EVGENIA SHELEPINA. JOURNEY TO BREST
JOURNEY TO BREST
You will remember that for several days the wire to Brest was spoilt, and there had been no news from there whatever. Of course couriers went to and fro, but that was all, and Stalin (Lenin's right hand) came into the room where I was and said, 'We must send some trusty person to bring back a report of how things really are.'
I said, "Send me", never thinking for a moment that they would. Stalin said,
"Seriously, would you go?"
I said, "Of course I would go if I were sent."
He said, "all right, the train goes at eight thirty tonight. I will speak to Lenin." Then Lenin came in and spoke to me and left me with the impression not only that I was not to go, but that no one was going.
I consequently made no preparations whatever, and was much surprised when at five thirty Stalin came in, and seeing me, said "What are you not ready?"
I said, "I understood that I was not going."
He said, "Yes, you are going." So I rushed off to get things together. They gave me a document which, unfortunately I threw away only the other day, when packing to leave Petrograd. It said that 'Trotsky's secretary was travelling to Brest as Courier Extraordinary.' I packed my night things into a big wooden box, one of those flat boxes made of thin wood for carrying dresses. Eroida put our joint allowance of bread into it, and some tea and sugar for the journey. I also took a pillow. Besides that they gave me a big parcel of newspapers for Trotsky, and a packet of cuttings and other papers. I had no money at all, but Eroida borrowed some from other people in the ministry.
I got to the station just before the train was due to start. I found the Commissar of the station, and was asking him for one of the soldiers of Field Chasseurs since one of them regularly travelled to Brest as Courier, when there came up to me a Colonel? Fokke of the General Staff and said he too was going to Brest, and was glad he had not to travel alone. I also said I was glad. The Commissar at the station knew me by sight. No one asked for our documents, and we presently found the train, where there was a coupe set aside for us.
It was a first class coupe with a sliding door in the middle, dirty beyond words, the upholstery torn to shreds, and the cushions indescribably dirty. I was glad I had brought my own pillow. Fokke talked with me a little, and made a very bad impression upon me. He had most unsuitable luggage and too much of it. I was ashamed of my own flat box, but he had an enormous cardboard milliner's packing box, with the name of some Petrograd firm on it. Beside that he had a big portmanteau, another package, and a very heavy bundle. This bundle was extraordinarily heavy, and I do not to this day know what it was. His manner was not at all the manner I thought suitable for one going, as I supposed he was, as consultant to the peace delegation (since he had been two or three times in that capacity). He was gay and seemed to laugh at everything, whereas, I as you know all that time was in a very heavy mood. Presently I decided to sleep on the upper berth in my half of the coupe, and he decided to do the same in his.
Three sailors came in and sat on the seat below me, and three or four soldiers came into his part of the coupe. The door between was partly closed. About two hours late we started. Then the guard woke me up and asked for my ticket. I had not got a ticket, and he said he had had no instructions about me, and that I must get out. A crowd of soldiers in the corridor backed him up, saying they did not see why a lady should be able to lie down in an upper berth without a ticket, and that they would prefer to lie there themselves instead of standing in the corridor.
At last, however, he was satisfied, and I slept. When I woke in the morning I found that many more had crowded in. There were two sailors sleeping on the floor below me, as well as half a dozen crowded into the lower berth. I could not get down, so I lay there on top, in a terrible mood, until about half past five that day. The soldiers changed their mood during the night, and some of them even took the trouble to bring me some hot water to make tea. We got to Dvinsk that night, and after some waiting went in an automobile to the staff of the fifth army. Colonel Fokke went in and left me in the corridor for a long time. Then we went back to the station and, in a much better train, just an engine and a carriage but a very good carriage went further. It was at this point that Colonel Fokke insisted on showing me his documents. He showed me a permission to go and visit his sister at Riga. I thought it most improper that he should travel to Brest when he was really travelling with such a purpose. I did not want to see his documents but he, perhaps because he was nervous, insisted on showing them.
At midnight we came to the neutral zone. We walked for about two versts, soldiers coming with us, and carrying our ridiculous luggage. Then suddenly there appeared a German officer with a lantern buttoned to the front of his overcoat, his hands in a little muff. He greeted us very abruptly, said we were three hours late, and without the slightest regard for us or for the German soldiers who were now staggering under our baggage (Fokke's big box was particularly awkward to carry) hurried at a great pace. We went on foot another four versts. Then we found sledges waiting for us, simple low sledges like the peasants use. The German officer sat by the driver, Fokke and I side by side behind. For some time there was more sand than snow, and I remember the unpleasant gritting of the runners. There was no moon, but it was fairly light. We came at last to the low building of white logs which they call the Casino of Berchhof. Fokke said that the manner of the Germans had very much changed towards us, and that when negotiations began they had been quite different, and very friendly.
