The pale yellow neoclassical villa with a mezzanine and four columns in Ostozhenka Street belonged in Tsarist times to Moscow confectioners Abrikosov & Sons. However, since 2010 on the façade there has been a memorial plaque in honour of Kim Philby. The plaque carries a quote from Philby saying: “I look back on my life as given to the service of a cause that I sincerely and passionately believe is right”.
In the 1930s, British intelligence officer Philby got carried away by leftist ideas and served as a Soviet spy for 29 years. This building belongs today to the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service. In the courtyard, there is a bronze sculpture of Pavel Fitin “gazing down” on the guests. During the country's most difficult years – from 1939 to 1946 – Fitin led the organisation, which had many German agents in the organs of power in Nazi Germany, including the famous Willy Lehmann, who served in the Gestapo. Incidentally, the first contact person of the atypical “Gestapo officer” Lehmann was intelligence ace Alexander Korotkov, who read Goethe in the original German until the end of his life.
After the war, Germany was divided into occupation zones. The decision on what was to become of the German state was yet to be made. SS-Obersturmführer Heinz Felfe was captured by the British and after serving in the British intelligence agency MI6, assisted the Ministry of Intra-German Relations in Bonn, interviewing defectors from the People’s Police in the Soviet occupation zone.
Then he was suddenly recruited by one of the Soviet intelligence agents. From 1951 until the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, while he was a government adviser to the “Gehlen Organisation” (later transformed into the Federal Intelligence Service of Germany), he transferred copies of important documents to Moscow. But how did the Russians manage to recruit him?
Man on a Tank
The man sitting opposite me knows this, perhaps better than anyone else. The Soviet intelligence service veteran, retired Colonel Vitaly Korotkov, had been in charge of “Kurt” Felfe since 1956, first from the KGB bureau in Berlin and later from Moscow.
Until his retirement in 1991, he primarily carried out tasks related to Germany. In the interior, surrounded by chic imperial furniture, he gives the impression of a real aristocrat. For the people around him, he is a man of great authority – a real “star”, a legend. This is due not only to his merits in the intelligence but also to the tremendous courage shown during the years of World War II.
In June 1943, the eighth-grader Vitalik, at the age of only 14, volunteered for the front thanks to his father, a senior officer in the tank forces. During the Battle of Kursk, the tankman Korotkov, along with the mechanics, repaired the T-34 tanks right on the battlefield.
Starting in March 1945, as deputy commander of a tank company, he fought on the 2nd Far Eastern Front in Japan and then served in the Central Group of Forces in Austria. After seven months spent in Vienna and two fights with colleagues, the 17-year-old adventurer was “booted out”; sent back home. Now he is almost 93 years old, but with his gallantry and liveliness, he can leave many young people in the dust: with a smile, he kisses the hands of ladies and enjoys drinking strong coffee.
“I came to Berlin for the first time on 1 January 1946”, Colonel Korotkov said, recalling his trip through Germany to Austria. Early in the morning, he arrived at Berlin Ostbahnhof train station and, after a visit to the commandant’s office, allowed himself to stroll around the city.
“I was very excited. However, I saw many ruins and mountains of bricks lying around. (...) I reached the Reichstag. At a market nearby, the Americans were selling cigarettes; the Germans were selling their [worldly] possessions, a very curious sight”.
The next evening, the young man went to a restaurant, “where the girls were very kind and attractive, they treated us warmly and well”.
“The next day I arrived in Dresden, although this was not established for the route – all my imagination. The city was like a solid stone field, something incredibly eerie, dreadful. The new city – a small part of it – was preserved at least a little, and the Old City was bombed to the ground except for a few buildings on the riverbank. Maybe the Americans deliberately left them.”
'Anna Ivanovna Wants to Make You an Offer'
On the way to Prague, Korotkov was suddenly detained by Soviet officers at the border because he had “no pass from Potsdam”. But young Vitaly already knew how to instil trust. “You're just as much of a tank soldier as I am, brother, why does not one help the other tank soldier?” he said – and the path was clear. In Bratislava, it was as warm as in spring.
