by Gaither Stewart
Writer, Dandelion Salad
January 3, 2020
In February 2019 Germany opened a brand new intelligence complex in the city of Berlin. The new headquarters of the BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst or Federal Intelligence Service) occupies a huge space—by the way, much as STASI or State Security Service once did in East Berlin the former German Democratic Republic—and supposedly employs a total of over six thousand persons. The move from its former secret location in the Munich suburb of Pullach reflects both the centralization in Berlin of federal institutions that after World War Two were widely dispersed throughout Germany and importantly, European Union-NATO leader Germany’s efforts to get away from the nation’s Nazi past. The new BND location in Germany’s capital city seems also a giant step away from the former obsessive secrecy of its location in Munich, hidden away in that obscure suburb and operating under a cover name and, above all, until the late 1950s an affiliate of the CIA. The move to Berlin can be interpreted as the BND’s declaration of sovereignty.
The BND dates back to its formation in 1956 when it replaced the CIA-affiliate, known (or rather largely unknown), as the Gehlen Organization, named after its creator, the East European specialist, former German Lieutenant General Reinhard Gehlen. In the immediate postwar, Gehlen Org, as it was called in intelligence parlance, zeroed in on Soviet-dominated East Europe. Its operations were financed by the CIA and staffed by hundreds of Gehlen’s own Nazi intelligence staff and former SS men released from West European internment camps to join Gehlen’s first headquarters in the Spessart Mountains in central Germany. Since American intelligence of those times knew little about the Soviet Union, ultra-top secret Gehlen Org was the CIA’s eyes and ears throughout East Europe.
A look at the figure of Reinhard Gehlen and his relationship with the CIA is well worthwhile since to a certain extent he and his SS men established early postwar policies of the USA vis-à-vis its erstwhile ally, the Soviet Union. Policies which have remained largely intact. When the former General’s staff swelled to some three thousand persons his Gehlen Org was transferred to a twenty-five acre compound in Munich-Pullach where it operated under the innocuous name of South German Industrial Development Organization. By the early fifties Gehlen Org was said to employ some four thousand intelligence specialists in Germany and a like number of undercover agents throughout Eastern Europe. Its work consisted of the infiltration of secret agents into East European countries, espionage, analysis and the laying of policy guidelines for the CIA.
The CIA-Gehlen secret link is in fact one of the most disturbing examples of the U.S. relationship with Nazism and Nazi Germany dating back to the formative period of Hitlerian Nazism in the early 1920s. Few people know even the name “Gehlen”. Yet, he and his SS men not only indoctrinated the newborn CIA but to a great extent determined and led American postwar activities in East Europe and in a special way toward the Soviet Union and Russia today.
Historiography has shown examples of American economic assistance to the young Nazi movement in Munich from 1919-1920, which many U.S. planners saw as a future force to crush Soviet Communism against which the USA along with Great Britain and France had been intervening militarily in Eastern Russia since 1917. As far as America’s collaboration with German Nazism is concerned, silence has been the rule. Moreover, denazification after Nazi Germany’s defeat was a joke. It never happened. Anyone who spent time in Germany even a decade after the end of WWII could hear right and left the refrain of older, non-denazified Germans and high-ranking American military: America and Germany together to crush the Soviet Union!
But Reinhard Gehlen? (born April 3, 1902 in Erfurt, died June 8, 1979 in Munich-Starnberg). What kind of a man was he? Gehlen, the German military intelligence man. German nationalist and traitor. Conspirator and liar. Man of light and dark. Day and night. Both Führer loyal and traitor long before Hitler fired him … perhaps also for incompetence. Gehlen, fake Nazi, opportunist, administrative bungler and nepotist, naive dabbler but also East European expert. All these things in his seventy-seven years. Yet, despite all, he seemed destined to become President of the BND, allegedly thanks to the CIA and also to his friendship with Conrad Adenauer, first Chancellor of the postwar German Federal Republic.
In any case, schemer or brilliant expert in intelligence matters, Reinhard Gehlen was highly praised as he worked his way up through the military ranks, finally reaching the General status. But generalship did not satiate his ambition. He wanted more. From the start he strove for something of his very own. With no one over him. An appealing quality to the early CIA which desired the same. And still does. Whether or not the CIA ever completely mastered Gehlen is a moot question. Operation Barbarossa—the invasion of Russia—was the chance of a lifetime for an enterprising man like Gehlen. He was a military man, an intelligence man, but he contrived to have his very own intelligence organization. That ambition was realized when he took over the Wehrmacht Foreign Armies East (Fremde Heere Ost or FHO) military intelligence service in Eastern Europe, a parallel intelligence gathering organization, separate from the regular army’s Abwehr. He was the expert. The boss. Except for the Führer—whom he bamboozled as he later must have the CIA—his hands were free. So it was no surprise that his information gradually began to differ from that of the Abwehr. His intelligence had the Gehlen stamp.
