The Russians and Berlin 1945

by Erich Kuby, Scherz Verlag, 1965


Translated into English by Arnold J. Pomerans
Heineman Publishers, London, 1968


This book first appeared in the Spiegel weekly magazine in 1965 as series of articles in 6
installments. Considerably expanded, it was published as a book in the same year. It first
appeared in English in 1968. You find here an excerpt from the 1968 English translation –
the entire chapter
THE IVANS in order to present an idea of the behavior of the Russians
in Berlin.


I conclude with a revealing passage from the end of the book which sums up Kuby's
political orientation: life-long socialist who preferred the Russians over the Americans.


In any case, the book shows that, in general, the conquering and then occupying Russians
 behaved
much, much better toward the Germans than the Germans had behaved when they
invaded Russia.


pg. 208

Chapter 12 - THE IVANS

When the U.S. Army had reached the Elbe at Torgau it
stopped in its tracks to await the arrival of the Red Army on
the eastern bank. The Americans did not have long to wait.
As in Napoleonic times and at the beginning of the First World
War, the main Russian forces were preceded by cavalry units.
Swinging their legs, the Red Army straddled their mounts like
cowboys, rifles slung across the saddle and long whips under
their arms. They looked as if they had ridden up non-stop
from the steppes of the Volga.

When the Americans saw them emerge out of a pine forest,
they thought for a moment that a Hollywood team was
shooting a Western right in the heart of Saxony.
Then the Russians started crossing the Elbe on rafts and
small boats, and helped themselves to accordions at a Torgau
musical works. There followed a spirited celebration under the
budding trees, festooned with framed portraits of Stalin and
Roosevelt. The local girls would gladly have joined in as well,
but the Americans had strict orders not to fraternize and were,
in any case, convinced that every European woman was in
need of a Lysol dip and a good dusting with D.D.T. To them
Europe was a thoroughly filthy place.
So great was the GI’s enthusiasm and boundless admiration
for the Red Army, however, that they were soon whirling
madly about on the grass with pretty and buxom Red Army
girls — at least for the benefit of the newsreel cameras. Later,
in Berlin, these girls caused eyebrows to be raised when they
acted as traffic policewomen and held up red flags to give
Soviet tanks the all-clear.

pg. 209

These girls not only did traffic duty for the Red Army, but
also played a major role in the Soviet supply system. Their
units did not have special names, nor did the Russians use
special terms to distinguish Red Army men from Red Army
women To them it was quite natural that women should fight
in the war as equals, and not in the ambiguous double part of
the German blitz girls Girls of this type – but without any
service obligations – did exist in the Red Army, but only in
officer circles They were discreetly described as “field wives.”

And so the world of the Allied Forces Network of Glenn
Miller's band, came face to face with the sombre strains of the
Red Cavalry March” on the banks of the Elbe. The Russians
looked battle worn, whereas the Americans appeared non-
chalant and rather bored at the monotony of Europe. The only
exciting people they had come across were the Russians, with
whom they now shared the wine they had brought up from the
Rhine by the lorryload.

To encourage even closer friendship the Russians set up a
ferry service across the Elbe – a raft attached to a long wire
rope. It was too fragile to carry lorries, but it was strong
enough for a sizeable contingent of men, a couple of small
horses, or a small car.

It occurred to an American war correspondent that it might
be possible to make a trip to Berlin, a city in which, according
to Stars and Stripes, things were supposed to be pretty dread-
ful. Why not, he thought, watch the Russians in the thick of
the fight instead of drinking with them here on the Elbe while
waiting for the war to end? He persuaded a senior American
supply officer with the rank of lieutenant-colonel, who was at a
loose end as well and, moreover, spoke a few words of Polish,
and a major in the U.S.A.A.F. to join him on the expedition.
After some wrangling, they got the Russians to put a jeep on
the raft and, amply supplied with provisions and maps, they
joined a Soviet column driving east.

