driven to the railway
station, What I saw on our way through Leningrad was
depressing. Side by side with great modern factories
were miserable hovels. Popov, who kept observing me
closely, wanted to know what I thought. I asked him why
they hadn't built houses fit for workers to live in, if they
had been able to build those marvelous industrial plants.
He answered coolly, "All this is a transition. What is im-
portant for the Soviet Union now are the factories."
Leningrad Station was jammed with people. Many
were lying on the floor among their packs and bundles,
in the greatest filth. When our group came in, some of
them pressed towards us in lively curiosity. At once a
group of N.K.V.D. militiamen drove, pushed, and kicked
them out. I spoke my mind to the interpreter who stood
beside me. He, who had known me in Spain, answered,
"Here in the U.S.S.R. you can choose between two
things: the best places to live in, or Siberia. I caa see you
haven't changed. But youll have to change yourself
completely here or you'll have a very bad time/*
In the train we were divided into three categories.
Each group was sent to the class of coaches which, in
the opinion of the Russians, corresponded to its rank and
importance. Pullman cars were reserved for top-ranking
military leaders like myself, for the prominent members
of the Central Committee, and, of course, for the fifteen
delegates who had come from Moscow to meet us. These
delegates and the interpreter were the only ones who
had the right to move freely from one coach to another.
We others were allowed to go to the restaurant car once.
In the Pullman cars we could order drinks and cakes. The
lesser ranks elsewhere had to go without these delicacies.
The whole train was in the charge of N.K.V.D. guards,
although it carried only Communists who had passed the
hardest tests. They did not let us leave the train at any
of the stations where it stopped, not even to stretch our
legs, and no one was allowed to get in. We were given
strict orders what to do and what not to do during the
journey, including the hours in which we might smoke.
We were caught in the iron discipline of the Russian
At Moscow we were received as no other foreigners
had been received before, or so I was told. At least fifty
cars and a horde of journalists, photographers, and offi-
cials waited for us at the station. I, in particular, was
greeted by an outburst of publicity. My photograph
appeared everywhere. I was in all the news reels. Press
and radio magnified what I had done. I was the hero of
the hour. But when I wanted to walk through the streets
of Moscow and look at things with my German friend
who was my inseparable companion, four N.K.V.D.
guards went with us everywhere. They had worked out
an itinerary for me. I did not care to see Moscow in that
fashion and stopped my wanderings.
The living quarters they allotted to me were beyond
complaint. Along with the others who had been deemed
worthy of a seat in a Pullman car, I was put up at Monino
House, a luxury establishment quite different from any-
thing I had expected to find in Soviet Russia. I had my
first surprise when I went to the baths to get rid of the
dust of the journey. My German friend came with me.
Two pretty young girls, more elegantly dressed than any
of the women I had seen in the streets, showed us into
the bathroom. I waited for them to go out, but they
stayed. At my question, my friend told me that they
were there to soap us and look after us. I was ashamed
at the thought of undressing before them and letting
them help me with my bath. But my friend whispered,
"Don't protest and let them do their job. And see you
drip Communism from all your pores all the time-
remember, every word and every gesture of yours will be
Every refugee of rank had a servant maid to himself,
all of them young, well dressed, and perfumed. They
carried the membership card of the Komsomol and were
a feature of Monino House.
Monino House had a main building, which stood in a
great park planted with pine trees, and twelve bungalows
surrounded by gardens full of flowers. Rowing boats
were moored at a wharf running out into the river. The
social center of the Monino was the dining room with its
huge windows looking onto the park. It seated a hundred
persons. There were flowers on each table, in Soviet
Russia a great luxury. The kitchen provided the special
dishes of several nations. Wines and liqueurs were freely
available. And all this was served by pretty, smiling,
young waitresses, who spoke several languages and knew
the art of provocation, both erotic and political. Their
principal duty was to make themselves agreeable to us.
A maitre d'hotel used to stand in the center of the dining
room and see to it that none of the waitresses made a mis-
take. A weekly meeting was reserved for complaints or
criticism of the service. Our waitresses knew that any
complaint would bring punishment upon them.
The private maids of the Monino's more important
guests were there to obey our slightest wish and do any
service for us, including that of going to bed with us.
They did it so naturally, so much as a matter of course,
that it seemed an elementary duty. It was as easy to ask
them this "service" as it was to ask them to wash up; only
they did it with more alacrity. This was, after all, what
their masters of the N.K.V.D. wished them to do, for a
man is never so prone to speak his innermost mind as
when he is with a woman with whom he has shared the
ultimate intimacy. Even in their moments of transport,
in what should have been their moments of greatest
tenderness, these girls never forgot to listen for a word
of criticism or revolt which they might pass on. In this
way new arrivals in Moscow were observed and cata-
logued for the first time.
I stayed three months at the Monino, leaving its con-
fines only when I was taken to a meeting or a public
function. My German friend stayed only two months.
He had told me of his fear that he was still branded
as "undisciplined," even though he was lodged at the
Monino with the other prominent members of our group,
and that one day he would be called for. His greatest
worry was that he had not been allowed to get in touch
with his family after his return to Moscow. His wife did
not even know he was back in Russia. If he were to dis-
appear there would be no one to inquire for him.
One day he failed to turn up. I asked if anyone had
seen him. Two of his comrades told me that a car had
come to the Monino at eight in the morning and that
they had seen him get in. He had left no message for me.
I asked the manager of Monino House what had hap-
pened to my friend. He smiled and said, "He's been sent
on a mission/' Then he gave me a look and added, "Com-
rade ? in the Soviet Union you must never ask where
someone has been sent on work for the Party or the
I ignored his hint and asked everyone who was at all
likely to know whether there was any news of him. No-
body knew anything. I never heard of him again.
AFTER THREE MONTHS' leisure at the Monino, I was
sent as a student to the highest staff college in the Soviet
Union, the Frunze Academy.
It was not ray own choice. What I wanted was not to
be taught how to be a Red Army general, but to re-enter
Spain illegally and start organizing the guerrillas against
Franco. Rut I did not decide for myself. My fate, and
that of all the others who came to Russia from Spain, was
in the hands of a special committee in Moscow. It con-
sisted of five Spaniards; La Pasionaria, her secretary
Irene Tobosco, Modesto, Lister, and Martinez Carton
(who later was sent to Mexico to direct the assassination
of Trotsky; the Frenchman Andre Marty; the Italian
Palmiro Togliatti; and the two Russians, Rielov and
Rlagoieva, who were leading members of the Comintern
and the N.K.V.D. They resolved that I should go to the
Soviet training school for generals.
I protested against their decision to Jose Diaz, the
secretary-general of our Party, whom I knew better than
any of the committee members, and whose task it had
therefore been to inform me of my allotted role, Diaz
said, "You have been one of the bravest soldiers we had
in the war, but now you must study modern scientific
warfare. The Frunze Academy is the best military col-
lege in the Soviet Union, and possibly in the whole world.
You'll learn a lot there."
"Do you really think so?" I asked. "I wouldn't expect
it, not when I think of the officers the Russians sent to us
He gave me a friendly warning, "Don't be so quick to
criticize, and be a bit more moderate when you say what
you think. They don't like that sort of outspokenness
This talk settled nothing. It took three or four sessions
before I gave in. I repeated again and again that my
place was not in Russia but in Spain, and that I wanted to
get there as quickly as possible.
Once he answered me, "But you can't go to Spain. You
have no papers."
"I only need the papers to get out of Russia. Once I'm
outside ITI manage the rest," I said.
He didn't tell me what I learned later on, that it was
precisely the permit to leave Soviet Russia which would
have been denied me. On another occasion he tried to
persuade me that the standard of living of the Russian
workers was higher than that of the Spanish workers.
From what little I then knew about wages and prices I
thought he was wrong. I pointed out to him that it was
enough to look at the clothes and faces of workers in the
streets of Moscow to guess at their situation. In the end
he admitted, "You may be right, but don't let us go into
it now. Once we re back in Spain, we'll try to build up
real socialism, different from things here. But for the
moment keep quiet and obey orders."
With Jose Diaz it was at least possible to talk frankly.
He was a simple man, honest and sympathetic, though
he was no great political, intellectual, or military leader.
And he certainly was no match for the old foxes of the
Comintern. He talked me round by promising that I
would stay in the Frunze Academy for eight months
only and would be permitted to go abroad afterwards.
There were twenty-eight of us Spaniards selected for
training at the Academy, and in addition four Russian
women who had worked in Spain during the Civil War.
These women were admitted to the Academy together
with us so that they should be able to carry on their old
assignment of spying on us. Apart from us, the only
foreigners studying at the college were thirty-two Chinese
officers. After we left, the only other exception as far as I
know was made for officers of the satellite countries at the
end of the World War.
The Chinese officers were listed and passed off as
Mongolians, citizens of the U.S.S.R. We Spaniards were
passed off as Russians.
During my first week at the Frunze Academy I had
no name, only a number. We spent that week studying
the military code, particularly the sections dealing with
discipline and its sanctions. We also heard about the
privileges and benefits of being an army officer in the
U.S.S.R At the end of the week uniforms and official
papers were given to us. This ceremony was attended by
a general who represented the Soviet Government, by the
chairman of the board directing the Academy, and by its
C.O. When my turn came, the general handed me my
papers with the words, "From now on your name is
Komisaro Piotr Antonovich."
"My name is El Campesino," said I. "I am proud of it.
I don't wish to change it"
With a sour smile he answered, "Whatever your name
has been, it is Komisaro Piotr Antonovich." And he turned
to the next man.
I never discovered who had hit upon that name for
me. But I made a protest to the Spanish Party leaders.
La Pasionaria told me, "The name of El Campesino isn't
your property. It belongs to the Party which gave it to
"It never did that," I said. "I was El Campesino long
before I ever joined the Party. I earned the name at my
own risk with my own blood, and I mean to keep it."
They called me to the room of the officer commanding
the Academy. Sternly he said, "Komisaro Piotr Antono-
vich, you are an officer of the Red Army now; you are
under Communist military discipline. If you maintain
your rebellious attitude, you will have to be court-mar-
tialed in accordance with the military code you have
I could do nothing. Henceforth I was Komisaro Piotr
Antonovich to the Russians. I was formally forbidden
to use the name of El Campesino again. My re-education
began with the loss of my name. It was meant to put an
end to my past and to my identity as a Spaniard. The
other Spaniards at the college had their names changed
in the same way and for the same purpose. Apart from
the psychological reasons there was a practical reason as
well. Our presence at the Soviet Staff College was a
military secret. The world was not to know it.
We had nothing to complain about our position inside
the college. We not only got the pay corresponding to our
respective ranks, but also the emoluments to which our
decorations from the Spanish War entitled us. The ma-
jority of our group ranked as brigadiers; three Lister,
Tagiiena and Merino as divisional commanders (gen-
erals); I myself as general commanding a mobile shock
division (a category by itself); and Modesto as general
commanding an army corps, a post he had held at the end
of the Civil War.
Modesto and Lister had to go through a special train-
ing, both military and political, to prepare them for
operating in France, if and when the situation favored
a Communist triumph in the neighboring country of
Spain. Tagiiena was being trained for a similar job in
Hungary; Merino for Czechoslovakia. Merino actually
went to Prague when the Communists came to power
there. If I was intended for a definite assignment, I
never heard of it. Probably they had not made up their
minds, because I had not exactly given proof of my
capacity for discipline.
The highest pay was Modesto's and my own, 1,800
rubles a month. This was very much indeed. Our in-
structors, who all held ranks from colonel to general,
were paid from 1,200 to 1,900 rubles. The C.O. of the
Academy himself got no more than 3,000 rubles. And
the average monthly earnings of workers in Moscow
ranged from 250 to 300 rubles! If I had continued my
military career in the U.S.S.R. through the World War,
my pay would have reached 5,000 rubles a month. In
addition, we enjoyed the privilege of all price reductions,
special services, and services free of charge in respect
of food, rent, travel, entertainment, medical care, and so
Even within our privileged circle there were gradations
and distinctions. Thus we were all entitled to eat in the
restaurants of the Academy at special prices; but there
were three different dining rooms, each for a separate
category of people. The best was for the use of the teach-
ing staff and the "international generals/' the second best
for high-ranking Russian officers, the third for the rest of
the students. They gave us the finest food imaginable,
sometimes dishes it would have been hard to get else-
where for love or money. And we paid ridiculously low
prices. A steak that would have cost a normal person
outside 20 rubles which a worker certainly could not
have afforded on his wages cost us less than a ruble,
Our prestige, too, was well looked after. No opportu-
nity was missed to refer to us as the "Comrades Inter-
national Generals" and to remind us that we were "the
highest military category of International Communism/'
the future "leaders of the Red Army in the service of
World Revolution." When they mentioned Spain, it was
only to bring it home to us that there we had been at the
head of a miserably weak and small army, while we now
were preparing for posts of command in the glorious Red
Army of our great leader, Stalin.
A building dedicated to the "Heroes of the Russian
Revolution," and nearing completion at that time, was
thrown open to us. As each room was finished, we moved
in one by one. I happened to be the first Spaniard to get
quarters there. Apart from ourselves, the Russians who
had fought in Spain and some who had fought in Mon-
golia, China, and other countries were allowed to live
there. The rooms were exceptionally large, up to seventy-
five feet long, and usually destined for two families, with
a kitchen and a bathroom. The building was some eight
hundred yards from the Academy proper. Its neighbors
did not appreciate its presence, because it was guarded
by the N.K.V.D. with extreme care. People living within
a radius of two hundred yards needed a special pass
signed personally by Beria, the chief of the N.K.V.D., to
be able to get into their own homes.
The Frunze Academy occupied one of the largest and
most modern buildings of Moscow. It also had a great
number of branch establishments, "polygons,*' training
and testing grounds for the various arms, most of them
close to the capital. Only the center for gas warfare was
at a distance of some hundred miles from Moscow. Dur-
ing my own stay, from August, 1939, to January, 1941,
between five and six thousand officers were studying at
the Academy. A panel of generals, about a hundred of
them, prepared the courses, inspected and supervised the
college. The teaching staff and other personnel were at
least twice the number of the pupils. All our professors
had Russian names and Russian ranks, like the students,
but many of them were foreigners. It was easy enough to
spot them even when they spoke Russian without an
accent. Though they wore Red Army uniforms, they wore
no decorations. The Russians were aglitter with them;
some wore up to twenty ribbons. Also, each foreign
teacher had two secretaries with him during all his
courses, who were apparently there to help with the
I myself knew the following foreign instructors: two
Italians, one ranking as general, the other as colonel,
both infantry; one French general; two English generals;
two Chinese colonels; one Mongolian colonel; two Es-
tonian generals; four Germans engaged on hush-hush
work, three of them generals and one colonel. I met one
of them later in Tashkent where he had been deported.
Among our artillery instructors were two by the name
of Zhukov. One became the famous marshal who entered
We were supposed to know nothing about the real
nationality of our teachers. It was the rigid rule of the
Academy that we were to confine ourselves to our own
courses and our official relationship with our instructors,
and never to try to discover the real identity of either
teachers or fellow students. If we were being trained for
future service in Europe, we had nothing to do with the
officers who trained for service in Asia. As my own ac-
count shows, it was impossible to enforce this rule of
secrecy with complete success. But the system was very
near perfection, thanks to the intricate mutual espionage.
In principle we were all informers. We were all supposed
to report any fellow student or teacher who showed
curiosity about the others or gave too much information.
If we failed to report suspicious remarks or behavior, we
never knew if we would not be reported ourselves for
that failure, because the other person might be an agent
provocateur. Apart from the N.K.V.D. officials at the
Academy who were known as such, there were many
others we did not know possibly the most unlikely
people. Of one thing, however, we were quite certain:
all the women in the college, secretaries, interpreters, and
so on, were in the pay of the N.K.V.D. And they were
not the only women whom we met.
Outside the Academy was a large public garden. By
the time we left, having finished our day's studies, it was
always crowded with attractive, elegant, young women.
It was very easy to pick up an acquaintance. In fact, it
was easier to do it than not to do it, for the girls them-
selves used to take the initiative and accost anyone from
the Academy. They would describe themselves as stu-
dents, office workers, or sometimes even as simple work-
ing women, which they did not look in the least. Each
spoke several languages. Also, each one seemed to have
a room of her own, in itself a curious circumstance in
overcrowded Moscow. There they would offer us choice
food and vodka, which they could not possibly have
afforded if they were what they pretended to be. We
hardly ever doubted that they were Stakhanovites of
love in the service of the N.K.V.D.
Still, our exacting curriculum left us little time for
dangerous pastimes. We had to report at the Academy
at six sharp in the morning. After twenty minutes of
calisthenics, we were put through our drill in goose
step for the rest of an hour. Then we had breakfast. At
eight sharp every pupil had to be in his class. An unex-
plained absence or coming five minutes late meant the
lockup. The Academy had its own prison for minor
offenses committed within its four walls, and a discipli-
nary board with powers to punish infractions of the
rules. But these infractions had to be slight indeed to
be treated as a domestic matter of the college. Absentee-
ism or lack of punctuality might be within the compe-
tence of the disciplinary board a first and a second
time. But the third time the offender was deprived of his
uniform and turned over to the N.K.V.D.
The courses and lectures went on from eight till four.
After each class, which lasted either one or two hours,
we had a break of ten minutes during which we were
allowed to smoke or drink a cup of tea. The timetable
was so arranged that all the pupils went through all the
lectures in strict turn. At three the restaurants opened,
and we could dine there when our classes were over.
But we still had our homework to do; we had to sort out
and copy our careful notes from each lecture for inspec-
tion on the following day. If they included drawings,
these had to be done to scale overnight.
Our technical military training was rigorous and
exacting, but to the minds of our instructors it was not
so important as our political training. A good strategist
who was not a blind supporter of the regime was poten-
tially more dangerous than an indifferent strategist who
was, because the first could do more damage if he ever
changed sides. The other might commit all sorts of
blunders which involved the loss of lives, and he would
have to pay the price of failure, but he would always
remain a pillar of the regime.
The political examinations worried the students at
the Frunze Academy more than any technical examina-
tion. The highest mark was five. Those who did not get
at least a three, in some cases a four, were immediately
expelled, even if they were brilliant in other subjects.
An expulsion not only ended a man's career, it also
branded him as a suspect character. The higher the
military rank of a student, the more was demanded of
him in political knowledge and reliability. A brigadier or
divisional commander had to have a political education
equal to that of a graduate of the Marx-Engels-Lenin
Institute. We had to know the history of the Communist
Party such as it was officially taught at the time. We had
to master the minutest details of Stalin's life as a political
and military leader. No, as the leader. For, the figure of
Lenin was overshadowed by Stalin, while Trotsky was
mentioned only to demonstrate Stalin's wisdom and far*
sightedness in undoing Trotsky's incessant errors and
acts of treason. And then we were taught to see every
problem under the sun in the light of Stalinism and to
believe that he, Stalin, the "greatest leader of all times/*
Every officer and pupil of the Frunze Academy had to
be a totalitarian fanatic.
LIFE AT THE Academy was beginning to irk me. It
was not only the obligatory secrecy, the atmosphere of
spying, and the demand for political conformity, all
foreign to my nature. There was also the feeling that I,
who had always fought oppression of the people, was
being turned into an oppressor myself; that I, who had
no use for any sort of caste, was now a privileged mem-
ber of the military caste. To make it worse, this military
caste tended to become hereditary, as far as I could see.
During my eighteen months at the Frunze Academy,
I knew only four fellow students who had been manual
workers. Two of them had so distinguished themselves
as soldiers that they were first promoted to the rank of
lieutenants and later admitted to the staff college be-
cause of their outstanding military gifts and proved
devotion to the regime. Two others, one of them a former
miner from Stalinogorsk, the other a former metal
worker, had made their way there through the N.K.V.D.,
through their services against "counterrevolutionaries"
during the great purge. But once inside the college, these
four ex-workers found themselves regarded as upstarts
and outsiders. One of them spoke Spanish. He began to
tell me about it.
Confidences were rare in our lives at Frunze Academy.
But either this man turned to me because of my reputa-
tion for outspokenness and lack of discipline, or because
he had to talk to someone and did no longer care whether
he chose the right person or not. He knew what threat
was hanging over him. Twice he had been called before
the disciplinary board of the Academy. He realized that
the next time other people would deal with him. His
mouth was twisted in a bitter smile all the time. It was
he who told me many things about the working of the
Academy, the histories of some other students, the true
nationality of our teachers, and so forth.
He told me one day, "Sooner or later we workers will
all be expelled. There have been workers here before,
and they've all disappeared. The others hate us. They
denounce us whenever they can. There's a class struggle
within the college. The ones who came from the privi-
leged classes look down on us; they think we have no
right to posts of command in the Red Army/'
He was right. One after the other, all those four who
had been workers left for Siberia.
But what this man had said to me made me observe
the social class from which my fellow students were
drawn. It was, of course, different with the foreigners
who were in an exceptional position. Yet nearly all the
Russian student officers were the sons of important offi-
cials, of engineers or factory directors, or of army officers.
The sons of officers constituted a special group. The mili-
tary themselves were interested in reserving the high
posts to their caste; the regime found it useful to reward
the fathers by promoting the sons and so tying both to
The real inner circle, however, was formed by the sons
of officials who had helped to consolidate Stalin's regime
by their activities against anarchists, kulaks, Trotskyites,
Bukharinites, etc. Because of what they had done, the
survival of their fathers depended on the survival of
the regime; the sons enjoyed an exaggerated respect at
the Academy unless one or the other individual was
found to be unworthy of his father by one of the countless
I had been admitted to this select company because
of my past services and because I was a foreigner. But
I did not feel happy in it.
During all this time my private worry and tension was
eased by the devoted affection of a young woman.
While I was still fighting in Spain, the Soviet press
had published the news that I had been decorated with
the order of Lenin by the Russian Generals Gregorovich
and MalinovskI (who called himself Manolito then).
Shortly afterwards I had a letter from the Komsomol
congratulating me. It was signed Ariadna Nikolaia. I
answered it as one answers that sort of letter. It did not
seem very likely then that I would ever meet Ariadna
Nikolaia. But one day while I was staying at the Monino,
I went to the International Library to look up the files of
Spanish Communist newspapers. A young girl who
studied Spanish was there too. She recognized me
from my photographs and introduced herself, Ariadna
She was fair-haired, a trifle taller than I, very young,
very intelligent, and very pretty. I learned that she was
studying for an engineering job. She belonged to the
Soviet elite. Her father was an old Bolshevik who had
been N.C.O. under the Czar, had worked with Budenny
in the Fourteenth Cavalry Corps during the Russian
Civil War, and had risen to the rank of general in the
Red Army. From that time on he was a friend of Stalin.
Ariadna herself was friendly with Stalin's daughter.
A few days later I met her again at a football match.
This time I made a date with her. Four months after
my arrival in Russia we got married, with the highest
official blessing; our witnesses were Gorki, secretary of
President Kalinin, and the adjutant of Beria, the N.K.V.D.
chief. We lived at first in a room of the small flat of
Ariadna's father, then we moved into the annex of the
Frunze Academy I have described. Ariadna was a great
help to me, especially in the early days when she taught
me to speak Russian, showed me Moscow, and introduced
me to people it was useful for me to know.
At the Academy things were going badly for me. I
never seemed able to learn that if my examiners ques-
tioned me about my opinions, they did not wish to hear
what I really thought, but only the opinions I had been
told to hold. I ought to have rattled them off like a
parrot. But even when I had grasped this fact, I still
couldn't bring myself to behave accordingly.
We were regularly subjected to such probings. In addi-
tion to the scheduled examinations and outside the nor-
mal school hours, we had to go through oral tests every
two or three months. It was one of them which marked
my final fall from grace.