William T. Vollmann in his marvelous 800-page novel about Germany and Russia and World War Two, Europe Central, inserts examples of his wartime reporting. When General Paulus’s Sixth Army was surrounded by Russian armies which methodically crushed everything inside the encirclement, Fremde Heere Ost (Gehlen) reassured Paulus that “the enemy troop concentrations remained much too weak for far-reaching operations.” Cynicism or incompetence? And while the Sixth Army of 300,000 German soldiers was being crushed and Paulus’s last Panzer tanks had been lost, Gehlen sent him old air reconnaissance photographs in which there was no indication at all of Soviet troop movements. Then when the horse steak rations were ending even for the top officers in the cellars of besieged Stalingrad, Gehlen’s Fremde Heers Ost reported that “the situation of Stalingrad might very well be serious”. Then—ah, that sly and unpredictable Gehlen!—while the German part of Stalingrad was falling and Paulus about to surrender, Gehlen briefed the Führer that “a powerful enemy tank attack was repelled after a temporary break-in” and “enemy artillery fire was strengthening”, “there is enemy pressure on our positions” and “enemy advances on many fronts”, reports which infuriated the Führer.
His increasingly pessimistic reports displeased the Führer to the degree that before war’s end he fired him. But what did our Gehlen care? He was never one to be caught with his pants down. He was prepared. Those misleading reports concerning Stalingrad indicate he had been planning far ahead. During the war years he had collected an enormous quantity of intelligence on the Soviet Union and on the precious Soviet Order of Battle, which he stored in water-tight drums and buried in secret places in Austria. Then like others who could, he let himself and his trusted aids be captured by the American CIC, the Counter Intelligence Corps, where a warm welcome awaited him.
In 1945, the gap in U.S. intelligence about its former ally and new enemy, the Soviet Union, was abysmal. Russia! Communists! Russia! Soviet Union! Who speaks their crazy languages anyway? Few American military men knew anything about those boundless expanses and enigmatic peoples in the East reaching nearly to America. Soviet studies quickly blossomed in American academia. The military began training first hundreds, then thousands of recruits in the languages of East Europe. While anti-Soviet, anti-Russian propaganda intensified, the American mood quickly turned anti-Soviet, anti-communist. The Cold War was revving up. The U.S. wartime OSS intelligence regrouped and in 1947 was reborn as the CIA. Gehlen was one of its cornerstones; some observers even consider Gehlen a co-founder of the Central Intelligence Agency. Reinhard, the man of light and dark, offered his precious intelligence treasures about America’s great enemy. And he brought with him those hundreds of German East European specialists some of which I had occasion to meet later.
In retrospect, Gehlen’s role in US intelligence—as far as the Soviet Union in the first ten postwar years is concerned—appears as a case of the tail wagging the dog. The CIA hired him and his people, paid them while it learned from Gehlen Org just what Soviet Russia was all about. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow functioned but what did it know about the nitty-gritty of its Soviet ally’s military operations. Gehlen had to know his time was limited. CIA patience was limited. So he worked fast. And his hands were everywhere in the defeated and destroyed Germany. One said that every German prisoner of war returnee from Soviet internment was processed by Gehlen … like being interrogated by the SS. But also by American military intelligence organizations in effect many still managed by the Gehlen Org in Munich. Why? Because the Germans knew the right questions to ask.
Clashes of interest were inevitable. Secretive, ambiguous Gehlen was all the while contriving his German future, which was realized in 1956 when he became the first President of the Federal Intelligence Service, (BND). The CIA controlled the Gehlen Org and the fictitious country of Germany itself but it could not control as in the decade before a secret intelligence service headed by an ambitious man like Reinhard Gehlen accustomed to a controller role. CIA domination and control of Gehlen’s BND must have gradually transformed into a sort of Big Brother—Little Brother relationship. We may assume it remains the same in the U.S. occupied Federal Republic of Germany, now today straining at the leashes toward a new relationship with its old foe, Russia. It was always as much Russia as it was Communism that Hitler’s Nazism opposed. Yet, it has long been a love-hate-envy relationship, that of Germany and Russia. The two countries simply have too many common interests to stay apart forever. When and if Nord Stream 2 opens, untold change in the Russian role in Europe will arrive together with Russian gas. And ironically German-Russian relations are the key.
