Blair Fraser keeps a rendezvous with Igor Gouzenko
Maclean’s Ottawa editor meets the Russian Embassy clerk who broke a spy ring and has since hidden out under assumed names that only the RCMP knows. While keeping one jump ahead of Kremlin vengeance he has written a novel that may bolster his sagging fortunes
NOT MORE than a dozen people know where Igor Gouzenko lives, or under what name, and I am not one of them. Neither are his publishers, J. M. Dent and Sons (Canada) Ltd., of Toronto. To communicate with Gouzenko they write in care of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Ottawa, who deliver his mail to him by courier.
Ever since Sept. 1945, when the then Russian cipher clerk laid before the RCMP a hundred and nine secret Soviet documents which exposed a Communist spy ring in Canada, Gouzenko has been in hiding—as he will be for the rest of his life. The Soviet secret police have a long arm, and no man living has so grievously affronted them as Igor Gouzenko.
They don’t know it, but he is about to affront them ag.-dn, this time by exposing not what the Kremlin is trying to do in this country but what it is - actually doing at home. Gouzenko has written a three-hundred-thousand-word novel of life inside Soviet Russia. It is probably the only creative work extant which tells what the USSR is like to its own citizens. No one inside Russia could write such a
book and survive. No one else has yet escaped who has had the necessary literary talent. If the book is as successful as Gouzenko’s publishers hope he will swing up to another high point in a roller-coaster career. Eight years ago he was a nobody, an obscure little cipher clerk in the Soviet Embassy who lived with his wife in a small flat in Ottawa. Seven years ago he was world-famous—the man who exposed the Russian espionage system. Six years ago he was rich, having got a small fortune for publication and film rights to a ghost-written book that bore his name. By now he is more than half forgotten and the small fortune a good deal more than half spent.
But the Soviet secret police have not forgotten him. Igor Gouzenko, who broke out of a prisonlike existence in the Russian foreign service to become a citizen of a free country, is not and cannot be as free as his fellow Canadian citizens.
He has lived in six different dwellings during the eight years under at least two false names. His own children do not know their real name and probably never will. Because of the children he cannot now change his identity again. They are ten and eight, too old to be told without explanation
(as they were told a few years ago) that they and Daddy and Mummie all had a new name now. “We don’t like our old name,” their father told them.
Each of Gouzenko’s new identities was chosen with great care. He was supplied with a new country of origin to explain his still heavy foreign accent. In each case it had to be a country from which few immigrants have come to Canada and none at all to the district where Gouzenko was to live. He received not only all the necessary papers —passport, birth certificates for himself and his wife and children—but also a skilfully concocted biography which he memorized. All its details correspond with Gouzenko’s present age, skills, aptitudes and general situation.
Those who know they are meeting Igor Gouzenko are not, of course, told any of his new names. When they are introduced to him, as I was in Toronto a few weeks ago, they meet a Mr. Brown.
Mr. Brown was waiting for us at the home of C. J. Eustace of the Dent publishing firm, but I didn’t know that when I set out. My appointment was with Eustace at his Continued on page 48
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 9
Bloor Street office. Gouzenko came alone from the home of a friend with whom he was staying, and whom Eustace didn’t know. None of us could have traced him once he stepped outside Eustace’s door.
I shook hands with a short stocky fair-haired man who, in spite of a receding hairline, looked rather younger than his thirty-four years. He wore a light grey suit of ultramodern cut— wide padded shoulders, long jacket— which accentuated his short square build. Though he apparently lives a sedentary life he looks like a man in good physical shape.
On the floor beside him was a suitcase full of large brown-paper packages. These turned out to be the manuscript of the new book, The Fall of a Titan— a novel of modern Soviet Russia which runs to more than eleven hundred manuscript pages. Gouzenko has been working on it for four years. He had brought with him great chunks of the original manuscript, written in Russian longhand on foolscap pages; also various drafts of the translation done by his old friend, Special Constable Mervyn Black of the RCMP.
