The following are two extracts from Escape from the Sun: Surviving the Tyrannies of Lenin, Hitler and Stalin by Eugene Schlusser, published last May by Australian Scholarly, $39.95. Each extract is briefly introduced by Eugene Schlusser.
I believe my father Paul learned of his sister-in-law Zinaida’s arrest in Berlin in October 1947. She was accused of spying for the CIA. As my mother Natalie later described it, he then became almost “schizophrenic” with fear.
Paul, now close to desperation, made a drastic and in many ways an inexplicable decision. He resigned from Schanzenbach & Co to take work with the US Occupation Forces. Did he hope that this could give him contacts to help with an escape from Europe? Family lore, often repeated, was that he had been dismissed because he was a foreigner. This was a fabrication, designed to dis-inform everyone as Paul tried to hide his increasingly desperate state. The strain was telling on his health. His blood pressure was high and he seemed to be tired all the time. As medication was not available, he tried water and steam baths to assist with his breathing, cleanse the skin and above all reduce his blood pressure. He improvised a sauna in our living room and tried to replicate the Russian banya. After a period in the sauna he would lie exhausted on the living room sofa trying to get his strength back with an afternoon sleep. We would be sternly instructed to remain quiet, speak in whispers and above all not slam any doors.
It is unclear what information father kept from mother, but she also felt the increasing stress. We all felt it. Loud voices of frustration came from the kitchen more frequently. Their tone of voice revealed their state of mind.
I imagine that when the disputes were not about finances, they were disagreements about Paul’s reasoning, and his plans to get the family out of Europe. Naturally, Natalie worried about his health and the many things he was involved in: his job, his family, the Russian Welfare Society. He had also recently undertaken to help build an Orthodox church in Frankfurt. All this took time, in addition to the long irregular hours he worked. His income had dropped considerably, as his teaching earned him much less than his salary as an engineer. He still had money deposited at Schroders in London but he could not access it.
Natalie needed to find work. She found it as a medical orderly in the refugee-processing centre in Hanau, a satellite town of Frankfurt. My sister Tatjana and I, aged eleven and eight respectively, needed supervising after school. School finished at twelve o’clock for me and at two o’clock for Tatjana. Natalie employed a woman who had become a family friend, one of those people who had moved into the neighbourhood desperately needing somewhere to live, and father had helped by finding a basement laundry in a nearby apartment block. Mother employed Frau Aderkas for several hours a day at a modest wage. Frau Aderkas was a Russian in her sixties. She had escaped the Soviets with her daughter, who had lost her husband in the war.
Frau Aderkas had a younger sister also in her sixties, and was a surrogate father to her grandson, Georgi. Frau Aderkas, speaking in broken German more pronounced by a lack of teeth, was always kind to me.
To work as a medical orderly, Natalie needed her qualifications verified by the United Nations Health Organisation. They determined that her Russian accreditation, her occasional work in a medical facility in Karlsruhe and her record at the Robert Koch Institute qualified her to practise in Germany. On receiving this clearance, Natalie was allowed to work with the immigration authorities. She may have hoped to make some contact there or to get information that might allow the family out of Germany. Even the faintest possibility had to be followed through.
Paul and Natalie survived the Russian Revolution and Civil War, and the rise and fall of Hitler’s Germany, but were in mortal danger at war’s end in 1945. Stalin had persuaded Roosevelt and Churchill to agree to repatriate all Russians in the West, and many of them went straight into labour camps.
Among those seeking help from father were ethnic Russians, Poles, Estonians, Ukrainians and Byelorussians. They had escaped from Eastern Europe by various means and were stranded in Germany. They told different chilling stories: some had escaped by clinging to the underside of railway carriages; others had walked the breadth of Europe to find an unguarded border crossing and then travelled westwards to reach Frankfurt. They could be forcibly repatriated to the Soviet Union under a provision agreed to at the Yalta conference in 1945 by Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin. It was suspected that those repatriated were sent straight to Siberia, as their contact with the West made them security risks. To escape this fate, they tried everything to get out of Europe.
In one instance, Paul became suspicious of a man’s story, in which he detected some inconsistencies. Once his suspicions had been aroused, Paul put a few questions to him. The answers confirmed his fears that the man was connected to the Soviet Secret Service; he didn’t ever return. Another instance was even more fraught. Ironically the Soviet Military Mission was located only a few streets from our apartment, at the far end of Grillparzer Street. Soviet Military Mission staff throughout Germany were targeting Russian émigrés and even kidnapping some across the border into the Soviet Occupation Zone, and on to Russia. Our family was visiting friends for a celebration when, at a particular moment, a plain-clothed American man came to the apartment wanting to speak to Paul. They spoke briefly in the hallway and without a word Paul gathered us and urged us to return to Fallerslebenstrasse. It seems that the Americans had information that Paul was in danger. Whether the warning was necessary and genuine, and how the man came to know where father was, remain unknown. However, for Paul, fear for the safety of his family was never far away.
Did father share his fears with anyone? His cousin Alexander Makarov had been lecturing at Tübingen University for some years. He had survived the Nazi period teaching international and civic law. The topics he taught and researched included the controversial one, considering the Nazi context, of the “responsibility of the state to its citizens”. How was he allowed to teach this topic during Hitler’s time, when surely Hitler would have banned it unless it had confirmed his view of law and the state? Yet Makarov was unlikely to have compromised his integrity during the Nazi period, even when so much of the law, education and much else besides was subverted.
Could father speak frankly and seek Makarov’s advice, as he had done when they were both living in Berlin? The Makarovs with their daughters Kira and Marina visited the family in Frankfurt in August 1949. Paul and Alexander Makarov must have spoken then. Marina said her father had strongly advised Paul against leaving the country. Makarov believed that by 1949 the Western Allies could counter any Soviet threat, and that Paul and his family were safe in West Germany. What made father ignore Makarov’s advice?
Marina Makarova believed that our father had forbidden us to speak Russian during the war while she, her sister and the entire family living in Berlin had no fear of doing so. She thought perhaps that this was a difference between the large city of Berlin and the smaller one of Frankfurt, the former cosmopolitan, the other somewhat provincial. In the same vein, Marina was of the opinion that while the existence of extermination camps was widely known in Berlin, friends in Hamburg had no knowledge of them and, she assumed, neither did people in other regional cities, let alone those in rural areas. Perhaps, she added, her father had privileged information. Before taking up his position at Tübingen University, he had been working at Berlin’s Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, renamed the Max Planck Institute in 1935. He had access to foreign journals where he read reports of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis. The foreign press had reported atrocities against Jews since at least November 1939; by June 1942 they were reporting the killing of a million Jews. Marina was aware that people disappeared from her neighbourhood and never returned, and she knew that they were Jews. On strict instructions from her father, she never spoke of these things outside the home.