The Powers of Love and War
(Extracted from the novella, Words Unspoken)
Stalingrad. Stalingrad. Stalingrad changed everything in my life. Since my return home from the war I’ve never felt emotions of normal human warmth. None of the personal kindliness I’d expected. Instead of warmth and healing, I’ve felt only chaos. Something almost otherworldly. Much as in Russia. I’m well aware that the ugliness of my experiences changed me too. And that ten years later I still feel war and fire and death and the smells of war in my every breath. To returnees like me the everlasting peace politicians speak of mean little. For what am I, Helmut Seifert Hartmann? I’m just a war-shattered, sex-hungry survivor from the war in East Europe where among the young men inhabiting the cellars of the German-occupied part of Stalingrad, cold and rats and smells reigned. Ach, the smells. Zapach voyny, the smell of war, I still repeat just as I did in Russian nights. In the cellars of Stalingrad. Today, in the miserable corners of the homeland I’m still searching for the fire of life I once knew.
At the same time, the shortage of men at home had created the pain of loneliness for German women …women alone and lonely but each harboring love to share … and no men to whom to give it. The men had all been far away. On a front somewhere. And few were the men who returned home whole. Human relations in my view were as convoluted as in the cellars in the East with the soldiers and the cold and the rats and the smells of war.
Things had truly gone haywire in Central Europe. War costs everyone. Russia was devastated. And war had ravaged the homeland as it did all of Europe; the whole continent was in shambles. The stench of charred wood and crushed stone of the bombed out cities permeated the life of people … of existence itself. Soldiers had all noted that special thing about total war: the smells. War had its particular smells, smells that in their lives would never be smothered.
Nonetheless, in the postwar life in the cellars of the demolished cities of the homeland the unbounded urge for life exploded into promiscuity infecting men and women alike … flowering to the beat of flowing beer and schnapps.
Stalingrad. Stalingrad was dank, dark and cold cellars and cold men. And rats. Rats smelling the men’s blood. Huge, dirty rats. Rats crawling over me in the night. And back home, too, lived life continued to bloom in the cellars. As in Russia, the above ground in the homeland was destroyed. But nonetheless, full of drink and lust for life, time and again I and one or the other of the lonely women threw themselves into the grass behind one drinking hole or the other … into the wild wild grass. One into the other. Men and women without names hungry for the fire of life reunited.
‘Me! Who walked back from the East Front! I made it back. I got back whole. A whole man. Today, at home again, I walk across Munich’s Viktualienmarkt and Marienplatz as if on display. I am in demand. As if all the other men had fallen in Stalingrad. And here the human race is starting over.’
In Munich like elsewhere the lonely women and scarce men created a volatile situation of morbid rapture. Ten years of unleashed rapture. Short years. Eternal years.
The sick rapture would never end, I used to think.
Until Ute came into my life. From the start I loved her name. Ute. A meaningful name. Of constancy, intransigence and perseverance. Qualities not in great demand in the period of irrepressible frenzy for life, a time when personal willfulness was truly truant. Like the military sniper in Stalingrad says before he pulls the trigger: It’s nothing personal. I learned what that meant. But Ute put an end to that impersonal life: she was the new German woman.
I entered the Alter Wirt for a beer. Just another place in this Munich suburb I called Grünwaldgrad. But as always looking for someone. Anyone. She was sitting at the table just opposite mine. We looked at each other. Currents tinged with the unknown and sensuality passed from one to the other. Her short dark hair, the smoothness of her face untouched by make-up made her different in every way. She was alone. Hardly a surprise. I’d learned that every aloneness is similar in its loneliness. In a Stalingrad cellar, a Munich basement club, or in the Alter Wirt beer hall. I knew that beautiful woman knew aloneness.
It’s Saturday afternoon in a late Munich summer. My day off. I carry two beers to her table. She smiles up at me. Few words are spoken. Unnecessary words remain unsaid. After a while I suggest a walk, a Spaziergang along the banks of the Isar. Munich summers are so short. We should take advantage of it. But Ute wants to go to Schwabing. So Zum wohl! We drink up. And off to downtown we go.
Marienplatz is in Trümmerhaufen. The tram ride through the ten-years old ruins and rubble of a once great city quotes the cost of war. Words are unnecessary. Frauenkirche, our Notre Dame, a shell-symbol hanging over it all. Main street leading to the Stachus is a passageway cleared of the rubble. And lined by ghastly ghostly shells of the city’s gutted churches, The Hofgarten is just a façade, the silhouette of the remaining half dome of the former Army Museum jutting up in the mist behind it. The Siegestor—the Victory Gate—sags in defeat.