I was already in bad odor, and knew it. I insisted on
regarding myself as a Spanish, not a Russian Communist.
I had criticized the way factories and Kolkhozes were
run, and had said loudly that such a method would not
work in Spain a frightful heresy! It was being whispered
that I, who had fought against the Spanish Trotskyites
by every means because I believed I was serving the
cause by it, was a secret Trotskyite myself. And there is
no deadlier crime in the U.S.S.R. Then came the fateful
The examining board consisted of the director of the
Academy, the chairman of the board governing it, and
one of my professors. All other Spaniards had been asked,
among other questions, which army was the best in the
world in their opinion. They all had answered, "The
I did not think so. When my turn to answer came, I
said, "In my opinion, the German Army is the best in
the world. It is the German Army we must prepare to
meet in battle."
This caused a sensation. It was the wrong answer,
certainly not the answer I was supposed to give. But I
thought it my duty to answer as I did. If I was right and
I had been in a position to gauge the quality of the Ger-
man Army!what I said was important, because it is
important to know the extent and direction of a possible
danger. I knew that my examiners only wished to find
out whether I had absorbed the official doctrine and was
willing to repeat it, but the servility of my comrades had
disgusted me too much.
A grave view was taken of my reply. I was called be-
fore the director, and a special board of interrogation
was formed with some other members of the adminis-
tration of the Academy. They not only fired questions
at me, they also tried to convince me that I had been
wrong; that, first, the Soviet Army was the best in the
world; that, secondly, we had to prepare not against the
German Army but against the armies of the "Imperialist
Powers." (The Nazi-Soviet pact was still in force then.)
The director assured me that the armies most dangerous
to the Soviet Union were the British and the French. The
chairman of the governing board interrupted, "Do you
at least understand the meaning of our pact with Ger-
"I understand it all right," I answered, "but I still think
we should prepare against the German Army in spite of
The interrogation lasted four hours. Our discussion
became increasingly violent. In the end I was exasper-
ated and became insulting in my tone. When one of the
Russian generals said that Kutuzov was "the greatest
commander in Russian military history," I began to laugh
rudely. This seemed a grave offense to them. But they
still tried to convince me of Soviet superiority over the
Germans by quoting incidents of the Spanish War about
which I knew more than they did. So I told them, "Every
time we got a tobacco issue for our men, all the Soviet
officers, including the brass hats, tried to grab it. I don't
think that could happen in any other army."
"But why is it you cast doubt on the fact that the Soviet
Army is the best in the world?" cried the director angrily.
"During our war in Spain," I said, "I believed you'd
sent us your worst officers. But since Tve come here iVe
found out that the rest aren't any better. The officers have
lost touch with the people. All they think of is manicuring
their nails, learning dance steps, and having good man-
ners so they'll be sent on a mission abroad/'
This was bad enough. I didn't make it any better when
I was asked, in a lecture on maneuvering, what was the
task of a scouting party. I was still boiling with rage, and
answered, "In the U.S.S.R., the chief task of scouts is to
steal chickens and find pretty girls for the C.O."
It was true, but I oughtn't to have said it.
I was labeled a Trotskyite and expelled from the
Frunze Academy. It did not come as a surprise.
My fault was too grave for the mere negative punish-
ment of expulsion. Something more positive had to be
done to me.
Lister and Modesto were the two members of the
Spanish group at the Frunze Academy who had to report
on their comrades and, if necessary, to denounce them
either to the Executive Committee of the Spanish Com-
munist Party in Moscow, or to the Comintern, or to the
N.K.V.D, They chose to refer my case to the Spanish
Committee. They wanted it dealt with as quickly as pos-
sible, through internal disciplinary action, so that it
should not pass out of their hands. La Pasionaria and
Jesus Hernandez, the two most important committee
members, backed them. There were two reasons for this.
For one thing, they knew my influence among the rank-
and-file of Spanish refugees in Russia; those unfortunates
had good reason to complain of the conditions in which
they were forced to live, and often wrote to me rather
than to the Committee which theoretically represented
them. Therefore the Committee feared their reaction
against anything they might do to me, and wished to
keep the whole affair unknown outside its own narrow
But there was a second, more powerful reason for
their tactics. When they attacked and accused me, I hit
back. They were afraid of letting any outside body hear
what I had to say about them it might have meant
Most of my accusations would not have done them
any harm with their Russian masters. They were, briefly:
1) The Spanish Communist Party had done its best
to smash the coalition of political parties and trade-
unions in the popular front, and to replace it by a Com-
munist domination of Republican Spain.
2) The Spanish Communist Party had established a
reign of crime and terror in the Republican zone, both
at the front and behind it, with the result of weakening
the other anti-Fascist forces.
3) The Spanish Communist Party had proved itself
incompetent to direct the war, secure a distribution of
arms, and feed the civilian population.
4) These facts, for which the Spanish Communist
Party was solely responsible, had helped to demoralize
the army and the civilian population and thus made the
task of Franco's troops easier.
At that time I must still have retained some faith in
Russian Communism, for I believed that these charges
of mine would discredit the Spanish Party leaders in
Russian eyes. I still clung to the belief that those acts had
been local errors, in contradiction with the true spirit of
communism such as it had been evolved in Soviet Russia.
In reality the Spanish Party had only carried out the
directives from Moscow. The Russians had not been con-
cerned with the winning of the Civil War, but with
strengthening the position of the Party which was their
tool The members of the Spanish Committee knew this
well, even if I did not. They were worried not about my
political charges, but about two accusations of a personal
character which might involve them in trouble.
I accused La Pasionaria of having contrived the re-
lease of her lover, Francisco Anton, from a concentration
camp in occupied France, and his transfer to Moscow
in a Nazi aircraft at a time when many Spanish Com-
munists with good service records were left to rot as
prisoners in France and North Africa. The Spanish refu-
gees in Russia were particularly angry about this because
they knew that La Pasionaria's son and her husband, a
worker from Bilbao and a fine man, were living in the
Soviet Union under the most miserable conditions, totally
neglected by her. Later her son was killed at Stalin-
grad. Soviet propaganda exploited his splendid courage
and self-sacrifice to shed more glory on his mother.
I accused Lister of a graver crime. Together with
Modesto he had gone to a school at Kaluga on a mission
to advance the political education of Spanish refugees,
young girls who were pupils there. All he did was to get
drunk and rape five of the girls. His excuse was that they
were "Fascists/' I had in my possession a letter signed
by the five victims, which gave the details of this ugly
The Spanish Committee would have liked to deal with
me within its own authority and not let those two per-
sonal accusations go any further. But I made it quite clear
that I would not accept any disciplinary measure with-
out a protest, and the Committee had no executive
powers to enforce its discipline against such a protest.
They referred my case to the organization to which the
Spanish Communist Party was subordinated, the Comin-
tern. The Comintern appointed a special committee to
deal with it.
This committee had between twenty and twenty-five
members, varying from day to day. I have been told that
it was the largest committee of its kind to sit on an
individual case. The Spanish Party was represented by
La Pasionaria and Jesus Hernandez. Among the others
were Florin, an old friend of Lenin, and the two N.K.V.D.
agents in the Comintern Executive, Bielov and Blagoieva.
The most important Communist Parties were repre-
sented. At times Dimitroff, the president of the Comin-
tern, attended the sessions; occasionally even Manuilski,
the real power behind Dimitroff. This was clear by the
way everybody looked at him when he came into the
room and listened when he said a word. Manuilski's
opinions were never discussed. They were orders.
To this impressive committee the Spanish Communist
leaders presented their case against me. They submitted
the reports of Lister and Modesto. They also pressed
some of the Spanish refugees, people who used to write to
me about their worries and complaints, into sending
resolutions which condemned my "constant lack of
discipline/' my "egocentric behavior," my "anarchist
individualism," or my "Trotskyite spirit of criticism and
La Pasionaria told the committee, "El Campesino has
always behaved as an individualist. He would never ad-
mit that he was wrong, and now he is again obstinately
refusing to admit it. He fails to understand that a single
member, no matter who he is, cannot be right when he is
in opposition to the International."
I retorted, "You're just a hysterical woman. I'm not a
lickspittle like you; I've got my own ideas to defend and
I'm going to defend them/'
Irene Tobosco, La Pasionaria's secretary and personal
spy, attacked me venomously. Lister, Modesto, and a
few more of my Spanish fellow students at the Frunze
Academy demanded my detention. I tried to counter-
attack, but in vain. Right at the beginning of the investi-
gation I was warned that I should submit myself entirely
to the Comintern. At this I told them that I was a Span-
iard, a Spanish Communist, and wished to be judged not
by the "Spanish Committee," but by the whole body of
Spanish Communists living in the U.S.S.R. I demanded
that fifty-odd of my comrades should be called as wit-
nesses for the truth of my accusations against the Party's
conduct of the Civil War. This was turned down by the
special committee. "The Comintern is not a bourgeois law
court," I was told.
I had to admit the truth of this.
My personal charges met with no better luck. My
criticism of La Pasionaria was simply brushed aside. I
seemed to make more impression with my charge against
Lister, which I substantiated by showing the letter to
the committee. I was asked to hand it over, but refused
until I was given a formal promise that Lister would be
disciplined. Then I surrendered the letter, and that ended
the question. Lister was never disciplined.
The special committee sat for fourteen days, and its
sessions never lasted less than twelve hours. The members
of the inquisition took turns in cross-examining me. I
defended myself badly. Badly, that is, if I wanted to be
rehabilitated by this committee. Not so badly, perhaps,
if I wanted to defend my individual independence which
so shocked those yes-men. I was violent. I shouted and
swore at the Spanish representatives. I knew the whole
time that my only chance was complete capitulation,
complete submission, but this was the one thing I could
not bring myself to do.
Every night when I left after a session, I walked past
a police van standing ready to carry me off, should the
order for my arrest be given. Every night my wife was
surprised to see me back home. In the end I was tired. I
asked for permission to leave the country. It was a child-
ish thing to ask.
THE POLICE VAN waited for me in vain.
When I consider wliat happened to others who had
been accused of Trotskyism in Russia, I must admit that
the Comintern was very mild in its treatment of my case.
Perhaps the reason was that my fame in Russia was too
fresh in people's memories to make my public disgrace
At the last session the committee informed me of its
decision. I was given a chance to prove that I was a
genuine Bolshevik; I was sent to manual labor on the
construction of the new Moscow underground. Good,
faithful work and evidence of change of heart might lead
to my rehabilitation. It depended on me whether I would
one day be allowed to go back to the Frunze Academy
without loss of privilege. I was not even turned out of the
room in the house dedicated to the heroes of the Russian
Revolution, where I lived with Ariadna. A Bulgarian,
friend and assistant to Blagoieva and, like her, a member
of the N.K.V.D., was appointed to take me to the under-
ground and settle the details of my work there.
The Russians are extremely proud of the Moscow
underground. It is their prize exhibit for foreign delega-
tions, journalists, and tourists. They claim it as a master-
piece of construction, and they are quite right. Only, they
forget to explain that it is a monument not only to Soviet
engineering but also to the slave labor which went into
Almost 90 per cent of the construction workers were in
a position similar to mine. Many of them were old fight-
ers, former military leaders, or even N.K.V.D. men. They
had fallen into disgrace and had been allotted this sort
of work which offered them the faint the very faint-
hope that their efforts would in time restore them to their
former position in the ruling class. It is as easy to fall into
disgrace in Russia, as it is hard to climb back to favor.
Yet the alternative to this work was Siberia, and so they
did all they could to follow the faint ray of hope.
Strictly speaking, I had not been convicted of anything
and no sentence had been passed. This did not alter the
fact that I was a forced laborer. I had to stay in the job
into which I was put, without a possibility of leaving, or
even of being transferred to another gang of workers in
the underground. There was no promotion of any sort
open to me. The N.K.V.D. had listed me as a worker
capable of a maximum output. In my first job, which was
placing great nuts and bolts with the help of enormous
spanners, this classification meant that I had to place 265
a day, while the normal rate was 165 a day. My pride
drove me to exceed even that maximum norm, as often as
not. The same happened when I was put on work with
concrete or when I had to shift soil with a wheelbarrow.
But however hard I worked, my pay was always the
same: 300 rubles a month, the basic wage of workers in
Moscowa starvation wage. In practice, however, I
hardly ever got as much as 200 rubles, when all the
deductions had been made.
Lack of modern machinery and equipment made our
work very difficult Human muscles and effort had to
replace the missing tools. I often worked in water up to
my knees. After some time I noticed that I was always
sent to the most dangerous spot when there had been a
cave-in. An accident at work would have been a nice way
of getting rid of me, I suppose. Then Soviet propaganda
would have turned me into a hero again.
I started work in the underground in March, 1941.
In June, the Nazis invaded Russia. Our work of eight
hours underground, under bad conditions, without the
tools we needed, was bad enough in itself. But when
the German attack came, we were told that the under-
ground was going to be used as an air-raid shelter and
that work had to be stepped up. It sometimes happened
that we stayed underground for six days on end, working
without a break except for a short nap now and then
when we could not go on. At the same time the network
of spies and agents provocateurs in the labor gangs was
Intensified. For the mildest word of criticism anyone was
likely to be arrested as a "defeatist" within a few hours,
and with him all those who had been within earshot but
failed to report the remark.
For me personally there was nothing new in this in-
creased espionage. From the moment I started in the
underground, I was under special surveillance. It was
Ariadna who had first spotted the two agents shadowing
me. She happened to see them when she stood at the
window, waiting for me to return from work, and pointed
them out to me later on. I would see them patiently wait-
ing down in the street while I was upstairs in our room,
and sometimes I would get a glimpse of them following
me when I went out. They did not seem to mind being
recognized. One evening we stayed with Ariadna's father
till late and took a taxi home. The driver tried to cheat on
the fare and we argued with him. Suddenly my two
agents came up, gave us a military salute, and roughly
ordered the taximan to get a move on.
Sometimes the methods changed. Once I met three
Spanish refugees in the street. They were very friendly
and gave me good advice: I ought to give in and inform
the Comintern that I now submitted to its authority
without reservation. I ought to admit my past mistakes,
and then I would go back to my post in the Academy. I
told them that I would stop being a revolutionary if I
gave in, and that I preferred to go back to Spain with,
clean hands. Much later, when I was in the Lubianka
jail, I found that my words were recorded in the file as
a black mark against me.
Then there was a worker in my gang who took to
hanging his clothes next to mine. One evening I went
with Ariadna to a Komsomol gathering. My mate was
there in the uniform of the N.K.V.D
The people of Moscow were shocked and bewildered
when the Nazis broke through the lines of the Red Army
in five days. After the first three months of the war there
was a general feeling that all was lost. In the fifth month
there was chaos. Industrial plants suddenly closed and
left their workers without instructions, without wages.
Some of the factories were evacuated with their machin-
ery, others were destroyed so as not to fall into enemy
A colonel of the N.K.V.D. by the name of Sergeiev
came to see me while I was working in the underground,
together with another colonel whose name I never
learned. They told me I had been chosen to work on a
special project. They still considered me an active Com-
munist, despite my disgrace, a man who could be trusted
with confidential tasks. With a small group of other
workers in the underground, all of them Komsomol mem-
bers, I was put on construction work In one of the stations 1
between the Red Square and the Krasniye Vorota. We
had to build a wall for some mysterious purpose. It was
secret work. Exceptional precautions were being taken.
The entrances to the station were guarded by N.K.V.D.
posts; they let only those of us pass who were working on
the wall. Trains were still running, but they no longer
stopped at this station. While all the other stations were
used as air-raid shelters, ours was closed to everybody,
even during air raids.
This extraordinary secrecy naturally made me curious.
One day, when Colonel Sergeiev seemed in an especially
friendly mood, I asked him lightly, "Now, what is it
you're going to hide here the treasure of the Kremlin?"
He smiled and said, "Yes, the greatest treasure of the
Soviet Union. Comrade Lenin/*
When he saw my surprise, he put his finger to his
mouth and told me with the utmost gravity that I was to
keep the secret to myself. I was astonished he had ever
let it out, But even in the Soviet Union, people sometimes
feel the need to confide in someone. And to the colonel,
I was still an important Communist general, even though
in disgrace for the time being. Also, I have noticed that
Russian Communists occasionally trust foreign Party
workers more than their own comrades.
Thus it was in the underground of Moscow that Lenin's
embalmed body was hidden while Moscow was in danger
of being occupied by the enemy. When the danger had
passed, it was taken back to its mausoleum in the Red
As the German armies drew nearer, panic increased
in Moscow. The people were clamoring for evacuation,
but nobody organized it. Officials and important person-
ages were too busy with their own evacuation. They com-
mandeered all cars, buses, and lorries, and fled. It was
every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost.
Some of the things the political leaders said over the
radio were anything but reassuring to their listeners.
For instance, the secretary of the Komsomol spoke two
days running, and said that the regime was in danger,
but that this danger had unmasked its enemies who
would all be shot one day. Somebody must have decided
that his words were not well chosen. He was shot himself.
After twelve days of this muddle and panic Stalin him-
self broadcast, not from Moscow as was given out, but
from Kuibyshev. He spoke in a feeble, sugary, expres-
sionless voice and told people of Russia's acute danger.
He called upon them to rise against the invaders and
destroy the whole wealth of the country rather than let
it fall into the hands of the enemy.
Moscow became a setting for bonfires. In the middle
of the Red Square, piles of papers and ledgers were set
on fire the records of the Kremlin. In some of the dis-
tricts I saw portraits of Lenin being burned in great
quantities, and even greater quantities of portraits of
Stalin. In all official buildings the few clerks who had
stayed on were busy burning papers. Burning had be-
come a kind of mania.
At this stage the guard of the Kremlin itself was taken
over by 120 Spanish Communists, students at the Planes-
naya School, a political training college. They stayed at
their post during the last two days, until they found out
that they were guarding an empty shell. Then they too
I could not help comparing this sorry spectacle with
that of Madrid on the eve of its siege. And I was proud of
As to myself, I stayed at work in the underground until
two days before the final great rush from the capital.
Then we were told that work was being stopped. We
asked for instructions what to do, and were told, "Stay
on get out do what you like/'
The young laborers in my gang threw their arms round
me. One of them said, "The government is breaking
down. Perhaps well never see this Russia again!" Both
were members of the Komsomol, but the outlook did not
seem to harass them unduly.
I left Moscow in November, 1941, by train. We called
it the "crazy train" or the "pirate train." Both descriptions
were true. Our train rocked crazily through the country,
roaming about in this or that direction, backward or for-
ward, without a definite goal, except that o finding some-
thing to eat for the passengers. We, the passengers, were
pirates; we used the train as pirates used their ships, to
get to the victims we intended to plunder.
The Luftwaffe helped me to a good seat on the crazy
train. It would have been a hard task otherwise. On their
flight from Moscow, people stormed the trains in wild
hordes. The engines were manned by professional engine
drivers or by amateurs, and driven off on whatever line
led away from the enemy. When I got to the station, Ger-
man bombers were overhead. I was hardened to air raids
by the Spanish War. While most of the people who had
been battling for seats ran to the shelters, I settled down
in the best seat I could find and managed to keep it even
when the crowd returned, and until the train pulled out
slowly, bound for nowhere.
Passengers on our train were in a state of riot. They
smashed up seats and tore off roofing to get fuel for the
stoves in the coaches. We had no food with us and no
normal means of getting it, so we stole food. We stopped
the train at villages and sacked them. We took potatoes
from storage, and roast potatoes were our staple food.
When we got hold of flour, we baked bread on the train
in some fashion. We stole what we could get and where
we could get it.
The "pirates" of the train gave vent to their hatred
when they met well-dressed members of the privileged
classes with money in their pockets, such as officials or
factory managers. Then they would assault them, beat
them up, and leave them naked.
The crazy train was nowhere a welcome arrival. If we
stopped at a station, its officials tried to get rid of us as
quickly as possible. Usually they did it by pointing out
another place where we would be sure of finding ample
food. On the train there was no law and no authority,
but after a time some sort of order was introduced by an
improvised committee. I was one of its members. We
tried to steer the train on its mad course. The few
N.K.V.D. men among the passengers were too happy to
be tolerated at all to make any attempt at establishing
their lost authority.
On this crazy train I spent a good six weeks. Later I
found that it was not the only one of its kind. Sixty such
trains were careening about at some stage in Uzbekistan
alone. Their passengers, who sacked the countryside,
were sometimes sacked themselves. Gangs of armed de-
serters would hold up a train, drive out all its passengers,
occupy it themselves, and force the engine driver to take
them where they expected to find something to eat.
In the end, our train left us at Tashkent. There, be-
tween one million and one-and-a-half million refugees
were crowded together, mostly old people, women, and
stray children. It was bitterly cold. Everybody went
hungry. Those starving, ragged, exhausted refugees were
mowed down by typhoid. Nobody bothered about bury-
ing the bodies left lying in the streets.
There was plenty of banditry. Groups of thirty to forty
would gang together to protect their miserable belong-
ings. Then a stronger group would loot them of all they
had in the world. And then the first group would "go
bandit" in its turn, and find weaker victims to plunder.
Old women, being the feeblest of the lot, suffered the
most. Younger women usually managed to survive. I saw
women who were naked, and women wrapped in potato
sacks with a hole for the head and two for the arms.
Bandits had taken away their clothes to barter them for a
piece of bread or a few potatoes. Some other women had
pieced odd rags together anyhow. They looked funny and
pitiful. One wanted to laugh and cry at the same time.
The awful thing is that we laughed more than we cried.
MY WIFE HAD gone with her mother to Kustanai in
Kazakstan, where her father was organizing the First and
Second Siberian Divisions. As soon as I had got in touch
with her and could arrange it, I left Tashkent to join her.
But I was no longer free to decide where I wanted to
stay. I was again caught in the mesh of the N.K.V.D.,
and they decided that my forced residence was to be
Kokand in Uzbekistan, near the mountain range of Tur-
kestan. So I had to go there, and Ariadna came with me.
I was not put to work this time, as in the Moscow un-
derground. There were not nearly enough jobs for all
the refugees who had been concentrated in the town. I
met a number of Spaniards, refugees from the Civil War
like myself; only some of them had found work, the men
in a war factory, the women knitting socks and pull-overs
for the soldiers. Their wages, especially the women's,
were miserably low. Like other refugees, I was granted
300 rubles a month by the Red Aid, but only for six
months, Then I had to fend for myself.
A delegate of the Spanish Communist Party was sup-
posed to look after the Spanish refugees in Kokand. He
was Rafael Vidiella, a man who had been a counselor of
the Government of Catalonia and the representative of
the Catalan Communists at the Executive of the Comin-
tern. He was in charge of the distribution of food to the
Spaniards, and he certainly did not go short of anything. I
made an enemy of him when I discovered that he had
stuck a heavy coin on one side of the scales in which he
weighed the few ounces of bread he then doled out to
The Spaniards were only a small part of the army of
refugees in Uzbekistan. The whole territory of the Re-
public, and the neighboring Republics, were at that time
crammed with masses of people of all sorts and all breeds
and all uprooted. They had come following a rumor that
the regime had lost control of those regions. There were
those who wanted to get out of the way of the authorities
for a particular reason, and those who had no personal
reason but only shared the general fear of the police and
wished to enjoy something like freedom thanks to the
chaos. There were deserters, evacuees from factories and
Kolkhozes, Poles who had been released from internment
camps when the German attack on Russia had turned
them from enemies into allies. There were public servants
who had left their posts and taken great sums of money
with them, and prisoners of war who had escaped from
German-occupied countries. There were political refu-
gees of all nationalities, Yugoslavs, Poles, Czechs, Aus-
trians, Germans, Italians, Frenchmen, Spaniards, and so
forth; and there were professional bandits.