Here we went into a sort of main room. Opposite the door there was a big stove, solidly built, and decorated with three or four little pine trees standing on the top of it. On each side of the stove was a long simple dining table. There was another such table in the corner on the right of the door, and, immediately opposite the stove was a smaller table, specially made for card playing. The walls of the room were ornamented with extremely coarse paintings, all reflecting the same kind of primitive wit. There was, for example, a Russian moujik, with a bottle of vodka, and every German, of course, had his tankard of beer. There were also pictures of women.
In this place we had supper. The German officer became more friendly here, though I did not care to talk with him. Fokke had tried to talk with him all the way. At first he had been unwilling to do anything in a hurry. It appeared that the train from Berchhof did not leave until next morning. The officer asked me if I minded sleeping in a barrack. Of course it was all the same to me where I slept. We went out from the casino, and round several smaller buildings adjoining it, which I think must have been kitchens, and came behind it to the place he called the barrack. It was incredibly clean. The beds in it were made up with clean wood shavings.
He took me to a room opening out of the main barrack, and said that it was his own room and that I could sleep there. He apologised for it, but I was really astonished at it. There was everything anybody could want. A washing stand so arranged that you could pour clean water on yourself from a jug and let the dirty water run away. I wondered how long they had been in this place. It seemed to me that they had fixed themselves up as if they meant to stay there for ever. I am sure no Russian officers take the trouble to arrange for washing so pleasantly. Then there were pictures on the walls, photographs, comfortable chairs, everything as solid and nice as it could be. He said that he would have to lock the door from outside, which he did, but I was too sleepy to have any particular feeling of imprisonment.
I woke in the morning and got up at once. I had just lain down
as I was with my pillow. The officer bid me good morning, and took me into the Casino, where we had tea. It was the most distasteful stuff. Then they put our things on a sledge, and we walked to the station which was quite near. I will not describe the railway journey to Brest. There were two changes, Vilna and Bielostok. We reached Brest at 11 at night, and went at once to barrack No.7 in the fortress, where the Russian delegation was housed. Trotsky laughed, when he saw me. 'When they said that a lady had come, I was sure it must be you, but I do not understand why you have come in the least.' I said I had come because I found it dull without him. Then, of course, I told him how it was that I had come. He told me to talk to Comrade Joffe, because he himself was starting for Warsaw early in the morning, so that I would not see him again.
Then I saw Madam Radek, who was very glad to see me, as I was glad to see her. We talked for a little and I went to bed, and slept. I was tired out.
Next day I went with Radek and Madam Radek and Metzkevitch (a Lithuanian) for a walk in the town. Radek had to get permission from the Commandant, for every purchase he wished to make. This had the most terrible effect upon me. I felt I was going to choke. The town was a dead town. All the houses were broken in some way or other, some with their roofs blown off, others with their walls blown in. Nothing had been done to mend the houses, but the streets had been tidied up, so that there was an oppressive orderliness even in the disorder of the broken town. There were only two or three little shops open, selling necessary things, tobacco and thread, and such things, and then there was a bookstore, over which, of course, Radek spent more time than over all the rest. When he was buying cigarettes, I told him to buy some for me. He told me the permission given him by the Commandant did not allow him to buy any more. It was as if the Germans had hit me a blow in the face. At Brest, for the first time in my life, I really wanted to kill people. While we were walking, we met a party of Russian prisoners. They walked in rags, and a guard of armed Germans walked with them, making a sort of cordon around them. It was a terrible sight. Their prisoners in Russia, as you know, are poorly clad, but their overcoats are overcoats, at least. These poor Russians were clothed anyhow, in rags, hung together to make a pretence of warmth. It was forbidden to speak to the prisoners, but Radek called out to them, and one of them from somewhere in the middle of the party answered him. I do not remember exactly what he said. The impression made on me by the whole scene was so terrible that I hardly noticed their words. I heard Radek speak, and I heard the others reply, but I do not know what they said. So ends these very interesting accounts by Evgenia. Within a very short time after these reports were made, her political views began to change. She wanted a lower profile, and took steps to remove herself from the centre of power. By late 1919 it is doubtful whether she wanted to be associated with the Bolsheviks. Her detachment was complete once she was in Estonia and living with Ransome. An additional snippet of information survives regarding Evgenia and her firearm. It will be remembered that, for the period Evgenia worked at the Smolny, she carried a small handgun. On going into room 67 (Trotsky's office) there were some east-facing windows on the left from the door. The second window had bullet holes through both inner and outer panes. Evgenia broke a telephone and blew a hole in the wall with a bullet when she was playing with her revolver. She had always wondered how the other bullet hole had come to be there. The hole in the inside pane was smaller than in the outside one, so she knew that the bullet had been fired from inside the room. Evgenia was very glad, when she found out that it had been made by Trotsky himself playing with his revolver, and that he knew as little about such things as she did.
RANSOME IN RUSSIA ARTHUR'S ADVENTURES IN EASTERN EUROPE Ted Alexander & Tatiana Verizhnikova