The three of them felt they were taking a trip into another
century.
Theirs was a peasant army despite some degree of mech-
anization [the correspondent wrote]. That April afternoon,
their long and straggling columns, their horses and carts,

Pg. 210

reminded us of the peasants in Russian literature who travel
to market in a village by the banks of the quiet-flowing Don.
Soldiers lay sprawled in the straw of the carts, and so did
lambs, goats, or even pigs. Other Red Army men were
pulling cows behind them. On the uncovered bank of the
long procession, whose spearhead was already in Berlin, we
saw soldiers digging foxholes or preparing anti-tank gun
positions.

But the Red Army men were not digging for military purposes
alone. Everywhere they went, the Americans saw Russian
soldiers grubbing in piles of sugarbeet stacked all round the
farmsteads. These they used for their livestock. Sometimes
there would be gaps a mile or so long in the columns, while
some of the men stopped to feed the animals. The American
supply officer who was used to seeing his lorries roll by at
intervals calculated to the nearest yard said, “Poor transport
organization.” But the Air Force major countered with: “They
managed to reach Berlin all the same.”

When it got dark the column halted, and the three Americans
got out of their jeep to camp by the road. The Russians lit
fires under the pine trees, and then roasted bits of meat on their
bayonets. The war correspondents looked round.

It was an incredible spectacle to see horses, saddled,
bridled and tethered, in the midst of an attacking army. The
whole thing was more reminiscent of the time of General
Suvorov [1812] than of Marshal Zhukov. Had Tolstoy appeared
at that moment, his beard fluttering in the spring breeze, to
inveigh against the slaughter and to call for a return to
Christian standards, we should not have been in the least
surprised.

But not everything was as anachronistic as all that. The
political sections hung up pictures of Lenin and Stalin in all
the villages they passed on their slow crawl to Berlin, and red
flags could be seen fluttering in every nook and cranny.1

1 This profusion of red flags is also reflected in the story of the cap-
ture of the Reichstag, as propounded by the official History of the Great
Patriotic War (Vol. 1, p. 283 ff): “The assault had turned into a massive
onslaught which the enemy was quite powerless to stem. After only a
few minutes our men reached the Reichstag building. At once, little red
flags of various shapes and sizes shot up like poppies all along the
Walls. They were as profuse as flowers in a garden... The heroism of
our soldiers was reflected in the simultaneous appearance of a host of
red flags.”

pg. 211

Presumably the Americans must have crossed one of the
roads by which General Busse's encircled Ninth Army had
tried to break through to the west. Simonov has described what
happened during one such attempt – the break-out of a German
group cut off by K0nev's swing to the north.

Shortly before we reached the Berlin ring road we came
across a dreadful spectacle. The autobahn cut through a
dense forest divided by a long clearing that disappeared into
the far distance. The German troops had tried to break
through to the autobahn along this clearing, and at the
intersection of the two, which we reached that morning,
they had suffered a devastating defeat – evidently before
daybreak. This was the picture we saw: in front of us lay
Berlin, and to our right a forest clearing, now a chaos of
jumbled tanks, cars, armoured cars, trucks, special vehicles
and ambulances. They had uprooted hundreds of trees,
probably in an attempt to turn round and escape. In this
black, charred confusion of steel, timber, guns, cases and
papers, a bloody mass of mutilated corpses lay strewn along
the clearing as far as the eye could see. . . . Then I noticed
a host of wounded men lying on greatcoats and blankets or
leaning against tree trunks; some of them bandaged and
others covered in blood, with no one to tend to them. . . .
The broad concrete ribbon of the autobahn, already cleared
and open to traffic, ran straight past this grisly scene. For
two hundred yards it was pitted with craters of various size,
looking like so many pockmarks, and vehicles on their way
to Berlin had to weave in and out between them....1

By the time the only American-driven jeep to be found east
of the Elbe in April 1945 drove past the shell-craters, the
wounded had already been removed, though the dead had
not yet been buried. But it was not the smell of the corpses

1 Konstantin Simonov, Aus den Kriegstagebüchern, German transla-
tion in Neue Welt (Moscow 1965), Vol. 10. p. 23.

pg. 212

that struck the American officers – it was the smell of the
living.
Every army has its own smell. The Russians have the
unforgettable smell of sweet black bread and newly threshed
corn and of the farmyard from which they could not long
have been parted. They carry their farmyard with them
wherever they go. Similarly the smell of industrial America
follows us to war, with clouds of carbon monoxide and the
unmistakable odour of burnt gunpowder, Spam, baked
beans and chewing-gum. The Germans seem to smell of
sweat, sauerkraut, and impending death. The British bring
the smell of cabbage, boiled ham and milky tea from their
kitchens, while the French smell of bistros, Burgundy and
Gauloise cigarettes. The Russians came to the west with the
earthy smell of the cowshed. A boy from Detroit would
have been shocked. Even our colonel was horrified. “They
don”t even have latrines,” he said. “They'll get them, don't
you worry,” the major said. All the Russians had brought
with them were their uniforms and guns. They were not
burdened with such twentieth-century luxuries as tooth-
brushes or extra underwear. I am sure they had no socks
either. . . . Herding their own cows, they were independent
of supply lines. A Southerner like me was reminded of the
Civil War. . . .

Until then, the Americans' knowledge of the Red Army
had been based almost exclusively on Russian war films,
which critics had called unreal and tendentious. The Russian
heroes, who rushed into battle, “their heads swathed in
bandages and one arm in a sling,” had struck them as so many
idealized bits of propaganda. But now the correspondent
had to admit that these films were not exaggerated. “On the
road to Berlin I saw bandaged men just like those I'd seen
in the films; they carried their rifles, rode or lay in the
straw in the bottom of carts moving straight into the battle-
field.”

The American supply officer regarded the whole enterprise
with less and less favour the farther they got from the Elbe,
and as more and more pictures of Stalin blocked his view of the
Brandenburg pine trees; but the Air Force major insisted on

pg. 213

getting to Berlin. “I want to see Hitler in chains. That's the last
great show of this war.”

They eventually reached the city south of Tempelhof Airport. Half the buildings were in flames and the streets were covered
with debris.” They met up with a Russian sapper detachment.
In front of company headquarters stood an American jeep
which had got there by way of Murmansk and Moscow, and a
scarlet German fire-engine with an extending ladder. The
Americans discovered later that the sappers had comman-
deered this vehicle in some Silesian town in preparation for the
street fighting in Berlin. “They thought it might come in handy
in getting Gerrnans out from the top floors.”

When the Americans asked where precisely the front was, a
Russian pointed across the road. Since they did not want to
fall into German hands, the three Americans parked outside
the sapper quarters, carefully avoiding the mess of entangled
tram and electric light cables that had fallen into the streets.
The Soviet commander,

a young Russian with a magnificent set of stainless steel false
teeth, a bandaged hand and a manifest admiration for
Detroit and for lend-lease machinery, asked for permission
to drive our jeep. All round us heavy guns were firing away
for all they were worth, so much so that a British or Ameri-
can soldier with any sense would have dived for cover. But
the captain drove the jeep up and down the road with the
devotion of someone competing for a Grand Prix. When he
wanted to stop he jerked up the handbrake. From this we
deduced that his own jeep must have had a faulty footbrake.

Then the Americans were taken inside the command post.
Two soldiers came in. They brought jugs and a basin and
poured out water in which we could wash our hands. A third
held out a towel.” There was no Vodka that night; instead they
had a “pink effervescent drink out of ruby-red crystal goblets of
the kind the Germans love to collect and display in glass
cabinets. The drink was supposed to taste of strawberries, but
it tasted more like lipstick, and I'm sure that never again was
the health of the Big Three drunk in such repulsive swill.”

The Americans gained the impression that the sappers “were
treating the last battle of the war with some indifference.”

pg. 214

However, the Russians became increasingly suspicious of their
guests and at night posted a sentry with a sub-machine-gun
between the beds. No wonder the Americans became a little
dispirited. What if the Russians shot them as spies? “No one
would ever even find our bodies,” the colonel remarked gloomily.
But they returned to Torgau next day in excellent health.