When the introductions were over “Mr. Brown” went back to what he had been doing when we came in squatting on his heels in a well-lighted spot to display some of his wife’s paintings. One that he particularly liked was a bright red maple overhanging a quiet brook.
I suggested we might use it as an illustration for this article, but Gouzenko shook his head. Too risky, he said. The scene was commonplace enough but several dozen people would be able to recognize it as a corner of a certain pasture in rural Canada.
Did he paint too? I asked.
“I paint in my spare time. I like to paint portraits of my RCMP guards; they have plenty of time to pose for me. Maybe some time it’ll be possible to have an exhibition of these portraits. Incidentally, my neighbors don’t know I can paint. I keep this secret — it is an identifying clue.” (Gouzenko studied architecture in Moscow before he got his wartime job as cipher clerk.)
He showed me a loose-leaf sketchbook full of portraits done in pencil. I didn’t know any of the subjects, but the drawing looked good. One was of Inspector Herbert Spanton, who’d been in charge of his security in the early days; Gouzenko tore it out, autographed it, and gave it to me as a souvenir.
Speaking of guards (he still has one most of the time, posing as chauffeur or handyman), what kind of life had he led during his eight years of qualified freedom?
Gouzenko shrugged. A good life; he was used to its restrictions and didn’t mind them. As the conversation went on it appeared that his brief career as a Canadian had been even more remarkable and unusual than most people supposed.
When the Gouzenkos fled from their Somerset Street apartment in Ottawa on Sept. 5, 1945, they were quite destitute. Neither had anything but the clothes they stood in, and to complicate matters Anna Gouzenko was pregnant and rapidly outgrew her one dress. Those were the days of acute shortages when a man had to he a war veteran to be sure of getting a new suit of clothes. The RCMP had to concoct an elaborate story about a veteran whose house had burned down and left him practically naked in order
to buy complete new outfits for Gouzenko and his wife.
At first they lived in complete charge of the government and the RCMP, first at a Mountie’s summer cottage and later in military camps. That was when Gouzenko was the star witness in the spy trials which resulted in the conviction of eleven men and women and finally alerted the West to the huge and menacing proportions of Russia’s “attack from within.” But long before the trials were completed Gouzenko passed from dire poverty to comparative wealth. By April 1947 he had completed the last of a series of transactions through which his book, This Was My Choice, brought him a total of almost one hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
Cosmopolitan magazine paid him fifty thousand for serial rights. Twentieth Century-Fox paid seventy-five thousand for the movie rights. The book itself paid fairly well in royalties. Gouzenko was rich beyond the wildest dreams of a Russian cipher clerk. The man who in his first days in Ottawa had gone out and bought five pounds of grapes—“much much more than we could eat”—because he had never before been able to buy all the grapes he wanted, now found himself able to buy anything he wanted, absolutely anything.
Gouzenko didn’t say so, but from the rather wistful way he spoke about his new hook and the money it might earn I gathered that he has spent most if not all of his small fortune in the past six years. He still lives in a beautiful house and drives a better-than-average
KNOW HER ?
She telephoned the other day Her voice was honey-sweet. And generally she’s such a snob
It swept me off my feet.
She flattered me adroitly— . I was purring like a kitty And I wound up as the chairman
Of a very dull committee.
car but he no longer talks like a man with no financial worries.
What did he do with this sudden windfall of wealth?
“My first impulse was to give everybody presents. 1 was happy. I didn’t realize how much a hundred and fifty thousand dollars was but I knew it was a lot.
“1 myself never had any toys when 1 was a child. Some children had, even in Russia, hut we were poor even by Soviet standards. My mother was a teacher and teachers get very low pay. At one time we lived in a single room with seven other people.
“So first 1 bought lots of toys for the children, every kind. That first Christmas after we got the money the house was filled up with them.
“1 bought a record player, the very best, and lots and lots of records. One album 1 bought, what they called a limited edition, only a few copies were ever made. It cost twenty-five dollars. 1 remember how horrified our RCMP guard was at such a price for an album of records.