The empty shells of the ‘Thousand Year Reich!’ about which we joked in the cellars of Stalingrad. A thousand years and never again a thousand, our philosopher quoted Nostradamus. Yet already at the end of the first winter in Russia the soldiers felt the end. Moscow and Leningrad had not fallen. German soldiers perceived their defeat rushing toward them, like a troika in flames. And Russians felt it too. Russians always knew it. Just a matter of time, they thought, and the Russian winter. Not only their force.
The tram stops right in front of my favorite Leopoldgastätte. The place a survivor too, a relic of the past. Gott sei Dank. Ute and I, Munich beer and Steinhäger. Zum wohl! Chugalug. Ute hardly blinks. We sit at my usual table near a big window facing Leopoldstrasse. My necessity. I fear the shadows of rear tables recalling dark cold cellars and the war stink.
Ute tells me about her home up north. The swinging swaying suspension railway—the Schwebebahn—runs up the Wupper Valley toward Düsseldorf, flying over the ruins of the industrial Ruhr. An air train. The transport system of the future … until the day they transported a smallish elephant in it. It fell into the River Wupper … and the Schwebebahn remained like a Futurist Installation.
I tell her about Stalingrad cellars and how they flew me out with the last transport from the encircled Sixth Army. General Paulus and 240,000 soldiers stayed behind. Then they surrendered.
“But I broke through,” I whisper. “Like a Galapagos turtle, I made it through. Back to German lines.”
“Why you, do you think? And not other baby turtles? Chance?”
“Military intelligence was my job. The Abwehr. Too valuable to leave me there for captivity. After making me talk the Russians would shoot me like they did the SS men who’d tortured and killed their people. And I didn’t know anything of interest to reveal. That would make the torture worse.”
“Now you’re here … a hero. You made it back.”
“I’m not a hero. I just made it back. I walked to the West, Ute. But I stopped on the Elbe. And with the remainders of our armies—with the old men and the boys—I fell back. And back and back. Until it was over. I made it through to the Amis. Got through again. They sent us POWs to America. Picked beans in North Carolina until they sent me back home. Back to München. I’ve always been lucky. Nearly always.”
“It kills me how you always made it through. Turtle man! And now? Why in Grünwald?”
“Got a job across the river. Electrical company!”
“Pullach, eh? The spy nest. Gehlen! Everybody knows that. Or they know and don’t know. Ah, those spies! Late for spies now, no?”
“Never too late … for spies, is it?”
“I read a film résumé that would interest you. The Gehlen Org story. Someone killed it while the two pages still lay on my desk. There one day, gone the next. Top secret”
“Top secret, yes! Gehlen Org. Another Ami plot!”
The Fräulein brings us more beer and Steinhäger. Smiles at us. Lovingly. It was always in the air at the Leopoldgastätte. Sex … and echoes of loves we once knew.
Ute Friedrich is a light-haired Rheinländerin of twenty-six years. Were she a man, she would still be a Prussian pig for Bavarians. But since she is a beautiful woman she is instead an Ausländerin, a foreigner. She says she feels neither. Her family had been well-to-do before the war. Property holdings in the Wupper Valley and interests in Düsseldorf. Well-off. When her father didn’t return from the war, her mother gradually sold off property so that their life style remained about the same, providing Ute a Schwabing apartment while she studied Germanistic at Munich University. Now she lives in München-Pullach with a three-year old daughter, and is a screen writer at Bavarian Film Studio in Grünwald-Geiselgasteig.
“Gehlen and Pullach seem to link us,” she says.
“Link us? Does Pullach have something to do with it? Pullach is just a place?”
“Silly! Of the link we both feel … one to the other.”
“How are we linked, Ute? You have your life. You, a well-to-do career woman from the Rheinland, a film writer. And me, a Sudeten German from the cellars of Stalingrad. Are we linked? By Gehlen and Pullach?”
“Cynic! I meant the war. Gehlen and evil and the war. And Stalingrad cellars. All that made you different. You don’t get out of such things unscathed.”
“Unscathed! Certainly not. But Gehlen’s not the point.”
Careful, Helmut Hartmann! Links are links, so don’t ruin this because of my proclivity to pardon Gehlen personally just because he too had betrayed the Nazis who had destroyed my generation. Several generations … only to make even greater concessions to his own egomaniacal opportunism and maybe to a greater evil in his urge for power. Ute knows the truth. She knows General Gehlen sold out everything to the Amis. Although the transformation from sanity to madness of our generation was swift, the change back to sanity is an endless process. Civilian life is not easy either.
