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The Fall of Berlin

Mendl Mann

The Fall of Berlin

Chapter Five

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1Lev Oshanin had left Johanna Ostergard’s house the day after he blew up the armoured cars. Aerial bombing followed soon after, and the main part of the house was destroyed. In the chaos Oshanin fled through the ruined streets. He walked through the city with his military satchel, sure that he would run into forward positions of the Soviets at one of the crossroads. The German tunic, the officer’s cap pulled down, and military satchel made him look like an army doctor hurrying to give emergency help after a bombardment.

2Valentin had reached his destination, from which he helped pinpoint artillery fire. “Open fire on the bank building at the end of Charlottenburg Strasse. In one 24-hour period Soviet planes had struck thousands times. They had fought German planes hundreds of times. Seven hundred German planes were brought down in that one day.

3The Germans had turned into fortified bases of resistance their large bunkers—protected with walls three meters thick of iron and concrete— that had been used to shelter up to a thousand people. The specially trained Soviet shock troops and partisan detachments played a vital role in the street battles. They were mainly machine gunners and explosives men. The shock troops wielded several cannons of middle and large caliber. Occasionally they might get tanks and armored cars with heavy machine guns. The most in danger were the sappers whose mission it was to clear the mines off the route of the attack units. They also had to repair the streets, the roads, and the bridges over rivers and canals.

4The Germans resisted stubbornly. But their wild and chaotic firing indicated their weakness. The Soviet regiments eroded their defenses bit by bit, breaking down the unity of their resistance. On April 28th the territory that the Germans controlled in Berlin was whittled away. They held onto a narrow strip down the center of the city that was a target from every direction. Attempts by their air force to help the beleaguered Germans came to nought. The Soviets occupied all the airports and airfields in Berlin and around the city. On April 30th the Soviets launched an attack on the central defense sector, and they reached the Reichstag.

5When Lieut. Lev Oshanin entered the headquarters of Maj. Gen. Krivoshein, Krivoshein’s tanks had already left. The general already knew about Oshanin’s speech in the enemy’s hinterland, and he welcomed him when he came in. They looked at each other and embraced silently. There was something meaningful in that silent embrace. Here were two Jews standing in a German cellar from which orders were being sent to tank commanders to destroy the Reichstag.

6The phone rang. A German voice was calling, desperate. Oshanin threw down the phone and cursed at the German fool who wanted to give him orders, thinking he was talking to one of his German underlings. He did not know that the Soviets were in the cellar.

7The Germans were firing from the metros through the ventilation openings. So the order went out to the explosives men: blow up the metro entrances and bulldoze them with debris. A German poster hung down from a wall, addressed to the civilian population by Gen. Weildling, the commandant of the city. Soviet armored cars patrolled the Frankfurter Allee. Their squadrons flew overhead. White flags were flying in some windows. Cannons were firing in the suburbs. Smoke curled up from a ruin. Civilians wandered through the cratered sidewalks with whatever possessions they could carry. A patrol led a group of prisoners, walking with their hands in the air.

8Oshanin looked at the men on patrol, some with broad faces, or angular jaws, or slanty eyes, or with button noses. The soldiers wore threadbare tunics, hand grenades hanging from their belts. They marched through the unfamiliar, hateful city, their faces stony, their lips pressed together, their eyes icy and watchful, their guns at the ready. That was what the men looked like as Berlin fell. Oshanin looked at the streets of the gray stone city with curiosity and hatred. He had a bitter, obstinate need to see the fallen monster’s body. He knew that coming generations would remember how Russian soldiers had conquered Berlin.

9Just as a hunter who has found the beast in its lair cannot leave until he feels its dead body under his boot—and not see himself reflected in the eyes of the beast—so, too, did Oshanin need to satisfy himself by looking at the stony, foggy, devastated city of the enemy. He felt not only like a victor, but also like an executioner whose duty it is to carry out a just sentence. He had been worried that the homey houses, the promenades, and peaceful windows might soothe the fury in his heart, as had happened when he was going through the fields and villages. But seeing Berlin only enraged him more. When he looked at the somber barracks, the concrete walls, the huge structures of iron and steel, stone and concrete, he understood where the evil had come from. He whispered: “This is where it came from! From here!”

10But the Red Army had not yet dealt the enemy its mortal blow. German resistance deepened Oshanin’s hatred of them, and the old feelings came back, the resentment of all those terrible days and nights under fire, the savagery, the plunder and murder. Resentment boiled in his veins, and he lusted for revenge. The crazy shooting from the metros and concrete bunkers, the calculated and well-planned resistance that was useless against the Soviets—all of that welled up in the troops, calling for revenge. Their raised fist would continue to batter the streets and the neighborhoods until deep scorn and commiseration for the enemy arose from the hatred.

11Before the war, the strategic principle had been accepted that huge overwhelming power was needed to launch an attack, whereas retreat needed to be done in smaller, scattered groups. Great discipline was required to lead men against fortified positions that could only be taken by tightly close ranks. Groups scattered over woods and fields, isolated from each other, might turn into deserters and bandits. They ceased being an army.

12But that rule was not confirmed in this war. The Soviets did not attack only with large, unified armies. It harassed the army of the Reich to its roots with disparate partisan units and small teams of reconnaissance commandos that befell German garrisons and outposts as if from the sky. They spread anxiety on German territory. They supported every possible source of local resistance. When it was necessary they sent huge armies against the German armored divisions.

13But Germany did not have the means to wage that kind of war. They could not trust small units on occupied territory. They relied on masses of troops. Entire divisions—army corps—were supposed to smash the power of the enemy like a fist. But after they struck their blow, it turned out that they had not hit the heart of their opponents, and who were already getting new forces ready to fight back, far away. Even in those areas where the Germans ruled, partisans had organized.

14Why were the Soviets able to launch small partisan groups, spread out over villages and woods?

15 Why were those partisans able to maintain discipline and not turn into deserters and bandits?

16How had such a well-organized and well-planned resistance come to be?

17Why were the Russians able to utilize all kinds of resistance and styles of attack and retreat, whereas the Germans could not?

18Was it that the German army lacked discipline? Did the Germans not go into battle of their own free will?

19For the first two years of the war, the Russian troops were badly fed, poorly armed, shabbily dressed. Behind them lay a land of hunger, its agriculture in ruins, a dictatorship with slave-labor camps. And yet these starving, oppressed common people showed themselves to be more moral than not just the Germans, but also their own Russian commanders. Why was that?

  • 1 Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Shamshin, commander of mechanized rifle brigades, tank divisions, tank cor (...)

20There are a hundred answers, and they are all true. But one answer was truer than the others. Oshanin and General Shamshin1 knew it, and so did every common soldier: The Russian soldiers were fighting because they hoped that victory would bring with it a transformation of the country itself, a new era of freedom. They were fighting for life, against dictatorship, against hunger. They wanted to break the ring of coercion and terror that was strangling Russia and all of Europe.

21Among the Russians the thirst for freedom expressed a popular rage against a dictatorship that was even more brutal than their own: a dictatorship based on the extermination of peoples, on the mass shooting of civilians, on gas chambers. The Germans were in a war of conquest to annihilate, to rule over others, to dominate them, to enslave them. They did not hide their aims. On the contrary, they proclaimed them!

22Individual Russians fought to defend their country, to free the prisoners in the concentration camps, to liberate the occupied lands. They went to oppose the rule of terror. And that was true. And that truth led them to Berlin.

23It was early on a mild April morning. Battles were still raging in the center of Berlin. In the eastern district, orders were posted from the Soviet commander-in-chief concerning the normalization of life in the city. The first May Day banners and red flags appeared on the Frankfurter Allee. On linden trees, hanging on a string, were large banner reading, “The Russians have always beaten the Prussians.”

24Zhillin was in Berlin. The Special Section for political activities of the general staff for the army fighting in Berlin had its headquarters in a suburb of the city. Sabayev was called to attend an extraordinary meeting. Valentin was also there. His real name was Zirkov. This was the same Zirkov who had parachuted down to the headquarters of Vlasov’s army at Zelonki airport, not far from Warsaw, where Antip was in control. That was before they had crossed the Vistula. Zirkov’s accomplishments were impressive. He had even gone to Nazi Berlin to give a talk on “The Jews in the Kremlin.” He had done all of that to ingratiate himself with the Germans. Then he had managed to lead a unit of German auxiliary troops—commanded by Antip, a Russian deserter from Moscow—down to the Vistula, where they were ambushed by a Soviet reconnaissance team.

25The meeting was held in the conference hall of a bank. The general staff sat up front in black leather armchairs at little marble tables. Col. Ivan Serov, the special envoy from Moscow, spoke first. Then came Col. Nikolay Feodorovitch Zhillin. He had changed a lot since his reception in the Kremlin, not only his military dress and decorations, but also his face. Something somber and secretive obscured the sharpness that had been his trademark. His speech, too, was less relaxed, less free, than before he had entered the Kremlin gates. A rustle stirred the hall when he began speaking. His eyes scanned the dark armchairs. Zhillin had the feeling that someone he knew was sitting near the marble column. But during his entire talk he could not remember where he had met him. He could not shake off the curiosity that gnawed at him insistently. He slowed down his sentences, and he felt that he was repeating himself and the audience was pretending to be listening. The stranger kept appearing in his concsciousness, then disappearing, like an unknown object bobbing up and down, far away on troubled waters. Suddenly he focused his gaze and was dumbstruck: It was Babadjanin, wasn’t it! The wily Kazakh from the airplane!

26Zhillin relaxed, and he spoke with renewed insistence: “This is just a part of the victory! Now we have to conquer Berlin and rule it! That is our task!” But he was dissatisfied with the ambiguity of those words. He wished he could take them back. Instinctively, as if pulled by some secret magnetic force, Zhillin turned his head towards Babadjanin. The familiar hazy, vague indifference of the Kazakh angered him.

27“We have to rule the city! And that means first of all to change Berlin. We have to destroy the foundations that were laid by the Bismarcks, and the Hindenburgs, and the Hitlers. It’s not enough to chop off the trunk. The poisonous roots must be ripped out of the deepest soil, so that they may never grow again. Comrades, I think you understand me. The first task is to close off the roads to the German leaders who are hiding in the cellars of the Reich. Isolate the members and officers of the Nazi Party. Second: Make contact with those Germans who wish to work with us to control public life in those areas that we have conquered. Third: Dismantle those factories and laboratories that will be useful to us. Treat German specialists as prisoners or war recruits for our land. The fall of Berlin must not be allowed to disarm us. Difficult days are still ahead. The Allies are fundamentally our enemies, I mean class enemies. Remember that! Our mission is: Destroy Nazism! Destroy the German property-owning class! Preserve the achievements of their science and technology for our homeland! Organize the transport of those segments of their industry that are useful to us! Keep a watchful Bolshevik eye on the conquered city and its residents!”

28Zhillin then turned towards Babadjanin, who seemed pleased. It was time to finish up. Stalin stared down from the stone wall. “We’re fortunate to be living in an era when the Great Man, the Father of the Nations, was able to reshape it with his genius…” He could not finish the sentence because dozens of hands began to applaud. He pushed his way through the armchairs and approached Babdjanin: “Good to see you again!” He shook Babadjanin’s hand warmly and smiled.

29The attack on the Tiergarten began. German anti-aircraft artillery fire had ceased for a few days in that neighborhood. But Soviet bombers were hindered by the fact that groups of Soviet troops had wormed their way into many small areas and streets among the narrow strips where the Germans were holed up.

30The Soviet commanders were able to learn detailed information about the Germans’ central headquarters from their German prisoners. They were even able to obtain the floor plan of the subterranean labyrinth under the Reichskanzlei where Hitler and his retinue were hiding. Special surveillance teams were assigned with this objective: to attack and destroy those headquarters. A report was sent to the Kremlin every hour.

31Stalin was not satisfied with those reports from his couriers. He strictly insisted on photographs of the Reichstag, the Tiergarten, and the Reichskanzlei. Babadjanin became his personal courier. Special photo and film reporters were sent to take pictures from airplanes. When the news came that Soviet troops were about a thousand-meters from the Reichstag, Stalin carefully perused the pictures of the façade of the Reichstag, which was already half in ruins. He studied the columns, the ornaments, the black walls. He was totally focused, with no hint of his usual boredom.

32Babadjanin waited with baited breath. He realized that the Great Man was about to express his will. He could tell from the nervous movements of Stalin’s paralyzed hand, which was hidden in his bosom. One button in his jacket had always been left open, but this time it was not, so it was difficult for him to take his hand out. He used his healthy hand to support his arm as he pulled out the other hand. There was also a slight tremor in the pouches under his eyes, which seemed to be caused by the strain of looking so hard. Stalin pointed to the cupola above the cornices of the Reichstag in the photo: “This is where the Soviet flag must be hung! Babadjanin, here!” He took a red pencil from the table and marked the photograph.

33One hour later Babadjanin was carrying the flag from Moscow that was to be hoisted on the Reichstag. He handed the special flag and the marked-up photo to Maj. Davydov, whose battalion was to storm the Reichstag along with the battalions of Capt. Neustroyev and Senior Lieut. Samsonov. Two days later Babadjanin telephoned the Kremlin with this news: “Today, April 30th, at 14: 25, the Russian soldier Yegorov and the Georgian Kontarya raised the flag of victory over the Reichstag.”

34The cagey Kazakh Babadjanin knew full well why it was crucial that a Georgian and a Russian be present. He had staged the scene for the Georgian in the Kremlin. It would raise the prestige of the Georgian nation, and it would please Stalin that one of his countrymen was the first to reach the Reichstag alongside the Russian. It would also restore the poor reputation of Georgian soldiers. Many Ukrainians were traitors. The Belarussians had allowed the Germans to occupy them far too easily. The Tatars were traitors. The peoples of the Caucasus were undependable. And as for choosing a Jew, that would have cast a shadow on the victory. It would have appeared that the triumph was not that of Russia but of world Jewry. Babadjanin understood all of this. There was an implicit understanding not to distinguish the Jewish heroes and commanders in the Soviet military and to avoid public recognition of Jewish heroes, especially those whose names sounded Jewish. Because that would stir up the populace, and it would play into the hands of Nazi propaganda concerning a Judeo-Communist conspiracy.

