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All The Good That Men Do
Many men die in war. You always hear about the deaths in this battle, or in that battle. Stalingrad claimed almost a million. Leningrad a million too. The Great Patriotic War had and still has its atrocities. We never hear about peace. I stand now, a lone Russian fighting for Germany against my own people. This is Berlin. The date is April 26th 1945. The allied forces march upon us. Why, then did I side with the Germans? It is the tale I shall weave.
In 1912 I personally met the fabled Lenin in Paris. It was my first trip out of Russia; I was 17. Imagine how awestruck I was to see the great defender of the people exiled from Russia! I followed him in awe, and sat next to him on Nord-Sud line, and we spoke. The conversation was initially about two fellow Russians meeting far from Russia, until he found out I was Ukrainian. It made no difference to him. I spoke of my father’s death at the hands of the secret police, and my hatred of the Tsar. Lenin told me his exile would come to an end. When it did, he would return to Russia, and bring communism. I thought he would be another victim of the Tsar. Five years later, he returned, as he had promised, to the motherland. The revolution had already started. As he said, Russia was now Soviet. Soon Ukraine joined the movement. For once, rays of short-lived hope were seen across the clear eastern sky.
When the war began in 1914, I moved to Petrograd with my fiancée to avoid recruitment. It started on National Woman’s Day. Women took to the frigid streets, but not in celebration. The protest lasted three days. My fiancée forbade me to leave my house out of fear that I would get caught in the imminent crossfire. “Once the Tsar’s men have cleared the streets, all will be fine,” she had said. The Tsar’s men never came. On the fourth day we ran out of food. I left her. When I came back after waiting in the bread line for nearly six hours, I found the apartment building on fire. I ran in and was pulled back by the hands of Knorvich. He told me that only those on the bottom floor had survived; the stairs of the four-story building were on fire. Knorvich Dzerzhinsky was a Polish man who had been in Tsarist jail for four years with his brother Felix. He told me my fiancée had tried to jump out the window, only to break both legs. There she was crushed by the subsequent stampede trying to escape the gaping maw of flames. He took me to his brother’s old abandoned apartment. My apartment had been in my prior opinion the most musky, cramped piece of cold hell on the world. Lord, was I wrong. That night we drowned our sorrows in vodka. We both thought that the world was but a miserable rock. There was some hope; when Lenin returned to Petrograd, the long lost Felix was freed. We shared the apartment; none of us had anything better. Three smelly men cramped in a small place.
Our fortune would soon change when the great Lenin appointed Felix as a hero. By September 1917, Felix had been appointed in charge of the Cheka. The Cheka. A horror of peace. Lenin himself did not like the idea of having a secret police; this came as little surprise to me; the Lenin I had met was a good honest man with strong communist moral ideals. Felix was bitter. Very bitter. When I mentioned this to Knorvich, he snapped back, saying that I did not know him. I had the feeling Felix had changed in jail. Nevertheless he was appointed as chief of the Cheka. Out of politeness he invited us to join the organization as local officers. Knorvich declined initially, though he would join us in October. I sensed a feud between him and his brother; Knorvich had lost a brother he cared for. He wasn’t alone. A fire. What a meaningless death.
Through the remainder of the year, the Cheka was not that bad. We caught Tsarists and common criminals. As decreed by Lenin, they were all held humanely. It was in December 1917 that things changed. There was a madman, who called himself Smert. Smert, or death, was certainly not the name he was born with, though none knew him by anything other than that. He had no political goals; he was insane. He was a ruthless killer, suffocating his victims or shoving their faces into boiling liquid. The sick b*****d was brought into the office one day. He said not a word. I told him he risked death for his crimes. Then he spoke. He claimed he had a bomb on a train. Disgusting thing. We had to find out which train; warn the passengers. We questioned him. We gave him the schedule and a map. I ordered him to point where the bomb was, and when it would detonate. Of course he spoke not. I soon called Felix, told him to delay all trains, and asked for advice. He told me to threaten Smert with torture, more specifically, inserting Smert’s face in a vat of boiling oil. When we told him, he just smiled. He told us arrogantly the bomb would detonate when the train arrived killing hundreds. Out of rage I took oil, and boiled it. I never intended to use it, just scare Smert with the vat of liquid. He saw through the deception. Finally, I had him tied to a chair, and put the cauldron to the right of the chair. For the first time I felt a tinge of fear in the man who called himself Death. Nothing more than a brief instant of fear shone through his eyes. He still was convinced it was a bluff. I grabbed his arm, and thrust it in the oil. There was a terrified look of horror on the man’s face. Smert screamed. I then took his other hand. Panicked, he told me it was on the Moscow-St. Petersburg train, due to arrive in four hours. I thrust his other hand in the vat. Hurting the sadistic monster felt good. Strangely good. I told the officers they could do what they wished to him, and left to call the authorities to disarm the bomb. I was sure that they felt the same frustration, and repulsion as I. As I left, I saw the soldiers untie Smert, and make him kneel in front of the vat.