“You know what I mean! An all-important what. Gehlen and Pullach mean cynicism. And it can make you incapable of love. Real love. We forgive too much in our times, don’t you think, Helmut? We forgive the Nazis. We the German people forgive ourselves.”
“Ute! Please. Ich bitte dich.”
I hear the forlorn tone in my own voice. The despair that she’s right even though we both seem to feel enjoined to follow our instincts to let ourselves be enveloped in the succor of … of nascent love. So for a while we sit quietly, both of us thinking, thinking, thinking. Thinking of how things might have been. People do that often in these times: think of how things might have been. We sip our now stale beers, awkward and in uneasy indecisiveness. And casting surreptitious glances one at the other as if real love in these postwar-torn times were something unprecedented. Or something undeserved. Or danger itself.
On the tram back to Grünwald she tells me about her relationship with another student at the university. An American! By chance, he was an Ami. At twenty she was pregnant. But he never knew. He left her life and never knew his daughter. And now we are speaking of love. Yes, I was thinking of the love so lacking in my life. Signs of our times. After the mayhem, everybody is subconsciously looking for love. One of the few real life values left. The only way back to normality … to normality after the brief glories of conquest and occupation of Europe to our cellar lives of impending defeat under the ponderous buildings of Stalingrad … and the eternity in the cellars of our newly destroyed world at home. The normality that seemed unobtainable after a life imagined by madmen. (A life built on unjustified illusions, then dismantled on the tremors of ravaged hopes … and which for many terminated in their irremediable death wishes.)
But Ute knows the answers. She’s never forgotten love and selflessness and the power to transcend tragedy.
Back again in the Alter Wirt in Grünwald. Coffee and Weinbrand on the table. An east wind has come up outside. Cold is coming. My cigarette lighter flicks a nervous flame. It always works. Thirty times in a row. It could do a hundred times straight. In the cold cellars of Russia we competed. Winner takes all. My Zippo always won. Won what? A slice of horse meat at the most … or maybe rat meat.
“How did you get into all that?”
“All that what? You keep saying that.”
“Gehlen’s Intelligence. Stalingrad. The turtle that got through?”
“I was Sudetendeutsch until they resettled many of us in Germany. So many of us here that we called it Münchenbad … after your Karlsbad. I always knew the spa by its Czech name.”
I think: ‘Maybe it saved me too … to meet Ute Friedrich.’
I digress to the spa just to postpone love talk and to try to say something sensible to a normal German woman. Karlsbad or Karlovy Var, as if that name were something to clutch at and cling to for a generation that went wrong.
“I called it Karlovy Var as I learned it in elementary school in then Czechoslovakia. So did my mother. But for my fanatical father the spa was always the German, Karlsbad.”
“For mine, too,” Ute says, now again looking at her watch. “Their generation! We went there summers but I hardly remember it. Mother said he just had to take the waters once a year. Always in good health … yet he never came back from Russia. I think I was six the last time we saw Karlsbad … Karlovy Var.”
“You sound like me today, interviewing the returning POWs from Russia … who think they’re being interrogated. That’s my job … talking about the East. For the Amis. And espionage, sometimes finding Russian deserters to send back to Russia as spies for the Amis.”
“Should you be telling me all these things … must be top secret?”
“Oh, it is. I assure you. Top secret. But talking about it makes me feel free—and generous—just to say it out loud. Back then, back before the real war in the East began—peace pact with Russia or not—our invasion of Russia was around the corner. Everybody knew it. Russian speakers were needed. So since I already spoke Czech they sent me to a top secret language school in Oberammergau for Russian studies. Nearly the same language, they thought. Many many months, day and night. It was urgent. I spoke like a Russian. So Gehlen and the Amis want me so I …”
“Helmut! Please stop! You have to stop … for now. My daughter. A babysitter. It’s late. I have to go home. To Pullach.”
“I’ll drive you.”
“No, no, I have my car. Uh, tomorrow, if you like. Here?”
“Why not where I live? The Schloss Hotel. Just around the corner from here. Great view of the Isar Valley. Good restaurant. Tomorrow is strawberry day. Strawberries and whipped cream! Can’t imagine I’m even saying such things. Back then we lived in mud and ice and ate rats in the cellars of Stalingrad. A realm apart from the rest … a filthy battleground that was our residence during the day. At night a kingdom belonging to the black rats and now it’s bizarre that in the Schloss Hotel I request the smaller berries, tastier and tenderer than the big enticing ones. And I want my shirts ironed just so. Man is truly schizophrenic. Man can get used to anything … for survival.”