35Sergei Orlov and Menakhem reached the southern part of Berlin. The Germans had managed to get through the siege in small groups. They were attacking the iron ring around the city from the south and the west. It was a battle of life and death for them. Theirs was a desperate resistance in the final hours of Nazi Germany. SS battalions in full gear tried to break through Soviet positions. Sometimes Soviet medical corps and support battalions fought the German groups.

36“Buddy,” said Sergei, “I’d blow up the concrete, the paved streets, the whole place. Let the earth under these stones breathe again! Poisonous weeds grow in the filth of big cities. The fields and the skies are cleaner and purer the further they are from stone and iron. It’s no surprise that the Nazi evil grew in such somber houses and cellars!” Menakhem listened silently.

37But when he stopped talking, Menakhem waited for more. Sergei continued: “But our people are just as stupid. Once we were on maneuvers not far from my village, a small group. A Ukrainian from Kiev was the leader, a sly character. One day he sounded the alarm at at night. He lined us up and said: ‘Guys, something terrible has happened. A huge fish just came down the Oka River and swam right near us. But because it’s gigantic it stretches from one riverbank to the other and the water can’t keep flowing. So the water is overflowing and flooding the villages. This is our mission, to chop up the fish with axes to make a passage for the waters to get through. We have to get axes in the village and run to the river. I’m giving you ten minutes! ’ The village was eight viorsts away. We ran with all our strength. But when we got there we saw that the silvery river was flowing calmly. He had made it all up.”

38Orlov told stories whenever he was depressed. He was writing a letter home: “Give my best to the Redhead.” Menakhem said, “Hey, can’t you find a younger woman that that “bride” of the soldier who fought the Turks?” Orlov kept writing: “We’re in the heart of Germany, near the city called Berlin. This little war is coming to an end. We’ll see each other before too long. I often think of you. The further I’m from home, the more I miss it.” Then he said: “Here we’re face to face with the Devil. He shows himself in a thousand evil ways. Sometimes he takes the shape of a human and sometimes just a shadow. He follows your footsteps and breathes his poison and hatred into your face. And when you turn around you only see yourself in the shattered glass and mirrors.”

39The night before the final assault on the Reichstag, several companies of the First Belarussian Front attacked across the Spree River and fought to control the buildings around the Reichstag. They took control of the complex of houses, with only two hundred meters more to the Reichstag. It was very difficult terrain because it was an artillery zone, all dug up with trenches and pits filled with water. A square courtyard paved with gray blocks of stone served as the headquarters for Menakhem’s staff and a company. The exhausted troops rested on stone floors up in cool, high-ceilinged rooms with narrow barred windows. The general staff was down in the concrete cellar. Prisoners were kept in another wing of the building.

40Menakhem was tense, worn-out, his eyes bloodshot and swollen. He had not been able to eat army food for a few days. He could not swallow. The overwhelming emotion that he felt upon entering Berlin would not let him sleep or rest. He was on edge and jittery, and he did not recognize his own voice, which had grown hoarse. He drank. The liquor temporarily dissipated his fatigue, waking him up for a few hours. Then exhaustion returned.

41German prisoners stood before him. He jumped up several times. Once it was a prisoner’s ugly skeletal head laughing with all its teeth in humility, a skull with wings. It made him dizzy. Suddenly his exhaustion, the tremor in his lip, and the weakness in his knees vanished. Menakhem now saw the German clearly. He had never seen one like him. His face had everything: brutality, blood lust, the will to power. This here is the source of all evil. I trudged all the way from the Ural mines to find you, and now you’re in front of me.

42He wrote: “Anna, your letter arrived at a very difficult time for me. Oh, how well you understand my state of mind! But my health shouldn’t worry you. I’m worn out from these hard days, and the wound I got in Warsaw is acting up again. I probably shouldn’t be drinking any toasts to our victory. But how can I refuse a little drink with my good buddy Sergei Orlov? Here in Berlin where everyone is delirious with the joy of victory that each of us feels, I felt my joy was somehow marred, and I wept. Will I ever be able to throw off the shadows that have fallen on my face? I have sealed your face in the apple of my eye, and I trudge over this heartless Prussian city with love for you in my heart and so much hatred for it, my soul so divided between the two.”

43In the conquered streets of Berlin, Germans with white armbands cleaned the pavement. Mountains of rubbish piled up next to the shattered walls of the Reichstag. There were hills of smashed bricks, exploded concrete slabs, columns that had crumbled, military helmets, rifles, and uniforms. Shiny epaulettes glinted from under the debris. Iron crosses. Shredded flags. Portraits of Hitler and Goebbels that had been trampled. The picture of Göring stared with one eye open from a broken frame.

44The Reichstag looked like a prison: bricked-up windows with arrow holes for shooting. Soldiers had scratched endless graffiti into the dark stone walls. Destroyed tanks lined the Charlottenburger Allee. The linden trees were in bloom. The ground was cratered, the scars of ferocious battles. The Brandenburg Gate was ghastly, gray, and crassly pompous. It was depressing. Posters were already hanging there. On one of the streets, Germans walked arm in arm with their fists raised, singing the song, “The Communist neighborhood Wedding is on the March.” They were prisoners who had just been released. Among them were politicals, criminals, and common bystanders who joined the ranks of the procession. A group of concentration camp survivors came out through a gate, wearing their striped prison garb. They were looking for civilian clothes. A young Soviet officer was in the lead. People whispered, “Jews... Jews... The officer is Jewish, too.”

45A lanky man with an elongated face climbed up a gate and tore down an enameled shield with a swastika. Someone threw a stone at a window. Glass shards crashed down. You could hear the prisoners singing at the street corner. The concentration camp survivors raised their fists in anger. They tried to break down the gateway of a house. “All together, brothers! Let’s do it again! Like this!” They broke it down with iron bars and crowbars. A truck stopped suddenly. Two Soviet officers got out.

46“What’s going on here?”

47“We need clothes!”

48“Who are you?” asked the officers.

49The lanky man with the long face pushed forward: “Who are we? Concentration camp prisoners! We’ve walked around long enough in these humiliating clothes! D’you see these trenches? We were forced to dig these a few days ago. They brought us to Berlin for slave labor.”

50“Why didn’t you fight back? Why did you help them fortify the city? Who are you, I mean, what nationality?”

51“We’re Jews.”

52“Jews? Well, now everything is clear.” He gave them an angry look and called over the young officer who had stayed on the side the whole time: “Excuse me, but what are you doing with this mob?”

53“They’re not a mob, they’re citizens who were just freed!”

54“You’re not answering my question. What are you doing here and who are you?”

