Secret Intelligence Service
Soviet Military Intelligence
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This is a very large collection of era-specific papers, comprising; spoken thoughts, opinions, diary extracts, books and other writings of Soviet / Russian intelligence officers
Attention to the point of view
No. III : On the eve of World War II, Alta and Arbin were valuable agents of the Red Army Intelligence Agency. Under the pseudonym of Alta, German intelligence journalist Ilze Stebe was listed in Soviet intelligence. The pseudonym Arbin belonged to journalist Rudolf Gernstadt. A few years Ilse and Rudolf were a happy married couple. In their fate, about which so far little is known, merged love, feat, and tragedy.
The life of Ilse Stebe reminds of the fate of the biblical heroine Esther who selflessly defended her people. She was born in 1911 in Berlin in the family of an employee. The financial situation of the Stebe family was difficult, and she was unable to complete the gymnasium. After school, Ilze joined the stenographer secretary courses, received a diploma and got a job at the publishing company Moss. In 1930, she became an employee of the Berliner Tageblat newspaper, which was led by the publicist Theodore Wolf for more than ten years. He was widely known in the German political circles of the Weimar Republic. Wolf helped Ilze Stebe make the first steps in journalism. They were successful.
The editor of one of the sections of the newspaper was Rudolf Gernstadt. He was born on March 18, 1903 in the city of Gleywitz in the family of a prominent lawyer, at the insistence of his parents, graduated from law school, but in 1924 became interested in journalism. Gernstadt had left-wing political views. At this time he began to cooperate with the Soviet military intelligence, sincerely believing that in this way he helped the German workers in the struggle for their social rights.
In 1930, