I WAS A SLAVE-SCIENTIST IN RUSSIA PART TWO (Oct, 1955)

If you haven’t read it yet, here is part one.

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I WAS A SLAVE-SCIENTIST IN RUSSIA

PART TWO

Suicide or Siberia seemed the only ways out for the “captive brains” in the secret research camp.

By Dr. Otto Maar

ART BY GURNEY MILLER

(Note: In the first part of this report (September MI) by a German scientist imprisoned in Russia and forced to do research for the Reds, Dr. Maar tells how he was arrested in the East Zone of Germany and sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for “espionage” and “anti- Soviet propaganda.” With other German scientists and technicians he makes a long, harrowing journey to the Russian prison camp at Kutschino, in the environs of Moscow. Here he works on “border protection devices” for the Reds and learn first-hand of their slip- shod production methods and the ignorance of some of their scientists. Conditions at Kutschino are relatively mild. But over the prisoners hangs the threat of Workuta—a dreaded prison camp in Siberia. Now continue Dr. Maar’s remarkable story . . .)

THE way to the prison library is along a huge balcony. One day I hear a shot and rush to the door as Anatol, a Russian prisoner, collapses against the balcony. Blood is streaming from his heart, the pistol drops from his hand. It is a primitive weapon he has made himself; the explosive is from the lab. I take my coat off, roll it up and place it under his head. Then I run to the Chief Engineer whose office is close by. Meanwhile a few people have already gathered around. Dobroschanski only shakes his head. A secretary chatters away uninterruptedly and giggles.

Two men fetch a stretcher and take Anatol to an infirmary, where he dies that evening. A few days later the chemist Aronow poisons himself. He drinks hydrochloric acid and dies after horrible agony. Suicides are not rare here; mostly they use poisons from the chemical laboratories.

But there are also happier experiences. Hans B. builds a magnetophone device. In his laboratory are tape recordings of the former National Broadcasting, Berlin. At his work he manages to install a loudspeaker in the window— for “testing.” Then Wagner operas or the Unfinished Symphony reverberate through the yard. Sounds from another world!

In the evening we swap experiences, play chess or have news items translated from Pravda. Horst has very cozily built himself a short wave receiver. He listens regularly to the BBC broadcasts. When the weather is good we go out in the yard to play games. Anyone who wishes may go to the general room to watch TV. The Russians sit night after night before the screen; they roar with laughter at the programs.

One rainy Sunday afternoon I watch a soccer game between Dynamo and Spartak, top Soviet teams. I notice that the crowd is clearly on the side of Spartak; every little error on the part of Dynamo is wildly hissed. Aljoscha tells me that Dynamo is practically the secret police staff and on such occasions the people can air their feelings for once.

Meanwhile Major Schdanow has new plans for me. He wants to form a border protection group of which I am to be leader. He has at the moment no specific assignment; he is waiting for some good suggestions, something like the mirror-testing device. As I remain silent, he tries to help a little. He leans toward devices with which one can observe or catch men over the landscape. For example, in a neighboring laboratory an electric fence has been developed whose frequency and current are supposedly so adjusted that anyone who touches the fence remains stuck there, without being killed. At the moment they are trying it on dogs, and every day one hears the howling of the tortured animals.

In the course of the conversation, Schdanow asks me whether photographs can be taken without lenses. I have never heard of it. He blares out that with the electron-microscope, photography is done without lenses. Schdanow’s ignorance finally exhausts my patience. “If you want to take landscape photographs with it you would have to heat the trees so that they produce electrons.” This convinces him that he can’t make a big thing out of that.

After a few days the following plan is evolved: An ultra-red projector throws a concentrated ray on a photo element at a distance of one hundred meters. If a man runs through the ray there is a tone signal. In foreign literature there are numerous patterns for this and all we need do is build one according to the nearest pattern.

Always the same thing; always copying. Very rarely is any really independent research attempted. But the Soviets excel in their espionage set-up. Almost every day, here in Kutschino, microfilm comes in from all over the world. A staff of experts is engaged in appraising and recording the secret information. On the other hand Soviet security is virtually impenetrable.

Malutin brings up a captured German Zeiss optical-phone device. It is based on the principle that the ray path is made by two prisms, of which one moves very delicately and in this way produces a modulation. When I suggest to Malutin that it is easy to copy, he answers that that is not possible here. I must find something simpler, even if it does not work so efficiently as the Zeiss device.