Nor was mineral water tasting of lipstick the only hospitality
the Russians dispensed. On May 2, Wöhlermann, formerly
German artillery commander of Berlin and now a prisoner of
war, was still determined to implement all the orders of [Gen.]
Weidling, his commanding officer. In front of the Zoo Bunker,
which was thronged with soldiers, civilians and wounded, he
told the Soviet officer who had arrested him and who, accord-
ing to Wöhlermann, looked like a “taxi-driver,” that he must
report to Bendlerstraße before joining the long march into
captivity. “Needless to say, the Russians could not understand
my reasons,” Wöhlermann explained. Not surprisingly, we may
add, for Wöhlermann’s insistence on ceremonious behaviour
was utterly ridiculous at that stage. Still, the Germans were
allowed to form fours, as if on the barrack square. But at the
last moment “machine-gun bullets crashed against the concrete
walls of the tower and ricocheted off into our ranks.” It was “a
nasty surprise, that cost some of us their lives.”

The fact that it was the Russians who now had the first say
on what was and what was not to happen did not dawn upon
Colonel Wöhlermann until he noticed that “Stalin tanks were
lined up at intervals of twenty to thirty yards all along Adolf
Hitler’s processional route through the Siegesallee.” The whole
thing was reminiscent of pre-war times, except that the tanks
were now facing the opposite way. “It was,” he writes, “an
imposing sight.”

About 2,000 German soldiers were being led by their officers
past the tanks and on into captivity. Suddenly something quite
unexpected happened. Russian soldiers climbed down from
their tanks, surrounded the Germans, “offered us Russian
cigarettes” and repeatedly shouted: “Voina kaput, voina kaput”
(“The war is over”).’ Wöhlermann’s own contingent included
twenty fourteen- to sixteen-year-old Hitler Youths. The colonel
managed to persuade the Russian officer in charge to allow
these to go home. “I cupped my hands to my mouth and

pg. 215

shouted back as loud as I could: 'Boys, you can go home
now!' I felt . . . like a headmaster declaring a half-holiday.”
Together with Colonel Eilers, “who at the time weighed at
least 250 lb,” Wöhlermann had first to submit to interrogation;
then the Russians took their newsreel shots of them. Next they
were taken to a modest flat behind the Charlottenburg Castle
Park, where they were met by an Armoured Corps Intelligence
Ofiicer speaking fluent German.

His first question was: “What have you got there?” He
pointed to my German gold cross. I realized for the first
time – it was to happen several times later – that the Russians
took anyone wearing this huge swastika for a particularly
fanatical and high-ranking Nazi. The Russian colonel’s
second remark was no less surprising: “I expect you are very
tired and would like a bath.” Eilers looked at me and I
looked at him and we both thought: “There must be some-
thing Wrong here – Goebbels had painted quite a different
picture of the capture of German staff officers by the Reds.”
We should like that very much,” I replied.

The Russian colonel got up and waited while I took my
washing things and shaving tackle from my bag. He then
left the room, saying: “Follow me, we’ll get you a barber as
well.” We followed him, digging each other in the ribs. In
the hall he opened the door to another room in which a few
Ivans lay sprawled about on the beds. After some incompre-
hensible words, they disappeared, and so did our colonel.
The door to the hall was still open. We could see no bath-
room anywhere. Suddenly a new Ivan appeared and, carry-
ing a china coffee-pot with a broken-off spout, he said:
Davai!”

We stood there utterly taken aback. There we had been
dreaming of a . . . tiled bathroom, of hot water, showers,
turkish towels and bathrobes. We might have stood there
for a long time, had he not . . . repeated his “Davai!,” at the
same time tipping the pot so that water started pouring from
the spout. Now the penny dropped. Quickly I put out my
hands and soaped them. The dirty water trickled merrily
over the floor. Then I rinsed my hands and passed them over
my face. At the time we were not yet as familiar with Russian

pg. 2l6

kultura as we were to become in the next few years. . . . We
returned to the colonel’s room. . . .

