Ch 45. The Accuser
When Jesus Josephovich finished his speech to the crowd, two rough-looking old veterans came up to him and interrupted. The two old men didn’t know each other, and they were irritated that each had tried to steal Jesus Josephovich’s attention at the same time.
“You must help me,” the first man in an old military jacket said. “I am the worst of sinners. I was a guard in the Soviet prison work camps. I have seen and done things that would make most men weep. You must help me understand why God gave me such a life.”
The other old man, even more ragged and wretched looking, interrupted with a morbid laugh. “A prison guard hurts men he doesn’t know. But what is the fate of a man who betrays his only friends?”
“Tell me your story,” Jesus Josephovich requested. The old Soviet prison guard folded his arms gruffly as the veteran spoke.
“I was in the Soviet Army,” the wretched old soldier began. “I was only 18 years old and I didn’t have many friends. Everything was very serious for me, and I was always afraid of making a mistake. I was surrounded by men, but I felt like a boy.
“I made some friends with the other recruits. One of them was of German descent. His name was Hans Krauser. He was a strong, healthy, blond haired, blue eyed German boy from Western Ukraine. His father had settled in Ukraine after the Great War and started a farm.
“He loved to laugh and tell jokes and talk about his German roots. He was always teaching us words in German, but I only remembered, “Das is fantastiche!” and I would say it every time he tried to teach me a new German phrase. He wasn’t afraid of anyone and he talked to everyone who would listen to him. I think that’s why we became friends. He liked to talk, and I liked to listen.
“Unfortunately, he talked a little too much, and he talked to people who weren’t very trusting of his German roots. He would often joke about the KGB, saying that if they tried to do anything to him, Hitler would come back from the dead and defeat the Soviet Union in order to release him. He had an arrogance that made him seem nearly invincible, as if his German roots set him apart from all of us lowly Slavs, and his confidence almost made you believe it.
“Then one day he made a mistake. He had always been careful with his jokes, making them ridiculous enough that they couldn’t be interpreted as anti-Soviet. But one day, when talking about life on the farm in Ukraine, some soliders started debating farming techniques.
“Of course, Hans described in great detail how much more productive German farming methods were than the old fashioned Ukrainian methods, and how his father’s farm was the most productive farm in their region. A Moldovan and a Georgian recruit got in a heated debate with him, and at the end of the argument he believed his point had been proven and he shouted, a little too loudly, that “If Hitler had won, the Soviet Union wouldn’t have so many food shortages.”
“The moment he said it he knew he had made a mistake. According to the Soviet government, there were no food shortages. In fact, we were told every day in news stories and films that the Soviet people were the most productive, hard working people in the world, and that one Soviet worker could produce as much as ten impoverished, underpaid Capitalist workers. It was unthinkable and unmentionable that the Soviet Union could have shortages of food.
“The other men became very quiet and we noticed some of the older soldiers giving each other suspicious looks. He tried to laugh about it and make another joke about Hitler coming back from the dead and drinking some vodka with Lenin, but nothing could remove the discomfort of the statement.
“The next day a KGB major walked down our lines and called me by name out of the formation. I had never seen the major before and there were ten thousand soldiers in our base, so I was shocked when I heard him say my name.
“I followed him into a small room with no windows. The room was dark and decrepit and it smelled like sweat and blood. The KGB officer placed a piece of paper and a pen on the table in front of me. Then he took out another piece of paper and began reading from it. It was the names and addresses of my family members and relatives.
“When he finished he looked me in the eye and gave me an impossible choice. “You will write what I tell you to write about a traitor to the Communist Party or you will go to prison.”
“I was in shock. I had never done anything wrong in my life, I had always been careful never to say anything negative about the Communist Party, and yet here I was about to be imprisoned and probably sent to a work camp, from which no one had ever returned. I couldn’t understand why.
“What do you want me to write?” I asked.
“Write exactly what I tell you to write,” he ordered. “I hereby declare that I have witnessed Private Hans Krauser engaging in anti-Communist behaviour.”
“When I heard my friend’s name I froze. The KGB major began dictating a confusing, legal style confession about spreading pro-fascist and anti-Communist propaganda, all of which was false, and even accused Krauser of trying to recruit soldiers for a secret German military operation. I couldn’t bring myself to write the lies he was saying. He noticed that I had stopped writing and he slammed his fist on the table.
“Okay,” he said ferociously. “If you don’t want to write, then you get to go to prison. You and – ” he picked up the piece of paper with the names of my family members on it and was about to read a name when I shouted.