Then there is the Power of War
I, Helmut S. Hartmann, Sudeten Deutscher, WWII, German Abwehr Military Intelligence in the East, flown out of Stalingrad in January 1943 and now an agent in top secret Gehlen Org, recognize the two real societies of this postwar Germany: on the one hand, the overwhelming majority of the defeated and only partially repentant society. And on the other, the occupiers, the Amis—not the French plural of friend—but the derogatory Amis-Americans. For we of the Gehlen Org know who really won the war: the Russians won the war. Not the Amis. The Amis occupied us but the Russians defeated us. That division still exists in some of our minds.
But in me something new churns. New visions take form. Ute’s presence in my life has pointed out a new life direction. A new path. Something I’ve never before perceived. Never imagined. A feeling of potential fulfillment. Of totality. An almost unbearable sensation. After the everlastingly hopeless cold and zapach voyny of Stalingrad’s cellars, I’d never had an idea, not even the presentiment of the existence of such a feeling. Survival was my one and only life goal. Arrival in Munich as a resettled German from former Czechoslovakia: survival. War: survival. Rat-filled Stalingrad cellars: survival. Survival at all costs.
During the next nights we wake with heads together on the same pillow, mouths close, her breath, my breath. Moments when hardly even the shadow of memories remain, the fleeting perception of the suspicion of something of the past, a vague remembrance of cold and rats flashing across my mind before dissolving again into her breath. I’d always told my comrades that something of our pasts—of our collective pasts—resists seclusion and solitude. That something always remains. Somewhere in us. So on those dark gelid mornings they would ask me the Shadow as they called me, Herr Schatten, if any Gespenster—ghosts of the night—remained. They knew that my own personal Gespenst was a black rat. One of the Gespenster-shadows running over me in the night. And now, some mornings, on the balcony looking out over the Isar Valley toward Pullach, she sings, deep, guttural, no hint of melody, drunk on love and hopeful sleep deprivation and we never think of sleep. No wasted time for us, yet we believe we have an eternity ahead. And on our pillow I don’t see ghosts or black cellar rats. Ute’s breath holds them at bay.
Over breakfast she asks about Gehlen. Hesitantly, she asks. No secrets from you, I reassure her, in one sentence purposefully breaking all the rules of my profession.
“What kind of a man is he?”
“Mysterious. But a child. Or a rat. Secretive by nature. Cynical. Believes in nothing but Reinhard Gehlen. At first, his Foreign Armies of the East Intelligence and also the Wehrmacht Intelligence in the East, of which I was part tried to report the real truth to the Führer. The Leader didn’t want negative truths. Unfazed, General Gehlen began working for himself. Mentally he began preparing to change sides. Was he a Nazi? I suppose he was. But already in 1942-43—like many top staff officers—he knew Germany had lost the war. Just a matter of time, he and the others believed.”
“How did he know?”
“Ute, after that first winter, we all knew. Germany wasn’t ready for Russia. Germany would never be ready for Russia. We didn’t even have the right clothing. How could we beat the cold? The Russians just fell back … and waited. And they died for their land. Oh, how they died. By the millions. Civilians too. The SS men just killed anyone or everyone behind our lines. Did you hear about Zoya? No, how could you? A heroine in the Soviet Union. At eighteen she was a partisan behind our lines. When the SS hanged her, she said: ‘There are two hundred million of us. You can’t hang us all. They will avenge me. Stalin is with us. Stalin s nami. Stalin will come.’ And even the SS knew they couldn’t hang them all. You can’t defeat people like that … and the cold too.”
“We had a few people like her right here in Munich. Sophie Scholl. Guillotined her! Not far from here.”
“Good … but not the same thing. Komisch, whatever we Germans speak of, we always come back to such stories. Sometimes I wonder why and how I got through and survived. And all in one piece. Oh, Ute, stay close to me.”
Ute smiles her crooked smile that is becoming familiar. Her unique, unbounded and incomprehensible smile. One corner of her upper lip raised slightly higher than the other. And then the flick of the tip of her rose-colored tongue. The things Ute does! But how I love that tongue flick.
“Anyway Gehlen began collecting data, saving maps, stashing away the true information about Eastern realities. At war’s end, probably even earlier, he found his new sponsor: the United States. By 1946, his Gehlen Organization, Gehlen Org, was set up in Pullach, across the Isar River from where we’re sitting now and where you live. It’s staffed by Nazis and infiltrators from the CIA who are more Nazi than the Nazis themselves.”
“Helmut, you are in the wrong profession.”
“Profession? It’s a job. I was never a Nazi. I got into Gehlen’s intelligence service here thinking I was serving my country … well, sort of my country. At least my people. But I only knew war! That’s what my generation knows. War and more war. War and survival. We didn’t learn other things … Real life things.”