All fugitives from the Soviet police were barred from
legal means of livelihood. Only the public servants had
moneythe money they had embezzled to buy what
they needed, The others had to find money by whatever
means they could. Men became bandits. Women became
It was not rare to see a woman selling herself to a
peasant for a chunk of bread or a handful of potatoes. I
saw a Spanish woman offering herself close by the rail-
way station where her refugee husband was looking after
their child and waiting for her to come back with the
money and food she had earned; they were all starved. I
heard of wealthy Tartars who were delighted to buy the
most attractive European women, women who could sell
nothing but themselves. I knew of a married woman who
was sold by her own husband for 5,000 rubles. It was
cheaper to buy a public official. Identity papers complete
with every signature and stamp cost between 20 and 30
The N.K.V.D. dispatched one police unit after the
other to Uzbekistan to bring order into the boundless con-
fusion. As soon as a new unit arrived, it used to make
common cause with the bandits. In fact, the most danger-
ous bands were led by N.K.V.D. men.
I spent nearly two years in Kokand. Though I was
supposed never to move from the city, I made a series
of journeys at times when I knew that a close control of
travelers was impossible. They were not pleasure trips. I
made them for two different reasons, one political and
the other purely practical. They corresponded to my
divided state of mind.
In those years I was torn between the wish to stay in
the Soviet Union and the wish to escape. I felt a burning
need to know and understand more about the Stalin re-
gime. I still considered myself a true Communist. It is
difficult to break away from a faith into which one has
sunk one's whole life, for which one has sacrificed every-
thing and everybody, for which one has even committed
crimes, believing them to be necessary for the future of
mankind. I thought it would be possible to form genuine
Communist Parties outside Stalinist Communism, or
even against it. Nearly everybody who has broken away
from Stalinism has passed through such a stage of
Some of my journeys from Kokand were inspired by
my wish to learn about the Soviet regime. Others, which
I made from June, 1943, onwards, had to do with my
plans for escape from Soviet Russia.
During that month I managed to get hold of a con-
siderable sum of money by illegal means, of course, be-
cause there were no others open to me. From one of the
many corrupt officials I bought false papers, which I
needed for traveling without the risk of being detained,
and went to Samarkand. Then I made three consecutive
journeys on the railway from Samarkand to the Caspian
Sea port of Krasnovodsk. I wanted to study the frontier
line between Turkmenia and Persia, because the Russian
maps deliberately falsified the frontiers, like everything
else. On a piece of paper which I kept carefully hidden
I noted in codewhich stations were strongly guarded
by the N.K.V.D. and which were least dangerous, also
the timetable of the trains and details of the frontier
guards, It took me the whole month of August to find out
what I needed, but I did find it out.
I have said that I needed money for those trips, and
got it "by illegal means." In 1943 there was only one way
for a penniless man in Kokand to make money, by be-
coming a bandit. I became a bandit.
For this decision I offer no apologies. To survive in the
society in which I found myself then, one had to be either
a bureaucrat or a bandit. I could have been an army
bureaucrat of the highest rank. But I preferred to be a
bandit and to deal with other bandits, with prostitutes,
and with corrupt officials. Why should I repent of it,
when it was the price I had to pay for my life, liberty,
and self-respectthough this may sound odd?
The idea of the "noble bandit" is common enough in
Spain. Bandits used to be part of Spanish everyday life,
particularly in my native province of Estremadura. I had
known bandits when I was a little boy not romantic,
legendary figures like the Robin Hood English children
read about, but real men in the flesh, who robbed, killed,
and lived as outlaws because they would not come to
terms with the laws of their oppressors. They were a
threat to the civil guard and to the rich; they were no
threat to us. They used to protect us in a hundred ways,
and sometimes they gave to the poor part of what they
took from the rich. In Russia, too, people had a tradition
of "noble bandits." There existed something like a ban-
dit's honor in countries where the outlaws alone had
never bowed down to oppression.
This does not mean to say that the bandits of Uzbek-
istan at that time were "noble." They arose when the
social order went to pieces and everybody stole from
everybody else. The strongest and boldest were the mas-
ters, and the strongest and boldest were the bandits.
They took what they wanted. What I wanted was money.
I took it.
There were countless organized robber bands in the
region. They robbed, and sometimes killed people in
possession of large sums of money. This meant above all
industrial managers, high officials, or Kolkhoze adminis-
trators. One of the bands consisted of Spanish refugee
children. All over Russia there were packs of homeless,
orphaned children who kept alive by stealing and looting.
But the exceptional thing about that band of abandoned
Spanish children was the way in which they clung to
their national identity. They refused to mix with the
other homeless children. They even used a Spanish Re-
publican flag as their emblem. I do not know what be-
came of them, only that a few were executed by the
Russians. They were not executed as bandits, but as "Fa-
langists" boys who had been taken to Soviet Russia dur-
ing the Spanish War, when they were small children!
Among the robber bands at Kokand there was a small
group of four led by a man who was held in great fear.
This was the one I joined in June, 1943. They had arms
and got arms for me. I made good, so much so that I
ousted the leader and became captain of the band myself.
Of our exploits I remember two which had their funny
side. Once we learned that the manager of a Kolkhoze at
Kokand, where the workers were starving, had hidden
away a large amount of money for his personal use. We
took it from him. He found himself in a cleft stick. How
was he going to justify to the N.K.V.D. first that he had
"diverted" such a large sum, and secondly, that he had let
himself be robbed of it? The money was the property of
the Kolkhoze! He got out of his difficulty by becoming
an outlaw himself. He even asked us to make him a mem-
ber of our band, but we turned him down. We were
Another time we heard that the payroll for a N.K.V.D.
division was being transported in a horse-drawn cart over
a road in our neighborhood. We held up the cart and took
the money while the driver was roaring with laughter.
This was our most popular feat. People were delighted at
the idea that a whole N.K.V.D. had been robbed.
Every time we brought off one of our robberies, I went
to visit Spanish refugees and distributed some food and
money among them, mainly for the children. I told no
one where I had got it from, and nobody asked. Once a
transport of Spanish children were about to be sent to
Ufa by road. Badly clothed and starved as they were, the
danger that many of them would not survive the jour-
ney was very great. When we shared out the booty after
one of our excursions, my fellow bandits gave me an
extra 240,000 rubles to buy food and clothes for those
children. In spite of all this, I put by enough money to
finance my expeditions to the frontier. But when I came
back at the end of August, my hoard was exhausted. I
devoted the month of September to banditry again. By
then I had earned a new nickname. Among the outlaws
of Uzbekistan I was called "The Spaniard." They used
the title respectfully. As a bandit, I was a success.
AT THE BEGINNING of October I heard that several
foreign armies were being formed in the region of Mos-
cow, destined for the coming campaigns in Yugoslavia,
Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the
Baltic States. Foreigners were permitted to join as private
soldiers, even if their nationality was not that of the par-
ticular country of destination. At once I decided to try to
enlist. To be sent abroad with such a unit might give me
my chance of escape. But first I had to get back to
My wife was there already. Her parents had been
so shocked by the frightful conditions at Kokand that
they had arranged for her to go to Tiflis; from there she
returned to Moscow with her mother, as soon as the
danger to the capital had passed.
I had no identity documents which would serve for
this journey. My legal papers fixed my residence in Ko-
kand. The forged papers I had used on my trips to the
frontier would not have stood up to the frequent controls
of all travelers on the way to Moscow. Also, I intended
to volunteer under my own name, properly identified.
In the end I risked going to Moscow with my legal papers
such as they were.
Although I was arrested three times in the course of
my journey, I never came near a police station. Each
time I was able to bribe the police agents. I slipped
through most of the control points by a simple but effec-
tive trick. When the agents asked for my papers, I would
produce them from my wallet, but at the same time
fumble with some photographs as if I meant to hide them.
Invariably the agents pounced on those photos, which
were taken during the Spanish War and showed me in
uniform. Then they could not help discovering that I had
been a Spanish Army commander and at once became
respectful. It was even better when they recognized El
Campesino. Then they treated me as a revolutionary
hero whom it would be dangerous to offend. The Rus-
sians had publicized my coming to the Soviet Union,
but kept my fall from grace very quiet. The few times
when my identification did not finish the matter at once,
I produced a packet of cigarettes and half a bottle of
vodka, and that gave me all the prestige I needed. On
the whole, I found it not too difficult to get to Moscow.
Moscow was a very different city from the one I had
left in 1941. Authority and an iron discipline had been
restored by ruthless terror. With victory in the air, the
government had no need to appeal to the people. It was
more totalitarian than ever. In 1941 the officers of the
Soviet Army had been humble and afraid of the people,
afraid of being made responsible for the setbacks. Now
in 1944 they behaved as if they wanted to wipe out that
humiliation. They were arrogant and cocksure.
In the factories the normal working day was twelve to
fourteen hours. In many cases the workers of one shift
were kept on for the next as well. This helped the techni-
cal staff to establish records and earn kudos at the ex-
pense of the famished, exhausted workers. Even school
children had been drafted into factories and Kolkhozes,
and did little less work than the grownups. Everywhere
in the streets were long queues in front of the shops, and
people did not dare to grumble. The shops themselves
were full of American goods with Russian labels. Privi-
leged members of Soviet society were able to buy them at
special rates and resell them on the black market. Vodka
was no longer on ration, but its price was fabulous. This
made me very sorry to have gone back to the capital!
I reported for work at the underground. The fact that
T turned up so suddenly caused no surprise and brought
me no trouble. After all, I had not been dismissed from
my job, but simply evacuated from Moscow like most
other people when it looked as if it would be taken by
the enemy. I did not dare, howeyer, to live with my wife.
The check kept by the N.K.V.D. was too close. At the
first inspection they would have seen from my papers
that I was in Moscow without a permit, which would
have, meant three years* imprisonment, and that I had
been ordered to forced residence in Kokand, which
would have made it far worse.
To seek refuge with friends would have been wrong
and senseless. Anyone courageous enough to let me stay
in his home for a night risked deportation on being found
out; and the police kept a sharp eye on people's visitors.
For a man without a lawful abode there was only one way
of staying in Moscow in relative safety, to find a different
tart each night and let her take him to her room. Prosti-
tution is illegal in the Soviet Union. But the street markets
of Moscow were full of prostitutes, though not all of
them were professionals. To those women whose whole
existence was outside the law it did not make any differ-
ence if they had dealings with somebody who also lived
outside the law. In an emergency they would give a
part of their earnings to the N.K.V.D. militiamen who
caught them out naturally the real professionals were
well known to the N.K.V.D. guards. And then there was
always the lure of tobacco and vodka, which the guard-
ians of the law could not resist.
For a month I slept every night in a different room,
in the company of a different woman.
This was a surprisingly long time to keep out of the
clutches of the N.K.V.D. I succeeded, oddly enough >
"because my mates at work were convicts. Before my
evacuation, the people with whom I worked were mostly
Communists in disfavor and, so to speak, on probation,
like myself. Therefore we were watched and spied upon
the whole time. After my return to the underground, my
gang consisted entirely of men who had been sentenced
to hard labor. This meant that the N.K.V.D. knew all
there was to know about them. The first control at my
place of work came after a month. But when it came, it
naturally led to the discovery that I was in Moscow with-
out a permit. I was arrested, and faced the certain pros-
pect of at least three years in prison.
I would have disappeared from sight without further
ado, if one of my mates had not managed to inform my
-wife. She set to work at once, through her powerful
friends, and was successful up to a point; I was neither
tried nor sentenced. But her influence was not strong
enough to secure my release. I was to be deported to
Kazakstan, where at that time German prisoners of war
and Germans from the Volga Republic were being con-
centrated. They did not allow me to say good-by to my
wife, who was pregnant. With no other clothes than those
in which I had been arrested, they put me on a train.
Two agents escorted me. They agreed with me that an
endless train journey without vodka and tobacco would
be a terrible bore. At the fourth station from Moscow
they let me get out of the train to buy the necessary. I
was quick to disappear among the crowd in the nearby
market. Next day I was back in Moscow.
But this time I had no papers at all. They were in the
pockets of my escort. Most likely this had been the rea-
son why the agents let me out of their sight so easily.
A Russian policeman feels that he holds a prisoner almost
as securely when he has taken away his papers as when
he has handcuffed him.
In truth my situation was desperate. I decided to call
on the committee of the Spanish Communist Party, to-
gether with my wife, though I might have known I had
nothing to hope for from those people. At the office I
found the Valencian Communist Uribe and the Colonels
Cordon and Galan Jr. Uribe was in charge of the Spanish
Communist refugees in the U.S.S.R.; Cordon and Galan
were studying at the General Staff College. When the
three saw me there, they were greatly surprised. One of
them said, "Well, well, we thought that they had hanged
you by now!" "Or that you were a lifer/' said another.
It was not exactly a friendly welcome they gave me.
Even so, I should have known better than to answer as
I did. But I was never strong on tact. I retorted, 'It's you
who ought to be in jail, cowards that you are, leaving
your comrades in the lurch! And especially the chil-
dren. . . /'
We were at once in the middle of a violent quarrel. I
accused them of having fled to Ufa, together with govern-
ment and Comintern leaders, without a thought for the
Spanish refugees for whom they were responsible. I
shouted that they had thought only of their own miser-
able skins, of keeping their soft jobs as hangers-on of the
Kremlin and the Comintern; that they had come back to
Moscow after deserting their comrades to play at being
the big bosses, and so on. They answered back. We were
all shouting at each other at the same time, with every
insult and good Spanish oath we could think of. The
noise was so great that it alarmed people in the next
room. The door opened and in rushed La Pasionaria and
Lister. They joined in the row at once. Out of their own
mouths I heard that it was they who had prevented my
release which my wife had nearly managed to obtain,
and they who had arranged for my deportation to Kazak-
stan. They boasted that they could do what they liked
with the lives of Spanish refugees, with the help of the
N.K.V.D., and threatened me with the full use of their
power. I shouted, "One day the Spanish people will call
you to account for all your crimes, in Spain and here!"
"Maybe/' La Pasionaria answered angrily, "but you
wor^'t be alive to accuse us."
"Let's go," said my wife. She was in tears. "You won't
get anything out of these tigers."
La Pasionaria turned to her and threatened, "You'll
pay dear for helping this Trotskyite dog!"
We left. The violence of the dispute had terrified my
wife. She feared that La Pasionaria and her followers
would make things even worse for me, so she tried to
mobilize her most influential friends. First she appealed
to Stalin's daughter, an old friend of hers; nothing came
of it. Then she turned to the secretary of Kalinin, Gorki,
who had been one of the witnesses at our marriage. Gorki
persuaded Kalinin to see me.
Ariadna and I arrived at Kalinin's office at three in the
afternoon. She came along as my interpreter, as she
sometimes did, for my Russian was not good enough for
a complete mutual understanding.
President Kalinin received me in a fatherly manner
and said, "I can see how difficult it is for you to adapt
yourself to Soviet discipline. You are still too much the
Spanish individualist. This time I can get you out of
trouble, but I won't be able to protect you indefinitely.
I'm afraid you will finish in Siberia if you go on taking
the bit between your teeth."
He gave orders to issue temporary identity papers to
me. As he saw how badly I was dressed, he even gave me
some money for new clothes. Kalinin often made gifts of
this kind to people who sought his help in other matters.
Then he invited me to come again and tell him how I
was getting on.
I did go after some time, to show him the new suit I
had bought with his money and to thank him for his
understanding sympathy. This time he received me
ratlier coldly. He had had a report from the Spanish Com-
mittee which painted me in deepest black. But I still
remember him with gratitude. It is perhaps the only
grateful memory of this kind which I retain from my ten
years in the Soviet Union.
WITH THE PAPERS provided by Kalinin, I could at
long last tackle the project which had brought me to
Moscow. In June, 1944, 1 made my first attempt to enlist
in one of the foreign armies in formation. I chose the
Polish Army. But it was more complicated than I had
imagined. To be accepted, even as a private soldier, a
volunteer had to prove that he had never been convicted
of a crime and that he was otherwise reliable. I met the
first of these two conditions; in spite of the many dis-
ciplinary measures I had brought upon myself, I had
never been formally convicted. It was different with the
second condition. Of all the foreign groups, the Poles
were the most exacting in their standards of reliability.
They decided that I was not a sufficiently reliable char-
acter. They were right. I had no intention of being
The next group I tried were the Yugoslavs. Their army
was being formed at Kolomna, about eighty miles from
Moscow. An officer I knew from Spain took me into their
camp. But there I became suspect as a spy, was arrested,
taken before the commanding officers, and threatened
with being shot on the spot.
The reason why I had aroused suspicion was that I
had declared myself to be El Campesino. The Yugoslavs
saw at once that this must be a lie why should one of
the famous generals of the Spanish War try to join a
foreign army as a private soldier? The story sounded too
thin. They had no idea who I was, but were certain I
could not be El Campesino. If I used his name, it must
be for a special and dangerous purpose. Hence I could
only be a spy.
The reasoning was unanswerable. I might well have
been shot there and then, if I had not had a stroke of luck.
A colonel whom I had met during the Spanish War turned
up and vouched for my identity. He told me, "You may
give thanks to the Lord or the devil that you've come
across me. In Spain you were a good Communist com-
mander. I wouldn't like you to get shot/'
On his intervention I was set free, but he refused to
help me to join the Yugoslav Army. He realized that I
was in disgrace with the Russians and was afraid of
compromising himself with me.
I did not try any other army unit. Feeling trapped and
frustrated, I hit upon the idea of appealing to the one
person in the Soviet Union who was able to cut any
Gordian knot. At the beginning of August, I wrote a
letter to Stalin.
As far as I remember, it said: "It seems unworthy to
me that, at a time when the Russian people shed their
blood in a life-or-death struggle against Nazism, a man
like myself who has proved his mettle in the Spanish War
should go idle in the streets of Moscow. If there is proof
that I am a counterrevolutionary, let me be executed
without consideration. If not, I ought to be employed in
the fight or else allowed to go abroad/'
I am not sure that Stalin ever saw my letter. But I did
get an answer. Two days after I had handed in the letter,
two colonels of the general staff came to see me. They
assured me they had come on behalf of Stalin himself,
and subjected me to an endless, detailed interrogation.
First they took notes of the story of my whole life-
Soviet officials are crazy about biographies! Then they
wanted to know my precise opinions on a number of
political and military problems. I took the cross-examina-
tion with bad grace. It was a battle between us.
The battle lasted six days. Early each morning they
took me in their car to general staff headquarters, to the
secret department of the N.K.V.D. where Beria himself
came to work at times. There they would resume their
interrogation and carry it on till late in the night, usually
one o'clock in the morning. Fifteen or sixteen hours of
interrogation! Their tactics varied. Sometimes they would
speak to me as kind friends, offer me one cigarette after
another, and give me paternal advice. At other times
they would be brutal, put me through a ruthless search,
and threaten and insult me. They wanted to wear me
down. It was I who wore them down.
They finally told me that I would hear the decision on
my case through the Comintern and the Spanish Com-
mittee. It was clear that they wanted to evade responsi-
bility and were afraid of passing judgment on a well-
known foreign Communist. At a later stage it might be
decided that they had made a mistake about me, and
then they would have to pay dearly. What it all amounted
to was that I was being delivered back into the hands of
my personal enemies in the Spanish Committee. I knew
they would not, and could not, permit me to enroll in a
unit destined for service abroad, and still less let me leave
the U.S.S.R. on my own. To wait for their verdict meant
to wait for my arrest and deportation to Siberia. I saw
that I would have to make my escape from Soviet Russia
Under certain conditions it is easier for several people
than for one alone to organize an escape. In my opinion
this was the case with my flight. I needed assistants. It
was easy enough to find others who wanted to get out of
Russia. After all, nearly all the Spanish refugees, most
other foreigners, and not a few among the ruling class
were dreaming of it. It was quite another matter to find
companions I could trust with my plans and their execu-
tion. I decided on two young Spaniards, Lorente and
Campillo, who were devoted to me. Shortly before the
end of the Civil War, in which they had served as pilots,
they had been sent to the U.S.S.R. for special training.
At first they had been treated very well; later they had
fallen in disgrace and passed through great hardships.
Now they made a living as best they could; Polish friends
let them have shoes and clothes which they sold on the
black market. But they did not like this form of existence.
Also, they went in constant fear of arrest.
I knew the two as bold, resourceful, and determined
men. They respected and feared me. We agreed to
attempt the escape together. But I imposed severe con-
ditions on them: They had to obey me blindly; disobedi-
ence was punishable by death; once we had started they
had to go on with me in all circumstances; they had no
right to ask any question about details of my plans; if one
of them were to fall into the hands of the N.K.V.D. he
had to let himself be cut to pieces rather than sell or
betray the others. They accepted my terms.
Above all we needed money, a large amount of money.
In Kokand I had become used to taking the money I
needed from whoever had it. It never seemed robbery
to me to take from thieves what they had stolen, and only
thieves had ready money then. Now I again knew some-
body who was in possession of stolen wealth, and felt no
scruples about taking it from him. He was a Polish Jew
who had been a lieutenant in the International Brigades
in Spain. When I left Moscow in 1941 1 let him have the
use of my room. After my return I had been there several
times. I had seen that he had plenty of blankets, suits, and
shoes, all rarities in Russia, and that he also had a great
deal of cash. The origin of his wealth was no secret to
me; he had held an important job at the International Red
Aid for three years.
I went to his room together with Lorente and Campillo.
We took 50,000 rubles and as much of his marketable
things as we could carry, while he was cowering in a
corner. I threatened to kill him if he denounced us, but I
might as well have spared my breath. He could not de-
nounce us, because then he would have to explain to the
N.K.V.D. how much he had stolen from funds which
belonged to unfortunate people in need of aid. This was
a graver crime than robbing an individual. If he had
reported our theft, he would have been in greater danger
Once we had the money, I applied for an appointment
with Marshal Zhukov. While he was my instructor at the
Frunze Academy he had always shown a liking for me.
Now he received me in his enormous room at general
staff headquarters, with great cordiality. I had come to
see him accompanied by Lorente and Campillo. After a
few minutes of general talk I drew him aside, onto a
balcony, under the pretext that I did not want my com-
panions to overhear us. Then I explained about my wish
to be sent to the battle front as a simple volunteer. Zhukov
began to laugh and said, "What? The famous Spanish
general, my old pupil, fight as a private soldier? Surely
there's something better for you in the Soviet Union!"
He promised to take my case in hand and asked me to
come to see him again in a few days* time.
So there I was, with the possibility of going back to a
position of privilege in the Soviet regime. With Zhukov's
backing I might still have had a career in front of me. But
I decided to do nothing about it. The idea of climbing
back to power at the price of the misery of the common
people, like the other profiteers of the regime, did not
please me. And then, although I had not yet lost my
faith in the Communist idea, I had lost all faith in the
Russian sort of communism, or what is called communism
there. I had made up my mind not to stay under the con-
trol of the Kremlin, whether as one of the exploiters or
one of the exploited. Finally, I was bound to Lorente and
Campillo. They had sworn not to turn back once we had
started on our project. I could not turn back either and
leave them in the lurch.
In any case, my private talk with Zhukov had been
nothing but a blind. While I was holding his attention
and keeping him away from his desk, Lorente and Cam-
pillo had carried out the mission which was the real
purpose of our visit. They had pocketed some sheets of
paper with the letterhead of the Soviet general staff and
a rubber stamp with its seal. This gave us what we
needed to fabricate our own marching orders, apparently
issued by the highest military authorities in the U.S.S.R.
