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General El Campesino 


by Valentin Gonzalez 
and Julian Gorkin 

Translated by lisa Barea 


G. P. Putnam's Sons New York 


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- 
velop early. 



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 
of all 

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 
for freedom. 

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 
his might. 

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 
you off." 

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 
my bandages. 

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 
was saved. 

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 
Republican Government. 

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 
for me/' 

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 
them better. 

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 
your vocabulary." 

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 
the head. 

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 
these questions/' 

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 
as well. 

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 
Soviet Russia. 

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 
noticed before. 

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 
noted down." 

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 
in Spain." 

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 
been studying." 

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, 
90 kopek. 

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/* 
was infallible. 

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 
its service. 

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 
Soviet Army." 

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 
its construction. 

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 
left Moscow. 

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 refugees. 

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 
honest bandits. 

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 
than we. 

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?" 
he said. 

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 
yards wide. 

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- 
ments ceased. 

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 
with blows. 

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 
with blows. 

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 
to bed. 

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 
the "kennel." 

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 
of Butyrka. 

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 
at all. 

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 
slow starvation. 

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 
protruding puhes. 

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 
was uncommon. 

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?" 

I agreed. 

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 
go down. 

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 
new sentences. 

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 
finance it. 

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 
those places. 

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 
same errand? 

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 
separation forever. 

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 
still alive. 

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 
me fortitude. 

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 
first escape. 

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.