“I’ll write. I’ll write.” I began writing every false thing that the KGB major said about my best friend, Hans Krauser. I didn’t know what else to do.
“When I finished I was in a panic. I couldn’t eat or sleep for two days, and I couldn’t talk to Hans. I wanted to tell him, to warn him, but my actions were no longer under my control. I knew then what it meant to be a puppet. Another man’s hands were moving my helpless body through the strings of fear.
“Weeks passed and nothing happened. Eventually I began to relax and I thought that everything might be alright. Perhaps it was just a test to see if I was loyal. They knew the accusations against Hans were false. Why would they take him to prison? He was an excellent soldier.
“Then one day we went to line-up and Hans was not there. I looked for him in the cafeteria and in the barracks, but he wasn’t anywhere to be found. He had disappeared and no one would talk about him. It was as if he had never existed.
“I was furious and frightened. Had my fearful compliance sent him to his death in a Siberian work camp? I would never know.
“Then I noticed one of the older soldiers, an arrogant Russian who was trying to join the KGB academy. He grinned at me wickedly. I saw in his eyes that he was the accuser. He had told the KGB major about Hans and me. He had given the KGB all the details that they had forced me to dictate. He had made me a false witness against my friend in order to bolster his progress up the KGB ranks.
“He was the worst kind of KGB agent. The consummate deceiver with a career built on innocent blood. There were many like him, but I had been fortunate enough to avoid people like him until then. Now his callousness had stained my hands.
“I wanted to murder him, to strangle the life out of him for what he had done to Hans and what he had made me do to my friend. But I already felt too much guilt. I couldn’t dirty my hands any more. My mind was incapable of fighting. I was an empty shell. My spirit had left with Hans.
“Later, the KGB asked me to accuse another man, and I told them no. I was so angry that I told them I would never help them again and that I would support any foreign group that was against them. They simply laughed and let me go with a pat on the back. It was a game to them. Our lives were pawns on a chessboard in a stalemate. There were no winners, only losers.
“When I finished my time in the army I returned to Ukraine and found Hans’ farm. I told his family that we had been friends in the army and that he had told me all about his family. He had a young wife and a baby son, and I almost cried every time I saw them, but I continued visiting the farm out of a feeling of duty to Hans.
“I found a job near them and I sent money to Hans’ wife and son every month. When they asked me why I was helping them, I told them that Hans had saved my life and that I had promised to repay him. I never told them what really happened.
“Eventually I married his wife and adopted his son. I took care of them and Hans’ father and mother when they got too old to work their farm. But even though I spent my whole life taking care of his family, I still felt guilty every day. A hole burned through my heart that never went away. Every time I felt happy, I thought that this should have been a moment for Hans to enjoy, and I would feel even more guilt.
“I have been dead inside for more years than I remember, living another man’s life. I guess I’m still a puppet. Still controlled by fear, unable to do what I want to do, what I need to do, because I am afraid of what will happen to me if I tell the truth.
“But look what has happened to me,” the bitter veteran spat. “By trying to save my life, I have lost it. By protecting myself, I have lost myself. I am not a man.”
Suddenly the old prison guard grabbed the storyteller with tears running down his face.
“I knew a man named Hans Krauser,” the prison guard shouted. “He lived longer than most did in the work camps. He was a good fellow. He made life more enjoyable for everyone. He made the dead men feel alive for a few moments each day.”
The veteran’s eyes opened wide in shock.
“Before he died he told me that he had only one wish in life, and that it was for his family,” the prison guard continued. “His wish was that somehow, someone would take care of his wife and son. He didn’t know how, but he prayed every day that God would find a way to provide for them. I don’t mean to say something out of place, but it sounds like your guilty conscience was exactly what he was praying for.”
Jesus Josephovich put his hand on the veteran’s shoulder. “Be free from your guilt. It has served its purpose. God has granted your wish. You are forgiven. Now you must serve a greater purpose.”
The old man’s eyes filled with bitter-sweet tears. He silently shook and sobbed as the feeling of guilt left him and was replaced with a sense of gratitude for all the good that he had been able to do in his life. He was filled with an indescribable peace and a feeling like pure light radiated from within, a painful joy.
The old veteran suddenly understood that Hans would have been imprisoned even if he hadn’t cooperated, and he saw that his guilt had allowed him to answer Hans’ prayer to take care of his family. It was all clear now. God had used his life.
He was not the curse. He was the blessing.