Narrated: Ruvim Katz, St-Petersburg, Russia
Original Story: Mark Klionsky, webmaster's father, St-Petersburg, Russia
Posted on: 6 Jun 2016
Last Updated on: 6 Jun 2016
Narrated by my grandfather Ruvim Katz as a Red Army Leitenant stationed in Latvia (1939-1940).

Ruvim in 1955
By Ruvim Katz (1918-2018), retired Red Army lieutenant-colonel, World Ware II veteran and webmaster’s grandfather. Last 50 years he lived in St-Petersburg, Russia

The series consist of several short stories that Ruvim narrated from memory to Mark Klionsky, webmaster’s father.

Ruvim (sitting) with a friend, 1939
During my service in the Red Army (1937-1961) I have had multiple encounters with secret police (“NKVD”) informers or simply “snitches” who were in all military units. They customarily reported on all violations of discipline, possible anti-Soviet conversations, or any decadent mood among the career officers and other enlisted personnel.

For this they got promoted, were given extra vacation days, etc. This was particularly noticeable in the years of peace, until the beginning of World War II. At that time, the rigid army structure consisted of two branches running in parallel: regular officers and political workers or “commissars” who were charged with ideological indoctrination.

Curiously, the authority of the commissars exceeded the authority of the commanding officers who had the same military rank. These political workers and their deputies from the conscripted personnel formed the first line of snitches in the Red Army.
My first encounter with informers happened immediately at the beginning of my military service. In 1939, after graduating from the Leningrad military communications academy, I was sent to the radio communications battalion stationed in the city of Torzhok (located between Russia’s two largest cities, Moscow and Saint Petersburg) .

The very next day after my arrival, we were given the command to board the military train, which was heading to the former independent state of Latvia.

At that time, by a secret appendix to the 1939 treaty of friendship between the Soviet Union and Germany, known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Latvia was recognized as belonging to the sphere of Soviet interests. Russia quickly occupied Latvia, and officially annexed it in 1940.
Upon arrival at the town of Libava (now, Leipaja, a city in western Latvia on the Baltic Sea), we were settled in a military camp.

The next day was the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, November 7, the biggest holiday in Soviet Russia.

Most of the officers were given time off, but someone had to be on guard duty. The choice fell to me, a young lieutenant at the age of 21 years.

Of course, I tried in good faith to carry on my duties. I went through the territory, check posts, barn, carport, kitchen and other facilities.
click to enlarge
`Do not sleep when on duty` Soviet poster, 1940 г
After this night vigil, at four o'clock in the morning, I went to the battalion commander's office to rest. I sat down at a table, and then felt so tired that there was no strength to resist. I put my hands on the table, dropped my head on my hands, and fell asleep.

After about 15 minutes I woke up and with consternation went out into the fresh air to continue my watch.

In the morning the battalion commander called me and asked: "How was the watch?"
My answer was: "It's all right."
"Not so,” he replied. “You were reported to be sleeping through your entire shift while on duty!"

It turned out, the assistant political officer (my namesake, Katz!) was on kitchen duty all night.
Everything was in order at the army kitchen and he had nothing to do, so he decided to look into the commander's office. And there he saw the sleeping officer on duty.

In the morning, as soon as our battalion commander walked in, the assistant political officer immediately ran to him and reported that Lieutenant Katz was sleeping while on guard duty (although his own duty was in the kitchen – to make sure that the army cooks used the right amount of food).

He was not supposed to check the behavior of the commanding officers).

It was all shocking to me and I told my version of the story. The battalion commander scolded me, but given my young age, did not impose a penalty.

Anti-Trotzky poster, 1937
Another case happened to me a year later, in 1940, when I was a lecturer at a military preparatory college for the conscripted personnel, teaching radio communications basics and skills. (I had graduated from a Military Academy with excellence, so I was well-versed in these fields of technology).

I shared my living quarters with another young lieutenant named Nikolai and we used to talk frankly about different subjects.

I was hungry for knowledge. While being a cadet at a Military Academy, a lot of my time was spent in the library reading room, where in addition to technical books I had access to fiction books and the encyclopedia.

The time of 1937-1939 was known as the time of “great purges.” The special police were discovering conspiracies of "enemies of the people" left and right.

It was carrying out purges, starting with civilians and ending with the senior military staff. Many of these "conspirators," before they were arrested for their alleged crimes, were respected military commanders, decorated members of the ruling Bolshevik elite.

Because of that constant change, the school textbooks and all historical literature were being constantly amended. Sometimes, however,
 the censorship was behind schedule and that happened in my case .

The encyclopedia I was reading was an old edition and not yet amended for censorship purposes. This edition included entries that Leon Trotsky, the second in command after Lenin during the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 and the Russian Civil War of 1918-1921, was one of the leaders of the revolution, had served five senior posts in the Government of the Bolsheviks, including the post of People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs, and was the creator of the Red Army as well as its first commander.

Moreover, it noted that Trotsky was an excellent orator.

At the time that I was reading this edition of the encyclopedia, Trotsky had been officially declared a “monster” and the arch-enemy of the Soviet Union. The only available public information about Trotsky was extremely negative and unbalanced.

The censors did not have time to clean up the biography of Trotsky in this edition of the encyclopedia, and I read everything as it had been written when he was still well-regarded. That was in 1935.

Fast-forward, now in 1940, Nikolai and I were engaged in a conversation about the skills one needs to speak to an audience, and about oratory in general.

Thinking to impress him, I remarked that according to our encyclopedia the “enemy” Trotsky was a brilliant orator. Nikolai showed no reaction and appeared indifferent. Our conversation then switched to another subject and I completely forgot about this episode.

Several months later, young officers like myself were invited to join the Bolshevik Party. This was a fairly regular event. We all knew that no promotion is possible without a Party card.

A good example was our head of the school for noncommissioned personnel. Never a Party member, he was already forty years old and well versed in communications technology, but only with the rank of a lieutenant. We all knew that the officer occupying his position should have the rank of at least a major or a lieutenant colonel.

And here I am, writing a statement, "Please let me join the Party…". Along with the other young officers, I went to the division headquarters and waited for my turn to appear in front of the selection committee.

I was very confident: I have always been an excellent student of military and political training. I also have had practical experience conducting classes on technology and on political training. Finally, it was my turn, I walked in and reported myself ready for their decision.

Suddenly, the chairman of the commission, who was also the deputy head of the political division, said: "Well, Lieutenant, do you still think that the worst enemy of the Soviet state, Trotsky, was a good orator?"

I did not expect this turn of events, and standing still I blushed and fell silent.

The Chairman continued: "I believe that it is early for Lieutenant Katz to join our Bolshevik Party. You may go now."

At that moment, I realized the value of words that are often repeated to us by our division commander, "Keep your mouth shut."

Since then, I have participated in conversations with my army comrades only on the topics related to my immediate job.