26. “That man should be shot”

By Peter Fraenkel

All the Poles at the Imp were in a state of turmoil.

“That man should be shot.”

“Don’t give him your details. No – not even your name.”

“They infiltrate everywhere, the bastards.”

What had happened? Schneeberger, the local rep of the International Red Cross, had been exposed as a Communist spy. He had been compiling lists of Poles washed up at Akasul. No doubt the KGB would be paying calls on their relatives back in Poland.  He was offering Red Cross help to repatriate them. But that was a trick. A dirty trick. He was a Soviet spy.

“How do you know?”

“Ask Mrs Mazowiecka. He invited her to his office to discuss her repatriation. She told him she would never go to a Soviet-occupied Poland. He had no idea what Russians were like. Schneeberger had smiled and pulled a photo from his drawer. It showed him as a young man – in Russian uniform!

“He says he is Swiss, but have you heard him speaking Russian?  His Russian is perfect. I can tell. I did Russian at school. And that uniform….”

“But why would he expose himself like that?”

“Who knows? To intimidate us, perhaps?”

Kowalski demurred: “But I see him at mass every Sunday.”

“That just shows how cunning they are, these Bolsheviks.”

The agitation among the Poles percolated through to the other Imp community – the German Jews. Naphtali, the Red, shook his head: “But he is a virulent anti-Communist. I had a flaming row with him. He said Stalin was the anti-Christ.”

“Well, if you are naïve enough to believe him!”

Zbyszek pushed forward. A sardonic smile had crossed his handsome face.  The late and lamented consul had a point, he thought: We are ignorant peasants.

“Listen,” he said “that uniform in the photograph – did you look at it? I mean, look at it properly? Did it show a Soviet star? Or the hammer and sickle?”

No, Mrs Mazowiecka had not bothered with such piddling details. It was a Russian uniform. It certainly was. Schneeberger had admitted that himself.

“I thought so. Do you want to know why he spoke such good Russian? I can tell you. He’d been brought up in Odessa – if you know where that is. His father was some sort of specialist. The czar had brought him in from Switzerland. That was years before the Communist revolution… years before. So the son went to school in Russia. Later they sent him back to Switzerland for his studies – agriculture, I think. And then, when civil war broke out, he went back to Russia. You want to know why? He went to join the White Guards. White, do you understand? White not Red. He fought against the Bolsheviks.”

Young Abie listened, fascinated. ”He told me he’d served under an admiral. Kollenberg or some such name.”

“Admiral Kolchak?” offered Zbyszek.

“That’s right. That was the name – whoever he was.”

Well, Zbyszek didn’t expect the kid to know, but from his fellow-Poles he had expected more.

“Admiral Kolchak”, he lectured them, “led an army of White Guards against the Communists. He wanted to restore the Czar.”

Mrs Mazowiecka retired to her room humiliated, closing the door behind her with a crash:

“Bloody know-all!”