In the corner stood an old gramophone, which the colonel
had set at maximum speed. On it, he had been playing
records ever since we arrived. At a galloping pace, we heard
waltzes, marches, one-steps and songs – it was enough to
drive you mad. As our nerves were stretched to breaking-
point anyway, I could not contain myself and at last asked
him to turn the damn thing off, which he did without demur.
So far our talks had been brief and noncommittal, but
now two other officers appeared. One was a lieutenant-
colonel, probably the chief intelligence officer, and the other
a Jewish colonel, who did not make a very pleasant impres-
sion on us. There was a brief greeting without handshakes.
We all sat down round a table. Six or seven different types
of Western and Russian cigarettes and two boxes of German
cigars of the most horrible quality were offered round. We
smoked, if only to calm our nerves.

Once again I was asked about my medal with the large
swastika. Then they said: “Where is Hitler?” I told them that,
the night before, I had received official news that Hitler had
killed himself. First there was silence and then some sus-
picious questions. I said I had no reason to doubt the truth
of what I was told. “All right,” they said, “you may believe
it, but we know for a fact that your Fuhrer is still alive.” I
said nothing. Then they went on: “Tell us where Dr Goebbels
is.” I could not say. Then the Russian officer informed me
that Goebbels and his whole family had killed themselves
the night before. I also heard that Field-Marshal Model,
the Army Group commander in the Ruhr Pocket, had
shot himself. Fortunately, no direct military questions were
asked, presumably because the Red Army men felt superior
to us, and thought it beneath their dignity to ask questions
of this kind. It must not be forgotten that, at the time, the
Russians laboured under the delusion that they had beaten
us purely by virtue of their own military might and inspired
leadership, completely ignoring the decisive contribution of
the Americans in supplying them with arms, and the strategic
mistakes of Hitler.
Suddenly the door opened and a tall, quite pleasant-

pg. 217

looking general entered The Russian officers jumped up,
and we rose from our seats as well We were introduced to
the Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Tank Army, General
Bogdanov, who later became Marshal of the Soviet Union.
Bows on both sides They first talked among themselves in
subdued tones When I had explained the significance of the
golden cross once again I was asked which Air Force I
thought was the better: the Russian or the American. I
could see what this was leading up to. Their fear of the
Americans came out in the next few questions as well, and I
could not resist the temptation of fanning their fears a little
further. I told them that, from a purely military point of
view, we had been very impressed by the American and
British Air Forces. After all, by attacking our civilians and
munitions factories for several years they had played a
decisive part in winning the war. On the other hand, we knew
little about the Russian Air Force because, compared with
the Anglo-Americans, it had not done very much to interfere
with our ground operations. This blow clearly struck home.
You could see it from then‘ faces Now it was Eilers' turn
He was asked about Berlin's ack-ack defences. This matter
seems to have occupied the Russians very much in the first
few weeks after their victory and was the only subject they
questioned us about during our early stay in P. O. W. camps.
They must have been afraid that the Anglo-Americans
would come flying in in force. But they did not get much out
of us, because Eilers told them tersely that he was an airman
and not an ack-ack gunner, and so knew nothing about the
matter.

During our discussion which, incidentally, was very
gentlemanly, a woman appeared, and you could tell clearly
by her breasts that she was of Slav origin and would not have
been remarkable in any cowshed in a State farm in the
Russian hinterland. Here, in the west of Berlin, I could not
suppress a smile, and this despite the gravity of the situation:
this creature had been decked out as a Western maid. She
wore a white bow in her hair, which was, in fact, made of a
bandage; her apron, a little Viennese pinny, had a comic
effect, but only on us, for the Russians themselves seemed to
be inordinately proud of their Tatya. This treasure now laid

pg. 218

the table, and brought in innumerable plates and dishes full
of all sorts of delicacies. There was marvellous ham, various
kinds of cold meat, an excellent salad, magnificent white
bread and first-class butter. When Tatya also put enormous
white wine glasses in front of everybody, I thought: “What
a pity, it’s all been so splendidly done so far. Why on earth
do they have to spoil it now by serving coffee in these glasses.”
It never even occurred to me that any other kind of drink
might be served; after all I had been through I was dying for
a strong cup of coffee, and so coffee was what I expected.
In this I was to be disappointed.