That very night Lorente and Campillo went on another
delicate and difficult assignment which netted us the rest
of the necessary equipment. The two handsome young
men had courted and won the favor of the young wives
of two N.K.V.D. lieutenants. In the evening they took
them to supper and gave them plenty of champagne.
Afterwards, in the ladies* homes, they plied them with
brandy until the women lost interest in anything that
happened around them. Lorente and Campillo took away
a careful selection from the wardrobe of the two absent
husbands. In the meantime, I obtained other indispensa-
ble items from a general who was not only a very kind-
hearted man but also the best friend the Spaniards had in
Russiahe dreamed of going back to the Spain he loved.
The next morning the three of us boarded the train to
Baku: a short, broad, swarthy lieutenant of the N.K.V.D.
counterespionage service, and two younger lieutenants of
the partisan corps, in whom nobody suspected El Campe-
sino, Lorente and Campillo.
Our journey was uneventful. The papers we had manu-
factured were unimpeachable; our bad Russian aston-
ished no one, because there were many others like us in
the special services. On August 18, 1944, we were in
Baku. Our next problem was the special permit, issued
on the spot, for the crossing of the Caspian Sea to Kras-
novodsk. We got it thanks to the combination of our uni-
forms and papers with a generous tip to a N.K.V.D. lieu-
tenant in the port of Baku. But then we had to wait two
days for the next boat to sail, and we also had to buy the
tickets. Both involved the risk of being asked about the
purpose of our stay in Baku and our crossing to Krasno-
vodsk. Fortunately we were able to pick up three grass
widows whose officer husbands were at the front and
who were so pleased with our wining and dining that
they put us up at their homes. The ladies even bought
our boat tickets for us so that we were kept out of the
public eye. We reached Krasnovodsk on August 21, and
left it two days later in the train to Samarkand.
Now we were on the route which I had so carefully
investigated a year before and for which I had laid my
plans. In a small handbag I carried a chess set, three
bottles of vodka, and a large supply of excellent ciga-
rettes. Without delay I made friends with the chief con-
ductor of the train and invited him, as a brother officer, to
a game of chess. When he saw me opening my bag and
taking out not only the chess set, but also bottles, he ac-
cepted eagerly. Then, while he and I were immersed in
our game, Lorente and Campillo fed him with drinks and
cigarettes. From time to time, N.K.V.D. agents carried
through their usual strict check of travelers in this frontier
region. Then our new friend would tell them, as soon, as
they entered our compartment, "Can't you let us go on
with our game in peace? These fellows are all right, don't
you see?" And he would point to the bottles. The
N.K.V.D. men were anyhow inclined to accept on trust
any officer wearing the uniform of their corps, but the
assurance of the official who had full executive powers
on the train and with whom they had to deal every day
settled the matter. On their tours of inspection, the agents
stopped with us only to have a drink. They never even
asked to see our papers.
In the small hours of the morning the chief conductor
was so drunk that I persuaded him to go to his compart-
ment and sleep it out. By that time the other passengers
were asleep and the visits of the N.K.V.D. agents had
stopped. Towards four in the morning the train began to
slow down for what I knew to be a small, out-of-the-way
station. At this moment I told my companions that we
would get off the train here. They stared at me in
bewilderment. Campillo said, "But we aren't even half
way to Samarkand!" "We aren't going to Samarkand," I
answered. That was all. Without a further word, they
made ready. I told them to leave most of our luggage be-
hind so that it would look as if we meant to come back.
Slowly, unhurriedly, in the most natural manner we could
summon, we got out at the rear-end of our coach. It was
an exciting moment. As far as we knew, nobody saw us
go. Once outside we plunged into the darkness and began
to walk very quickly, but in complete silence. At a safe
distance, we stopped and took civilian clothes from the
suitcase we had brought along. When we had changed
into them, we put the uniforms into the suitcase and hid
it away among the shrubs. Then I took the lead on our
march through the dark.
My comrades found it trying to follow me without a
question about my plans, as they had undertaken. Cam-
pillo asked, "Where are we?" I answered sharply, "We're
going to the Persian frontier. It's a long way and a hard
way. Buck up now, and don't ask any more questions.
And if we meet any frontier guard and suchlike, we've
got to kill him without making any noise, if that's
possible/' I had a revolver which a Spanish friend had
got for me on the black market in Moscow, but I was
determined not to use it if it could be avoided. The
sound of a shot might be fatal.
Lorente and Campillo had no choice but to be content
with my brief explanation. The way ahead was quite as
long and hard as I had told them. The mountain region
we were in was difficult to cross even by the few roads
and footpaths, but these we dared not take. We followed
an almost straight line, away from any beaten tracks.
Luckily I had a good compass; also, I was trained, ever
since my boyhood, to find my bearings by the sun, the
moon and the stars. In daytime we went into hiding. Two
of us would sleep, the third take a turn at keeping watch.
During the day the N.K.V.D. patrols kept to heights from
which they could see any suspicious movement down in
the valleys; at night, they came down into the valleys and
patrolled particularly the points where roads and paths
crossed. Therefore we had to do our walking by night
and keep to the most difficult route, up in the mountains.
I was an old mountaineer, schooled in the wild hill
ranges of Estremadura, but in this savage, hostile country
I needed every bit of skill I possessed. We cut ourselves
stout and tall sticks which we used to test the ground
before us in the darkness. The sticks also helped us to
pull each other up on very steep slopes and to support
each other on narrow ledges.
We carried as much food and water on our backs as
we could manage, and I rationed it strictly. All the same,
our supplies were exhausted at the end of the fourth day.
By then we felt hungry after our strenuous nightly efforts
and on our small rations, but we had to go on with no
other food than edible plants or roots. We were not par-
ticular, but the region was barren and we found very
little. After the fifth night, our stomachs began to ache
with emptiness. What fretted us most was thirst. There
was little water 3 and wherever it was to be found, small
groups of tribesmen had settled down. Those groups had
every interest in being on good terms with the dreaded
N.K.V.D., more so in a frontier region. It would not have
been safe to let them see us. It would not have been safe
to let anyone see us in a district where everybody was
forced to be a N.K.V.D. informer, because to see a stran-
ger and fail to report it meant severe punishment. We had
to approach the smallest spring with the utmost caution.
Sometimes it happened that we came within sight of
water only to see that people were near it. Then we had
to creep away, our throats burning with thirst, and to do
it as cautiously and noiselessly as we had crept near. It
was much harder then.
The first to flag was Campillo. He was afraid that we
would die in the mountains before reaching the frontier.
Contrary to our pact he wanted to give up. But we could
not have left him behind. He might have been caught,
and then Lorente and I would have been in immediate
danger. There was no time for half measures. I told him
bluntly that he could either come on with us, or get killed
by me on the spot. He came on with us.
At three in the morning on August 30 I suddenly gave
a shout and stopped. Lorente and Campillo stopped too.
"What is It?" asked Lorente. I pointed to the freshly
plowed ground in front of us. "A plowed fieldso what?"
I answered, "It's not a plowed field, it's the frontier."
From my excursions I knew that the frontier here-
abouts was marked by a strip of plowed land, several
Campillo rushed forward, but I caught him by the
arm and pulled him back. "Don't step on it," I said. For
I also knew that the Soviet border patrols had no qualms
about crossing the frontier in search of fugitives. The fear
Russia inspired in Persia was so great that the N.K.V.D.
were not only the real masters of the border country on
either side of the frontier line, but also of a large area of
the other state. If we had walked across this freshly
plowed strip of land, our tracks would have betrayed
us. So far we had not seen a single frontier guard and to
the best of our knowledge nobody was looking for us, no-
body was aware that we were in the region. But tracks
leading across the telltale strip would have warned the
guards that someone had made his escape, and they
would search for us.
I sat down at the edge of the sweet-smelling clods and
took off my shoes and socks. My companions followed my
example. Then, carrying our things in our hands, we
walked across the turned-up soil backwards.
If they discovered our tracks now, they would take
them for those of barefooted peasants and not think it
worth their while to chase after us. Or, if they did try to
find out who had crossed the frontier, they would first
look on the wrong side. And we would gain time.
As I was moving backwards, I felt how the soft, crum-
bling earth under my soles gave way to hard, unyielding
I was in Persia.
HOW CAN I describe what I felt when I stood on Persian
soil and looked across that strip of plowed land to the
country I thought I had left forever? For a moment I
was filled with exultation. Then the joy was gone, blotted
out by the sorrow and bitterness of shattered hopes. The
country I had left behind was the same in which I had
once believed. I had thought it to be the home of
human freedom; now I saw it as freedom's grave.
And my comrades, the friends with whom I had fought
for the victory of Communism what would they think of
me? They would call me a deserter, traitor and counter-
Once there was my wife; there would soon be my
child. Had I condemned them to Siberia through my
I had achieved my aim, I had escaped. But it was with-
out gladness that I led my companions away from the
frontier, into the interior of Persia.
# # # # #
At dawn we reached a small village. The villagers met
us with suspicion. They were not used to anything good
coming to them from the other side of the frontier. But
when they saw our ragged clothes and our state of ex-
haustion, they soon lost their fears. We cannot have
looked like Soviet agents to them. They gave us food and
drink. Then they spread out their prayer rugs, prostrated
themselves, and said their prayers. It was as if they were
praying for us.
Rarely have I met people so simple and good. It was
comforting to find a warm human concern for the suffer-
ing of others after so much cold disregard. Neither our
Russian, nor that of the few villagers who spoke it at all,
was very good, but we made ourselves understood to each
other. It appeared that they hated the Russians because
they would cross the border, steal sheep, cows, horses,
and corn from the poor peasants, and carry off those who
resisted or protested too much. I tried to tell them that we
were Spaniards, but they had never heard of Spain, so I
said we were from Spanish Morocco. This meant some-
thing to them. Men from North Africa almost belonged
to their race. They grew even friendlier.
We learned that the nearest railway station was be-
tween two and three hundred miles away, or so we com-
puted it. The villagers explained how long it would take
us to get there by tracing a great curve with their arms
to indicate the course of the sun, and repeating it for the
number of days. They also made it clear that this part of
their country was infested by Russians, so that we still
would have to avoid the roads, move cross-country, and
hide from sight unless we wanted to be dragged back to
the Soviet Union.
At this news Lorente and Campillo lost heart. After our
brief spell of ease among those friendly people, after the
moment's illusion that our difficulties were over, it was
hard to face more days and nights of crawling through
the shrub like hunted beasts.
Lorente had at least an adventurous spirit. At the out-
break of the Spanish War, when he was no more than a
boy, he had stolen his father's hunting rifle and run away
to fight against Franco. Campillo was no older both
were in their mid-twenties but he lacked Lorente's
youthful boldness. When he realized that our hardships
and dangers were to go on he rebelled openly. Neither of
them was wanting in courage, but the last few days had
been too heavy for them. I had imposed an iron discipline
and forced them to long marches with little time for rest.
I doubt whether we would have reached the frontier
otherwise, as we could hardly have lasted another day
without food. But the two young men were in no condi-
tion to see this. Again I had to use the final threat to make
them go on: They could continue the journey with me,
alive, or stay behind, dead. This had been our under-
standing when we set out, and I held them to it.
With as much food as we could carry, the gift of our
Persian friends, we resumed our march. This second
journey was a repetition of the first, only it lasted longer.
In addition we were now plagued by lice. With our single
razor we shaved off the hair on our bodies, but even so
we continued to be devoured by vermin. It was not only
physically irritating, it was also demoralizing.
Then our provisions gave out. Lorente and Campillo
felt the hunger more than I did, because they were
younger. It made them less cautious about going into
villages in search of food. Sometimes, when a settlement
looked large enough to be of interest to the N.K.V.D., I
strictly forbade them to take the risk. If we did enter a
hamlet it was only after the most careful scouting, and
this exasperated them. I had to hold them back time after
time. Sometimes I deliberately insulted Campillo to rouse
his self-respect and spirit. On the eighth day we took
shelter in a copse. While Lorente and I went to sleep, it
was Campillo's turn to keep watch. When I awoke, he
was gone. We had to leave the spot immediately, tired
though we were. If Campillo fell into Russian hands, he
might give us away and even lead them straight to our
resting place. It was an unfair suspicion, as we found out
later, but we could take no chances.
On the tenth night we reached the railway line and
shortly afterwards the small station to which the peasants
had directed us. The station master became our guardian
angel. He told us that N.K.V.D. agents were posted at all
the larger stations and checked traveler's papers. A few
local trains were less closely watched; by taking one of
those we might escape attention and investigation. But
it was three days before the next train of this type would
come through. What to do in the meantime? The station
master solved our problem for us. He was an educated
man, spoke Russian, and hated the Russians bitterly, not
only as a Persian patriot but also because several en-
counters with the N.K.V.D. had given him a taste of
their methods. He took us to a place where we could safe-
ly hide, not far from the station and his home, brought
us some clothing, and gave us four whole packets of
cigarettes. At nine in the morning three days later, he put
us on the train he had selected, recommending us to a
Persian police officer, a friend of his, who traveled on it.
When we said good-by to him he mumbled, "You'll need
some money," and pushed ten tumens into my hand.
Then he backed away with an embarrassed smile. In our
position, it meant a small fortune. He is a man I shall al-
ways remember with deep gratitude.
It was eleven that night when we left our train at
Teheran. Nobody had asked for our papers during the
journey, nobody asked us for them when we went out of
the station together with the crowd. After Russia where
one might be asked for one's identity papers a dozen
times a day, it seemed incredible that anyone should be
able to come off a train in the capital of a country and
freely walk out into its streets without being asked a
single question about his person and business there.
Incredible? To me, it seemed anarchy.
My reaction after our arrival at Teheran shows to what
extent a human being may become used to the loss of his
individual liberty. With all my rebellious spirit, five years
in the U.S.S.R. had so accustomed me to an existence
under strict official control, restriction and direction, that
my first response to the sights of Teheran was indigna-
tion. A city where the market overflowed with goods,
where everybody bought and sold what he liked, where
people went to the theater as they pleased, and read the
newspapers they fancied what a muddle, what selfish-
ness, what anarchy!
Lorente, who had never been an ardent Communist,
saw things differently. Bitingly I said to him, "As soon as
youre outside Soviet Russia, you begin to feel like a
As I see it now, this remark showed that I had not
thrown off the influence of Stalinism, in spite of my dis-
illusionment and flight. I still spoke like a good Stalinist
to whom everything disagreeing with Soviet doctrine is
"Fascist/* I had escaped from the country; I had not es-
caped from their propaganda. In the end I was to dis-
cover that I had not even escaped the country for good,
and that it was the last remnants of Stalinist thinking in
me which led to my undoing.
Five days we wandered through the streets of Teheran
in freedom. We did not go to a hotel. Even in Persia one
cannot stay in a hotel without having the right sort of
papers. In any case we had no money except what the
station master had given us, and no prospect of getting
more for some time; we could not afford a room at a
hotel. But Teheran is full of cheap doss houses where
people sleep on the floor and are not asked for papers.
There we spent our nights. We spent our days walking
through the bazaars which were always crowded, day
and night, always noisy, always full of color and light.
There were other things we did, apart from sampling
the street life of Teheran. I was looking for ways and
means of getting back to Europe. It had come to my ears
that some officers or delegates of a small Polish Army
which was being organized in North Africa were in Tehe-
ran on a recruiting mission. I thought they might enlist
Lorente and me. From North Africa we would be able
to get into Spain and organize guerrillas against Franco.
Lorente and I called at the legation of the Polish Gov-
ernment in London. The consul treated us with great
courtesy and asked us to come back the following day.
Unfortunately we did. We were met by four men armed
with tommy guns. We had been taken for Russian spies.
The Poles hustled us into a car and delivered us trium-
phantly to the British Military Mission.
The British were more intelligent and more consider-
ate than the Poles. They were quick to realize that we
were genuine refugees from the Soviet Union. But they
did not let us go.
It was not a disagreeable form of detention. They gave
us good clothes and excellent shoes, and fed us like
princes. We got a fresh set of underclothes every two
days, and our sheets were changed every week. Our
rooms were cleaned by two colored servants. We were
well supplied with wine, beer, and tobacco. I have had
some experience of captivity. This one was the pleasant-
est I can remember. But captivity it was.
The British officers who came to see us were invariably
courteous, friendly, and pleasant. One of them, a captain,
spoke Spanish and Italian. With characteristic reserve he
told me only after several visits that he had fought in the
Spanish War as a volunteer. He proposed that I should
let them send me to England, and assured me that I
would not be asked to work for the intelligence service.
My counterproposal was that they should send me to
North Africa, from where I meant to re-enter Spain. He
told me that he could not do that for me. It was at this
point that the remnants of my Stalinism proved disas-
trous. If I had been clever, I would have accepted the
British offer, whatever my ultimate intentions. In this
way I would have put myself out of Russian reach, and
nearer to Spain. Yet I had imbibed the Communist vo-
cabulary for so many years that England was a synonym
for "imperialism" to me. To go there, under the protec-
tion of the British, and obviously because they wanted to
make use of me in some way, seemed a betrayal. There-
fore I refused.
Perhaps I missed a great opportunity. Would it have
been impossible for me to return to Spain once I was in
Europe? Was not the moment when Mussolini and Hit-
ler fell from power the right time to overthrow their
henchman, Franco? Would it not have been feasible to
build on the ruins of Franco's dictatorship a genuinely
Spanish Communism, independent of Moscow? Nothing
of all this occurred to me at the time. I was still caught in
the snare of the Communist slogans about Britain and
British imperialism. And so I missed the chance to be on
the spot when Franco was most vulnerable. I missed a
chance to alter the course of history.
My mental blindness of that period did not prevent me
from seeing the kindliness of those British officers. I know
they did what they could for us, within the limits of dis-
cretion. I repaid them in the worst and most foolish
fashion. Lorente and I had been British prisoners from
October, 1944, to January, 1945, when we decided to
make our escape. The time of our daily walk in the prison
yard was the best opportunity. At about five in the after-
noon three Iranian soldiers would take us to the large
courtyard which was separated by a wall from the Tehe-
ran Hospital. Some 160 yards from the spot where we
took our exercise, walking up and down, there was a
postern in the wall. Our guards were armed with rifles
and long knives, but boredom made them inattentive.
One afternoon when it was getting dark we suddenly
made a dash for the little door. Our guards came running
after us, shouting, and brandishing their knives. Luckily
for us they made no use of their rifles. Two of them
caught up with us just at the postern; the third ran out
of the yard, probably to get help. The soldier who came
to grips with me slashed me twice with his knife, once
across four fingers of my right hand, once across my head.
I knocked him out and turned to Lorente, in time to see
him drop. The second soldier committed the mistake of
helping his comrade instead of attacking me. I slung
Lorente across my back, broke through the door, and was
swallowed by the dusk in a matter of seconds. Lorente
had been stabbed near the groin and it was some hours
before he was able to walk, but we got away because the
hospital was on the outskirts of the town where the settle-
We got away, but our mad flight meant that not only
the Russians, but also the Persians and the British were
after us. Unfortunately it was the Russians who caught
We were slowly plodding through the snow, under a
cloudless sky. My eyes began to ache from the dazzling
sunshine. First I squinted, then I closed my lids to a
mere slit, then I covered my eyes with my hands to pro-
tect them. It was too late. I had to give up and admit that
I could no longer see more than a glimmer snow blind-
ness! Now Lorente had to lead me. We were heading
south, towards the Persian Gulf, but so far we had not got
farther from Teheran than eighty miles. My idea was to
find a railway line running in the right direction and ride
in a goods train. Both Lorente and I had done it success-
fully in Russia, and we thought it would work in Persia as
well. But Lorente was less experienced at steering true
course than I was; after some time he confessed to having
lost his way. He told me that a small village was in sight,
but we doubted whether it would be safe to approach it.
At this moment we heard the noise of an engine running
nearby with a stuttering beat. "Wait here, 111 see what it
is," said Lorente. I waited, shielding my eyes with my
hand until he returned.
Apparently the engine we had heard was that of a
mill which belonged to an Armenian. The man spoke
Russian, and Lorente thought he could be trusted. He
led me to the mill. The Armenian received us cordially
and eased my snow blindness by washing my eyes with
tea. Then he gave us something to eat. All the while the
engine was stuttering and stopping and running again.
The Armenian asked us whether we knew anything about
machinery and would be able to repair the motor which
operated his mill. We thought we could do it. Lorente
was a good mechanic, trained on airplane engines.
"If you can make it run smoothly, I give you fifty
ttimens" said our host. Fifty tumens would be wealth to
us. Lorente dismantled the engine and I helped as soon
as my eyes permitted; in the end we had it purring in
perfect rhythm. The Armenian was delighted. He let us
stay with him for several days and even took us hunting.
Of course we never told him who we were or that we
were fugitives from Soviet Russia. When we felt rested
and ready to walk on, we asked for the fifty tumens he
had promised us. He said, "I don't have so much cash
here, 111 have to go to Teheran for it." When he had left,
I told Lorente that I didn't like the look of it and thought
we should get away at once. "Without waiting for the
money?" he asked. "If it is money he's gone for. ..." I
answered. But Lorente believed that I was unjust to the
man who had been so kind to us, and I let him persaude
me worse luck!
The next morning we heard cars driving up from sev-
eral directions. Our Armenian was back, and with him a
squad of N.K.V.D. men with tommy guns. They had
come on three roads simultaneously to make sure that
we could not escape them.
It was an excellent business deal for the kind Arme-
nian. His engine was repaired. He had saved fifty tumens
and probably earned a reward. Above all, he had won the
good will of the all-powerful N.K.V.D.
At first we attempted to deny that we had come from
Soviet Russia, and insisted that we were residents in Per-
sia looking for work. The Armenian however pointed
out that we spoke Russian but not a word of Persian. The
Russians considered their case as proved. They put us
into a car and took us back to Teheran, directly to the
Soviet consulate. At no stage did we have a chance of
appealing to the Persian authorities. Thus our experience
taught us to what degree Russian influence was dominant
in this part of Persia then; Russian agents were free to
make arrests on foreign territory. I have been told that
the N.K.V.D. detained nearly 200,000 Persians and took
them away to labor camps in the Soviet Union. Persia
had so little real independence that her own citizens
could not Ibe sure of protection by the laws of their
country. What might a foreigner expect, then?
At the consulate we were put into a cell and our inter-
rogation began. I had been careful not to reveal my real
name, but the young woman who was called in as an
interpreter had worked in Spain during the Civil War
and recognized me at once as El Campesino. My denials
were useless; she would not be shaken. I became a "spe-
cial case," was separated from Lorente, and taken at
night, under elaborate precautions, to a lockup about
fourteen miles from Teheran.
On the way there I had an attack of violent despair. I
wanted to force my escort to kill me. In the car I began
to shout and struggle with all my strength. But it is not
easy to choose death at will once one is in the power of
the N.K.V.D. They muffled my head in a greatcoat and
choked my cries, almost choking me but not quite.
My new cell was a dark and damp hole underground.
From there I was taken to interrogation. The clothing
and shoes I had been given by the British were evidence
in the eyes of the N.K.V.D. officers that I had sold my-
self to the British espionage service. As I protested that
this was precisely what I had refused to do, and that my
sole wish had been to get into Spain and fight against
Franco, they beat me unconscious. When I came to my
senses, I was back in my dark cell. There I lost track of
the time, but I believe it was five or six days before I was
moved to another N.K.V.D. center in Persia, again at
night, handcuffed and in foot irons. Again I was ques-
tioned and beaten senseless; this time the ordeal lasted
eight or nine days. Finally five N.K.V.D. men armed with
tommy guns escorted me back into the Soviet Union-
back into the great prison from which I had escaped. The
bitterness I had felt on crossing the frontier into Persia
was nothing compared with what I felt when I was taken
across the frontier into the U.S.S.R.