On the main boulevard, people sat at tables in cafes and dined. A waiter spoke to Korotkov and his random companion and treated the “gentlemen officers” —they had almost no money with them — with various delicacies at the expense of the café. They had to cross the Danube by ferry because the Germans bombed had the bridge.
After their adventures in Vienna, at the end of 1946 Korotkov first decided to graduate from high school and get a higher education.
“In the last year of the Moscow Law Institute, a lady appeared – I did not know who she was. She invited me to fill out a thick questionnaire, where at the very end it was written: 'Typography of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs'.”
22-year-old Vitaly could not believe that the people at Smolenskaya Square (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) were suddenly interested in him.
“Anna Ivanovna is going to invite you to work – you should agree, it is very interesting,” he was told at the job placement. And he agreed. Thus Vitaly Korotkov, after another ten months of training at a specialised intelligence school named after Gridnev, suddenly became an intelligence officer with a focus on Germany.
“They Destroyed Felfe's Hometown”
“Heinz Felfe was angry at the Americans and the British for having destroyed his hometown of Dresden. He told me that himself,” Korotkov continued his story.
It was not material want that prompted him to cooperate with the KGB. After working for the British special services, Felfe worked at the universities of Berlin and then Bonn. He studied the politics of the West and the Soviet Union and, according to Korotkov, realised that “it was the Soviet side who sought to preserve a unified, united Germany”.
As a journalist, Felfe made many contacts with the GDR, as well as with Soviet journalists, and gradually strengthened his opinion. For him, as for many other former National Socialists, “American imperialism”, as they called it, was the main enemy. However, he did not share the ideas of socialism. The USSR was not for him an exemplary ideological model but rather a manifestation of Russia. He wanted to establish good relations with it after the fiasco of Hitler’s war – in the traditions of Frederick the Great and Bismarck.
Despite the primary division of Germany into occupation zones, the Soviet Union, after the Yalta Conference in the late 1940s, effectively defended its position for a unified Germany in the future. “The Soviet people fought against National Socialism. They did not fight the German people and did not hate them”, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in 2005 in a commentary to the French newspaper “Le Figaro”.
In May 1949, the so-called Federal Republic of Germany suddenly emerged from the common occupation zone of the Western Allies. Former allies became geopolitical opponents and the advent of the GDR was an obvious response to the creation of the FRG. “Of course, under these circumstances, each side was interested in getting as much information as possible about the opponents' plans”, Colonel Korotkov said.
Thus Berlin Turned Into a Battleground for the Security Services
Over the next few years, Berlin gradually turned into a “tangled web of espionage”. Back in 1946, the Americans founded the so-called “Gehlen Organisation” with the help of former Nazi intelligence officers. The former chief of the Wehrmacht Foreign Armies East Reinhard Gehlen allegedly managed to save all the documents of the department in Bavaria and offered them to the Americans.
His agents, almost all of his old comrades in the department as well as from the SS and Abwehr, received all kinds of information and expert data first-hand – from people who had come “to know the East, like no other in the West”. They infiltrated the military structures of the GDR and the USSR and managed to recruit many spies. “The people of Gehlen managed to do a great job”, Korotkov admitted.
“In 1953, we exposed several hundred of Gehlen’s agents, some of whom occupied leading posts in the GDR. This was made possible due to a major campaign and the Intelligence Service of the GDR, created in 1951. It was a big blow to the people from Gehlen.”
Among the agents led by Vitaly Korotkov, there was another Dresden native, Johannes Clemens, whom Felfe had known since working together in the security service of the SS Reichsfuhrer, Walter Schellenberg.
“I did not have access to other agents”, Korotkov had to admit. “In the Soviet intelligence agencies, the secrecy was strictly adhered to as a commandment. You know one or two and you have no right to know anything else. Let’s say we are sitting in the same room and I don’t know what my colleagues are doing and what kind of cases they are handling.”
When the USSR and the FRG were about to resume diplomatic relations in 1955 and FRG First Chancellor Konrad Adenauer was preparing for a visit to Moscow, Felfe passed extremely important political information to the Soviet side about what the West German side was about to demand and what concessions it was ready to make.