55“Who am I?! That’s none of your business! I only have to answer to my military superiors, not to the bureaucrats.”

56“To the military? You’ve got a loose tongue! Oh, so these are your people, huh? A Jew found some Jews. Now I get it…”

57The two officers got back in the truck and left the young man with the former prisoners. One said to the other: “See how they take advantage of our victory? The nerve! They’re a disruptive element!”

58At headquarters, the former history teacher from the Saratov middle school, Nikolay Sergeyevitch Soloukhin, told the general staff: “Russian troops have marched through Berlin three times in the last one hundred and eighty-five years. We beat Friedrich II in 1760. Fifty-three years later we drove out Napoleon, we stormed across the Nieman River, across the Vistula and the Oder. We conquered Prussia and we occupied Berlin. Now Berlin has fallen to us for the third time. One hudred and eighty-five years ago, one hundred and thirty-two years ago, and now! Let us drink to the three victories!”

59The staff was rowdy, and dozens of hands raised heavy goblets. Alturov had worked hard to collect all kinds of drinking vessels. He had found a German sport club somewhere, and he brought a whole box full with the silver cups of a soccer team, all adorned with eagles, swastikas, and Gothic inscriptions etched in silver. They sparkled in the lamp light. Soloukhin, wearing glasses, put down his goblet and continued:

60“Franz Mehring wrote in his book The Lessing Legend: ‘In the history of the world it is difficult to find a powerful group as spiritually depraved and as deprived of human decency as the princes of Germany.’ The Italian poet Alfieri considered Berlin ‘one huge somber barracks.’ Our great Russian writer Saltykov-Shchedrin said prophetically: ‘Berlin was created for mass murder.’”

61Menakhem was sitting with Soloukhin, talking about the German nation. His harsh words about the Germans aroused Soloukhin: “You’re a Jew, I can tell from your hatred of them. That was good for us until we conquered Berlin. It strengthened our war. But it’s not useful to us now. What I just said about Germany will be the last you’ll hear from me like that. We’ll have to change our tune after they surrender. We’ll have to adapt our words to the needs of the situation. I can do it. But you’ll be stuck with your hatred of the German people. That will isolate you.”

62A Ukrainian was dancing, spinning in a wild karahod and shouting out. Night fell. The spring wind brought the smell of still waters. That night German Gen. Hans Krebs appeared at headquarters, along with two officers carrying white flags. The guards let them in and escorted them to Maj. Ostrowski. “I am fully authorized to report to the Supreme Soviet commander that we are ready to surrender. Our Führer ended his life of his own free will yesterday.” That news was immediately sent to central headquarters. But it was only a partial surrender, because the Germans were still fighting in other sectors.

63An elderly German woman stopped Lieut. Oshanin not far from headquarters, wringing her hands: “Sir officer, they’re plundering my house. My daughter is in danger… The Russian soldiers... Not far... The next street… The third house…” She whispered grimly, in desperation.

64He looked at her indifferently, but curious. But suddenly a warmth came over him, dissipating his indifference. That made him uneasy. He reacted against that sudden warmth in himself. Yet he looked at her face for a hint of that same warmth in his heart. She was the typical German woman whom you might find at church on a Sunday, with a wrinkled face, two gnarled, waxy hands, and wearing a string of black pearls around her neck. In her desperation and her quiet pleading she was like all the other elderly women in that war-ravaged city. Oshanin looked at her with sympathy. It was a superficial sympathy at someone else’s horror and terror, maybe not a deeply felt one that reached the soul. It was as if his feelings were reflected in a dark mirror back onto himself. But this time it was different. The old German woman’s pain pierced him, and as much as he struggled against the warmth he felt in his breast, still the icy shield around his heart melted. As if she understood the struggle inside him, she put her yellow, bony fingers on her black dress and said: “She’s half Jewish, my daughter.” `

65Oshanin followed her to the stone steps.

66“Here, Sir.”

67Screams were coming from the open door.

68“This is it. My God!”

69He walked down a long corridor and stopped at an open door. Three Russian soldiers had wrecked the apartment. They had ransacked the credenzas, smashed the crystals, torn off the bedspreads, and knocked over the chairs. A young girl stood weeping in a corner of the room, wrapped in a thick, dark curtain. One of the soldiers was trying to pull the curtain off her. The heavy curtain rod fell, dragging with it an oil painting in a heavy black frame. Another soldier was standing near a broken mirror, holding a bottle of liquor in his hand. He was already drunk, and staggering, talking to his own reflection in them mirror: “Hi, Fedka! How do you like Germany? D’you like Berlin? Why don’t you say anything, Fedka dear? I’m not good enough to talk to? Oh, now you’re a victor! So now you won’t talk to me! I spilled my blood for you, Fedka from Saratov! And you’re too important? Let’s drink! Fedka, stop playing your tricks!”

70He pushed the bottle to the mirror: “Take it, I say! So you won’t?”

71The soldier banged the bottle into the mirror, sending down a shower of glass shards: “The Devil take your mother! You swine!” Then he sat on the floor.

72The soldiers had first looked at Oshanin when he showed up at the door. Then they ignored him.

73The drunken Fedka told him, “It’s getting late, pal! We’ve guzzled everything. There’s just a tiny bit left. One little bottle. This German girl, maybe you’ll get somewhere with her. You’ve got your epaulettes.”

74 Another soldier went over to the curtain rod and tried to unwrap the curtain off the girl: “Wait! I’ll show you this barefoot girl!”

75“Leave her alone!”

76“Take your paws off, officer! You’ll be sorry!”

77Oshanin pushed him away. The two soldiers laughed.

78“What’s with you, Kostya? You conquered Berlin, but you can’t budge this German whore?”

79“I saw Fedyas all around, not just one. Hundreds of Fedyas in all the splinters of the mirror. A whole regiment of Fedyas. Swines! Drunkards!”

80Oshanin took out his revolver: “Get out, both of you!”

81“We weren’t afraid of German bastards, and you’re not gonna scare us with your gun!”

82Kostya raised his hands covered with blood that he had just cut on the broken mirror: “You’re spilling the blood of Russians.”

83“Come,” said Fedya, “Enough!”

84Oshanin shoved them out of the apartment. They stood a while on the steps and could not decide where to go.

85He told the girl, “Don’t be afraid. They were just drunk.” A blond, disheveled head poked out from the curtain. Oshanin felt the girl’s terror deeply: big brown eyes full of tears, her mouth twitching, sobbing as if she were choking. He saw before him a girl about eighteen years old. One of her shoulders was bare and her dress was ripped. An undergarment with lace was visible at her throat, and her chest was heaving from her panting. One leg was bare, with a silk stocking only hafway up the other leg. “I thank you,” she whispered, as she tried to cover her nakedness with her hands.

86The girl and her mother went to the other room, leaving Oshanin alone. The three Russians stood outside at the gate, arm in arm. Fedya raise his fist towards the window and yelled, “I left my Fedya up there in that German house, ten Fedyas!” They dragged him away down the deserted street. Oshanin watched them until they disappeared at the corner. He stayed for coffee. He sat with the mother and daughter in a side room and drank muddy war coffee from a faience cup. The old woman brought in a photo album and opened the silver lock on the leather covers.

87“This is Marion’s father. A Jew from Breslau. He is dead.” She wiped her eyes and said something that Oshanin could not understand.

88 Night was beginning to fall. “I have to leave. My name is Oshanin, Lev Oshanin. If you’ll permit me, I’ll visit you again.”

89As he left, he said to her, “I’m Jewish.”

90Marion had left the room unnoticed. Her mother called, “Where are you, Marion?” And when she showed up, Oshanin saw she was upset. Something was troubling her. Her warm fingers melted the remaining ice in Oshanin’s heart. He realized that she had carefully brushed her hair and had hung red pearls around her long neck on his account.

91He said, “I’ll come again tomorrow in the afternoon. Do you need anything? How can I help you? When he was at the door he looked at the brass plaque on the door with a Gothic inscription. He took a sheet of paper and wrote in Russian with a pencil: “This apartment is under our protection. Lieutenant Lev Olshanin.” He said, “Hang this on the outer door. That will spare you any more visits from Fedya’s pals.”

92The flag of victory fluttered over the Reichstag cupola. Menakhem could see it from his window. German prisoners came through his office at headquarters. Several assistants recorded the proceedings of the interrogations. Most of the prisoners had hidden in the cellars of the Reichskanzlei. Reports of the interrogations were sent every hour to central headquarters.

93It became clear from the officers of the German general staff that Hitler was dead, and that the principal witnesses to his cremation were Hitler’s adjutant, SS man Otto Günsche, and his valet, SS man Heinz Linge. Others who helped burn his body were the chiefs of Hitler’s bodyguards; SS man Johann Rattenhuber, and an officer, Harry Mengershausen. His personal pilot, Hans Bauer, had stayed in the cellars until the last minute. Hitler committed suicide when he saw no possibility of escaping.

94One officer reported: “The Führer had lost his mind. Those around him had decided to burn his body. If he had tried to leave the bunker, we would have shot him anyway. He knew it. It was good that he chose to leave this world of his own free will.” Soon after Menakhem reported his information, Babadjanin telegraphed these attestations of Hitler’s immediate subordinates to Stalin. The Special Section was ordered to find those witnesses. An officer was assigned to begin the search, with a company at his disposition. Among his men were Germans working with the Soviets, mostly former Reichswehr officers.

95 Even before the Reichskanzlei was taken, the Special Section had reported to the Kremlin: “Hitler’s grave lies in a bomb crater near the emergency exit of the bunker. We have followed all your instructions.” Those instructions had been: Send Hitler’s corpse to Moscow in an especially reserved airplane after confirming the authenticity of the corpse with witnesses and experts. Stalin had given that order as soon as he learned that the Führer was dead.

96A black curtain fell. The gruesome tragedy was over. Backstage the people of the Dniepr River, the Volga, the Siberian steppes had torn the masks off their rulers, ripped off their black togas, removed their poisonous weapons, and stripped their clothes. The actors’ ugly pretense was uncovered. They squirmed like worms under their boots. They begged for mercy. They feared the righteous rage of the people and committed suicide. And some sneaked away from the arena like thieves.

97Once Menakhem saw a German dressed in a concentration camp uniform come into his office. As soon as he looked at him he knew that this was no former prisoner: “Why did you disguise yourself?”

98“I was afraid I’d be lynched.”

99“Where did you get these clothes?”

100“I found them.”

101“That’s a lie!” Menakhem screamed, interrupting the interrogation. “You murdered a prisoner.”

102The SS man began to move back. Menakhem jumped at him in a rage: “These clothes are holy! Take them off! You’re besmirching them! Take them off now!” He lunged at him with his fists. Then he glowered at him. The SS man remained in his underwear, and the guards jeered at him when he left headquarters.

103One night Hitler called his retinue together in the underground bunker under the Reichskanzlei and announced his intention to leave this world. This was a poorly directed epilogue to the drama that the madman had performed before his idiot admirers. But it was not performed under God’s open skies in a circus arena or sports stadium, with hundreds of thousands of Germans screaming “Heil!” It was performed behind black curtains that were pulled down, dozens of meters underground, under a heavy cover of concrete, under the full darkness of night. And this tragic-comedy—authored and directed all by himself—had all the elements of melodramatic trash. He still had his subordinates in hypnotic thrall. They were the supporting cast in the last performance, among the players being Eva Braun, the exalted photo model from München and the Wasserburgerstrass and Walter Wagner, the head of civil affairs in Berlin, plus several other followers. And the hero playing his own tragic role—that of himself. The marriage of the “Führer” and the “Maid” required witnesses.

104“Do you agree, my Führer, Adolf Hitler, do you agree to take Eva Braun for your wife? If you agree, answer ‘yes.’” That was how Walter Wagner, head of civil affairs, asked him in a theatrical and pathetic tone. Then there was a suspenseful pause in the show. The witnesses to the “marriage” disappeared from the underground stage one by one: Goebbels, sinister and lame; Bormann the lover of beer-cellars, and his shadowy retinue; then Wagner, who had registered the “marriage” to legitimize it for future generations.

105Scene Two: The last conversation between the newly-weds full of pathos and theatricality.

106Scene Three: Hitler alone writing his testament. And right after that, the suicide. The conversation between the two had been short.

107Eva: “I know your decision, and I wish to die.”

108“It will be painful,” said the mad Führer.

109“I want to die. It will be more painful to live without you.”

110Then he remained alone on stage. He looked over his testament, the personal legacy and the political. His mouth crooked from an episode of paralysis, he read his own words: “International politicians of Jewish origin, as well as those who served Jewish interests, were the cause of this war... I have no doubt whatsoever that Jewry, which is the real guilty party in this war, will be held responsible for it…” The final words of his testament were commands: “I order the leaders of our nation and all our citizens to strictly uphold our race laws and to violently resist international Jewry, the poisoners of the whole world and its peoples.”

111It is very likely that the testament had been prepared on Hitler’s birthday. A week later, Polish divisions had attacked from the north, cutting Berlin in half. News came that same night that the Soviets had taken Spandau, Potsdam, and Tempelhof. Gen. Zhukov’s tanks pushed from the Alexanderplatz towards the Spittelmarkt and the Schlossplatz. Leipzigerstrasse led from the Spittlemarkt to the Wilhelmstrasse. But bridges that had been blown up obstructed the path of Soviet advance. That could slow down the taking of the Reichskanzlei, the Tiergarten, and all the bunkers by a day or two. Those objectives were being fired on constantly by Soviet artillery. That was when Hitler was preparing his epilogue.

112Some time later Hitler’s chauffeur provided additional details: “When we arrived at Hitler’s underground bunker, we saw the Führer sitting on a small divan. Eva Braun was lying at his side, with her head resting on his shoulder. The Führer was leaning forward a bit. It was easy to see that he was dead. His lower jaw was drooping, and blood was dripping from both temples. His mouth was bloody. Two “Walter” pistols were lying on the stone floor.

113It was time to dim the lights on that dark stone stage. The epilogue had ended with a double suicide by gunshot. On the stage were a bloodied “He” and a “She” who was sleeping at his side like a dove. A skeleton waved his hand to summon demons. Black skeleton demons came dancing on the dark stage, whirling in a karahod until day broke. Then they ran away.

114On the First of May the Supreme Commander of the Soviet armed forces announced: “Between January and the First of May more than a million Germans died and 800,000 prisoners were taken on the Soviet front. We have captured and destroyed at least 6,000 airplanes and about 12,000 armored cars.”

115In that announcement he also warned America and England: “Our homeland has built a first-class army during this war, which is capable of defending the Socialist conquests of our people and protecting the national interest of the Soviet Union.”

116The troops were surprised. They did not grasp who it was aimed at. Later they realized that it was meant for the Allies, who were standing on the banks of the Elbe River, and without whose active help the victory over Germany would have been impossible. Menakhem saw the war years unroll like a parchment in his mind. It was in Nizhny, in the winter of 1941. The first months of the war. Russia was starving. He had gone to the military mess hall. His company had waited outside for hours to get some watery cabbage soup. He had been assigned to work there a few times and had seen how miserable the food was. They would bring rotten potatoes and frozen cabbage peels from the kolkhoz. They would not have made it through the winter if not for the huge American shipments of canned meat. All of Nizhny was fed at the mess hall. Farmers, city dwellers, children, all came in the bitter cold and waited to get a bit of hot cabbage water and American meat in their little plates. That was what had saved the recruits from starvation. But the officers’ mess had lots of American food. Everywhere, Menakhem had seen weapons, clothes, and trucks from abroad. The officers’ tunics, worn-out and tattered, were quickly exchanged for English-made tunics. Instead of kolkhoz horses, it was powerful trucks from abroad with double wheels that traveled the rough Russian roads, carrying necessities from the villages to the front. It was only when they crossed the old border with Poland, where collectivization had not yet been implemented—because those areas had fallen to the Soviets just before the war broke out—that the troops could eat their fill. Those exhausted, badly clothed, poorly nourished soldiers began to live again. Some regiments would come on leave right from the front to areas of western Ukraine and western Belarus.

117It was only in Berlin that Menakhem heard about the powerful bombing raids by the Americans and the British on the most vital industrial and commercial centers of Germany. It was there that he learned from an officer about Jewish soldiers in the American army and about a special Jewish brigade of Israeli Jews in the British army.

118Right after Stalin’s speech on the First of May, Soviet relations with the forward positions of the Allies worsened. Fraternization with Allied troops was forbidden. The Soviets reinforced their guardhouses on their side of the Elbe River. Menakhem overheard an officer saying, “We’ll push on further. We can’t stop now. Germans who escaped are massing on the other side. If we don’t push on, we’ll be destroyed from within. Now that we’re so powerful we can’t stop here. Our strength is now beyond control. It’ll push on through intertia.”

119The Father of the Nations had been prepared to meet Hitler in Moscow, alive and a prisoner. He, too, had prepared a theatrical spectacle. But he would have directed it in a barbaric, Tatar style, mixed with elements of the Soviet Realist stage, helped by experienced NKVD specialists in organizing huge public spectacles. It was supposed to be remembered for generations, like the delivery of Pugachev to Moscow in a metal cage.

120 Stalin had wished to tear off the Führer’s mask and destroy the halo over his head, not only the mask of a ruler, but also the tragic mask of a national leader and a miserable military commander. He did not want to do it with his own hands. The victim himself would have to offer himself to the world for shame and mockery. He had wanted to see the Führer alive and on his knees.

121It was not so long ago that he had said to the two great men in Yalta, the American and the Englishman: “It won’t be long until my boots will stand on Hitler’s neck.” No, he had not meant literally “on Hitler’s neck.” He had imagined Hitler’s death differently. First the prisoner would have to denounce his own, entire past history and fame. He would not be permitted to take any of that with him into the grave. All that should remain for history would be his naked corpse and his own self-denunciation. It would take place in a mass spectacle before the people of Moscow and the world.

122But now the news had come: Hitler was dead. Stalin was furious. It was not clear whether it was rage or disappointment, or both. Both disappointment and rage against the commanders who had delayed the attack on the Reichskanzlei 48 hours later than planned. The conquest of the bunkers had been prepared from the north, the Tiergarten, the Reichstag, and the south. All escape routes had been cut off. The units had waited, until it was too late. Stalin did believe that Hitler had committed suicide, but he still had his doubts. Maybe he had disappeared with the help of the Allies?

123In those days Stalin behaved like a theater director who comes to a gala presentation, the acme of his career, which would bestow eternal fame on him, but the hero is missing! He wanders through the empty theater, he strides across the empty stage, he searches backstage, but he finds no one. No actors, no audience. The stage décor is gone. A floodlight projects a large red circle at center stage. But it is surrounded by complete silence. He pressed his hands together and waited. The red light went out. He clapped his hands and called out. The door opened, and someone bowed low to him.

124“Who are you?”

125“It’s me, Babadjanin. Babadjanin.”

126Stalin rubbed his eyes. The empty stage was gone! No more emptiness! No more red light! He was back in the Kremlin. The little red light on the telephone lit up, which meant the call was from headquarters. He did not answer. He just had to talk to the Kazakh:

127“Hey, you Kazakh devil! Come closer!”

128The little red light reflected in his eyes.

129“You didn’t do your duty, Babadjanin!”

130The Kazakh’s flabby face fell. He no longer had a face, just a vague blob between day and night on a foggy field. His clumsy body tottered like a tree that is just about to fall, because its roots have already been sawed. Just a little push. The muffled phone rang again, sounding like nickel coins falling on a carpet. The Kazakh tottered, his body almost falling against the edge of the desk.

131“I want to see the dead Hitler!”

132Babadjanin was saved. His face came back to life. He smiled at the carpet, the walls, the tapestries, the bodyguards. He walked down the marble staircase and smiled at the steps. The bodyguards were not surprised at his smile. They understood that the brilliant aureola of the Father of the Nations had illuminated the Kazakh’s face.

133General Weidling, the German commandant of Berlin, surrendered with his general staff to the Soviet Gen. Chuikov. In a beer cellar on the Schönhauser Allee, the Soviets were holding Hitler’s immediate subordinates. Leading a small company of troops, Lev Oshanin entered the beer cellar. The German generals, the guards, and several civilians in black funeral dress stood up. The officers saluted the Russian soldiers. Lieut. Oshanin stood in the open door, tall, broad-shouldered, pitch-black curls falling on his forehead. His eyes, under heavy dark brows, perused the Germans. He was tense, suspicious, brimming with hatred.

134It was dead quiet in the beer-cellar. Oshanin took a step forward, staring at the Germans, his Jewish eyes glaring at the bony, hard, alien faces. Eyeglasses gleamed in the light, a cross, an epaulette, a shovel hanging on a belt, a brass belt buckle. Oshanin walked down between the heavy wooden tables. The German generals were still standing and saluting. He did not respond. He stopped in front of one of them and looked deep into his eyes. He was a tough, powerfully built German with facial scars and tightly pressed lips.

135Oshanin sensed the historic significance of this event in his life. His footsteps in that place would echo in the future. That rigidity of the Junkers, their dazzling insignias, their severe, domineering discipline, their military strutting, and their phony code of honor, all enraged him. The heavy, half-empty beer mugs, the half-smoked cigarettes, the waiters in black frocks, the phony theatrical show of submission, all riled up his Jewish feelings. He screamed brutally, commandingly, “Hands up!”

136The Germans were shaken. One of them removed his hand from his salute and raised both hands. Others lowered their heads. One of them mumbled something hoarsely. The Russians came in and pointed their machine guns.

137“Hands up!”

138Oshanin was standing at the table. Only some of them had raised their hands. The rest stood still and did not move.

139“Three minutes! Then we open fire! Don’t give me ‘honor’! You’re like all other prisoners! Your lives are in our hands. Any disobedience will be considered resistance!” It was not clear who was obeying and who was not. The Soviets spread out and pushed the officers into the street, searching them at the door. They took their belts, their shovels, their guns, and led Hitler’s staff through the streets of Berlin with their hands in the air.

140When Babadjanin heard the news that the Reichskanzlei had been taken, he drove there quickly, accompanied by Zirkov. The garden had been cratered by artillery. Near the lower entrance to the bunker, they had found several half-burned corpses in a bomb crater more than two meters deep. The men of the special company assigned to find Hitler dead or alive rummaged through every corner of the bunkers and every bit of soil in the bombed-out garden. Babadjanin and his companion arrived just when they were carrying the burned corpses out of the crater. Zirkov interrogated several officers from Hitler’s retinue and immediately began to authenticate the identity of the corpses. It was impossible to distinguish who was who. It was a formless mass, wrapped in blackened, charred tarps. One skull had its lower jawbone with gold teeth.

141In a few minutes they had the address of Hitler’s dentist. Zirkov flew through the streets. It was hard to maneuver past the barricades and temporary bridges, the canals and the tank craters. He knocked on the dark door. On the plaque was written: Dr. Blaschke.

142“Who’s there?” asked a woman’s voice behind the door.

143“Open up! A Soviet officer!”

144 She poked her head out. Zirkov and his companions went into the dentist’s big apartment. They were in his office. “Where is Dr. Blaschke?”

145“He’s crossed over to the other side of the Elbe.”

146“Who are you?”

147She smiled: “Sirs, officers, have a seat. Why the hurry? My name is Hausmann. I’m Jewish.”

148Zirkov asked sharply, “Where’s Dr. Blaschke?”

149“I already told you. He left me his apartment. I’m Jewish, just got out of a concentration camp.”

150“Not Jewish, but Judas! Get it?”

151Zirkov turned his back on her and said in Russian to his companions: “Take her along. She’s under arrest. Call the guards. Put this apartment under constant surveillance.” When Zirkov returned to the Reichskanzlei he found Babadjanin in a high spirits, pointing to a burned corpse with a twisted jaw: “That’s Hitler!”

152On the night of May 2nd, 30,000 German soldiers managed to break through the Soviet line. All Soviet units were on the alert. There was shooting on the outskirts of Berlin. The western sector was burning. Marauders were swarming everywhere. Gangs of Vlasov’s army with false documents they had taken from the corpses of slave laborers, war prisoners, and concentration camp victims; German criminals; SS men who had left behind hoards of plunder in Poland. Ukraine, and Lithuania; stragglers from the German army, hungry, bloodthirsty, and furious at Berlin residents who refused to open their homes and give them civilian clothes—a hodgepodge of Germans and their collaborators— Lithuanians, Hungarians, Ukrainians, and Volksdeutscher from Poznan, Katowice, Gdansk, Torun, along with Russian deserters, all rampaged through shops and private homes. On occasion Soviet troops just looked on, silent partners in the pillage. And when the patrols did stop them, the looters would scream and wave their false documents, and lament their “misery.” And quite a number of these criminals actually pretended to be Jews!

153By the time Zipunov was picked up lying in the bushes after the great battle for Berlin and taken to the infirmary, he already had in his bosom the identification paper of a Soviet soldier who had been killed, which he had exchanged for his own. Now the people back home would believe he was dead and would mourn him. The village authorities would thus learn that the very same Zipunov who had worked for the Germans for some time had died for the homeland while storming Berlin.

154Zipunov began heading for Berlin as soon as he was released from the infirmary. In one of the southern neighborhoods he ran into a group of countrymen living in wooden barracks near a German airfield. They were former slave-laborers who had been sent to build an airport, just before Berlin fell. A gold coin won him acceptance, and a suit of civilian clothes let him start looting again. The little cloth sack of gold was still dangling around his neck.

155The Germans abandoned their allies. Groups of paramilitaries, Ukrainian and Russian prisoners serving as auxiliaries, wandered the ruined roads of south Germany. Exhausted, hungry, and afraid of revenge reprisals, they aimed to reach the Allies, hoping for protection.

156Soviet loudspeakers warned their former citizens: “The roads are barred. You will not escape our righteous fury! If you wish to cleanse your guilt, kill your treasonous commanders or turn them over to us!” They dropped leaflets from airplanes: “The Americans will not welcome you! They have agreed to turn over war criminals. Running away now is a greater betrayal than having been forced to serve the Germans.”

157The nights were quiet. All you could hear was the sound of tanks and armored cars rolling through Berlin. There were guardhouses and patrols. A sudden clatter of machine gun fire and a booming voice: “Vo-ol-lod-ka!” An echo resounded. A soldier was singing about dangerous nights on alien soil and about home.

158Menakhem listened to the night sounds. The singing of the soldiers on guard calmed him down. It brought him back to the fields of Russia. He saw before him the three windmills on the high bank of the Moksha River, the little familiar villages nearby: Tengushay, Bashkirtzi, Krasny-yar, Dudnikovo. He had left those villages that first winter of the war. He had walked, wrapped in his black coat, with all the other villagers. And now he had finally reached the destination that the Soviet general staff had designated: Berlin. This was the end of his long road.

159All afternoon he stood reading the lists of soldiers and officers who had distinguished themselves in the battle for Berlin. And each time he recognized a Jewish name, his blood would course through his veins. He underlined them with a pencil, then showed them to Soloukhin: “You’re so good at remembering history. Surely you won’t forget these names?” His fingers pointed to the names, and he read aloud: “Major General Vladimir Leibovitch Tseytlin; Captain Boris Khurgin, killed at thirty years old; Maj. Nikolai Israilovitch Brazgol; Artillery brigade commander Maj. Grigory Dragunsky; Col. David Margolis, Hero of the Soviet Union. Special honors in the conquest of Berlin: Lieut. Gen. Lutchinsky; Major of the Tank Division Veynrib; Lieut. Gen. Shamshin; Artillery Lieut. Gen. Rozanovitch; Maj. Gen. Dobrinsky; Krivoshein, Hero of the Soviet Union; David Abramovitch Dragunsky.”