I distribute the assignments among the group and we make a simple model. The modulation is then produced by sending the lamp current through a chopper (vibrator) as is done in automobile radios. This cannot go very far, and the lamp is thermically much too slow to go out a hundred times a second. But at the moment we can do no better. I ask all the Chiefs to obtain a Kerr cell from the sound film industry, but that is quite impossible. Since we have a quartz laboratory in the camp, I decide to undertake ultrasonic modulation.

Meanwhile, the situation in the medical laboratory begins to come to a head. Mayronowski has nothing to show and is being hounded by the control-commissioner who gives him the devil in front of us. One day soldiers come and take George away and take possession of the contents of all the desks.

- During the mid-day break George is brought before the whole staff. An officer reads the sentence: The prisoner George N. has misrepresented himself as a specialist. On his suggestion experiments have been undertaken which led to no results. He has sabotaged the social structure and will be removed to a camp in the far north. We know of this camp; it is called Workuta. We are sorry about George because he was a good comrade.

A doctor takes George’s place, and he seems to know more about bis field. The encephalo graph is abandoned, and a new program started: Observation of living cells in nutrient juices under ultrasonic action, ultrasonic anesthesis and preparation of better emulsions by ultrasonic action.

Meanwhile, we have earned our first rubles and we may buy things in the prison store. Our salaries range from thirty to four hundred rubles. As the most urgent items we buy shaving kits, tooth brushes, soap; then some sausage, cheese, butter, caviar, tea and cakes. If one saves up one can get a football, a guitar or a pullover. Everything is available but one has to save for a long time.

Progress According to Plan My work in the border-protection section progresses; a few parts for the model are ready to be finished off. We run into difficulties, however, because our section is crowded. The second laboratory has developed an unusual foot-pivot of which 3,000 pieces have to be manufactured. The production shops in the camp cannot fit this order into their plans so the small workshops must carry it out. I suggest that the order be given to the factory. Of course the Chief refuses this. Like everything in the Soviet Union, research is subject to planned economy.

Our project still provides a chopper for the modulation, although this method is not satisfactory. But I must improve it as best I can. I use a Russian oscillograph, which is not powerful enough to indicate the voltage trace of a photo cell in direct connection.

“I need a Philips Oscillograph,” I tell the Chief. There are many wonderful devices here—R.C.A., Marconi and so on, with which the Russian instruments cannot compare. (The Russians know it too, and are often furious about it, but when it comes down to it, they use the best foreign material.) The Chief, however, suspects one of my usual attacks on Russian production.

The following week Malutin informs me that I am to go to Major Iwanow, the Policy Officer. I start on my way with mixed feelings. The Policy Officer has unlimited powers, he is the grand inquisitor of the camp, and neither free citizens nor prisoners want anything to do with him. He can have anyone locked up in the camp if he wants to. I appear before him and he commences in a frightful manner. He asks why I work so badly; whether I have no more interest and whether I knew that my behavior might be put down as sabotage.

Thereupon I request an immediate and searching examination of my work up to now under the supervision of the Chief Engineer.

I am relieved when he calms down again, puts a ticket in front of me to sign and finally lets me leave. I do not know what I have signed but Iwanow explains that I have promised not to speak of our conversation.

The 7th of November approaches and preparations start for this great holiday. All notices and notes must disappear from the writing tables, the floors have to be waxed, the arrangements for tests are surrounded with exhibition items, the paths in the yard are cleaned up and smoothed out. Great holes are dug in the yard and everything that is not needed at once in the laboratories is buried there.

The Commission expected on November 7th must see no surplus material. After the Commission departs everything can be dug up again. An enormous variety of expensive equipment is buried in the holes: countless electron tubes, relays, Gorier transformers, resistors and condensors. Our short wave radio apparatus, whose existence is not known to the Soviets, is assembled for the most part from this material.

A Ten Million Ruble Project Now Schdanow has a new project. Along the coast underwater sound microphones will be installed which will warn of approaching ships. They think that in this way the whole Soviet coast can be guarded. This is very similar to my former work.