“Then I bought a nice house in the country. I don’t like cities. Anyway, Canadian cities are not very big and in Canada the country has almost everything the city has to offer and a lot more besides. We have owned three different
houses now, always in the country.
“We bought a car at the same time as we bought the house.”
What sort of car? An ordinary cheap one, or an expensive make?
“It was a little above average price. I thought it was safer,” Gouzenko began. Then he stopped and grinned, evidently realizing that he was talking nonsense.
“I guess it is mostly I like big cars,” be said. “You can always find a good j excuse for doing what you want. We have changed cars several times, the more changes the better. When we bought our second house four years ago and changed our name and everything, the RCMP were very clever at getting us new license plates.”
At this point we all went in to lunch and the conversation became general. Among other things we talked about the trial and execution of the Rosenbergs, the man and wife in the United States who had given atomic secrets to Soviet Russia. I asked Gouzenko what he thought of the case. To my surprise he was very much against the Rosenberg trial, thought it had been very badly handled.
What alarmed him was not the verdict of guilty or even the sentence of death but the fact that some of the evidence was not made public.
“Once you start convicting people on secret evidence where will it end? What’s to stop them from shooting anybody at all and putting it down to security reasons?
“A democracy must not use the methods of a dictatorship, just as a dictatorship cannot use the methods of a democracy. Soviet Russia is finding that out right now in the satellite countries. They try to give a little freedom, a little relaxation of tyranny, and what happens? Riots and rebellions break out. Dictatorships cannot afford freedom.
“But democracies can’t afford not to have it—all the protections of law for everybody. When things happen like the Rosenberg trial they are too hard to explain to outsiders. For one thing the Rosenberg trial might discourage people like myself who might be willing to help you by coming over to your side. They look at things like taking evidence in secret and they naturally wonder what is the difference between a free democracy and a dictatorship.”
After lunch 1 asked Gouzenko whether he himself still lived in fear of discovery and revenge, or whether he now felt safe.
“In the beginning we were very suspicious of everything and everybody. Fear has big eyes, you know. At the very first we were afraid the Canadian government might give us back to the Russians—they didn’t seem to know what to do with us.
“My wife was quite calm even then, though. She is a remarkable woman — she ought to have been a man,” said Gouzenko, evidently intending a high compliment.
“Nowadays we don’t feel frightened. The best rule is, always be on the alert but don’t get panicky when danger threatens.”
Didn’t they ever get into unexpected situations? Suppose, for example, some neighbor had a guest who really came from the country Gouzenko now pretends to have come from and suppose the neighbor asked the Gouzenkos over to tea?
“All 1 can say is, fortunately that has never happened.”
But if they felt so safe now why had they moved so often? Why had they bought three different houses in six years?
“No special reason. We didn’t feel in any particular danger. Partly it was just to have a better house, better
location. Also, on the general principle that it’s better not to stay too long in one place. The real danger is always the thing you don’t see. People will notice something and you won’t even know it.
“So—we moved. If I could afford it I would move even oftener.”
Gouzenko said he hadn’t lost money on his various houses. He always sold them for a hit more than he paid, hut as he talked I began to get a picture of what had happened to the hundred and fifty thousand dollars. He mentioned buying a farm which he still owns, “which brings in some profit hut not much”; he gave no indication of any other investment of any kind. Evi-
dently he had lived on his capital at a pretty high rate.
What did he do for vacations? Travel at all?
“We have traveled around quite a bit in Canada. The longest trip was a motor tour to Niagara Ealls, the whole family. I do not go to the United States. There might he some mix-up about my documents, or I might have my picture taken. I am very careful about pictures—you are the first man who has seen snapshots of my house and my wife and children. About crossing the U. S. border, I feel ‘Don’t ask for trouble.’ The feeling that I can go if I want to is enough. Maybe if 1 were forbidden I might fight like hell to go—I am also quite stubborn at times.”
How did he spend his time after the first hook was published and the money rolled in?
