Memories from the Wall… – 13 August 1961 – 9 Nov. 1989
– Gideon D. Asche
While I was in the field, I worked with an intelligence operator named Katja; she was the prettiest Spook[i] I ever knew. It’s probably good that I was her commander, I would have married her in a Moscow minute.
I met her father, Richard, in 1979 – They were an odd pair for father and daughter. Based on his age, Richard looked like he could be her older brother, way too young to be her father, and the two of them had none of the similar features one would expect from a paternal relationship.
Richard never married, and was just 17 years Katja’s senior; probably less than 17 years since no one knew when or where Katja was born. I never heard anyone speak of Katja’s mother, and I wondered about it until Richard himself told me the story at coffee one afternoon.
It was a warm day in August 1961; Richard was a first-year university student, visiting Berlin on an educational trip. He and some classmates were staying in a private guesthouse near the center of the city, and on the second morning in Berlin, the thirteenth of August 1961, they heard noise and commotion outside their window.
On investigation, they found that East German Army and Volkspolizei – Peoples Police, commonly referred to as VOPOs, were erecting a barbed-wire barrier right through the center of the city. Richard and his friends were fortunate enough to be on the west side of the barrier. They spent most of the morning standing and staring in disbelief, as VOPOs erected what we would later refer to as the Berlin Wall.
On the afternoon of the 14th, the day we celebrated as Katja’s birthday, the wall was in its early stages of construction. Crowds of East Germans trapped on the other side congregated across from Richard and his friends. Richard made eye contact with a woman on the other side. She was holding a baby. She began to stare at him as if she was trying to burn holes in him with her eyes – he couldn’t turn away from her.
Richard paused for a moment, rubbed his face profusely, then out of nowhere, he startled the snot out of me with an animated narration of how the woman suddenly broke from the crowd and sprinted the forty or so feet to the wire. He held out his arms in dismay, “Right Through the VOPOs.”
She screamed, “Take her! –Take her! – Save Her! – TAKE HER! – SAVE! HER!” Then threw the baby the last 5 feet over the wire, right into Richard’s waiting arms. He chuckled and mused that one of them needed a diaper change, but it wasn’t the baby.
Richard and his friends watched helplessly as the woman, savagely beaten by VOPOs, was dragged back through the crowd. There is no record of who she was or what happened to her.
His lip quivered, and his eyes moistened as he told me of how he stood at the wire and shouted himself hoarse. “I have her! – She is safe!” – “I have her! – She is safe!” Over and over, in the hope the child’s mother could somehow hear. The name “Katja” was penned on the baby’s blanket, and she became Richard’s daughter that day.
The thought of suddenly having a baby at 17 made my palms sweat, but what else could a Real Man do? Richard went to the police; he got an attorney and jumped all the hoops required by the child welfare agencies until he could adopt Katja as his own.
Katja’s peculiarities were explained by her story. Born in the game, Katja was active long before she went to the Operators Course with us. When she was just 15, Katja took it on herself to make weekend trips to DDR. Always wearing several layers of clothing and a stash of donated money she collected from friends and family. She would get a day visa and just go right in like she belonged there. Katja would find some stranger that needed money and clothes, then leave everything with them. Most of the time, they never knew her name.
Petrified is the best way to describe how I felt about every operation, I was eager to go, but still, there was a healthy fear. Katja, on the other hand, had already made 60 plus trips on her own without any support network — My friend Katja had ovaries the size of watermelons.
She was under my command for a little over seven years, right up to the day I sent her on an operation in Ukraine. She never returned. In 1986, my friend Katja – יהי זכרו ברוך, was executing my orders when she disappeared into the Soviet penal system. No one ever saw her again.
It fell to me, as her commander, to tell Richard.
– We wept together.
Author’s Note. In 1992, I made an official inquiry into Katja’s and another team member’s fate. I was informed by telephone, “there are some things we just don’t want to know, and there are some things they just do not want to know – So no one asks.”
Katja is a much better soldier than I will ever be.
I will always tell her stories and sing her songs.
She’ll be waiting for me at the East Gate – I’ll let her bring the beer… I’ll bring the bullshit.
If you find yourself near a bar on the 9th of November, please step inside and tip one with me for Katja and the ones from both sides, who gave that “last full measure of devotion.[ii]”
The proper toast is, “Zu unseren Toten.” – “To Our Dead.”
[i] Spook – Slang. Clandestine operator. (spy)
[ii] Abraham Lincoln – Gettysberg, PA November 19, 1863