A Man of Legend.
(From Kholm Slavy. (The Hill of Glory). By G.N. Rokotov. Izdatel'stvo "Kamenyar" L'vov, 1965. Third edition with changes, 1972. Page 35-44. The "Hill of Glory" in the city of L'vov [Lviv, Lemberg] in the Ukraine is a large war cemetery.)
It may be that the places connected with legendary Soviet spy Nikolai Ivanovich Kuznetsov's time in the L'vov region have already been researched forwards and backwards. The efforts of famed Medvedev partisan N.V. Strutinskii and his comrades in arms long ago raised the curtain over how N.I. Kuznetsov perished, heroically yet in secret. The L'vov period of his activities have been described in detail in a series of documented reports and stories, as well as in newspaper articles. Several years ago there appeared on the country's movie screens the two-part serial film "The Strong in Spirit" ["Sil'nye dukhom"], produced by the Sverdlovsk film studio But the more said about this glorious son of the Urals, the wider grows the circle of people wishing to see with their own eyes those locations where he actually spent the last minutes of his life, and meet his comrades in arms.
It may be said without exaggeration that not one of the tourist excursions visiting L'vov after 1960 failed to take advantage of the opportunity to visit the Hill of Glory, where the remains of N.I. Kuznetsov rest. Moreover, thousands of tourists from all corners of the Soviet Union travel to L'vov in order to become especially acquainted with the "Kuznetsov places" and honor his memory.
Aware of such a great interest in the fate of N.I. Kuznetsov, the council of the Hill of Glory's memorial museum and a young tourists' club decided to retrace the route L'vov-Kurovichi-Boratin with tape recorder and still and motion-picture cameras. In fact, each new expedition, even along the well-known route, stirs up interesting finds and encounters, awakens new thoughts.
Here is how the pages of the life of Hero of the Soviet Union N.I. Kuznetsov come to life in the eyes of the young researchers.
On a January morning in 1944 a grey Fiat automobile approached the control point at Podzamche. The officer sitting in the rear let down the window and held out identification in the name of Hauptman Paul Zibert. After examining this, the sentry at the check point silently raised his hand in a salute to the officer and raised the barrier. The car moved forward. Thus began the L'vov period of the life and activities of Medvedev partisan Kuznetsov/Grachev/Zibert and his fellow agents Jan Kaminski and Ivan Belov. The alias of Nikolai Vasil'evich Grachev was given to Kuznetsov back when he was included among personnel intended for missions in the enemy rear. Then in the group headed by Cheka Colonel D.N. Medvedev, Grachev became Oberleutnant Paul Zibert. Later D.N. Medvedev "promoted" him to Hauptman [captain].
As is well known, after the battle of the Kursk salient Hitler's Germany was forced to decisively yield the strategic initiative to the Soviet Army. A massive liberation began of Soviet territory temporarily occupied by the fascists. Towards the end of 1943 the onrushing forces of the 1st Ukrainian Front began to roll over the provinces of the Ukraine that were the basis for a Reichskommissariat headed by chief hangman Gauleiter Erich Koch. His residency, the city of Rovno, was directly threatened, so the fascist administration decided to relocate to L'vov.
Colonel Medvedev received his agents' reports of the Nazi intentions and sent Kuznetsov's group to L'vov.
Judging from documents of the L'vov Gestapo and field gendarmerie, the first important objective that Captain Paul Zibert turned his attention to was the headquarters of a major air force unit. It was located on Walowstrasse 11a (now Valovaya Street 13). As declared in the report by the head of the field gendarmerie, in this building at 1730 hours on 31 January 1944 the chief-of-staff, Luftwaffe Lieutenant Colonel Hans Peters, was killed when he tried to establish the identity and purpose of "an unknown Hauptman who had penetrated the headquarters premises without a pass." Upon exiting the premises the "unknown Hauptman" killed with a single pistol shot one more member of the headquarters, Corporal Zeidel, who was standing guard in the vestibule.
Photo: Building on Valovaya Street, No. 13, in L'vov, where on 31 January 1944 N.I. Kuznetsov killed Nazi Lt. Col. Peters.
These are the first notes in the notebooks of the young researchers, and then the front of the building on Valovaya, number 13, appears on the film. Then, more objects
The building of the L'vov opera and ballet theater. On 8 February 1944 there took place here an important meeting of the German administration of the "Galicia" district. Paul Zibert found out about this before hand and took all measures to penetrate the theater. This meeting put into the hands of our spy information that would be hard to overvalue. But, true to his principle of extracting from every situation the maximum utility, Paul Zibert decided to find the living quarters of the governor-general of the Galicia district, one Wechter, and through him carry out an act of revenge. On leaving the theater, Zibert waited while the governor-general got into his car and then ordered Ivan Belov to follow it.