“No special routine. I can force myself to work very hard and long when I want to, hut then I wanted to relax. I would get up at nine or ten o’clock. You can say I was sometimes very lazy. 1 might play some records or help my wife in the garden or maybe go to a movie.
“Then I would jot down ideas for the hook. I was already intending to write as my life work. I would also read the papers, Canadian papers mostly but for a time I also read the Moscow newspaper Pravda very carefully.
“It is quite surprising what you find in Pravda from time to time. One of the most horrible stories in my hook came right out of Pravda, except that I watered it down. I didn’t think Canadian readers would believe the things Pravda described. Pravda told abouf workers in a chemical explosive plan! and how the fumes made them ill. 1( told how workers lay there in a fever for days, unable to move, and nobody paid any attention. They put these things in Pravda to make the workers in ordinary plants think at least they are not as badly off as that. It makes them more content with their own working conditions.”
We began to talk about the book, which was what Gouzenko had wanted to talk about in the first place. He is pinning tremendous hopes on it. “I worked on it four years. The first book, This Was My Choice, I wrote in only four months. Six hundred manuscript pages, in Russian I didn’t pay any attention to style or anything like that. At the top of a page I would put some topic, and then I would write the page on that topic. Mervyn Black (an RCMP officer born in Russia of Scottish parents) translated it for me— it’s a wonder he didn’t ruin his eyesight trying to read my writing. 1 used to write it lying on my stomach under a tree. Everybody else would go swimming; 1 would force myself to stay behind and work.” Actually what Gouzenko wrote was the factual material for the book, a sheaf of memoranda. This Was My Choice was ghost-written. It is a third-rate piece of work. Even though ¡ I knew Gouzenko hadn’t written the first one 1 expected his new book to be of similar quality. On the day of our interview, five hundred pages of the final draft had been typed. I took them with me to read overnight, making an appointment for the following morning at the same place, same time. As we drove downtown Margaret ! Blackstoek, who has edited the Gouzenko novel for Dent’s, said “When you make an appointment with Mr. Brown he never keeps it. He never comes at the time you set, he comes either earlier or later and often he changes the place.” So 1 was not surprised when she telephoned later to say Mr. Brown couldn’t come in the morning, hut we’d spend the evening together at a different place. The postponement gave me time to read all the five hundred pages of manuscript. To my astonishment it turned out to be an excellent piece of work. In the ghost-written This Was My Choice, real characters including Gouzenko himself look and sound like wooden puppets. In The Fall of a Titan, imaginary characters (and some real ones too, but in imagined situations) have the very breath and warmth of life. It is the story of the last years of Maxim Gorky, the great Russian novelist who died three years after his return to the Soviet Union in 1933. Gorky was later said to have been murdered by his doctors and many people were executed for this crime in the purge trials of 1937. Gouzenko examines the mystery of Gorky’s life and of his death why such a man could have been an advocate and defender of the Stalinist regime; how and why he came to change his mind and fall silent; how and why he had to he killed in the end by the Soviet secret police. In Gouzenko’s book Gorky is called Mikhail Gorin, a Russian word meaning “mountain.” Several other characters also appear under equally thin disguises“Veria” for Lavrenti Beria, the deposed chief of the secret police, and several other less famous characters. Stalin appears as himself; his interview with Beria at an early stage in the MVD chief’s career is a memorable passage. But though Gorky’s life and death IS YOUR SUBSCRIPTION DUE?
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provide the core and central theme for the novel Gouzenko’s stage is broad and his cast of characters large. Three or four whole families are represented, as well as a dozen or more minor characters.
This is the only novel extant of present-day Soviet Russia as it really is. Obviously, no one inside Russia could write it and no escapee so far has been able to paint such a large canvas full of such patently human, though sadly warped, characters.
When 1 finally met “Mr. Brown” the following evening and we went off to dinner together with his editor the talk was again of the book—how it had been written, what it tried to portray, which characters were real and which imaginary. This time there was no element of ghost-writing. Gouzenko had read every line of every draft of the translations and sent back voluminous corrections of his own.