They drove with me to Baku and wanted to leave me
in prison there. When the Baku prison authorities refused
to accept me, my guards were compelled to take me far-
ther on to Tiflis, the regional headquarters o the counter-
espionage service. The first thing the Tiflis police did was
to take away my English suit and shoes, not forgetting
socks and handkerchiefs, and give me instead the shabby
uniform of a soldier in the Red Army. Then they left me
in my cell for five whole days, alone and without food.
At the end of those five days the door of my cell opened
and in came a man who addressed me by name in a pleas-
ant and friendly tone. He introduced himself as Captain
Nikitin, the "procurator" or examining judge. I learned
from him that Campillo had indeed been captured after
he had left us, had passed through the Tiflis prison, and
was now in the Lubianka prison in Moscow. Though he
had been tortured, his statements were favorable to my-
self and Lorente. Lorente was in a cell near mine. From
him and Campillo Captain Nikitin knew the detailed
circumstances of our flight. Both had corroborated what I
had claimed from the beginning and consistently, that
our only aim had been to return to Spain and take up the
underground struggle against Franco. At Nikitin's ad-
vice and request I signed a statement to this effect.
Nikitin made it plain that Lorente and I were about to
be transferred to the Lubianka prison, and that our inter-
rogation and trial for espionage would follow. He did not
hide from me that I would probably be tortured. But
he was unfailingly friendly and considerate, gave me
tobacco, and saw to it that I had enough to eat. My ten or
twelve days in Tiflis prison were an exception the only
one of its kind among my prison experiences in Russia,
just as Captain Nikitin was the only exception among
the hyenas who administer so-called justice in the
U.S.S.R I shall always be grateful to him or to his mem-
ory, for men like Nikitin do not last long in such a post.
When I was put on a prison train bound for Moscow,
I had recovered some of my strength. I needed it at once.
Our coach, nicknamed the "thirty-year-car," was reserved
for men convicted of espionage, which meant a sentence
for life even when the formal sentence only specified fif-
teen, twenty, or twenty-five years' hard labor. The com-
partment into which I was pushed had room for four
passengers. There were sixteen of us. When the door
slammed, we found ourselves pressed into a single block
of flesh. And once the train had started, the door was not
opened again for four and a half days.
So we were ferried across Russia, a solid mass of
starved, thirsty, half-suffocated creatures who became
something less than human. Not being able to move, we
were racked by terrible cramps. We slept standing, and
satisfied our necessities standing. With every hour the
atmosphere in this foul box grew more pestilential. As the
train rattled on, we drifted into a state of blurred semi-
consciousness in which the brain ceased to think and the
senses to feel.
At Rostov the door was opened. We had a breath of
air, a drink of water, and a little food. First I drank, for
the ordeal by thirst had been worse than the ordeal by
hunger. Then I turned to the food. Each of us was given
three hundred grams of black bread scarcely eleven
ounces and a few sprats. I tasted the sprats; they were so
salty that I forced myself not to eat them. I had heard
stories about prisoners on long transports like ours, who
had gone mad or died of thirst from eating those salt
fish, before being locked up again. We could not know
when we would taste water again. I did not risk the sprats
and ate only the bread.
Then the door was shut on us again and the train
moved on. Our taste of air, food, and water had revived
us and we felt the horrors of the journey more acutely,
until we sank back into merciful insensibility. After five
more days we were unloaded in Moscow.
When we pried ourselves loose from one another and
shuffled out of our box, two bodies fell to the floor. Two
men were dead and must have been dead for some time.
They had died on their feet, held up by our packed
living bodies, and nobody had noticed it. The smell of
death was not stronger than the general stench, and their
"immobility not strange where no one could move. In
the midst of fellow sufferers, they had died in fearful
AFTER THE PRISON train came the prison van. It was
a huge windowless car with a central passage flanked
by eight or nine cubicles on each side. A guard thrust
me roughly into one of those cells* My face was glued to
the outer wall of the van, the door pressed against my
back. In this fashion I was brought to the Lubianka
prison, on one of the first days of March, 1945,
To begin with I was put into a sobatchnika. "ken-
nel/' It was a closet with just enough room either to
stand or to sit on a stool with one's knees touching the
door. After two hours I was taken for a medical examina-
tion which, in reality, was a ruthless and thorough search
of my body, It was carried out by a woman with the red
star of a N.K.V.D. captain on her white overall To the
best of my belief, a woman was employed for those in-
tricate manipulations to make the humiliation worse for
the men. She handled me brusquely, with utter callous-
ness. After she had turned back my eyelids, they went on
hurting for four days. To probe my ears, she used a sort
of wire which left them bleeding. I cannot bring myself
to describe the way in which she exploited my anus and
urethra. Then she examined my mouth and esophagus
with a tube carrying a minute light bulb on its end*
During this procedure I vomited four times as intended.
At the beginning of the examination I had to swallow a
piece of bread and a quart of foamy water which tasted
of soap. The idea was to make me throw up whatever I
might have tried to hide by swallowing it.
When the torment was over I felt sick, full of loathing,
and unspeakably humiliated. To prolong the humiliation,
which was one of the main weapons at the Lubianka, I
was not given back my clothes but taken to my "kennel"
completely naked. I spent the night naked, a March night
in Moscow! The next morning they gave me a pair of
short trousers, ending at my knees, and a shirt with only
one sleeve. My jailers were good psychologists. They
realized that tragedy may inspire strength and a sense
of one's own worth, therefore suffering had to be turned
into something ridiculous. It is difficult to decide whether
I found my nakedness the absence of the customary
shelter of clothing more demoralizing, or that clown's
outfit which made it impossible to face anyone without a
shaming sense of being a figure of fun.
They left me in the "kennel" for six days, with nothing
to do except to wait for what? and to recover from
standing by sitting, from sitting by standing. A guard
outside the door kept constant watch on me through the
Judas window, as though to tell me: While you are here,
you cannot make a single gesture or movement without
being seen by us. This was the first lesson of the Lu-
Next I was put into a cell which had already five in-
mates. They were so pale, weak, and emaciated that I
thought it was a sick cell and that these men suffered
from grave diseases. Under cover of the noise which the
guard made in locking the door, one of the five later I
knew him as a Lithuanian whispered to me, "You'll
stay here for a year unless you die before/' I retorted, "I
don't die so easily!" The five looked at me with astonish-
ment and pity. They must have thought: He is new here,
he doesn't know yet. I believe I was put in the company
of those wretched, half-dead men so that I should see
what the future would make of me.
Our cell was approximately fifteen by eight feet large.
Three bunks were ranged on each side along the longer
walls. They were too short for a normal man to stretch
out, and we had to sleep with our legs doubled up. The
lower part of the walls was painted a dirty, sickly green,
the upper part a gaudy ochre. Each of the colors was un-
pleasant by itself. Together they were maddening for
somebody who had to see them day after day, week after
week. It was a comparatively small thing what does it
matter if walls are ugly but it was one of the details of
the prison regime which were designed to attack the
senses of the most insensitive prisoners.
Our muscles were mortified by the impossibility of
stretching out when we slept and by the rigid positions
we had to maintain during the day I shall have to say
more about them in a moment. Our sense of sight was
tormented by the staring ugliness of our surroundings.
But our sense of hearing was subjected to torture by si-
lence. The walls were so thick that each cell was insu-
lated. We were forbidden to speak to one another in the
cell, and a microphone made it possible for the guard
outside our door to hear the slightest whisper. This rule
was particularly hard to bear. Communion and comrade-
ship, the means to relieve our discomfort and break the
monotony, were within our reach, but we had to resist
the most human urge, the urge to speak, because it was
forbidden to us.
Our day began at five in the morning, Then we had to
get up from our cramping bunks and were allowed seven
minutes to go to the toilet. There was one toilet, and the
six of us had to use it in turn within the seven minutes. It
was our one and only opportunity during the whole day.
In the cell we tried to control the demands of our body,
but it was rare that all six were able to contain themselves
for twenty-four hours.
During our seven minutes' absence, the guards made
a careful search of our cell. After our return, we had two
hours to clean it out. We had to wipe our bunks with a
rag soaked in paraffin, and polish the floor with brushes.
If the guard discovered that we had left the smallest
spot, we were put to work for another two hours. It could
have given us some relief from doing nothing, but ex-
hausted and weak as we were, it was punishment.
When we had finished the cleaning, we got our break-
fast, three and a half ounces of black bread and a mugful
of warm water. And then followed a different kind of
torture. We would have liked to lie down on our uncom-
fortable bunks for a rest after our labors. The rule how-
ever was that we had to sit on them in an upright posi-
tion, our legs and knees close together, a book in our
hands, never for a moment allowing ourselves to relax or
slump. Each had a book in his hands and longed to read,
but the regulation demanded that he keep his eyes fixed
on the peephole in the door. If one of us forgot himself
and sought escape in his book, the door would open al-
most immediately and the guard would call him to order
At one o'clock we were given our midday meal. It was
an almost unbelievable ritual. A man dressed as a waiter,
in blouse and tall cap of glistening white, brought on a
silver-plated tray under silver-plated dish covers, for
each of us another three and a half ounces of black bread
and a hot soup made of tomato and sour cabbage. To
have this miserable food served to miserable men in
miserable surroundings by a neat, elegant waiter, was a
master stroke of refined cruelty, another touch of that
buffoonery which was destroying our spirit as much as
our abject suffering itself.
Between half past one and two we were allowed or
rather, ordered to lie on our bunks. From two to seven
we again had to sit in rigid postures, our eyes fixed on the
peephole. Our evening ration came at seven and was a
repetition of our midday meal. Then another hour and a
half sitting on the edge of our bunks, staring at the peep-
hole. And then at nine, to bed. To bed but not to rest. It
was not part of the program that some of the prisoners*
strength should be restored during the night.
I have already mentioned the cramped position to
which the shortness of our bunks forced us, but this was
not all by any means. Prison rules obliged us to keep our
arms stretched out on top of the blanket, however cold
it was, and keep them so that the guard could see them
all the time. In addition, our faces had to be turned to-
wards the door even during our sleep if we managed to
sleep so that the first thing our eyes saw on opening was
that relentless spyhole.
If a guard noticed that a prisoner had changed his
position in his sleep he would burst into the cell and
buffet him awake. The guard had no difficulty in keeping
a check on us because the bright electric light was kept
burning the whole night, stabbing through our closed
hours to clean it out. We had to wipe our bunks with a
rag soaked in paraffin, and polish the floor with brushes.
If the guard discovered that we had left the smallest
spot, we were put to work for another two hours. It could
have given us some relief from doing nothing, but ex-
hausted and weak as we were, it was punishment.
When we had finished the cleaning, we got our break-
fast, three and a half ounces of black bread and a mugful
of warm water. And then followed a different kind of
torture. We would have liked to lie down on our uncom-
fortable bunks for a rest after our labors. The rule how-
ever was that we had to sit on them in an upright posi-
tion, our legs and knees close together, a book in our
hands, never for a moment allowing ourselves to relax or
slump. Each had a book in his hands and longed to read,
but the regulation demanded that he keep his eyes fixed
on the peephole in the door. If one of us forgot himself
and sought escape in his book, the door would open al-
most immediately and the guard would call him to order
At one o'clock we were given our midday meal. It was
an almost unbelievable ritual. A man dressed as a waiter,
in blouse and tall cap of glistening white, brought on a
silver-plated tray under silver-plated dish covers, for
each of us another three and a half ounces of black bread
and a hot soup made of tomato and sour cabbage. To
have this miserable food served to miserable men in
miserable surroundings by a neat, elegant waiter, was a
master stroke of refined cruelty, another touch of that
buffoonery which was destroying our spirit as much as
our abject suffering itself.
Between half past one and two we were allowed or
rather, ordered to lie on our bunks. From two to seven
we again had to sit in rigid postures, our eyes fixed on the
peephole. Our evening ration came at seven and was a
repetition of our midday meal Then another hour and a
half sitting on the edge of our bunks, staring at the peep-
hole. And then at nine, to bed. To bed but not to rest. It
was not part of the program that some of the prisoners'
strength should be restored during the night.
I have already mentioned the cramped position to
which the shortness of our bunks forced us, but this was
not all by any means. Prison rules obliged us to keep our
arms stretched out on top of the blanket, however cold
it was, and keep them so that the e;uard could see them
all the time. In addition, our faces had to be turned to-
wards the door even during our sleep if we managed to
sleep so that the first thing our eyes saw on opening was
that relentless spyhole.
If a guard noticed that a prisoner had changed his
position in his sleep he would burst into the cell and
buffet him awake. The guard had no difficulty in keeping
a check on us because the bright electric light was kept
burning the whole night, stabbing through our closed
lids into our brains even in our sleep. But, sleep? It was
no real sleep. We piled the fatigue of the night on the
fatigue of the day and woke more tired than we had gone
Which feature of this prison regime contributed most
to the physical and mental disintegration of the inmates
of the Lubianka?
The hunger was bad enough. A prisoner of the Lubian-
ka could not have died of starvation, even had he wished
for it; skillful, systematic underfeeding would merely
turn him into a brute stupefied by lack of food. His whole
body would ache with craving for plenty of food, enough
to eat his fill for once, and for different food, anything but
the eternal black bread and cabbage soup.
Sleeplessness was worse. As we got up, more exhausted
than the night before, we would feel stupor creeping over
us. We would feel our eyes sinking deeper into our skull
and our skin sticking to our bones, and a hollowness with-
in, as if all life had been sucked out of us.
Worst of all was our obsession with the eye. When we
kept our eyes glued to the peephole, as the prison rule
imposed, we saw behind it the eye of the guard, un-
ceasingly fixed on us. We could never escape from its
watchful glance. Did we really see the eye? It appeared
so, because the guard would quickly come into the cell
to punish us if we ever looked away. And yet, I ask my-
self whether it could have been physically possible that
there was no moment in which there was no eye at the
Judas window. The strain would have been almost as
bad for the guard as for us. Possibly the guard was re-
lieved at frequent intervals. Possibly a painted eye was
sometimes stuck up on the other side of the door. We
could not have gone close enough to make sure without
bringing harsh punishment down on us. In any case we
did not argue or think it out lucidly while we were there.
It did not matter. The main thing was that we thought
the eye was there and believed that we saw it.
We saw it day and night, awake and asleep. All our
nightmares centered round the peephole and the eye.
When we were sitting motionless on our bunks, tortured
by the almost irresistible temptation to move, the hole
filled by the eye at which we had to stare seemed to grow
until it covered our whole range of vision. At times it
would seem to rotate, faster and faster, dragging our con-
fused thoughts into a whirl of nothingness.
The Lithuanian suffered more than the rest of us
from this spell. His eyes would bulge and follow an
imaginary circular movement of the peephole. Then he
would begin to drool at the mouth and to move his head
in small circles. Usually it was only a moment before the
guard burst in, rained blows on his unresisting body and
pushed him back into the prescribed position. But soon
afterwards the Lithuanian's head would start moving
again as if by itself, always in the same circle, while his
eyes were fastened upon the peephole and the eye.
A human being was disintegrating.
Once a week came an interruption. A doctor with the
rank of a major would enter our cell, accompanied by a
couple of N.K.V.D. officers. With the greatest amiability
he would interrogate each prisoner about the state of his
health, and ask whether he had complaints about the
food or wished to write to his family. If a new prisoner
was foolish enough to accept this offer, his letter would
be passed on to the examining judge in charge of his
Nevertheless this weekly visit was more than an elab-
orate mockery. In combination with the reports of the
guards, the reports of the medical inspector recorded the
reactions of the prisoners, assessed their stage of physical
and mental weakness, and made it possible to decide
when they were ripe for questioning.
The regime to which we were subjected was nothing
but a preparation.
THE MEDICAL INSPECTOR considered that I was in
the right frame of mind for cross-examination when I
had been in the Lubianka for one month.
Night and darkness have always been the allies of in-
quisitors. It was always at night that I was questioned-
every night for two months, and nearly every night for
another six months.
One day I went to bed at nine o'clock, according to
rule. Twenty or thirty minutes later, when I had drifted
into sleep, two guards pulled me out of my bunk and
gave me two minutes to dress. Then each grasped one of
my arms and so I was marched out of my cell.
The corridors of the Lubianka are endless. I was taken
through a long passage, into an elevator and out again,
through another long passage, into and out of another
elevator, through a third long passage. I do not believe
that it was really such a long way to the interrogation
rooms. Probably they prolonged the journey to impress
me with the vastness of the prison, or to give me more
time to suffer from apprehension, or both.
The corridors of the Lubianka are silent. Thick carpets
deaden the sound of steps. The prisoner is led to his doom
along empty, silent passages. On the rare occasions that
another pair of guards in charge of another prisoner
appear at the end of a passage, the first ones click their
tongues, as one does to a mule or dog, swing their prison-
er round, and keep him with his face pressed against the
wall until the second party has passed. A prisoner of the
Lubianka must never see any fellow prisoners except his
cellmates, not even when he is transported in the prison
van. If his own friends are in the cells to the right and
left of him, he is not told. He must feel completely alone.
When my guards arrived with me at the entrance to
the interrogation rooms, I had to sign a register. The
woman behind the desk held a shield over the page, with
a slit just wide enough to sign one's name on the blank
space. It was impossible to see the signatures of other
prisoners. When my guards delivered me to the examin-
ing judge, he signed a receipt for me. On leaving after
interrogation, I had to sign the register again. In the
Lubianka they are meticulous about their records.
I was brought into Room 967, a large, severe, well-lit
room. The walls were bare except for the obligatory por-
trait of Stalin facing the door. One N.K.V.D. officer in
uniform sat at a table, two others were standing near
him. I was told to sit down in a corner, eight yards from
them, and to put my hands on a stout wooden board in
front of me. I was in a pen. And then I waited. Nothing
happened. The officers said not a word and pretended to
read their newspapers, but their eyes were on me all the
time. I was so tired that I could hardly keep awake. After
more than an hour they suddenly started firing questions
at me, as if they had silently agreed that the waiting had
worked sufficiently on my nerves. They had distributed
their roles. The officer who had been sitting when I came
into the room spoke in a patronizing, friendly, and affable
tone, while the other two insulted me in the foulest
language. But I knew the matchless Russian vocabulary
of abuse and blasphemy well enough myself, and from
my corner I paid them back in kind.
The questions came so quickly that I scarcely had time
to answer. When had I begun to work for the British and
North American imperialists? Hadn't it been during the
Spanish Civil War? The N.K.V.D. had kept me under
observation for many years. For instance, they knew I
had been in touch with a certain American officer at-
tached to the U.S. Embassy in Madrid. How often had I
seen him? What secrets had I passed on to him? How
much had he paid me?
I answered with jeers. The weekly inspectors had been
rash when they reported me ripe for questioning; I be-
lieve my behavior disconcerted my inquisitors. Their
game was clear from the beginning. They meant to pass
a harsh sentence on me, but they also wanted to destroy
my whole past and dishonor me in the eyes of the world
and particularly of the Spanish Communists. El Campe-
sino had been a cheap agent of the Anglo-American im-
perialists already in Spain. Why had I led thousands to
their death? To weaken the Republican Army! Why had
I committed countless reprehensible acts? To discredit
the Communist cause! And why had I wanted to do all
that? Because I was a paid lackey of the Anglo-Ameri-
cans, of course! No wonder the British at Teheran had
received me with open arms and provided me with good
clothes and money I had earned it in their service. Those
clothes were here as conclusive evidence against me.
I answered, "Certainly not. When the English saw
what rags I was in after living in the Soviet Union for
some years, they gave me clothes. I needed them badly.
Now youVe stolen them from me. That's all there is to
My first interrogation ended at four in the morning. It
was not continuous. From time to time they stopped and
seemed to forget my presence. Then, after a long pause,
they pounced on me again to catch me off my guard.
The whole game was repeated all over again the fol-
lowing night, all the following nights. I was rudely wak-
ened after my first half hour's sleep and sent back to my
cell in the small hours of the morning. The questions, the
intervals of silence, and the roles played by my interroga-
tors followed the same pattern. There were a few varia-
tions though. It became obvious that they checked
answers I had given the day before, and that they based
some of their questions on additional information which
could come only from one group of people, the Spanish
Committee in Moscow my old comrades, who were
hounding me down, working through the N.K.V.D. One
point, however, was not brought up as an accusation
against me though they had it on record and that was my
banditry in Kokand. The N.K.V.D. did not bother about
On the fourth or fifth night, the three officers filled one
of the intervals by passing round photographs and mak-
ing loud comments, just as if I had not been there. The
comments were meant for me. They told me clearly that
those were photographs of my wife, Ariadna, and of my
newly born baby daughter. It was in this form, in Room
967 of the Lubianka prison, that I first learned I had a
daughter. When I begged them to let me see the photos,
they refused, but continued their mocking remarks. The
child wasn't like me at all. Was I sure I was the father?
Of course, my anti-Communist activities had kept me
away from Ariadna so often and so long that a better
Communist might have taken my place with her. This
was right and proper. She needed another man now when
I was lost to her for good. But what should they do with
her? Leave her free so she could divorce me and marry
the other man, or arrest her as my accomplice? They
found my affection for my wife a good weapon against
At the end of each session, I was ordered to sign a
statement which recorded questions and answers, and
each time they told me to confess the crimes of which
they accused me. I never signed anything. After two
months they concluded that stronger measures were
called for. I was not taken back to my cell but put into
I answered with a hunger strike. They let me starve
eight days, perhaps expecting me to break down, and on
the ninth they put me into a strait jacket. They pulled the
straps so tight that I could hardly breathe and fed me a
liquid through a tube. Retching and choking, I had to
swallow it. After an interruption I resumed my hunger
strike. Again they put me into the strait jacket and fed
me soup through a tube. I saw that I could not win in the
unequal battle and gave up my attempt. They went on
with the interrogation.
Altogether they questioned me during eight months.
On most nights they did not let me sleep more than two
hours and a half, often not more than an hour and a half.
I thought no longer of food but only of sleep. Sleep is the
worst of all obsessions. In daytime it cost me a super-
human effort not to provoke the blows of the guards who
came into my cell as soon as I began to doze. At night, it
took me another supreme effort to stay awake during the
interrogations, especially when the examining judges did
not speak to me for hours on end, and to meet the quick
fire of their questions. In the end I answered without
thinking at all, by sheer instinct and out of crude
The only thing that counted was the crying need of
my body for sleep. They shouted questions, the insults,
the blows meant nothing. I craved sleep. I thought of
nothing but sleep. And yet, each time they thrust a pre-
pared statement before me and asked me to sign it, I
refused without a thought. Anything might have been
said in those statements I wouldn't have known. I was
incapable of reading and understanding. But I never
signed. I never confessed anything.
At last my interrogators decided to apply the final
means of persuasion. When I had once again refused to
sign a statement, they called in my guards, and one of the
officers gave the order, "Take him to the freezing bath."
On the floor below, in front of a small door, my guards
ordered me to undress. Then, with practiced skill, one of
them pulled the door open, the other pushed me through
it, and slammed it shut again.
Powerful jets of ice-cold water struck me from every-
where. They came from the walls, the ceiling and possi-
blymy memory is confused from the floor. The sudden
impact of that icy shower which comes without the slight-
est preparation, without a transition, and strikes the
naked, defenseless body at every point is such that the
muscles are at once paralyzed, the heart refuses to func-
tion, and unconsciousness follows in the wake of an an-
guish similar to a grave heart attack.
After some moments I lost consciousness. I woke up
in the "kennel," still naked, dripping, and shivering. It
was hours before my frozen body ceased to shake.