“You definitely are in the wrong job.”
“You’re right but I’ve never known anything else. Still, I’ve got to get out of here.”
“Good idea! That’s something to talk about.”
“Talk? They hear me talking like this, I’d not only be out of a job, but really … really out of everything. Did you know?—I mean, how could you know in your film studio dedicated to what’s fictitious, how could you know of a hit list of two hundred people right here in West Germany to be eliminated? Easy to get on that list. Deserters are the first. They kick me out of there, Ute, I might as well go back to Russia. You don’t just resign and leave them. You don’t get fired with a separation settlement either. Very powerful people down there in our Pullach. Evil people. And they made the CIA … as much as the CIA made the Gehlen Org! Violence is doubly terrifying when it’s in your own house. You become a prisoner in the prison you helped build. They emasculate you. They unman you.”
“Can you write, Helmut?”
“Write what? Situation reports? Russian troop displacements? Reserve strength? Troop morale in the Russian Third Infantry Division in Stalingrad? Leadership of Russia’s Tenth Army? Oh, yes. Maybe even dispatches from the Eastern front. But write? Screen scripts? No way.”
“Journalism, I mean. War stories. The cellars of Stalingrad. Eating rats. You have so much to say. Life experiences. Your stories make my scripts banal. Insipid and puerile. And all without that suffocating atmosphere of hyperbole we use there in Geiselgasteig.”
“How? Where? And you don’t even believe it’s impossible to leave Pullach?”
“I believe you can. Leave, I mean. Others do. Even CIA agents leave and then write books. You can too. I’ve read about them.”
I don’t answer. But I know the rules. In peacetime I had just continued along the same old fucking rat-infested trajectory. Now, love flowers and changes everything. And so, the weeds must die, I think poetically.
“I will introduce you to an old friend at the Münchener Anzeiger. Then we’ll see. You have a life story to tell. Fiction too, if you like, based on your horrible life experiences. That kind of thing. For that you need magazines. I know a few. You might even go to Russia yourself instead of sending others … see what’s happening there now ten years later.”
“Nasty, Ute! Nasty,” I respond, for a moment my voice quivering. With … with what? Indignation? Hopefully not pride. “But you’re right and I’m wrong.”
“Welcome to a new world, Helmut. The real world.”
“Now I hope to get fired …and not unceremoniously assassinated.”
For all the wrong reasons I had thought there was nothing to be undone in me. Ute and love undid me in no time. A few words demolished me. Was I not a man of one piece? Of a morally rigid rectitude? I had few expressible convictions but admittedly an unspoken acceptance of things as they stood. There must have been in me a terror of the unforeseen disaster of Germany, a history which time could still turn around. Yet, before Stalingrad, I hadn’t even perceived the sense of sublimity that our real history had always promised.
The first time I saw three-year old Hannah, I called her Hannichka. She laughed. So for me she has always been Hannichka. But I couldn’t see Hannichka when and as I wanted. She and Ute had to remain secret. I wasn’t sure why I felt that way but I knew if our relationship were public Ute would be investigated; mysterious people would question her neighbors and inquire about her at the film studio. I wanted none of that for her. No, Ute must remain secret. So I couldn’t just drop in after work—when there was an after-work. No, I had to drive my service car to Grünwald first. Park. Enter the Schloss Hotel. Have a drink. Wait a while until I knew the watchers were satisfied. Then change cars. In the hotel garage I have an old Opel from my father. And then I could drive back to Pullach. What kind of life is that? Inconsolable thought. Caught between the anvil and the hammer. The flimsy glories of the plane tree-lined streets of my past were false images, belied by the stench of the rat-infested cellars of Stalingrad. Confining and dangerous to stay in Gehlen Org; suicide to leave. Escape was a chimeric hope to clutch at. For what was I except an old agent from the East, potentially, perhaps inherently a danger to the new masters.
One Sunday Hannichka and I leave her mother breakfasting on the Schloss Hotel balcony and set out by tram for downtown. Destination Blumenstrasse and the Marionettentheater. As the Strassenbahn winds its way along rubble-lined streets, where, I know, a kind of parallel life is going on in the cellars, Hannichka frowns and comments on the fallen down houses. Destroyed cities strike children. Good she wasn’t under one of the fallen down houses. By now they’ve transported much of the detritus of former Munich to a growing hill on the old city airport of Oberwiesenfeld from which you get a sweeping few of the razed city of the Wittelsbachs.
Hannichka holds my hand walking on the street. Handwritten words on walls read Down With Hitler- Nieder mit Hitler. Church bells everywhere. Catholic Bavarians! The first thing they did after the bombs stopped falling was repair the church bells.