In the course of a leisurely dinner, though, we talked of many things. Canadian politics, for one.
“I don’t take a very active part in politics, except of course to vote,” said Gouzenko, who has been a Canadian citizen since Sept. 1948. “I do think we should have stronger Opposition. Opposition should be strong and vigilant. I have seen the one-party system at first hand and this makes me think no party should have too big a majority. Keep government answerable for every step.
“Press, also, must be absolutely free and fearless. Must not be afraid to print bad things about government.”
He thought George Drew had made a mistake in accepting, as leader of the Opposition, a privy councilorship at the recommendation of a Liberal prime minister. “He’d be a privy councilor if he got to be prime minister himself, wouldn’t he? Why does he take favors from the other party?”
I asked what he thought of the economic system in Canada, and of course he said he liked it. Gouzenko is a free-enterprise man: “People in Russia are kept working under the most horrible conditions by the fear of punishment or exile to concentration camps. Here in Canada much better results are achieved by competition— and all this without fear or pain. Without competition there can only be concentration camps.”
Our Children Are So Polite
This was the attitude I’d expected, but 1 was surprised by his opinion of advertising. Despite his contempt for the radio soap opera and similar extreme cases, Gouzenko thinks advertising is “undoubtedly one of the greatest inventions of modern society. It keeps people abreast of the times and teaches them how to improve their lives. Things which were before mostly available only to city people are now known and available to farmers, thanks to advertising. The purpose and effect of advertising overshadows any faults that result from it by bad taste or the dishonesty of some people.”
Both Gouzenko’s children are now in school, and the elder has attended school in two different districts. I asked Gouzenko what he thought of Canadian education and how it compared with the Russian.
His answer astonished me: “I am most impressed by the discipline in Canadian schools. They are so quiet. In Russia the schoolroom is as noisy as a bear garden. Here the children are so polite to their parents and teachers. It is amazing.
“I think this is self-discipline; not from any particular training but because life is so much easier here. In Russia children are first of all hungry —
that makes them nervous and irritable. Then there is always a feeling of strain. Maybe the father is in danger of arrest or in trouble at his work—serious trouble, not trivial as it would be here. These things are all reflected in the behavior of the children.”
Did Canadian children have more fun than Russian children?
“Play is about the same. There is more emphasis on gamés~'iTére, not so much on military training. In Russia the military games start young and are very realistic. In army play the children even peel potatoes as a punishment.”
Didn’t he have any criticism of Canadian schools?
“No, not serious criticism. My children like school. In the lower grades
where they are I can see no serious faults.
“In the higher grades, what I have seen of them, I have the impression the teaching of some subjects is somewhat limited in outlook and perhaps even old-fashioned. Languages, for instance. In Soviet schools we learn English, German and French from the fourth grade. During the war it was useful to thousands of Russians to have even the limited knowledge of German that we got in school. In Canadian schools they teach Latin. That seems to me oldfashioned and of limited use.”
One question I put with great curiosity: Had he acquired any religious beliefs or affiliation since he came to Canada? And if so, after a childhood under an atheistic regime, what impression did Canadian churches make on him?
“My children go to Sunday school like other children,” Gouzenko said. “As for me, my neighbors go as often as I do—which is to say, not much. This does not seem very important.
“The first time I went to church it was very hard for me to grasp. I went quite often in the first years, though, and finally found some interest in it.
“Basically it must be good. It is preaching love—in Russia the basic thing that is taught is class hatred. It is better to preach love, preach what is good even if we do not always do what is good when we grow up. Better at least than to preach what is bad.”
All through these two long conversations nobody had called Gouzenko by name. We spoke of him and to him as “Mr. Brown.” As we parted on that second evening, I said:
“Well, good-by. It’s a pleasure to have met you, Mr. Gouzenko.”
He looked up with an odd expression, startled and also wistful.
“It is a long time since I have heard anyone call me by my name,” he said. We shook hands, and I left. ir
52 MACLEAN’S MAGAZINE, SEPTEMBER 1, 1953