“So our leadership knew where it was possible to put pressure harder and where to loosen the grip,” Korotkov said.
According to him, during the ten years of cooperation with Felfe, not a single Soviet agent or spy failed in West Germany. “When the Americans were preparing the arrest of some of our agents, thanks to the information received from Felfe, we managed to remove them from the country on time.”
In the spring of 1961, Korotkov received evidence that the Germans were keeping an eye on Felfe and Clemens, and suggested that Moscow “conserve” them. But the management did not want to give up the valuable source of information. Furthermore, Felfe has just been instructed to clarify the fate of the KGB agent, Bogdan Stashinsky, who two years earlier had killed in Munich the Ukrainian Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera. After the war, Bandera was a contact person of the Western intelligence services, which used his information from the Ukrainian underground.
In November 1961, Felfe and Clemens were arrested by German criminal police. Since Felfe, unlike Clemens, refused the plea deal with the investigation, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison (Clemens got “only” eight years). “The negotiations over the exchange of Felfe lasted six years,” Korotkov added.
And the main opponent of the exchange was, of course, General Gehlen – his former boss. Nevertheless, in the end, “Kurt” was exchanged at Herleshausen (at a town on the border with the German Democratic Republic) for 21 American and West German agents. The former agent settled in the German Democratic Republic, where he later became a professor at Humboldt University and got remarried. His first wife left him immediately after his exposure. His son broke off his relationship with the “Soviet spy” as well.
Old Friendship Does not Rust
In the late 1970s, Colonel Korotkov stopped by one of Berlin barber’s on a hunch and met Felfe there for the first time after his exchange. “So joyful was this chance encounter!” Korotkov recalled. The two hugged tightly, talked, but after 15 minutes had to say goodbye. “Unfortunately, we had no right to be interested in each other and keep in touch”.
Nevertheless, they got lucky. In the 1990s, when Russia and the United States made an attempt to establish some semblance of friendship, the intelligence services also showed interest in bilateral contacts and decided to write about their cooperation in different countries of the world, in particular, to publish a joint book about Berlin: “Battleground Berlin: CIA vs. KGB in the Cold War”.
The Russian co-author, the former chief of KGB counterintelligence Sergei Kondrashov, once turned to Korotkov and said that he would meet with Heinz Felfe on his way back to Moscow. “Would you like to write something to him?” he asked. The already-retired Korotkov took a risk and handed his colleague a business card for Felfe with a short greeting in which he expressed hope for correspondence.
“Kondrashov said that Felfe was very happy about it. A few weeks later I received a short letter from him wondering if this is my address, whether I received this letter and whether we could correspond”.
Their correspondence lasted from 1996 until Felfe’s passing in 2008. According to Korotkov, it was a very kind and friendly correspondence during which Felfe criticised the reunification of Germany and the new economic order in the former GDR.
“They Still Seem to be Second-Class People”
In an interview with Sputnik, the last chairman of the State Council of the German Democratic Republic, Egon Krenz, referring to the then Soviet Ambassador to the GDR Vyacheslav Kochemasov, raised the topic of the existence of some special units in and outside the KGB. According to him, their employees should have tried to influence the political development in the GDR in the last years of its existence until 1989.
“There were no such special units. There weren’t any”, Korotkov answered in good German. “This issue was resolved somewhat differently. Each member of the intelligence services, with any kind of valuable ties with GDR citizens who had certain positions in the state apparatus, was supposed to find out from them information about further political developments and the mood prevailing in the GDR. That's all”.
Korotkov admitted that he had many acquaintances among the employees of the state structures of the GDR, who were not agents at the same time. “There was no feeling of desire to eliminate the GDR”. However, some of these people criticised certain decisions of Walter Ulbricht and Erich Honecker regarding the development of socialist society in the GDR, he said.
According to Korotkov, the reunification of Germany was inevitable but it came about “on an unequal basis”. According to Moscow, the Germans, without paying any compensation, received the infrastructure created by the USSR. Residents of East Germany, in turn, received economic inequality. “They still seem to be second-class people”, Korotkov concluded.
By Liudmila Kotlyarova