All day discussions and conferences in Schdanow’s room follow, Dobroschanski, Arapoff, General Gillesow, the Chief in charge of all “intelligence stations” and some other officers take me in for cross-examination. I argue that as a prisoner I cannot discharge this task; I must have liberty to circulate, to visit other institutes and experts and to carry out countless tests on the coast myself. I would get all that, I am told. I present the objection that millions of rubles might be wasted on fruitless experiments. That did not matter; nothing is too costly for the defense of the fatherland. “And what will you do with me when the rubles are spent and you are not satisfied with the results?” I ask. “If you do what you can and you prove that, nothing can happen to you.” I say that I have no confidence in these promises. I am condemned to 25 years for espionage, although never in my life have I had anything to do with spying. But they have an answer for everything; either they talk to me kindly, saying that I might have my freedom again, or else they point out that in the Soviet Union there are camps for incorrigibles. Finally we agree that I am, first of all, to draw up a plan and to prepare an estimate of costs for a coastal strip 50 kilometers long.

I am assisted by a Russian expert who knows Soviet production like his hip pocket. For weeks we sit over piles of catalogues, calculating the cost of cables, amplifiers, magneto-striction-oscillators, buoys, personnel, experimental and diver ships. A large test tank with soundproof walls is also needed. Estimated cost: ten million rubles.

Soon afterwards Schdanow comes again: I must try to lower the costs from ten million to six million. “It cannot be done,” I say. “It must be done, I will help you,” he answers. He asks me about every detail, what it is needed for, if it cannot be done otherwise. When we have finished I have not given up one kopek. Schdanow will pare it down according to his views, until the amount is reduced to six million rubles. He is afraid that ten million would be too much for the government, and since he wants to handle the whole project in his laboratory, he must lower the costs. A few days later he gives me his new statement and asks me to sign it. I refuse. In the evening I hand a letter to Dobroschanski saying that under existing circumstances I cannot take responsibility for the project.

Then one day Malutin comes to me, tells me to empty my desk, to give up everything, drawing material, books, slide rule, and so forth, and then to come to the Policy Officer. You can hear a pin drop. I pack my things together, bow to Malutin and leave.

I am not the only one. In front of the Policy Officer’s room several other Germans are standing around waiting. Where are we going? To Workuta, where one does the heaviest bodily labor for from ten to 12 hours a day, at 40 below zero; where one can be killed for a piece of bread. When we get there we stand out because of our good clothing. All kinds of riff-raff, mostly criminal prisoners, surround us; anything that we do not hold tight in our hand, we lose in a flash. Someone tears Kurt’s jacket off. Someone tries to do the same to Willi but he resists; a hefty blow with a club from behind cracks his skull. When the guards come, no one dares point out the murderer; we are all terrorized.

In the guard room I meet Professor Aronow,a well-known specialist in hoisting machines. When he hears that I have been in Kutschino, he brightens up and inquires after his son. For a second I don’t know what to say. This slight hesitation is enough for Aronow. “Tell me what is wrong,” he asks quietly. I tell him his son has poisoned himself.

Two years later, ten per cent of the German prisoners at Workuta are put in a truck. When we arrive in a transit camp, we realize a long journey is ahead. We do not know the destination, but certain signs point toward Germany. There are only a few of those who made the journey from Bautzen to Russia in 1949. Most of them are no longer alive.

• Note: The Editors of MI were curious to know why the Reds released Dr. Maar so unexpectedly. Here is his explanation, as contained in a letter to this magazine: “I was sent to Workuta because of my anti-Soviet attitude and because I refused to work on the acoustic project. That I was released after serving five years of a 25-year sentence was tremendous luck. In December ’53 about 400 Germans were released. After much thought we have come to the conclusion that it was a move to establish a friendly ‘climate’ for the impending four-power conference of Dulles, Eden, Bidault and Molotov in Berlin. It was noticeable that only prisoners in good health were released.”

2 comments
  1. Man Fridays says: March 11, 20084:50 pm

    Thanks a bunch for uploading this. Appreciated.

  2. mecki says: March 11, 20086:06 pm

    Interesting side note to this article. In the previous installment, Maar writes of going to the library and seeing Prof. Robert Pohl’s Physics textbooks, translated into Russian under someone else’s name. Pohl was well aware that his books had been published in Russian (and was actually quite proud of the fact, even though he never received a kopeck’s payment for them) but they were always printed under his own name. So it’s a bit of a mystery to me that the books Maar references should not have had his name on them, there doesn’t seem to be a reason that they’d publish them once under ‘Pohl’ and once under a fake name.
    My only guess is that Pohl’s name was transliterated into Russian in such a way that it didn’t register as ‘Robert Pohl’ to Dr. Maar, but I can’t imagine that he’d be so completely unable to decipher Cyrillic after spending as much time as he did in a Soviet camp.
    Anyway, nothing earthshattering, but interesting to someone who is a grandson of Robert Pohl.

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