The black Opel Admiral carried Paul Zibert and his helpers to house No. 5 on Leitenstrasse (now Ivan Franko Street). For Paul Zibert there was no great difficulty in finding out from the driver who the owner of his car was. It turned out that this was Vice-Governor SS General Bauer. "Herr Hauptman may deliver his report to the general tomorrow morning at a quarter to eight," said the talkative driver to Zibert as he accepted a proffered cigarette.
On 10 February 1944 all newspapers in the Galicia district came out with a lengthy obituary.
We will acquaint the members of our excursion with the contents of Report No. 96 from director Kraus of the L'vov criminal police: "At approximately 7:45 on 9 February 1944 in L'vov in front of a vacant lot at 5 Leitenstrasse, there was carried out an attempt by a person as yet unknown upon the lives of Vice-Governor Bauer and Doctor Schneider Both were mortally wounded in the chest and stomach and immediately died The suspicion arises that the unknown assassin had already used this weapon in several attempts on the lives of Reich Germans and other persons occupying responsible positions in German service "
The German criminal police, apparently, were already finding a connection between the events that had recently occurred in Rovno and those now happening in L'vov.
For 48 hours the daring spies hid in one of the conspirator's apartments while the streets swarmed with Gestapo, gendarmerie, and security men. Arrests and roundups took place day and night.
At dawn on 12 February 1944 a grey Fiat overlaid with frontline camouflage entered Vinnikovskoe Boulevard: Paul Zibert was hurrying to the Ganachivsk forest where in an agreed-upon place Krutikov's group was supposed to be waiting for him with communications equipment. For him, radio contact with Medvedev was as necessary as breathing. And in fact the extremely valuable information acquired at the meeting in the opera theater sat unexploited in the pocket of his tunic, eating at him and not giving him a moment's rest.
We will now follow the route of the grey Fiat. Twenty-five years separate us from that February morning, but we imagine in detail the situation in which Paul Zibert found himself.
The car, confidently driven by Ivan Belov, maintained a speed of about 100 kilometers per hour. Taking a risk, but sitting alongside, was Nikolai Ivanovich Kuznetsov peering through the windshield, calmly giving brief comments and instructions. In the back seat was Jan Kaminski, observing the highway through the rear window. Onward to the Ganachivsk forest!
But Nikolai Ivanovich Kuznetsov, separated from his group and deprived of radio contact with them, could not know that Valentina Dovger had already been arrested in Rovno, and from her the Gestapo was trying to find out where her fiancé Hauptman Paul Zibert had disappeared to. Also completely unknown to Nikolai Ivanovich was the fact that already on 27 January Krutikov's band on approaching the Ganach forest had run into German collaborators
We now go towards Kurovichi, where on 12 February 1944 there was a clash between Soviet agents with Gestapo personnel laying in wait for them. We halt near a bridge over a stream that crossed the highway. We begin by searching for people who might be able to tell what happened at this bridge in 1944. This task is greatly facilitated by fellow traveler Konstantin Rodionovich Karpenchuk, who by a chance coincidence was on that memorable day passing through Kurovichi to L'vov and just missed falling into the clutches of the gendarmerie.
Our young researchers spread out in small groups through the settlement looking for persons who had heard anything about the events in Kurovichi. Their endeavors were crowned with success. A man was even found who with his own eyes saw how on 12 February 1944 the Gestapo tried to detain the automobile but with bullets snapping past, it swerved off the highway to the right and disappeared behind some huts. This person was Oleksa Oniskovich Vitrik, a miller from Zolochev. At the time he lived in Kurovichi and on that morning was returning from his brother's nearby. He well remembers that after an exchange of gunshots several motorcyclists tore off in pursuit while soldiers carried off the bodies of the dead into a schoolhouse in which was located the gendarmerie post, leaving a bloody trail in the snow. Vitrik was then just able to hurry over the bridge. He also remembers that many vehicles were backed up on both ends of the bridge. The drivers began to signal for the barrier to be raised and the freezing air was filled with the discordant blare of klaxons.
Among the passengers of the cars halted by the barrier was K.P. Karpenchuk. He showed the members of our expedition the place where he encountered a grey car with frontline camouflage that was traveling at a very high speed. Konstantin Rodionovich was traveling at the time on personal business from Zolochev to L'vov. For a half-liter of moonshine and a hunk of suet an Austrian driver going to L'vov allowed him to sit in the cab of his flatbed truck.
Karpenchuk saw a Fiat flash by on the left but did not assign any significance to this and did not even reply to his driver's ironical remark, "Mr. Aryan is hurrying to the front." There were few military vehicles on the frontline roads. But when they approached Kurovichi and saw the pools of blood on the asphalt, Karpenchuk understood that the Fiat had not been going at such a breakneck speed for no reason. Putting this together with published information, K.R. Karpenchuk now came to the firm conclusion that he had seen the car of Paul Zibert.