Although the immediate pain of the freezing bath lasts
no more than a few moments, the shock it causes is so
great that it is the most dreaded torture of the Lubianka.
Most prisoners who have been through it once collapse
when they are threatened with it again. I passed through
it not once but several times. For even after the freezing
bath I refused to sign a confession. I was sent there again,
and still I refused to sign anything.
How did I hold out where it would have been normal
and human to break down? I do not know. I think that
the hard life I had always led made me exceptionally
tough. Also, in my case the interrogators were defeated
by their own tactics. By depriving me of sleep for such a
long time they turned me into an unreasoning brute who
acted from the obscure dictates of instinct. But before I
reached this stage, and while I was still capable of
thought, I had fixed my mind stubbornly on not signing
anything. Later, when I could only act by blind instinct,
that mental command had become a part of instinct
itself. I was incapable of changing my mind, for it func-
tioned no longer.
Of all the prisoners subjected to the regime and
methods of the Lubianka, probably not more than one in
a thousand has resisted to the bitter end, and even fewer
among the Russians. The Soviet inquisitors know their
own people well, particularly their Party members. For-
eigners puzzle them. They had not counted with the fact
that I was not a Russian, with all that capacity for renun-
ciation and submission, with that lack of individual pride
and self-esteem, which seem inbred in them. Yet as a
rule they succeed even with foreigners. Their first ques-
tionings are designed to probe the prisoner's weak spots,
to experiment with the kinds of attack to which he is
most susceptible, and to test his powers of resistance.
Then they use their accumulated knowledge for the real
attack. There comes a moment when the prisoner feels
he is caught like a fly in a spider's web, his vital substance
being sucked away until he is nothing but an empty shell.
By then he is usually ready to purchase relief a little
more food, a little more sleep by agreeing to sign at
least some part of the confession which is demanded of
him. He believes that this is just a sop to the judge, some-
thing that does not matter. But it is only the beginning.
Now the inquisitors have discovered how to make him
yield, and they press on to make him yield further. How
can he withdraw what he admitted the day before?
Unless he has the unexpected strength to retract, the
signed statement of yesterday leads logically, inexorably,
to the wider statement he will be asked to sign today.
With the first concession he was lost. In the end he con-
fesses everything, only to be left in peace. If this means
death, what of it? The sooner it comes, the better.
There was a period when such confessions meant
death for the Soviet prisoners, but under Beria the sys-
tem was different For a time capital punishment was
abolished by law, though it was reintroduced later. In
any case the regime now found it wasteful to kill its pris-
oners quickly and mercifully. Instead they had first to
give their last ounce of strength in the mines, timber
forests, and workshops of Siberia until hardship and
overwork killed them. Soviet economy reaped great
profit from the agony of its victims. This was the final
achievement of the most perfect machine ever devised
to disintegrate and dehumanize human beings. Its first
achievement was the complete dehumanization of the
judges, officials, and police who work it.
I am one of the few who defeated that machine. But I
defeated it only in so far as I did not let it wrest from me
a signature or confession which would have acknowl-
edged its justice. In another sense it could not be de-
feated. The refusal to confess led neither to acquittal
nor to release from the clutches of the N.K.V.D. My
stubborn resistance did only one thing for me: It sent
me to my fate with the knowledge that I had not bowed
down before those unjust judges.
The end came without preparation. Towards the end
of my ninth month in the Lubianka, I was escorted from
my cell to the prison van. Once more I was pushed into
a cubicle, my face to the wall, the door pressing into my
back. If others were in cells next to me, I did not know it.
As the van started with a jolt and I was rocking back and
forth in my dark closet, I knew that my long battle with
the inquisition was over, since I was here, but nothing
more. Nobody had told me anything. The prison van
carried me towards the unknown.
My first destination turned out to be the prison camp
On my arrival I was thrust into a cell full of naked men.
Why they were naked became immediately understand-
able. In a room measuring some 450 square feet, 180 to
190 prisoners were herded together. The air was foul and
thick, the heat stifling. Nearly everyone had taken off his
clothes because they were unbearable in this oven. I
soon found that the few exceptions to this rule were the
weakest prisoners, those who did not dare to take off
their clothes because they would not be able to defend
their property against their thieving cellmates. I also
found that the most dangerous thieves, and the masters
of the collective cell, were common criminals.
This was my first acquaintance with a prison hierarchy
I was to meet in other camps as well. At the top were the
guards, then came the common criminals murderers,
thieves and cutthroats who lorded it over the others,
and lowest were the political prisoners.
Most of the guards at Butyrka, and in a good many
other prisons and labor camps as well, came from Kazak-
stan. They were young men, between twenty and twenty-
four, rather short in build but extremely strong and
tough, with large heads of Mongolian cast, and small,
cunning eyes glittering with cupidity. After the four
years for which they had enlisted, they would be posted
to Kolkhozes in their native country. In the meantime
they had absolute power over us, might beat us or kill us,
or rape the women, and be certain they would not be
called to account. They exercised these privileges mainly
against the political prisoners. We were the "counter-
revolutionaries," the "fascists," for whom no treatment
was bad enough. Only to the ordinary criminals did the
guards show a certain respect. They found it easy to
make common cause with them because they belonged
to the same breed. And then, the criminals shared their
loot from the "politicals" with the guards, to whom poli-
tics meant nothing and enjoyment of their term of power
In our cell, a score of common criminals terrorized tlie
rest of the prisoners. From the start I showed them that
I did not accept their dictatorship. I hegan by fighting
for, and winning, a place on the floor to stretch out. (We
had to sleep on the ground, without any cover, but this
meant no special hardship in the sweltering heat of our
crowded cell. ) Next I made sure of my few possessions
by announcing that I would kill anyone who dared touch
them. The leader of the criminal gang got the impression
that I was a prominent bandit, and hastened to assure me
of his friendship. After this his group did not bother me.
On my third day at Butyrka I was called to see a
N.K.V.D. major he came in civilian clothes who greeted
me politely and gave me tobacco and food. This was a
change indeed after the freezing bath! The reason for it
became clear when he advised me to sign the prepared
statement he had brought with him. Such an act of co-
operation, he explained, would be taken as a sign of my
good will and make it possible to review my whole case
in a different light. When I failed to co-operate, he be-
came rather less friendly and read me the sentence that
had been passed against me: three years of hard labor at
Vorkuta Camp, in the polar region of Siberia; five years
of forced residence, and five years of loss of all civic
rights; altogether thirteen years in the hands of the
N.K.V.D., which might well become a life sentence.
Most prisoners who arrived at Butyrka began to serve
their sentence before they even knew that it had been
passed and what it contained. But a prison camp had
advantages. It was not a sealed tomb like the Lubianka.
The time of investigation and interrogation was over, and
prisoners were allowed to write to their families. Of
course this did not mean that they could write real letters.
They could merely fill in the blank space of printed forms,
to let their families know that they were alive and ask
them to send food and tobacco. When parcels arrived,
they were stolen, of course, by the criminals or the
guards. Often food parcels would continue to come long
after the prisoner had been transferred to his final place
of destination, a fact of which his family was never in-
formed, and the only ones to benefit from them were the
I was supposed to be on hard labor from the moment
my sentence had been read to me, even while I was in
temporary camps. I had registered as a builder because
of my work at the Moscow underground. Therefore they
made me a sort of foreman at Butyrka. My task was to
organize the working gangs of men and women. Every
night at ten, two guards took me through all collective
cells, and I had to pick out up to eight hundred people
fit for work on the following day. It was then that I came
to knew the horrors of the female prisoners' existence.
The women were kept in five large collective cells,
crowded together like the men, and like the men they
went more or less naked. Most of them were no longer
young, and they were dirty, unkempt, gaunt, and repul-
sively ugly. But there were some young girls too, four-
teen, thirteen or even twelve years old what "enemies"
to the regime! The most depraved among the elder
women made vicious use of them,
While I put names on my list and selected workers for
the next day from this pitiful herd of human cattle, the
guards would take their pick of the most attractive young
girls. One or two guards at least dragged their victims
into the passage outside. But more often a guard would
fling the girl to the ground and violate her then and
there, with the others looking on. If she struggled or
screamed, some of the other women would hold her
down, shut her mouth with their hands, and then the
assault would take its course amid shrieks, laughter, and
obscene jokes. I had never imagined anything like it and
thought nothing could be worse, but I found that the
night of the general monthly bath was infinitely more
horrible. The orgy there revolted me so much that I
could not bear to go on making my list and threw paper
and pencil on the floor. At once the guards jumped on
me and beat me senseless. I came to myself in the infir-
mary. As a rule they take no notice of routine beatings
there, so I must have had an exceptionally large dose.
The insatiable sexual appetite of the guards caused the
worst incident during my time at Butyrka.
A young peasant girl had been put into a collective
cell. As a newcomer, she was not forewarned or hardened
by experience, and when a guard wanted to rape her, she
put up a desperate fight. Her shrieks were so heart-
rending that some of the male prisoners in the next cell
began to beat with their fists on the wall. Most of those
men were common criminals and not particularly squeam-
ish, but they were also young and had not had time to
become quite so cynical as their elders.
When the noise from the men's cell grew louder, a
hush fell on the women. They knew the price to pay for
"collective protests." The men too knew it, and demon-
strations of this sort were very rare. But there are times
when it is impossible to keep oneself under control, and
this was one of them. Only a few men had started beat-
ing against the wall, but the contagion spread and a wave
of madness drove the whole crowd in the cell to frenzy.
They battered against door and walls, shouts and insults
swelled the noise, and the whole prison shook.
The guards ran in a body to the rioting cell, with their
tommy guns. They pulled the door open and fired one
round, and another, and a third. Then the barking of the
guns stopped, and the prison was quiet, but for the groans
of the wounded and dying.
The wounded were carried to the infirmary, the dead
were buried, and the guards were praised by the admin-
istration of the prison for their prompt action in stifling a
<.<. . . >y
From Butyrka I was sent to the camp of Krasniya-
Presnya, a relay station on the way to Siberia. The com-
manders of the various labor camps sent guards to
Krasniya-Presnya to fetch the prisoners destined to work
under them. They were known as "the slave traders." I
spent four months in Butyrka and Krasniya-Presnya
waiting for the slave traders to come for me. It was in
January, 1946, that they finally delivered me at the
Siberian labor camp to which I had been sentenced to
which I had been condemned.
UNDER THE NAME of Komisaro Piotr Antonovich,
with papers which mentioned neither my past nor my
real identity, I arrived at the town of Vorkuta on a day
when the thermometer showed eighty-five degrees below
the freezing point. The N.K.V.D. officer who decided on
the prisoners' places of work saw immediately that I was
in better physical condition than most, and suggested
that I should become a Stakhanovite. He said, "If your
output and your conduct are satisf actory, 111 see that you
get good papers at the end of your term. If not, you know
what to expect: a dog's life and a dog's death/'
I intended to survive, and therefore I had to win the
confidence of the officials. And by now I knew how to do
that. I answered the officer that I was a loyal Communist
in spite of my sentence, I would try hard to be one of the
best Stakhanovites and do my share to convert the arctic
desert into the richest region of the Socialist fatherland.
He was delighted. I was assigned to a coal mine and
sent to the corresponding labor camp. There I reported to
the camp commander. When he heard my bad Russian,
he inquired about my nationality. I said I was Spanish,,
but did not offer further explanation. The commander
was greatly interested. He said that his assistant had been
in the Spanish War, and sent for him at once. When this-
assistant, a lieutenant, saw me, he exclaimed in surprise
and threw his arms round me. He had been aide to
General Lukacs whom I had known well a famous;
Hungarian general of the International Brigades who was
killed at the front, just in time to escape disgrace and
arrest by the Russian secret service in Spain. Naturally
the lieutenant explained to his chief who I really was.
He did it in the most favorable terms. This was a good
start for me. But it did not change the hard facts of my
situation. I still remained subject to the same cruel regime
as my fellow prisoners, and to the same murderous cli-
mate, which at first I thought I would not be able to
Vorkuta means "people of the underworld." The first
human beings who settled in those frozen "taigas" north
of the Arctic Circle were deported prisoners. Now there
is a town of Vorkuta, the administrative center of the
Vorkuta region and of its camps which supply labor for
the mines, the new factories, and the land. The Soviet
authorities plan to turn the Vorkuta into one of the most
productive and densely populated areas of the U.S.S.R^
and this they can achieve only through slave labor. North
of the timber forests is the great arctic plain where the
soil thaws only for a brief spell in summer, and then only
on the surface. Underneath the crust is the solid depth
of everlastingly icebound earth. In July and August the
climate is bearable, but soon the ground freezes again.
And when the polar night begins, the Vorkuta is a black,
icy hell Only the doomed prisoners work on, night or
day, ice or thaw.
In the Siberian winter it is impossible to be out of
doors unless one is completely covered. The least care-
lessness means frostbitten limbs and amputation. A man
alone would not be able to stay alive in the open when
the fierce storms sweep the tundra. One has either to
cling to guiding ropes or join hands with others in a chain.
The watchdogs of our guards sensed the approach of a
snow storm before we did; they began to howl and whine,
and this would be the signal to start cutting holes into
the frozen ground where there was no other shelter. If a
storm lasted for many hours and some lasted for days-
men crouching in such holes were buried under the snow
and froze to death.
One day it happened that 150 prisoners, a shift on its
way back to camp, were caught in a sudden storm only a
few hundred yards from the mine. The guards abandoned
them and made their way back to shelter with the help of
their dogs. The prisoners dug themselves in. Two days
later, when the storm abated, the next shift going to the
mine passed small white mounds. Nobody troubled to
dig the bodies out. But one of the officers in the camp
command said, "It is a pity we've lost their clothing/ 7
With the possible exception of the two summer months,
a successful escape through that vast wilderness was
virtually impossible. Yet the measures taken to guard us
were strict and elaborate. The Vorkuta camps had three,
and in some cases four, barbed wire fences. Elsewhere
they had these fences, or stockades, or stonework topped
by barbed wire. In our camps, the three fences were set
up at a yard's distance from each other. The first and
second were connected by an electric cable through
which a strong current could be sent in an emergency.
Between the second and the third fence roamed the
watchdogs. There were at least four of them, and in the
biggest camps eight; they were not tied up but kept each
to its beat by barriers. The dogs were the spoiled darlings
of the camp administration, trained to obey the guards
and hate the prisoners, and better fed than the N.K.VD.
men themselves. If a prisoner did succeed in getting
away, the dogs were let loose. There were cases where
they not only killed but mangled and devoured escaped
prisoners. But in any case, whether the dogs killed a
prisoner or not, the punishment for attempted escape was
Every camp had at least four watch towers, one at each
corner. They were manned by one guard during the day,
by two at night. These sentries were armed with revolvers
and tommy guns. Powerful searchlights were mounted on
each tower. To simplify precautions, the whole camp had
a single entrance gate.
Within a camp there were twenty to twenty-five huts
for the prisoners, 130 by 30 feet in size. Usually they were
built of wood, sometimes of a sort of felting. Two rows
of planks along the walls and one row in the middle
served as beds: bare planks, no blankets, no straw. Of
course we slept fully dressed. If our clothes were wet,
they had to dry on usor not.
Each hut was occupied by 150 to 160 prisoners. For
sanitation we had buckets which were emptied in the
morning and sent out their foul stench throughout the
night. For heating we had a single stove in the middle of
the hut. The punishment huts or vouros had no heating
No camp was without its vouro, an unheated shack
with small cells, twelve foot square, where prisoners
were locked up for the night, completely naked. The only
way not to fall asleep and freeze to death in the cold
seasons was to keep moving, to jump and run, and beat
one's body with one's fists. I was among the most favored
prisoners, but I had to spend several nights in the vouro.
In this camp we slept and lived, if one can call it living,
but for our work we were taken outside under heavy
guard. Each group of a hundred was escorted by six
soldiers with tommy guns. On the march, one of them
went in front of the column, one at the rear, and two on
each side, accompanied by two dogs. Any prisoner who
left his place in the file or bent down to pick up some-
thing risked being shot. The guards fired at the slightest
Prisoners whose place of work was more than ten miles
from camp were taken there in lorries, in loads of thirty-
five guarded by one soldier with a tommy gun and a
watchdog. During the drive the prisoners had to squat
on their heels, a position which left them exhausted be-
fore they started work.
The workers* gangs consisted of thirty-five prisoners
under a foreman, a prisoner himself, who had to act as a
slave driver unless he wanted to invite punishment. At
the end of each shift a bell was rung. Then the workers
had to sit down in groups of five and were counted by a
guard, while a checker compared their output, as re-
ported by the foreman, with the quota set to each gang.
If the target had been reached, the foreman got a voucher
which entitled him to draw the next day's rations for his
gang. If the target had not been reached, the rations
were cut by half and the foreman disciplined. Despite
this constant risk of punishment, the post of a foreman
was hotly coveted. Since he drew the rations for a whole
group, he had an opportunity to keep more than his own
share. Mostly the foremen lived on two or three men's
daily rations and so were the only ones likely to escape
The normal daily ration was as follows: iy 2 Ibs. of
black bread, made of barley or oatmeal mixed with bran,
sometimes even with straw, and the ingredients for a
soup, consisting of less than 1 oz. of cereal (rye, barley,
or coarse corn flour), 1 oz. of cabbage, % oz. of tomato,
% oz. of oil, and a pinch of salt. These minute rations
were made up into a watery soup. The black bread which
was our mainstay was half-baked, the inside of the loaf
raw and indigestible. Had it been baked thorougly it
would have lost three-quarters of its weight. As it was, its
nutritive value corresponded to six ounces of well-baked
bread. On this the prisoner had not only to live but also
to work, to work like one possessed.
At meal time the prisoners waited endlessly to get
their meager rations. Meanwhile they would look round
with feverish, greedy eyes to see whether a scrap of food
had been left somewhere. When the soup had been
poured into their messtins, or any old tin they happened
to have, at worst into their cloth caps, they would lap it
up like pigs. There were no spoons. We did not bother to
clean out our tins. Cleanliness was impossible in the
Work and food, food and work, too much work and too
little food; this was the vicious circle in which the pris-
oner was trapped. If he earned his full ration, he worked
himself into a state of exhaustion. The more he strained
himself, the more his body demanded food, more food
than it was allowed. Sooner or later the moment came,
however good his work, when undernourishment made
him too weak to fulfill his quota. Then he would be put
on the half ration, three-quarters of a pound of bread
corresponding to three ounces of normally baked bread.
On this diet he was bound to fall short of his quota again.
He was well started on the road to death.
Once a month there was a medical examination of all
prisoners. This is a misleading description, since it had
nothing to do with medical care and everything with the
drive for more work. A doctor who was an N.K.V.D.
officer, usually a woman, was in charge of the examina-
tion; three or four doctors taken from the ranks of the
prisoners acted as assistants. For the examination every
prisoner, man or woman, had to strip either in the open
or, when the cold was too severe even for us, in a room
next to the office. Then he had to wait for his turn, to-
gether with the other naked, shivering wretches. It was
a hellish sight. Our battered bodies had not even the
slight cover of their own hair or down; it all had to be
shaved off because of the vermin which infested us. We
men had our heads shaved as well. All of us were scarcely
more than skin and bones, in the literal sense of the
phrase, and the bones seemed about to burst through
their thin covering. Most pitiful and nauseating of all was
the sight of the women with their dangling breasts and
Once the prisoner was before the doctors, he (or she)
had to report his full name and circumstances, that is to
say, the crime of which he had been convicted and the
length of his sentence. Then one of the doctors would
look him over and feel his buttocks. If they were still
fleshy, he was listed as a prisoner fit for the highest work-
ing quota, in category I. If his buttocks were gaunt, he
was listed in category II; if nothing was left but the bone
and the skin, in category III. If he was so ill or worn out
that he could hardly stand and do no work at all, he
was no longer put into a category. Then his destination
was a grim special hut. Many prisoners came away from
the medical examination knowing that they had been put
in a category where the work would be too much for
them, knowing that they had been sentenced to death.
The doctors had no time to diagnose or treat illnesses;
it would have been senseless for a prisoner to mention
what was wrong with him. The task of the medical
inspection was to classify the prisoners according to their
capacity for work. This was all. But diseases and illnesses
were rampant. Some of them were peculiar to camps of
certain types. One of the worst was called the chinga:
teeth and hair dropped out, arm and leg muscles tight-
ened, and the victims were racked by terrible shooting
pains. Some relief could be found by eating raw onion
and garlic, but those were obtainable only by a fortunate
few. Apparently people suffering from chinga did not
even recover when they were sent away from the Vorkuta
to a better climate. Good food could postpone death for
months, but how often was good food wasted on prisoners
who were doomed anyway? The chinga went untreated
and was always fatal, as far as we could tell. It occurred
in camps where undernourishment was combined with
cold, and was therefore common not only in the Vorkuta
but also in other Siberian camps.
Another camp disease caused a swelling of the legs;
the bones seemed to dissolve to water and the victim
could not keep on his feet. This disease was frequent not
only in Siberia but also in the camps of Turkestan. Tuber-
culosis was the most common of all diseases, as was to be
expected. Few prisoners escaped it altogether. Its least
cruel form was "galloping consumption," because it
brought quick death. Less in our northern region than
in the camps of Uzbekistan, Kirghiz, Karaganda, and
Alma-Ata, many prisoners suffered from heart diseases
which first paralyzed and then killed them. An illness
prevalent in all camps of all regions had as its symptom
a constant need to urinate. Those afflicted with it had to
get up fifteen or twenty times a night, and often wetted
themselves in their sleep or on the march to and from
Women prisoners not only suffered from all these
diseases, but also from their special disorders. After a
couple of years of malnutrition, many of them developed
a continuous hemorrhage which caused the womb to
drop. They called it the "constant drip." Young girls
sent to the camp before puberty often passed straight
from childhood to menopause. In some cases this led to-
horrible inflammations of the ovaries and to swellings
which made them look as if they were pregnant.
But whatever the disease, and I have not listed all of
them by any means, those of us who were able to stand,
move, and make any sort of effort were classed in cate-
gories I, II, and III, and sent to the mines. Only those
who were quite finished were sent to one of the special
huts which existed in every camp. We called them the
death huts. Nobody ever left them to return to the living
world. But many of the prisoners lingered in them for
two, three, or four months, waiting for the end. Their
daily ration was seven ounces of bread and a pint of hot
water. When they had swallowed it ? they would crouch
or lie on the floor, hardly breathing. Those of us who had
a glimpse of them, and of their blankly staring eyes,
knew that we might follow them soon.
In the Vorkuta camps, 90 per cent of the convicts
had been sentenced for political offenses or "sabotage."
This might mean anything. A rash word of criticism, faint
praise for a foreign country, lack of respect towards a
superior, may all be judged as a political offense against
the Soviet system. Being five minutes late at work, taking
a pencil in an office, a hammer in a workshop, a handful
of grain in a Kolkhoze, making a journey without permit,
may all lead to a prosecution for sabotage. Once a prose-
cution is started, it nearly always ends with a labor camp.
The remaining 10 per cent of prisoners in the Vorkuta
camps were ordinary criminals, and their role was the
same as in Butyrka. With the tacit support of the camp
administration, which protected them partly from a
political principle, partly out of corruption, the criminal
prisoners terrorized and exploited the others. They alone
showed solidarity and unity among themselves. The qual-
ities of mutual trust and co-operation had disappeared in
the other groups, but the bandits still cultivated them to
carry on their banditry at the expense of their fellow
prisoners. They made their own laws and imposed them
so that they fitted into the rules of the jailers. They
managed to smoke, to have nearly enough clothing, and
nearly enough food. Theirs was the best chance of sur-
I too meant to survive. I was determined to be the
exception among the political prisoners. In my favor, I
had the tough constitution my tough life had given me,
the rebellious spirit which had brought me to this hell
and would help me to live through it, and, most important,
a physical strength at the beginning of my sentence,
which was superior to that of most other prisoners. I
intended to use this strength to put myself in a position
where I would be able to preserve it.