I was celebrated like a hero. A hero that murders. It was terrible what I felt! This was the point when I felt I had descended from a hero to a torturer. Soon the effective yet savage “burning oil treatment” became standard. First we were told we were dealing with common criminals, then Tsarists. By March 1918 we regularly interrogated other supposed “counter-revolutionaries.” Every day, at first, I would call Felix to complain that we were losing sight of what was important. He would ignore me. I stopped calling him after he asked me if I was trying to halt revolutionary efforts. I had to live with myself. I had no means to stop my own actions. Every day there would be a poor fellow. Sometimes the inmate had done something, sometimes not. It didn’t matter; we did our job. Whether it was making the victim swallow dirt until he choked and vomited, molten lead, or some other medieval treatment it made no difference. The only person to whom it mattered was Saint Peter up above.
In 1921 the war against the Tsarists was over, I was allowed to serve in Ukraine. There, things were more peaceful; the executions were once a week; better, there wasn’t an unspoken torture quota. However, we still were what we were; Chekists. I never broke orders except once. It started in 1924. The men were restless; there were rumors of the whole organization being disbanded. An old Ukrainian man came up to one of the soldiers, and begged him to help find his lost daughter. I heard subsequently that when she was found, the soldier abused her. The old man went to the barracks the next night, and with a knife, killed the soldier in his sleep. The old man was given “the usual treatment,” and we reported the incident. Then came the orders to kill 100 locals. Some of the Russian soldiers agreed, but most of the Ukrainians including myself protested. There was infighting that started with shouting after the telephone call. Then more soldiers, Russian against Ukrainian, shouted louder and louder. The squabbling became a fist fight. Then a gunfight. Six soldiers were killed, 19 more wounded. We all knew there would be consequences. So we reconciled, and buried the bodies in a shallow grave, and killed the wounded so they wouldn’t be able to attest. We then said that there were 25 deserters who had suddenly left after the orders were given. The orders were then repealed. Maybe I was not like Smert. . .
I stood up, though I hate myself now for not standing up more. By 1924 many re-assignments, many more deaths. One man took advantage of the chaos to make a stand: Knorvich. He told his brother Felix that what we were doing was wrong. Knorvich used what little pull he had for his hollow threats. Felix simply ignored his younger brother. God played with them; Knorvich died of a flu in 1925, Felix in 1926.
The flu of 1925 ravaged many things, including the regional communications officer’s health. A new man was needed for the spot. I eagerly took it, hoping to escape my life as a killer. After all, the Cheka had now taken on new names. I found that, instead of killing, I told others to kill. Names aside, the Cheka would always be as murderous. I was forced to hold the position until 1933, when I was transferred to a new position in Moscow. There I worked as a high level officer until 1937. Finally, after years of torture by torturing, years of being Smert, I was awarded with a service medal and allowed to retire to Ukraine with limited government pensions.
As I write this, I find it important to remind you why I write: the year is 1945. This is the final chapter of the endgame of the Second World War. I now tell you why I fight for Germany not, Russia.
After all I had seen and suffered as a Cheka b*****d, I was worried about my soul. I converted, becoming deeply religious. I evaded the government censoring of religion with my knowledge of procedures. I spread the faith. This was with the help of Detruov, a priest. I told him of all I had done. Each day we prayed together for all the lives I had taken. Slowly I grew to hate Lenin, Stalin, and communism for condemning me to an eternity in hell. I was cursed. Still, I was rebelling only in my mind, not in my actions. I was too holy to rebel physically. That was until Detruov was killed. I was awoken in the middle of the night by a villager who had told me that government troops were in the town. They marched down the cobblestone streets, dragging many women with them. I looked from the window. I forgot Detruov, I cared only for what little valuables I still had. My wedding ring. I searched for it. If only I had thought of Detruov I would have saved his life, but I did neither. I looked in every corner, nook, and finally found it where I had hidden it. If only I had seen the soldiers were going to the church. And so a second life I cared for was lost due to my lack of thought. I heard Detruov was beheaded.
It was no wonder that when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union that I enlisted with a lesser evil. I was eager to fight for Detruov, for the woman who almost was my wife, for those I had killed, for my soul, even for Smert. I had served the devil too long. When I saw the German tanks approaching, I took a flag with a swastika on it, and waved it. I saw them, and with them came the hope many Russians would die. I thought what a shame it was to be unable to contribute. Then I realized I could contribute. Asking in crude German to join their ranks, an officer who spoke Russian interviewed me, and directed me to a recruiter.
Very quickly I realized that Hitler was as bad as Stalin. It was in Berlin when the knowledge came to me. I saw a group of Nazis giving toys to poor orphans. I thought then that the Nazis were saints, that they were indeed fighting the good fight. I walked to them and asked in bad German where the toys were from. My answer was “Jude.” I was confused. Had Jewish donors bought the toys? I naively asked if such was the case. I was laughed away. Then I understood; they were from a Pogrom, or some form of it. I had participated in a Pogrom. I now fought against any future ones. Little did I realize that Germany had undergone a giant Pogrom. Cleansed of all Jews! They were no better than the Russians! Worried, I told this to a fellow Russian deserter, who drove me to a death camp during our leave. My fragile, resurfacing, faith in mankind was once more shattered.
I would stay in or near Berlin for the remainder of the war. Still I stand, with mixed feelings. A content smile creeps on my face, content that the city burns, content so many Russians died in the process. In fact, during the last day of the battle I shot both Russian and German soldiers I saw. My gut smiles not; I am also guilty that I deserted. I am fearful I will be found. Deep down, I lie satisfied that justice has been served. I now reach for my Luger. I will correct the errors of one more criminal. A criminal of both war and peace. It will be so satisfying to kill the b*****d. I now put the trigger to my head. . .