This is the fourteenth part of a fiction serial, in 1440 words.
I was left hanging around in the training school for the few weeks before the new year. Along with a few others, I did a bit more training on using radio receivers and tape recorders, and they kept us apart from other groups of trainees that arrived. Then my posting came through, and I was told to report to the office.
My destination was to the west, Stendal. That was much closer to the new border, and there was a lot of American activity less than sixty kilometres from there. The Russians had stationed almost a complete army group in the area, with a large presence at the old Stendal barracks. At the time, things were increasingly tense between the Soviets and the Allies, with the other side building up a large number of troops based around Hanover. My job was to work at one of the listening stations, and hope to pick up information from the Allies’ radio transmissions. I was to be taken there by coach with others being dropped off at their postings on the way.
Any excitement I was feeling at being let out to do my job was soon diminished when I arrived. We had a small Stasi office at the barracks, and I was told I would be sharing a room with another surveillance operative. The place was packed with Russian soldiers, many of whom were reminiscent of those I had seen around my old district in forty-five. Quite a few of their senior officers were openly drunk at all times of the day and night, and most were also convinced that the next war would be starting very soon.
That evening, I met Walter. He was to be my room-mate and mentor, the one I would sit next to, as he showed me the ropes. A serious man, perhaps forty years old or slightly less, he quickly told me a little of his background. A member of the Communist Party before the war, he had been arrested on trumped-up charges, and sent to a labour camp. He survived the rough treatment there, but when he returned home after liberation, there was no trace of his family. As he was fluent in English, he had applied to join the Security Service at the earliest opportunity, and applied himself to the job like a man with a mission.
After two shifts with Walter watching me, and pointing out small errors, I was incredibly bored. The equipment we were using was just not up to the job, and most of our time was spent listening to the stronger signals of the various Allies’ entertainment stations. When they interviewed soldiers sending messages home to loved ones, I diligently wrote down the names and ranks of those mentioned, which might at least give some idea of the troop deployments over the border. But if I had been expecting the frisson of discovering some great secret, I soon realised that nothing like that was going to happen.
After more than a month of this, I was seriously considering my future, and contemplating applying for a transfer. We were stuck on the Russian base with no time off, and the routine was mind-numbing. I hardly saw daylight, except when I sometimes wandered around the camp grounds, being eyed suspiciously by the Russian troops on guard duty.
Then something happened.
We were called in before our shift, and the whole group was crowded into a small meeting room. Major Becker looked flushed and excited as he addressed us.
“We have picked up a local signal, just outside Stendal. It appears that someone nearby is using a radio to communicate with some ex-Nazis in the west. This seems to be connected to the Werewolf guerrilla group that operated at the end of the war. Our best guess is that an ex-SS man is living under an assumed identity, and attempting to pass information about Soviet troop movements to his conspirators over the border. We have tracked the signal to an exact location, and will be mounting a raid tomorrow at first light”.
He went on to show us maps, and tell us how some of us would be in an arrest team, backed up by some Russian soldiers who would seal off the area. Then he read a list of the names of those who would be going. When I heard him say “Kraus”, I took a deep breath. Walter was not on the list, and when we talked about it later in the room, he seemed relieved. “My health is not so good, Manfred. I doubt I would have been accepted if not for my knowledge of English. Be careful tomorrow, and make sure the Russians don’t shoot you by mistake”. I hardly slept that night, and when someone banged on the door to tell me it was time, I was heavy-headed and sleepy-eyed.
Four of us were going in a car, with twelve Russian soldiers following in one of their trucks. Major Becker was in the front passenger seat. He turned to look at me. “I know it’s your first time, Kraus. Just stick behind me with your pistol ready, and whatever you do, don’t shoot me in the back”. The driver laughed, as it was supposed to be funny. But I wasn’t laughing.
The house stood on its own up a short driveway. The Russians deployed into the woodland area on both sides, with two remaining at the front. I followed the Major to the front door, and he nodded to the other two to check around the back. I was imagining that we would force the door, or perhaps even have some kind of device to use on the lock. So when the Major simply walked up and hammered on the door with his fist, it made me jump. “Open up! State Security Police! Open up!” A light showed inside, but nobody came to the door. Becker kicked it repeatedly. “Don’t make me have to break the door down, or it will be the worse for you!”
After that outburst, the door opened a crack, and the Major pushed on it, walking inside. A middle-aged woman stood there, wearing a nightgown with a shawl around her shoulders. She looked absolutely terrified. “Who else is in the house, lady? Come on, speak up!” Becker’s voice was loud and intimidating, and she seemed transfixed by him. “Kraus, check upstairs. Quickly now”. I pushed past them and went up the wide wooden stairs, pistol in hand, and safety catch off. The light on the landing showed four doors, all closed. I was shaking as I tried the first door handle, but it opened to an empty bathroom. I could hear the Major still shouting at the woman as he searched downstairs. As I tried the second door, there was the sound of a shot from outside, and some yelling in Russian.
The man had climbed out of a window, and made a run for it through the woods before my two colleagues had got around the back. He hadn’t counted on the soldiers being there, and was soon spotted. They had fired the warning shot, so they said, and he had stopped. I thought it more likely that they had been trying to hit him, and missed. But I kept that to myself. The Stasi officers appeared in the hallway with a tall man held tight between them. He was barefoot, and wearing only pyjamas. Despite his circumstances, the man looked remarkably calm. He stood erect, and his manner struck me as imperious. The Major smiled, and gave the woman a small push toward the door. “Take these two to the Russian truck and tell them to guard them while we search”.
When they came back, the four of us began a methodical search. Nothing was obvious of course, but a lot of stamping on the floor soon revealed a hollow sound, and a trapdoor concealed under a heavy sideboard. I was sent down to investigate, using my hand torch. In the small space below, I easily found a radio in an old suitcase, along with annotated maps, and some radio code books. A long wire aerial was concealed behind some pipes, and that led all the way up into the roof space. I passed everything up to the others, and emerged to find a delighted Becker with a beaming smile across his face.
“Good job, boys. Now, let’s get them back for questioning”.
On the way back to the base in the car, the Major turned to me.
“You did well, Kraus. It will not go unnoticed”.