Hannichka pulls my hand and looks up at me: “Glocken! Schöne Glocken.”
I’m not Catholic. I’m not anything but I love the Glocken … at a distance when they’re soft and inviting. Not overhead, where they sound like artillery about to strike.
“We’ll tell Mami about the pretty bells,” she reminds me.
At Sendlingertorplatz a legless old man is sitting on a board. Hanging on his chest is a placard with the message:
Forget the color white
The color of love
When I put two marks in the wooden plate, Hannichka asks what I bought. Liebe, I say. Love. She looks at me funny and holds my hand tight. A cool wind has come up. Rain is on the way.
Fischer, Seine Frau is playing in the puppet theater. The miniature opera house is packed with kids. The fisherman’s wife wants it all: Mayorship, Presidency, Papacy.
“Oh,” goes Hannichka when the witch flies across the boards to the far side of the stage to berate the fisherman. “Ist sie gemein?
“Mean? I think so, yes,” I say hesitantly. “Maybe a little cuckoo, too.”
Hannichka looks me in the eyes seriously, nods, then smiles and taps her temple with a forefinger.
All the kids are yelling comments to the puppets moving so lightly, barely touching the boards. Pure grace. Speaking mostly Bavarian dialect. Hannichka understands. She would yell too the next time.
Soon we would learn most of the repertoire. Kasperl and his adventures, Hänsel und Gretel, operas for children. Hannichka cries and laughs and claps and I hug her, and it’s like hugging Ute.
Hannichka and Kasperl and the Glockenspiel convince me that Ute is right. This is real life. The war is over. I’ve got to get out of it.
“Ute, I have wartime friends in an Alpine village in Italy who still invite me there to the hidden valley called the Valtellina. They were saved by Italian Communists interceding in Moscow on their behalf and repatriated in 1946. We can leave it all behind us. I have some hidden funds. You have enough. We can live well there. You can write. I can try to write. Hannichka will live a normal life.”
“Will you feel safe there? That is the question. For you, for me, for Hannah.”
“Yes, Ute. We’ll vanish, for now. Our Europe is huge. Its expanses. From Gibraltar to Greece, from Palermo to Berlin, from London to Sofia. The Alps and the Carpathians. The plains of Serbia, the steppes of Russia. The world’s greatest cities are in our Europe. DeGaulle’s Europe reaches to the Urals of Russia. Those unimaginable distances … most marking our continent that our leaders have failed to delimit … Napoleon wanted to put it all under one roof. Then Hitler. But it never worked. We’ll be concealed somewhere in the immensity.”
“Yes, my love, but Europe is immense in comparison to what? For a script I’m working on I had to study world atlases. I found that Europe is small. Actually, Helmut, we’re not even a continent. It’s clear and visible. You just have to look.”
“Not a continent! Then what are we? What is the meaning of those words ‘on the Continent’? You think we won’t be safe down there, across the Alps … inside the Alps in the Valtellina?”
“Oh, yes, we’ll be safe and secure. For now. Today, distances are still great. But tomorrow things will change. Wide highways and fast trains and cheap airplanes will change everything. And other Napoleons and other Hitlers and DeGaulles will come along and try to get us all under one tent. They’re still talking about a union. Borders eliminated. One currency. Then you’ll see how tiny this tip of the Euro-Asian peninsula called Europe really is. And Helmut, who really cares about us Europeans? Oh, we’re quaint all right, Our many languages and folksy ways, with a taint of danger attached. Foreign tourists love this bunch of once rich and divided countries with no voice in the real world. You think the so-called Cold War is about Europe? Europe is just the battleground. Oh, yes, it’s a question of power, you know better than I. But the Cold War is not a question of Europe. Europe’s peoples are tired. Europe is a war zone. For the Amis’ war against the Russkies.”
“Then no one will even think of us hidden away in those southern Alps. As if we never existed.”
Gaither Stewart is a Writer on Dandelion Salad. A veteran journalist and essayist on a broad palette of topics from culture to history and politics, he is also the author of the Europe Trilogy, celebrated spy thrillers whose latest volume, Time of Exile, published by Punto Press. His latest book is the essay anthology Babylon Falling: Essays About Waning Qualities and Studies of Failing Empires (Punto Press, 2017).
From the archives:
Landslide… To Totalitarianism by Gaither Stewart
Words Unspoken by Gaither Stewart
War and Betrayal: Change and Transformation by Gaither Stewart
Rebellion in Munich by Gaither Stewart + Sophie Scholl: The Final Days
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