160He suddenly stopped reading and looked at the young Russian. Soloukhin said, “So what are you trying to prove, Mikhail Isaacovitch?”

161“I’m showing you that we didn’t only die passively in Auschwitz. We waged war against the enemy. Our finest sons. The Russian people must remember the blood that we shed. This was the second time that we Jews have given our blood for Russia. We did it in the October Revolution and now in the war with Germany.”

162“Of course we’ll remember! Don’t forget that those heroes listed are first and foremost Russian citizens. Right? You can’t put their Russianness on a second plane. Why do you need to emphasize their Jewishness? Because they were victorious? So, Mikhail, do you want to take away some of the Russian heroism for yourself? When it’s not in your interest to identify as Jews, you identify as Russians. But whenever someone even hints by a hair that you’re not Russian, you scream that you are Russians indeed.”

163“I don’t understand you.”

164“You don’t understand? You Jews asked the Tsar for equal rights, but you didn’t get it. Only the Soviet regime made you real Russian citizens. But you’ve not been able to break out of the isolation that the Tsar had forced on you. You persist in being different, and you speak a language that isn’t Slavic. What keeps you from being like Russians? You’re still aliens in Moscow, in Kiev, in all the republics. The Kazakhs, the Georgians, the Azerbaijanis also complain about the Jews who live in their cities, because in those places you’re considered Russifiers. You don’t support their local cultures and languages. You have two circles of protection: the larger one is your Russianness, the narrower one is your Jewishness. We’re never sure which circle you’re in.”

165All week before the fall of Berlin the German radio had broadcast classical music, Beethoven, Bach, and Schubert, as well as long recitations of the works of Goethe and Schiller. Undoubtedly they meant to tell the world: See, Beethoven and Bach and Schiller and Goethe are dying here!

166It was late at night in a stone courtyard of the Kremlin. A truck covered with tarp stood near a massive brick wall with pointy turrets. Some soldiers hung around near the somber walls. The clock rang on the Spasskaya tower, its peals spreading out all over Russia. It was midnight. Steps approached. The soldiers lined up in a row, casting shadows on the wall, huge, and irregular. One man stood apart, his face turned towards the courtyard with the sounds of approaching steps. First he saw a group of shadows in the corner, then people. The man jumped up and gave an order. At that moment floodlights and stage lights turned on. Rays of light streamed across the courtyard, illuminating the truck and the line of guards, who stood at attention, saluting.

167Then the lights turned onto a small mound near the wall covered with a black cloth. The men approached it in a semicircle. One of them came right next to the cloth. He was lit up from the shoulders to the head, as if by a supernatural halo. It was the Father of the Nations! He had come with his retinue to see Hitler’s corpse. Babadjanin left the semicircle and bent over the black cloth. The stage light went from his face to his hands. He sneaked a glance at Stalin, perusing his face as if looking for something, and suddenly he tugged at the cloth and laid it at his feet. The Kremlin clock rang midnight. No one saw Stalin’s face. His guards and his companions saw only his back. He stood alone face to face with the ruler lying on the ground in front of the massive Kremlin wall at night. He stood like a statue carved of granite.

168No, it isn’t just a dead ruler who lies at my boots. It’s Germany. It’s the Junkers. It’s their conquered territories. It’s all of Europe. Right here at the Kremlin walls. You wanted to reach Moscow. Well, you’re in the Kremlin now! Your people were loyal. They didn’t abandon you until the very end. You were their God. You announced your plans to the world. You clearly said what you wanted and what your aims were. You showed your face and built the “Thousand-year Reich.” It was you who abandoned your people, not your people who abandoned you. Millions of Germans are mourning you. Even now you’re still their God, crucified by a Georgian with the help of... World Jewry!”

169His lips curled in sarcasm. Stalin looked around and saw the silent guards and his silent, somber retinue. He suddenly felt strange, and an unknown terror struck him, as if an evil thorn had pierced his temples. It wasn’t the dead ruler that terrified him, but Death itself. How was it possible for a cremated ruler to walk on stone floors? He who had held the reins of power, who had given orders, who had judged others and sentenced them? This wasn’t just the death of one beaten ruler. It was the death of rulers, the death of rule by one man. This death is a challenge to all my enemies, those who are out in the open and those who are in hiding behind my back. Yes, he had enemies! They were victorious now and they were in mourning. They mourned because he was still alive and they were victorious because rulers did not rule forever. One day they would roll in the dust.

170The death of the evil man shook the dictatorship of the Man from the Kremlin. This was just the beginning. A new day was coming. No, it would not come. He would prevent it from coming. Hitler had been a ghost, maniac, soldier, actor, overblown with parade glory and Prussian arrogance, he had played the role till the end. If only Hitler had been a Georgian, then he would have ruled forever. Then the two of them would have divided up the world between them.

171The Father of the Nations curled up, and a shudder went through him. Someone was hurling him down a stone staircase. His skull rolled down, way down, like a watermelon. Bells were ringing. The gates were breaking open. A mob surged into the Kremlin courtyard. His mouth twisted and whispered. Boots were stomping on him…

172Stalin announced to his retinue: “Hitler is not dead. Hitler lives.” He said it slowly, one word at a time, as if needed to give someone plenty of time, until the day came, to engrave it in black marble. His words were neither commanding nor doubtful. It was a declaration that would not be recanted, because behind them stood massive, sinister walls of stone with guards.

173He continued: “National leaders don’t die so simply. This corpse is not authentic. This is a phony Hitler. He is alive, the real, the true Hitler! What do you think, that it’s so easy to bring down a leader? The people are protecting him. His followers are hiding him. He’s surrounded by devoted disciples in life and death. Get this cremated trash out of my sight! Hitler must be hunted down. We dare not let down our guard for one minute!

174 It was one in the morning. The floodlights were turned off. The guards called out. There were footsteps on stone. Babadjanin was in a black mood. He had not done his duty. He would be considered a traitor who had brought some burned corpse into the Kremlin and had tried to dupe the Father of the Nations.

175It was the changing of the guard at the gate. The Man from the Kremlin was nervous, tired, and restless. He took Babadjanin’s arm as he went up the steps. “I’m saved,” thought the Kazakh. His browless eyes radiated joy.

176Moscow was celebrating the total conquest of the German capital, Berlin. Cascades of fireworks again lit up the Moscow skies. Cannons fired, and every shot announced more wondrous displays.

177On the Brandenburg Gate there hung pictures of the heroes who had first broken through Berlin: Ivan Grigoryiev and Sgt. Aaron Schinder. May 2nd was a cloudy day. The Berlin skies reflected in purple the fires burning the city. At the entrance to the city on the Frankfurter Allee, Soviet troops were erecting a triumphal arch.


1 Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Shamshin, commander of mechanized rifle brigades, tank divisions, tank corps, and mechanized divisions.


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