If I had not succeeded, I would not be telling my story.
I was luckier than my two companions in my first escape
from Soviet Russia. Both were sentenced to hard labor
and deported to the region of Petchora. Campillo died
there. Lorente managed to get back to Moscow, where he
was again arrested and sent to another camp in the north.
This was the last I heard of him. It is more than probable
that he shared the common fate and died there. My fate
At Vorkuta, I started well. I promised to be a Stakhano-
vite, and I kept my promise. By the end of the first three
months I was regarded as one of the best Stakhanovites
of the region. In the coal mine I was put in charge of one
of the galleries. My gang quickly rose to the rank of the
most productive team in the pit.
The reasons for this success were curious and typical
of the methods employed in Soviet industry. The pres-
sure from above produces a mania for achieving record
outputs at least on paper even if the particular record
damages the level of production elsewhere in the factory
or mine. Exceptionally good workers are not distributed
among the others, but put in a single team. The high out-
put of this team has propaganda value and also demon-
strates the efficiency of the management. Then the
exceptional achievement reached by a special team,
under special conditions, is turned into a "norm" for the
rest of the workers.
When the camp authorities realized that I was a fore-
man who might produce record outputs, they concen-
trated the best, strongest, and youngest workers in my
gang. I organized our work as rationally as possible and
fought for my team's rations as best I could. They soon
learned to accept me as a comrade, which happened to
few among the foremen. I was made a "workers' dele-
gate/' This strengthened my position. Newspapers in the
north began to speak of "Komisaro Piotr Antonovich" as
of a leading Stakhanovite who was setting an example to
We were working twelve to fourteen hours on a shift,
without any days of rest. A prisoner had to go on working
without interruption as long as the machine of his
body would function somehow. There was complete
equality between the sexes in this as in other matters. At
first, until I got used to it, the spectacle of the women in
our mine seemed particularly terrible to me, They were
employed as laborers on the transport of coal and con-
struction materials, and dragging the big, heavy sleighs
in teams of three. Two women were harnessed by ropes
to the front of the sleigh, like draft animals, and the
third pushed from the rear. The "norm" for the women's
team was the transport of nine cubic yards of coal a day,
They were in category II and drew normal rations. For
all workers in category II the quota or productivity rate
per head was computed at 18.4 rubles a day. Workers in
category I had to reach the "Stalin quota," which was 29
per cent higher and computed at 22.4 rubles per head
a day, In compensation they drew somewhat higher
rations. Category III, the group of worn-out, weak pris-
oners who were still capable of some work, had to reach a
daily quota computed at 12.6 rubles per head, on half
the normal rations.
If the work of the women was hard, conditions under
which the miners had to do their work underground were
even harder. They seemed calculated to make it impos-
sible to reach the targets. It happened often enough that
a gang left the pit in the belief that it had done well, only
to find when the figures were checked that it had failed
to make the quota. The men would be sent down again,
without having had their miserable meal, exhausted, and
overstrained as they were. Nothing mattered but the
quota, the target, the norm.
Coal mined in the Vorkuta region cost a high price in
human lives. Every time I met a miner who had worked
there three years, I felt astonished that he had survived
at all. Accidents were everyday events. Out of five hun-
dred colliers we had an average of eight casualties a day.
The most primitive safety measures were neglected.
After all, forced labor is cheap; there is an inexhaustible
reservoir. The elevators in the pit shafts were designed
for a load of eight persons; the guards shepherded four-
teen or fifteen men into them at a time. Underground we
had to grope our way through unlit galleries for nearly a
quarter of a mile. Each group of five was equipped with
a lamp, a lamp so begrimed and dim that we had to work
in treacherous half-light. Engines were kept covered
against freezing, but gases collected under their hoods
and caused frequent explosions. In the dark galleries,
coal trains and electric cables were a constant danger.
Even the few safety rules laid down in the regulations
were disregarded. For instance, one regulation for the
Vorkuta mines decreed that the roof had to be properly
secured by props as soon as a seam had been cut to a
height of six feet. This was an important precaution,
particularly in mines where the structure is such that even
a six-foot gallery is likely to cave in unless it is shored
up. The rule was rarely observed. Working hours used
for shoring up were so many hours lost for extracting
coal. Therefore the roofs were not shored up in time, as
I know to my cost.
The manager of the mine where I worked was very
friendly with me. He was an old Bolshevik, an ex-prisoner
who had stayed at his post after serving out his sentence.
I could dare to tell him my opinion of working conditions
in the mine. Once he grumbled because the pit had not
reached its target for several days running we would
have to make up for time lost. We had been busy shoring
the gallery, and I explained this to him. He said angrily,
"But, don't you understand? Tve got to have coal, coal,
and more coal. I simply can't have trouble with the camp
command." I told him that at the spot we had reached,
it was dangerous to go on working before we had put in
the props and shored the roof. "I can't help it," he an-
swered. "You'll have to take your men back and work on
the coal, never mind what happens."
At this point the N.K.V.D. chief of the mine broke into
our conversation. He had come up behind us and sud-
denly asked what we were arguing about. When we had
explained, he told me peremptorily, "Do as you're told.
Your job is to get the coal. The rest is none of your busi-
ness. It's time you learned that you're here to obey orders
and get the quota out of your gang." I still attempted to
argue and asked him whether they wanted bodies mixed
up with the coal. He gave me the final answer, "We want
coal. The Soviet Union needs coal. At any price." It was
unmistakable what price he meant.
We went back to work in the gallery. Some days later
I found that the percentage of coal gas there had risen to
3.75. Regulations laid down that work had to stop when
the gas rose above 3 per cent. I stopped work, led my
gang out of the gallery, and reported to the management.
But apparently the N.K.V.D. chief had made up his mind
that I was only being obstructive and should be taught a
lesson. He ordered, "Take your men back in there. And
you go in first."
I did go in first and my men followed. We had hardly
started work when there was a great explosion and the
unshored roof came crashing down. Some of those far-
thest back, near the entrance, escaped unhurt. Those in
the middle of the gallery had the worst of it. Ten were
buried under the mass of coal and earth. I was at the
innermost end of the gallery, half protected by the solid
face on which I was working, and therefore I was only
half buried. The N.K.V.D. chief who had intended to
place me in the most dangerous spot had in fact saved my
life. I was dug out by my friend, the manager, who hur-
ried up with a team. No attempt was made to rescue the
men who were completely buried.
They carried me out of the pit. I was badly injured
and thought for weeks that I had a broken back. This
would have been disaster, even if I recovered. As a crip-
ple I would be useless to the masters of Vorkuta. My end
would be in the death hut, and the only consolation was
to think that it would come quickly. But my back was not
broken. I began to mend and soon was able to hobble
about. It meant a new fear, that they would put me back
to work too soon. I certainly had lost something of my
strength and might not be able to match my former out-
put. If I began to fall short of my quota, I would no
longer get the higher rations. Soon I might not even be
able to work enough for the normal rations. And then I
would begin to slide down the inexorable slope.
This was the specter which haunted me when I was
called before the camp command.
The commander asked, "Would you like to be excused
from hard labor for six months?" Of course I said yes. He
went on, "It can be done under one condition. You'll
have to serve the Soviet Union in another way if you
wish to redeem yourself. I want you to tour the northern
camps and speak to the deported workers. Tell them to
follow your example as a Stakhanovite. My assistant will
go with you as interpreter. Do you agree?"
The commander may have thought that I could be most
useful if I recruited new Stakhanovites who would make
new records and bring glory to the camp administration.
I thought that the gates of Vorkuta were opening for me,
for the first time, and that it was no longer impossible
to think of a road to escape.
FROM THE MOMENT I had fallen into the hands of
the N.K.V.D. again, I knew I would attempt to escape
a second time. In the Vorkuta camp, however, it looked
an infinitely more difficult proposition than the first time,
and the penalty was certain death. I was ready to take the
risk, because quick death was preferable to the slow
death of rotting away, but I was biding my time and
waiting for a reasonable opportunity. Till my accident, I
had managed to keep most of my strength intact, more
so than my comrades. Thanks to it I had maneuvered my-
self into a favorable position. Even so, I realized that I,
no more than anyone else, could hope to hold out against
the hardships of our existence. Sooner or later I would
have exhausted my physical reserves, and then I would
My injury brought it home to me that this process
might be speeded up by an accident at work. I was at the
mercy of circumstances. Accidents were the rule, not the
exception. However excellent my record as a Stakhano-
vite, into which I had put so much deliberate effort, I
would be written off as soon as I lost my working capac-
ity. And yet, as it turned out, this accident was a blessing
in disguise for me. It freed me from being tied to the
strictly supervised route, from the camp to the mine and
back. With my new permit, I was still a convict, but at
least I could move outside the barbed wire. I intended to
prolong this opportunity until I found the starting point
for an escape which did not seem to exist for anyone
trapped in the compounds of Vorkuta. The technique of
handling my superiors I had now mastered no defiance
or criticism, but constant repetition of my ardent desire
to prove my Communist loyalty, lip service to the regime
was going to prove its value.
Under the escort of the secretary to the camp com-
mand, my former friend of the Spanish War, I was sent
on several tours to the northern camps and produced
what was demanded from me, Stakhanovite propaganda
speeches to my fellow prisoners. Among them I met, to
my sorrow, many former members of the International
Brigades who, like me, had taken refuge in Soviet Russia,
and were serving sentences of fifteen to twenty years of
hard labor, with scant hope of ever being allowed to leave
this hell. On the other hand I became friendly with the
officials in various sectors. From all those contacts I col-
lected more and more facts and figures about the labor
camps and their organization.
They were run by an oversized bureaucracy, a com-
plicated and cumbersome machinery. A typical camp,
holding 2,500 prisoners, was operated by a whole hier-
archy in uniform, consisting of 6 majors, 17 captains, 66
lieutenants, 18 sergeants, 54 corporals, and 129 guards
and militiamen, which worked out a rota of one jailer
for every 9 prisoners. In addition, a great number of
prisoners held positions of trust in clerical, sanitary and
technical departments, and enjoyed small privileges for
their services as spies and informers.
The commanding officer of the camp was a major, and
his secretary a lieutenant. Under the camp command the
following departments operated:
1 ) The LABOR DEPARTMENT, with a major as chief, two
lieutenants as assistants, and an office staff of five. It fixed
the quotas and norms for the work of all prisoners, and
the rations for each category of workers, according to
general directives from Moscow. The department had
three subdepartments or sections: a labor section under
a captain and a lieutenant, which drew up the plans for
work; a medical section consisting of a major and three
to five doctors who carried out the medical supervision;
and finally a pharmaceutical section in the charge of a
lieutenant with two assistants.
2) The LEGAL DEPARTMENT, headed by a major with
two aides. The major acted as a special judge within
the camp. On the grounds of the prisoners' dossiers he
decided the fate of those who had served their term,
either by ordering their release or by decreeing a new
sentence. A prisoner on the eve of release might suddenly
find himself sentenced to a new term of hard labor, with-
out the intervention of any judicial authority outside the
camp. A records section under a captain and three lieu-
tenants had to keep track of any offense or misdemeanor
committed by prisoners and to record them in new files
which then went to the judge and became the basis for
3) The PROPAGANDA DEPARTMENT, under a captain and
a lieutenant. They had to ensure the continued political
"education" of the prisoners. Convicts who demonstrated
their devotion to the Soviet regime by their exemplary
conduct and by exceeding their norms at work were
promised reductions of their sentences. The promise was
not always kept. The Propaganda Department had a very
powerful weapon in the personnel section which was
attached to it and consisted of two lieutenants. The chief
of personnel had to appoint the foremen. It meant that
those coveted posts went to prisoners who had convinced
the Propaganda Department of their political orthodoxy.
4) The TRANSPORT SECTION, with a transport officer who
had at his disposal four chauffeurs and six teamsters, to
operate two prison vans, two lorries, and six wagons.
5) The SECURITY DEPARTMENT. Its chief was a major
and it had three subdepartments. The first, staffed with a
captain, six lieutenants, and eighteen sergeants, had to
organize the transport and guard of prisoners on their
way to and from work, and the security of the camp. The
second, under a major, was responsible for the huts. The
third, under a lieutenant, ran the "camp police"; this
officer was in charge of thirty selected prisoners who
were armed with sticks and employed a supplementary
guard, and also of the cleaning squads.
6) The SUPPLIES DEPARTMENT, which made purchases
for the camp stores and the kitchen, and employed a large
staff, including a few privileged prisoners.
7) The PARTY SECRETARIAT, under a captain. He had a
secretary ranking as lieutenant and an office manager
with three helpers. This office not only represented the
Communist Party, but also had the important task of
making sure that the state received 50 per cent of the net
value of everything produced by the camp.
The pay of all those officers, officials, and guards was
combined with benefits in kind. Calculated in cash and
kind together, the monthly income of majors was just
over 4,000 rubles, of captains over 3,000, of lieutenants
about 2,700, of sergeants nearly 1,000, of corporals nearly
800, and of ordinary guards a little over 600 rubles.
The average cost of food and clothing for prisoners was
85 rubles per head a month. Of a total of 2,500 pris-
oners, 300 would be in category I, 500 in category II, and
the rest, 1,700, in category III, which had the lowest
rations; this kept the average cost of food correspondingly
low. If the quota of work imposed by the Labor Depart-
ment was fulfilled, a prisoner in category I produced an
output worth 672 rubles a month, a prisoner in category
II, 552 rubles a month, and a wretched prisoner in cate-
gory III, 373 rubles a month. This gives an idea of the
profit the camp and the state drew from their grinding
work. It also explains, more even than the political side,
why it is necessary for the Soviet State to have a huge
army of prisoners. Convict labor on this scale is so much
cheaper than free workers. Convicts can be sent any-
where, to work under any conditions, to prepare the
ground for vast new schemes of industry and agriculture,
to open up new mines or oil wells, and to fertilize the
arctic wasteland at any price.
This is not an insight I won only after getting away
from the camps and looking at them from outside. The
prisoners and deportees are the best-informed persons in
the U.S.S.R. They can talk freely to each other as no one
else would. Certainly there are informers at large among
them, but these are soon found out. And in any case, what
punishment could touch those to whom the worst had
been done? The hastening of death holds no terrors for
most of them.
A prisoner who has been able to resist the crushing
weight of his surroundings, who has not sunk into hope-
less despair as one who waits impatiently for his death
because he knows himself defeated, has saved his inner
freedom. In his fashion, he fights on. One of the ways to
fight on is to speak to others such as he and to learn what
the world is like to which he has been condemned.
A Soviet prisoner sentenced to a long term of hard
labor is likely to be moved from one camp to another,
following the changes in the manpower requirements of
the different places. In each camp he meets many hun-
dreds like him who have passed through a series of camps.
When all their information is pooled, the result is a com-
prehensive view, at least of the world of camps and
prisons, often of much more. It was through this network
that I learned my facts.
My work as a Stakhanovite propagandist brought me
in touch with a woman who, herself deported, was the
wife of the commander of two large camps in the Vorkuta
region. The reason why she was deported was no fault
of her own, even in the eyes of the regime. In fact she
was a stanch Communist, partly no doubt because she
was in a privileged position and saw the suffering around
her through tinted glasses. But her father, an old Bol-
shevik from the Ukraine, had been sentenced in one of
the great purges, and this had brought her to the Vorkuta.
By profession she was an engineer. She was young
twenty-fourattractive and intelligent. And she was not
in love with her husband, the camp commander.
On several occasions she introduced me to one of the
periodical camp meetings devoted to "social emulation/*
Stakhanovite propaganda and Communist teaching. The
last two times she placed me at her side, and said some-
thing like, "Comrade Komisaro Piotr Antonovich is of
Spanish origin and was one of the heroes in the Spanish
War. Now he is a hero of labor in our socialist country.
Today as then he fulfills the demands which our great
Comrade Stalin makes on true Communists."
I thought that her interest in me was greater than that
she might feel in a "hero of labor," though she seemed
sincere enough in that. A couple of times we left those
meetings together. I saw her regularly when I drew the
rations for my gang, since she was the "prisoners' dele-
gate" in charge of food and tobacco issues. Our friend-
ship ripened quickly. From the times of the Civil War
she had a high idea of Spaniards, and my nationality in-
trigued her. She asked me, "Is it true, as they say, that
Spaniards are made for death and love?"
"Death and love come to everyone," I answered.
We passed easily from words to deeds. We became
This affair had great practical advantages for me. Like
everyone who had access to supplies in the camps, my
friend was running a black-market swindle. The differ-
ence between the official prices and the free market prices
made this highly profitable and easy. A packet of ciga-
rettes, for example, cost officially 2 rubles; on the black
market it fetched 30 rubles. The main buyers were officers
and officials who had no direct access to state supplies
through their work. The risk they ran was not great,
because the state did not lose through those deals. The
accounts my friend kept were always in order, everything
was entered at the official price, and the only fact which
did not emerge from her books was how many goods
had been sold at higher prices.
My journeys from one camp to another made me a use-
ful partner for her. Each time they sent me away, I took
with me a bag full of goods she had procured. The gift
of some packets of cigarettes won me accomplices among
the lesser officials on the route. Soon my share of the
profits added up to the respectable sum of 18,000 rubles.
It was the first step towards my escapethe means to
I made the second step through another woman in a
key position. The six months during which I was excused
from hard work were running out. I had to go before a
medical commission if I wanted to get an extension of my
state of immunity, which I did. In her capacity as pris-
oners' delegate, my friend herself prepared the necessary
papers for the doctor to whom she recommended me.
Those papers introduced me as an outstanding Stak-
hanovite and could not have been much more flattering
if I had been an N.K.V.D. officer. Thus armed, I went to
the polyclinic in Kirov Street, the main street of Vorkuta.
The doctor was a young woman in her mid-twenties,
with the rank of captain in the N.K.V.D. She received
me with the words, "So you are the famous Spaniard
iVe heard so much about?" and looked me up and down
as, I think, only Soviet women look at men. Instead of
talking of medical matters, she made me sit down and
launched into chitchat. "I hear you Spaniards are crazy
about bullfights/' she said. "I'd love to see one myself.
One day you must tell me what they're like."
"I'm not a typical Spaniard. I don't like bullfights," I
"How disappointing!" she exclaimed. "But I also hear
that all Spaniards like women and are Don Juans. Per-
haps you don't like women either?"
I laughed and said, "As for that, I am a typical
She went on, as I had expected, "That's better. And
what kind of women do you prefer? How do you like
Naturally I answered, "Very much." As a matter of
fact, this was true. She was a handsome woman. I seized
the opportunity to give her the first of what was to be a
series of presents. I have forgotten exactly what it was.
She told me that she liked my method of courting and
liked me. It was a long session, and she kept her other
patients waiting. When I left at long last, she told me to
come back soon and send in my name, then she would
always see me at once. In this way my lover, the engineer
and prisoners' delegate, introduced me to my lover, the
My rapid success with her was understandable for
several reasons. There was the general background. Sex-
ual relationships were treated with a matter-of-fact frank-
ness in Russia. Nobody paid any attention to the affairs
of others, nobody felt bound to hide his own affairs, and
nobody was shocked if a man or woman had several
lovers at the same time. I, personally, had the physical
advantage of not looking so emaciated and exhausted as
most of the men the doctor had to deal with. Also, my
Spanish origin seemed to attract Russian women who
craved an emotional force they did not find in the men
of their country.
And then, I approached them in a spirit that was new
to them. Those women were not satisfied with the un-
relieved bareness and coarseness of their relationships
with men. The old Russian customs which had been
thrown overboard may have been false and "bourgeois";
their elimination may have raised women to sexual
equality with menor degraded both of them to the same
level; but the Russian women seemed to feel that they
had lost something and expanded gratefully at the slight-
est whiff of old-fashioned gallantry. They liked to be
given presents; they were so touched by a tribute of
affection as if they had been starved of it. I was able to
give the doctor presents thanks to my other friend. Soap,
perfume, sweets, good cigarettes existed in Vorkuta, but
in theory they were only for the high-ups above the rank
of captain. A prisoners* delegate had access to all these
luxuries through the Supplies Department. And this
helped me to woo the doctor, as far as wooing was
After a few visits to the clinic, she told me that she
could arrange it so that the medical commission would
extend my certificate of "unfitness for work." But it would
cost money. Her influence alone would not be enough;
what she could do was to talk her colleagues on the com-
mission into letting me bribe them. Thanks to my black
market earnings, I could afford to do so.
The commission which "examined" me consisted of a
major, my friend the captain, and three other N.K.V.D.
officers. They examined me with no more professional
seriousness than at the monthly examination in the camp.
I was through in ten minutes, equipped with a chit which
declared me unfit for hard work for another six months.
My new lover obtained an even more precious docu-
ment for me. By harping on my excellent record during
the last eighteen months she secured for me a legal per-
mit to spend four months in the south convalescing after
my accident at work. I was given the choice between two
cities, Tashkent or Samarkand. I chose Samarkand. From
Tashkent I would have had to cross a part of Siberia to
get out of the country. Samarkand was in the region I had
studied closely for my first escape.
Thus two women made it possible for me to leave the
frozen desert of Vorkuta. I never returned.
IN JUNE, 1947, 1 started on my journey to Samarkand.
My travel papers laid down that I was to go via Kirov,
Moscow, Kharkov, Rostov, Baku, and Krasnovodsk, and
not to stop for more than twenty-four hours in any one of
It may sound incredible that somebody sentenced to
hard labor in Siberia was let loose in this form. But the
camp authorities knew the close mesh of the N.K.V.D,
all over Russia, and thought that a prisoner's self-interest
would prevent him from making any step which would
send him back to Siberia with a much harder sentence.
The travel papers they issued to me served their purpose.
At any control, the slightest irregularity would lead to
my arrest. For the same reason those travel papers did
not serve my purpose. A traveler who was not an official
and came from the far north could only be a deported
person, a prisoner or an ex-prisoner, and was automati-
cally suspect even if his papers were in order. Mine would
not always be in order; at some stage I was going to leave
the route of my official itinerary and make my attempt to
escape. For that stage I needed papers of a different class
to arm myself against the checkups and controls I had
to expect. In my case, the only such paper was a political
refugee identity card issued and stamped at Moscow.
I had exactly twenty-four hours there in which to get
it. My other errand in the capital would have been to get
in touch with my wife and see my little daughter for the
first and possibly last time. I dared not do it, nor even to
telephone Ariadna. In the atmosphere which again
shrouded the capital new fear and terror, under the
pressure of the propaganda that the "Anglo-American
imperialists" were out to destroy the Soviet Union by
another war I would only have compromised my wife
and drawn the attention of the N.K.V.D. upon myself.
That a visit would not be noticed, a telephone call neither
tapped nor overheard, was too much to expect. I did not
see my wife and child.
The office from which I had to get my refugee card was
that of the Spanish Communist Committee. It was not a
good address for me, after my past experiences, but I had
no choice. Any other body to which I might have applied
would only have passed on my request to the Spanish
bureau, and I could not afford to lose time. It was best
to take the bull by the horns. I was in luck. Both men
who had to sign the card were at the office: Jose Antonio
Uribe, who was still in charge of all refugee matters under
the immediate control of La Pasionaria, and Sentis, who
issued all Spanish refugees' papers as a member of the
direction of Red Aid. And my personal enemies, La
Pasionaria herself and Lister, were away.