For some of the members of our expedition who had seen the film "The Strong in Spirit," there was doubt as to the veracity of Vitrik's and Karpenchuk's stories. According to the movie, Zibert-Kuznetsov got out of the car at Kurovichi and engaged in battle with the Gestapo. Then, firing an automatic weapon, he went off into the woods. What in fact really happened?
Police Major Canter was in Kurovichi, and not by chance. He had received an order to close this highway so as not to let Hauptman Paul Zibert and his fellow travelers through to the front line, which he endeavored to do on 12 February 1944. Zibert-Kuznetsov was sitting next to Ivan Belov, who drove the car. Approaching Kurovichi, our spies saw that the barrier closing the road and alongside was a traffic regulator signaling with a flag where vehicles had to stop. Checking documents was a normal occurrence near the front, so this did not cause any special apprehension for the spies. However, Ivan Belov stopped the car so that it would be able to easily turn onto the winter road that in all probability served as a bypass while the bridge was being repaired.
The police major approached the car, and this immediately put Kuznetsov and his comrades on alert, as usually enlisted lower ranks were on duty at check points to examine documents, but here was a senior officer. As subsequent events showed, a spy's instinct was not leading Kuznetsov astray. The police major was in fact waiting for Hauptman Paul Zibert. On reading this name on the identification papers that were presented to him from the open car door, he demanded that Herr Hauptman get out of the car and follow him to the guard post "to fill out a pass for the frontline zone." It was clear to Kuznetsov that he had to take decisive measures. With a practiced movement he whipped out his pistol and shot the major without aiming. The large-caliber bullet did its business. The major fell to the asphalt. Almost simultaneously with Kuznetsov's shot, Kaminski let out a long burst from his automatic into the policemen on duty at the barrier. Belov stepped on the accelerator and the car, tearing off the bridge, bounced onto the winter road. All this happened so quickly that the motorcyclists that darted out at the sound of firing tore off in the direction of L'vov. Meanwhile the Fiat with frontline camouflage, having gone around Kurovichi on the winter road, once again got onto the highway, where it was seen by K.R. Karpenchuk. But the Fiat did not speed along the highway for long, but only to the sign for Ganachiv. The Fiat covered 4 kilometers along this road and then stopped. Three men in the uniforms of Wehrmacht servicemen got out. They pushed the car into a ravine and then set off directly across the snow toward the woods.
Our young researchers stopped at the place where the "forest" stage of the Paul Zibert expedition begins, and decided to drive directly to Boratin where, according to Nikolai Vladimirovich Strutinskii, on the night of 8/9 March 1944 the life of Nikolai Ivanovich Kuznetsov was tragically cut short.
The edge of the village of Boratin. The hut of Stepan Vasil'evich Golubovich. The owner, upon being informed that we are collecting material for the Hill of Glory museum, told us everything that he remembered.
The members of the expedition did not put before themselves the mission of verifying the version of the deaths of Kuznetsov-Zibert and his comrades-in-arms Ivan Belov and Jan Kaminski that was penned by N.V. Strutinskii. There are interesting details that can be acquired by speaking with Stepan Vasil'evich Golubovich and Teklya Pavlovna Golubovich, the only surviving witnesses of the drama that played out a quarter of a century ago.
"It was already late, about 11 o'clock, when our dog began to bark and we heard a knock at the window in the entryway," says Stepan Vasil'evich unhurriedly. And Teklya Pavlovna, nodding her head, silently confirms his words. "We were already drowsing. My wife jumped up, threw on her jacket and went to the window. 'Germans!' she announced in a low voice. Now, I'm thinking, some foul wind brought them. 'Open up,' I say, 'or something bad will happen.' My wife opened the door and let the uninvited guests into our house. She lit the coal stove. I pretended to be ill. I'm lying down, with the blanket over my head, and through a tiny slit observe what they're doing in the hut. Strange Germans rumpled, dirty, not shouting They explain in friendly way that they were freezing and asked for something to eat. My wife is quick witted. Right away she put them at the table and food before them. They ate and thrust money into her hands Then the police barged in About twenty men wedged themselves into a room three meters by five. The policemen demanded that the Germans turn over their weapons and surrender themselves. But the German in a captain's uniform refused, saying that auxiliary police had no right to use force against an officer. Tempers flared. My wife and I sat on the bed clutching one another. Our little boy hid behind the stove. Our fourteen-year old daughter, laying in her little bed, woke up and began to cry out, but no one paid any attention to her. At this point the officer said something to his companion in German, grabbed a grenade that was lying on the table under a hat and armed it. The grenade began to hiss in his hand, getting ready to explode. In terror the Polizei threw themselves from the room, but got jammed up going through the door. We froze in anticipation of death within seconds Holding the grenade in his outstretched hand, the officer took a step to the left and with his own body shielded me and our little daughter, Teklya. It exploded.
On our return journey the expedition members made a stop at the memorial to N.I. Kuznetsov erected on the Brody-L'vov highway.
Translated by Mark Conrad, 2004.