The Intelligence Officer now fetched a bottle of good
French brandy, opened it and filled the enormous glasses
right up to the brim. Not only did I have no desire at all for
alcohol at that moment, but I was afraid they might be
trying to loosen our tongues by giving us copious quantities
of spirits, and so resolved to take no more than a few sips.
But the Russians, and particularly their Commander-in-
Chief, would not hear of it. All of them suddenly stood up,
Bogdanov seized his glass and said a few incomprehensible
words. As the word “voyna” (war) occurred twice in his
toast and because they were all so formal, I concluded that
they were drinking to their victory, and so Eilers and I felt
bound to raise our glasses as well. I had just wetted my lips
and was about to put my glass down again when the
Commander-in-Chief gave me a withering look, and I was
told by the intelligence officer that the commander would
regard it an insult if I did not drain my glass. The Russians,
for their part, had done this in one gulp, the enormous
quantity notwithstanding. So I had no choice but to down
a glass of brandy, which almost certainly was equivalent
to the contents of six or seven normal measures, at nine
o’clock in the morning. Nor was this the only one: a second
glass followed quickly. . . . When we had drained this, Katya
reappeared with a platter of fried liver and another of fried
potatoes, which we cleared, having been invited to join in
with a friendly smile. At the same time the lieutenant-colonel
brought up a bottle of French champagne and this was now
poured into the same glasses. When the second bottle had
been emptied, and the Russians had probably noticed that

pg. 219

they would get nothing more out of us, the Commander-in-
Chief left after giving us a short side-glance by way of farewell.
All the others, except for the intelligence officer, followed
him out.

During my short discussion with Bogdanov through the
interpreter I nearly caused a scene. When he had told me
that we would be flown to Moscow at once, I begged leave
to be allowed to stay with my men. He then asked me
whether I knew Moscow, and I cannot for the life of me tell
why I replied as I did. Perhaps I was seized by some sort of
desperation. In any case, I said that I had not had that
pleasure but that, in December 1941, I had got to within
fifteen miles of Moscow, without, regrettably, having been
able to enter it. When the interpreter translated this reply,
l could see from the officers’ faces that they, too, were afraid
the general might explode at this piece of sarcasm. But vic-
tory had turned him good-humoured and so all Went off well:
he had the interpreter tell me that although we Germans had
been making hay until 1941, the Red Army had truly turned
the tables on us since. I kept my mouth firmly shut. In the
end, the Russians accepted my plea that we had left all our
things behind, and sent us back to our own men.

I have quoted Wöhlermann’s report at such length, not only
because it affords us a glimpse into the life of Russian officers
abroad, but mainly because it reflects the outlook of a senior
German officer who so zealously participated in, and accepted,
Hitler's war and all that went with it. And yet this man felt
entitled to ridicule Soviet “kultura” and to question the military
worth of the Red Army! Certainly Wöhlermann was anything
but a Nazi rowdy; he was – and still is – a good German:
hence the word ‘insight’ docs not even figure in his dictionary.
We may well ask ourselves whether the much-vaunted capacity
of Germans. and particularly of Berliners, to buckle to, without
pausing to draw breath, to restore order and rebuild their lives
without any sense of inner shock – whether all this is really a
German virtue as is so often claimed, or whether it does not
rather display a lack of insight, a lack of appreciation of one’s
own guilt, and the desire to put the blame on others and go
one’s merry way again.

Chapter 19...AND YET MORE PLANS.

pg. 339

In retrospect, one is tempted to ask: What would have happened in May 1945 if the victors had been faced with a group
of real politicians, men who had used the twelve years of Hitler's rule to draw up
a blueprint for a modern German state
and a modern society based on Marxist and socialist principles
but not on blind obedience to Moscow?

[Kuby's concept of a modern state and a modern society is clearly expressed in this passage.]