My sudden reappearance in Moscow caused, of course,
a sensation. But they had had reports of my excellent
conduct in the northern camps and assumed that I was
a reformed character, a new Campesino who was at last
prepared to take orders from the Party without arguing.
My new technique did the trick. I was subdued and sub-
missive, used the correct Party phrases, and did not let
myself become angry. It took some persuasion, but in the
end I got my card. It was signed not only by Uribe and
Sentis, but also by the vice-president of Red Aid, a Czech
ex-deputy who spoke perfect Spanish.
Though I was now well equipped with documents, I
took no chances on my further journey. There was always
the danger that Dolores Ibarruri, La Pasionaria, would
cancel my refugee card as soon as she heard about it, and
that the N.K.V.D. commands on my route would be in-
formed. I changed trains frequently and avoided spend-
ing a night in places where I would be asked for my
In Kharkov I picked up a girl student who took me to
her room in the Scientific Institute. A militiaman stood
guard at the gate, but she told him I was her fiance who
had come to see her. Whether the guard believed her
story or not, he certainly accepted my offering, two
packets of cigarettes brand Tiflis No. 5 and a half bottle
of vodka which had cost me 160 rubles. The girl's father
and two brothers had been deported to Siberia. When
she heard that I too had been in the labor camps of the
north, she became very sympathetic and let me sleep In
her room for two nights. She even came with me for a
part of the train journey to Rostov. There I spent another
two nights in a very similar fashion. Precisely because
regulations were so severe, the supervision of trains and
travelers so strict, many people made a living out of cir-
cumventing them and trading on the black market in
rooms. At every important railway station young women
mixed with the crowds and offered the use of their rooms
for a hundred rubles.
From Rostov to Baku I traveled in the compartment
of the woman conductor; this cost me a half bottle of
wine this time I could not get hold of vodka a pound of
black bread, a piece of sausage, and two apples. My only
trouble was on the boat from Baku to Krasnovodsk,
where I had not expected a control. But things had
changed since my first attempt to escape. Shortly before
we entered port at Krasnovodsk, a N.K.V.D. officer de-
manded to see my papers. Around me other travelers'
papers were subjected to a very careful examination. I
feared that the officer would find out that I had already
exceeded the time allowed for my journey. When I
handed him my travel papers, I stuck a few hundred-
ruble notes between them. The N.K.V.D. man moved
not a muscle in his face, looked conscientiously through
my papers, and returned them to me without the money.
I breathed deeply.
Then came the final stage. I followed the basic plan of
my first escape and once again took the train from Kras-
novodsk to Samarkand. This time I chose the station of
Bamy, about 200 miles from the Persian frontier, as my
point of departure. There I got off the train. As long as I
stayed in the station itself, I was still on my legitimate
route, and even if the police discovered the discrepancy
in the dates of my journey, I could hope to talk myself out
of the punishment three years' hard labor and afterward
a return to Siberia which was the rule for offenses like
mine in this frontier region. From the moment I left the
station, I was a lawbreaker. With an uneasy feeling I
crossed the invisible boundary and began to walk
through the village of Bainy.
Nobody paid any attention to me. Soon I was past the
houses and went on walking as unconcernedly as I could,
while I was looking for the best spot to leave the road and
cut across country. In front of me the road ran through a
little hollow between two hills. I thought I might still be
seen from the village if I went off the road at this point,
while the two small hills would serve me as a cover far-
ther on. My decision was wrong. I had not gone far on
the stretch of road hemmed in by slopes like walls, when
a lorry came from the opposite direction. It stopped. A
captain and two N.K.V.D. guards jumped out, and I had
to show my papers.
The captain scanned them and asked, "What are you
doing here? Where are you going?"
I said I had interrupted my journey to Samarkand be-
cause I wanted to look up an old acquaintance, a Spanish
refugee who used to work in a Kolkhoze hereabouts.
"YouVe no right to be here," said the captain. "These
papers give you permission to wait at stations between
trains, but you aren't allowed to go outside. You shouldn't
be here, especially not going in this direction/'
I tried to make out that I had made a harmless mistake,
but the captain would not accept my explanation. This
time bribery failed, even when I offered my watch. The
frontier police are not as easily suborned as their col-
leagues of the interior; they are men picked for their
posts for this very quality. Also, the captain was interro-
gating me under the eyes of his men. He pushed iny
money and watch aside, and jerked his head towards the
lorry, "Get in."
While the lorry rattled along the road I had just come,
I saw a chink between the side walls and the floor boards
of the lorry. Through it I managed to drop first my com-
pass and a little later my small knife. I still carried a last
piece of incriminating evidence on me, a map I had
drawn of the frontier region, but I was able to get rid of
that in the lavatory of the police station at Bukhara
where I was taken first. Apparently they were not yet sure
what to do with me, for they transferred me for five days
to the lockup at Kara-Kala, and then back to Bukhara.
At Kara-Kala which is the training center for spies des-
tined to operate in Afghanistan, Persia, and the other
Middle Eastern countries my watch, clothes, and shoes
were taken from me; oddly enough they left me my bag
with food, at the bottom of which I had hidden 10,000
rubles. They never discovered them.
After my return to Bukhara I passed through an
ordeal I think of as the worst of all. I was thrust into a
dark, narrow cell, or rather dungeon. When the door shut,
I had the impression of being trapped in a deep well The
only communication with the outer world was the small
peephole in the door, which gave no light. I could feel
bare, damp soil, but otherwise my probing hands touched
nothing but a bucket in the comer. I began to hear small
sounds, a scratching and pattering. The cell was full of
rats. After a while I heard a gentle, slithering noise. I
stepped on something soft which glided away, and cried
out in horror. Loud laughter from beyond the door
answered me. I dared not search the ground with my
hands. It was only too clear that there were snakes in my
For three days and nights I had no sleep. I tied the
bottoms of my trousers tightly round my ankles and
fastened my belt at the last hole. When the slithering
sounds came near, I shrank away from them, but there
was so little room. In the darkness I could not tell exactly
where the rats and snakes were, until they touched me.
On the fourth night I fell asleep, lying on the ground. In
my dreams I felt a snake twisting itself round my neck.
When I woke with a start, I found that it had not been a
nightmare. A strangely soft body was moving under my
shirt, on my bare skin, and a second one twined itself
round my waist. I bit back an involuntary shout and lay
taut. The sliding and gliding went on, like a caress, and I
heard small sounds like a suckling baby's. The sensation
was more maddening than pain. I wanted to cry for help,
but I held myself in an iron grip. It was as if a tight band
was circling my brain. Once I let myself go, my reason
would snap. Yet after some days I learned to prefer the
snakes to the rats. The snakes were only searching the
warmth of my body when I was asleep and motionless,
but the squalid rats boldly scampered round me all the
Once a day I was taken out of my pit and put into
another cell for three-quarters of an hour; I suspect that
the guards fed the rats during that time, otherwise they
would have attacked and bitten me. The worst moment
of all came the first day when they put me back into my
dungeon after a short respite. I had believed that the tor-
ture was finished. When they thrust me back again, I
was in despair and went nearly crazy. On each of the
days that followed I had the same hope, more faintly each
time, and a wave of black despair when I had to return
to the company of the dark, the rats, and the snakes. This
was the Bukhara method of "softening up" prisoners
for a final confession and for the signing of anything
whatsoever. The diet to which I was subjected during
that time was a quarter of a pound of black bread and a
pint of water a day.
On the seventh day I was brought out of the prison
and taken to a well-lit room. The electric light hurt my
eyes and I had to blink. When I got back my normal sight,
I found myself in a soberly furnished office, before three
N.K.V.D. officers, a colonel, a major, and a lieutenant. In
front of a writing desk sat an exceedingly pretty secre-
tary. All four were staring at me with naked curiosity, as
though to observe the precise effect of those seven days
and nights on me.
It was an interrogation like any other I had gone
through, and the presence of a well-dressed, highly fem-
inine, and attractive woman made not the slightest differ-
ence in the procedure, as I had hoped for a wild moment.
They started on a friendly note, congratulating me on my
share in the Spanish Wara familiar beginning which
could not deceive me.
I do not know how the other prisoners at Bukhara
had reacted to the snake and rat pit. It had made me see
red. I forgot everything I had learned at what cost-
about the need of showing submissiveness to Soviet of-
ficials, and countered their compliments with the worst
insults I knew in Russian. At this, they dropped their
pretended friendliness and overwhelmed me with accu-
sations. These accusations, too, were familiar to me from
the Lubianka. They told me that I had always been a
paid agent of the British and Americans. Had I not tried
to escape once before, with the intention of passing on
secret information to my British masters? Wasn't it
obvious that I had been caught a second time on the
I denied their false accusations, as well as the true one
that I had been trying to make my way across the frontier.
I denied everything, stubbornly and consistently. Then
they beat me, not with sticks or whips, but with their
fists. They knocked me around, kicked me when I fell,
sent me crashing against the wall. Between the blows
and kicks of the men I had flashes of the pretty secretary
sitting at her desk, calmly smoking and watching the
spectacle with the mild interest of a connoisseur. No
doubt she would have been surprised if anyone had told
her that in some other countries the police had no right
to maul a prisoner. She would not have believed it. In
Soviet Russia most people are firmly convinced that it is
in the capitalist countries that people are beaten most
frequently and most cruelly when they are arrested.
They stopped their work for a while. I was ordered to
sign a prepared statement in which I confessed to having
been a spy. The penalty would have been twenty-five
years in a prison camp. I refused. This time I was beaten
until I fainted. On recovering I found myself on the floor,
alone with the secretary who was still sitting there at
ease, her legs crossed, smoking and smiling. She offered
me a cigarette and suggested, in a throaty, provocative
voice, that I should sign the statement. Otherwise I would
never get out of the hideous cell until I was carried to
the common grave.
I went back to the snakes and rats. My daily bread
ration was reduced to less than two ounces. When the
guard gave it to me in the morning, I gulped it down
greedily. During the day I took small sips of the half -pint
of water they let me have. For over one month I stayed in
the cell In the end they took me to the room of the chief
examining judge, a captain. He said not a word, picked
up a mirror and held it in front of my face. What I saw
gave me a shock. My once jet-black hair was white. My
gaunt cheeks were covered with a lank, gray beard. I
looked a wretched old beggar, filthy and degraded, with
feverish, madly shining eyes.
But now Bukhara had done its worst and gave up
trying to wrest a confession from me. They moved me
for five weeks to the prison of Ashkhabad, the capital of
Turkestan, and when I was brought back to Bukhara
it was only to appear before a N.K.V.D. court which took
less than ten minutes to sentence me to two years of hard
This was a very mild sentence compared with the
twenty-five years which would have been my lot, had I
signed the statement prepared for me; it was even less
than the usual three years which was the normal sen-
tence for a man from a Vorkuta camp who was detained
in Turkestan. The court added, however, that I was
liable to an additional sentence if other charges were
pending against me in Moscow.
Immediately afterwards I was escorted to camp III at
Merv, moved in rapid succession to three different camps
at Chardzhui, and finally brought back to Merv. There I
had to appear before a medical commission. The doctors
found that Bukhara had done what Vorkuta had failed
to do to me. I was nothing but skin and bones, not even
fit to work in category III. They sent me to one of the
death huts I had known from the outside in Vorkuta. At
Merv it was called the "dung heap." Now I was not on
the downward slope to extinction, but nearly at the bot-
tom. The end should have come quickly, according to all
rules of precedent. Yet I still did not want to die. More
than ever I had a burning wish to survive, to escape, and
to tell the world what I had seen and experienced.
In the "dung heap," I set out to win the sympathies of
the chief medical officer. He recognized in me the type
of man who never resigns himself to death but continues
to fight till the last breath, and offered me a chance to get
out of the charnel house. It was a horrifying job he pro-
posed to me, one for which he found very few volunteers;
I was to bury the dead. I accepted it. Every night I made
the round of the death huts, and sorted out the dead from
the quick. Every night there were at least fifteen or twen-
ty bodies waiting for me, and sometimes even thirty.
It was not always easy to tell which of the inert bundles
lying on the floor had no life in them and which were only
waiting to die. It would happen that, as I bent down, the
lips would move and whisper, "Not yet," almost with
I had to undress the dead so that their ragged clothing
could be used for other prisoners. Then I had to wrap
them in a blanket and carry them on my back, one by
one, to the common grave behind the camp. An armed
guard and a watchdog went back and forth with me
while I staggered along. The dead fell one on top of the
other, as I threw them in, like big straw dolls. When one
trench was full it was covered with earth and a fresh
one was dug.
This task so blunted and hardened me that I came to
perform it night after night without feeling anything.
Looking back on it, it seems incredible. Could I really
have done all that? I did do it. Only now do I realize the
full horror of it all Then, it meant life to me. For the in-
human work I was paid by an extra half ration of bread,
ground maize, and, most precious of all, milk. It put new
health into me. As my white hairs fell out, they were re-
placed by dark hair. I was working my way back to
normal strength in that gruesome fashion. And this was
very nearly a miracle.
After two months on the "dung heap" and as an under-
taker, I was declared fit for work. In November, 1947, I
was transferred to a labor camp at Ashkhabad, from there
successively to five camps in the Nebit-Dag region. After
my temporary lapse at Bukhara I had reverted to the
tactics I had found so effective in the Vorkuta, and made
a show of my good will and complete submission. I was
made foreman of a "work brigade," again in the group of
Stakhanovites. We were quarrying stone for the con-
struction of "New Baku." My conduct and effort at work
earned me a reduction of iny sentence by seven months.
But then another blow fell. The Legal Department of my
camp was informed from Moscow that I had been sen-
tenced to another term of ten years in Siberia, which I
would have to serve when I had finished my time in
Turkestan. I knew that I would be irrevocably lost once
I went back to the north. Again, my mind was obsessed
with one thought only, escape.
Meantime I was shifted about from one camp to an-
other, as the masters of the slaves saw fit. In the Kras-
novodsk region, I passed through six camps. In April,
1948, 1 was sent back to Ashkhabad, this time to work in a
roof -tile factory. Working and living conditions- in the
camp were such that the prisoners called it by the name
made infamous through the Nazi camps, the "death
lager!' But in Ashkhabad I made new friends, genuine
friends. The first was a young woman, a Polish girl who
had been a member of the Communist Youth Organiza-
tion in Warsaw. Her father, a civil engineer, and her
mother, a teacher, were old Communists on good terms
with the N.K.V.D., but this fact had not saved their
daughter from being sentenced to fifteen years' hard
labor. The official charge against her had been that she
had criticized the Russian authorities. In fact she had not
only angered a leading N.K.V.D. officer by refusing to
become his mistress and to take part in his black-market
activities, but she made it even worse by denouncing him
publicly. Therefore she was now in Ashkhabad. From her
parents she received occasionally money and food par-
cels. Even though three-fourths of them were stolen by
the camp authorities, what was left helped her through
the rigors of camp life. She shared her parcels with me.
And I shared my secrets with her. I told her of my past
and of my plans for escape. Her disillusionment with
Communism was so deep that she promised to help me,
although as she would say sadly it would mean our
At Ashkhabad I also met four old Bolsheviks, whom I
could trust and who gave me advice and help. The great-
est character of the four was Nikolai Missa, staff manager
of the tile works. He was born in Siberia, had been one
of the early Bolshevik fighters, and had helped in the
escape of several of the leaders deported after the defeat
of the revolution of 1905. He used to say, "Under the
Czar it was fairly easy to get away from Russia. It needed
Stalin to make an old Bolshevik irretrievably lost in our
country. . . . You must get away. You will have to tell the
comrades abroad what things here are like. I'm too old.
And then, what could I do abroad? Where could I go?"
Missa had incredible powers of resistance. He had been
in labor and prison camps since 1931. After a first sen-
tence, which he had served to the end, he had again been
sentenced to twenty-five years of hard labor and seen the
inside of most camps in the north.
"Stalin can't bear to look the old guard in the face/*
he would explain. "We know him too well. We know
what crimes he committed to make himself the absolute
master. I shall die in camp. The few old Bolsheviks who
are still alive will all die in a camp or a prison. But never
mind, Stalin and his totalitarian regime are doomed."
Old Missa could truly be regarded as an enemy of the
regime, but his standing in Ashkhabad, even with the
N.K.V.D. chiefs, was high.
The three other good friends I found, Victor Ivanov,
Korsakov, and Kurgan Amedo, were of the same spirit,
if not of the same caliber as Missa. All three had belonged
to the old guard of Bolshevism, all three were Uzbeks,
and all three were in administrative positions in the
camps, which they had won through sheer integrity and
energy, undimmed by their long sentences. I felt much
less alone than in the years before.
On December 8, 1949, 1 was going back to my hut in
section I of the camp much later than most of my com-
rades, who were already inside. I had just reached the
door when the ground seemed suddenly to drop away
from under my feet and the huts began to heave and
buckle. A beam struck me and tossed me sideways. A
rain of bricks fell. Then, in an exploding universe, I lost
track of what was happening. When the turmoil ceased
I found myself sitting on the ground, with my head be-
tween my hands, and blood trickling down my cheek.
Round me was an empty space, and from the ruins of
buildings came groans and screams for help.
Ashkhabad had been shaken by the most violent earth-
quake the district had ever known, and it had come with-
out any warning tremors. At first people thought there
had been a great explosion, and a rumor went round that
the Americans had dropped an atomic bomb. The press
of Krasnovodsk had to deny this and published in proof a
report of the Paris Seismographic Institute which had
recorded the shock.
My first clear thought was for my friend, the Polish
girl. She and a few other women had been put into our
hut, a hut for male prisoners, because the women's huts
were overcrowded. I searched for her under the debris
and found her half -buried. Though she was bruised and
covered with blood, no limbs were broken and I could
see no grave external injury. But she was dead.
I was still sitting by her body, stupefied and dazed,
when a detachment of militiamen came up. Not to rescue
those buried alive under the ruins or to bring aid to the
wounded who were dragging themselves about. They
turned their automatic rifles on the survivors and finished
what the earthquake had begun.
I have no explanation for this massacre. Were they
afraid that prisoners might escape in the chaos? Did they
find it easier to kill the wounded rather than bother with
them? Did they regard it as a useful thing to get rid of
people who would no longer be good for work? Whatever
the reason, the fact remains: Where a cry for help was,
raised or a voice groaned in pain, there was a burst of
fire and then silence.
I flattened myself on the ground next to my dead
friend and did not move. Near us there were only silent,
dead bodies. In this part of the hutment, all had been
killed and no one was crying out, so that the bullets were
not directed our way. Nevertheless I stayed there for an
endless time, shamming dead.
When the fever of killing had passed, the N.K.V.D.
of Tashkent took over and rounded up those who had
survived the earthquake and the shooting. There had
been 2,800 prisoners in our camp. Thirty-four of us were
We thirty-four and the survivors from other camps in
the district were taken to Krasnovodsk. There I learned
that my other friends were all safe, because thanks to
their executive functions they were not quartered in the
badly hit prisoners' huts. Old Missa came to see me.
"Go to the camp commander of Krasnovodsk and tell
him that your sentence is expiring/' he said.
"What is the good of that?" I asked. "I'll have to start
on the ten-year sentence from Moscow, that's all."
Missa winked. "All the prisoners' records have been
destroyed in the earthquake."
"But somebody is sure to remember!" I cried.
"Everyone in the records section was killed when the
building collapsed. Chances are that nobody nearer than
Moscow knows about your sentence. It is worth trying."
"It is worth trying," I echoed.
On Christmas day I went to the camp command of
Krasnovodsk and explained to the commander himself
that the following day was the last of my term in camp.
Having no files from which to check my status, he tele-
phoned to the Bukhara court which had sentenced
me and learned that my term really was no more than two
years of hard labor. The camp administration of Kras-
novodsk confirmed that I had earned a reduction of my
sentence by seven months through my conduct and my
work as a Stakhanovite. I spent the next day in anxious
anticipation, hoping that at any moment I would be
called into the office and handed my discharge slip. Noth-
ing happened. I told myself that prisoners got their re-
lease only the day after their sentence had expired. But
the twenty-seventh passed uneventfully like the twenty-
sixth. So did the twenty-eighth. My hopes vanished.
On December 29, 1 was called to the camp command.
There I received the sum of 14 rubles as a bonus for my
work, a loaf of black bread, and a document which said
that I was discharged after having completed my sen-
tence and had to take up obligatory residence in Len-
inabad, Uzbekistan, until further notice. And so I was an
ex-prisoner, in precarious freedom.
I walked out of the camp. Missa went with me to the
fence, and seemed happier even than I was, though he
said not a word when he embraced me. When I had
passed through the gate, he walked along inside the
barbed wire, while I was walking along it outside until I
reached the corner. There he waved good-by and his last
look was a message.
But my friend Missa had done me the greatest service
before that moment, He had given me a splendid com-
panion in my final flight for which the time was ripe.
Kurgan Amedo had finished his ten-year sentence some
days before the earthquake. He was at liberty for the
time being, but there was no doubt in his mind that he
would soon be rearrested under some pretext or other.
An ex-convict is never free in the U.S.S.R. The police re-
gime has reason to distrust those who have served an
unjust sentence, and distrust them doubly if they are up-
right and strong-minded men like my friend Amedo. Old
Missa, who had great influence on Amedo, persuaded
him not only to help me in my new attempt to escape,
but to go with me. I could have had no better partner.
Amedo knew Uzbekistan, Turkmenia, and the Persian
frontier very well because he had worked in all these
regions for years before his arrest. Above all he was a
man of unflagging courage. From the day of his release
he had been in constant touch with me. Now, when I
joined him outside the camp, he brought me new clothes
which I exchanged for my prisoner's rags. I felt a new
man in them. It was as if these clean clothes, for which I
had to thank the solidarity among human beings, lent
We purchased food enough to last us for several days
and took the train at nine o'clock in the evening. It car-
ried us past Ashkhabad, where new slave labor had al-
ready been mobilized to rebuild the huts and blocks
which the earthquake had leveled to the ground. Farther
on we slipped off the train and headed for the Persian
frontier on the route I had taken years ago during my
In every respect, the quality of my companion ex-
cepted, our cautious progress towards Persia duplicated
my former journey. We faced the same problems, strug-
gled through the same rough, hostile country, and took
the same precautions to avoid the N.K.V.D. men and
their dogs, both more savage than the bears and wolves
of the mountains. As before, we walked at night and kept
to the mountain heights. Amedo had grown up in this
region, he was a mountaineer like myself. During diffi-
cult crossings we roped ourselves together. We were well
matched. We had no more than two days' journey left
to the frontier when we had to risk a difficult passage.
Our only workable route led through a small valley be-
tween escarpments. By day the N.K.V.D. men might
spot us from the commanding heights where they were
patrolling; at night, when they took to the valleys, it was
equally dangerous. We tried it at dawn, when we could
hope that the patrols would be on their way from the
valleys to the heights, on the slopes where they could not
see us. It seemed the safest time.
It was not safe enough. We were nearly through the
pass when without any warning a volley was fired at us.
We made a desperate dash forward, but Amedo was hit
in the stomach and fell. I tried to drag him along with
me. He gasped, "Save yourself, run!"
At the second volley, a bullet pierced Kurgan Amedo's
head. He slumped from my arms. I had seen enough men
die to know that it was over. I ran, But first I kissed his
Bullets were whistling past me and tore chunks out of
tree trunks. Nothing touched me. I was not meant for
death yet. Two days later I dragged myself across the
frontier into Persia which, in the changed postwar world,
was no longer unsafe for fugitives from Soviet Russia.
I had won my way back into a free life. I had come
back to tell the truth of life and death in the Soviet Union,
as I had known it.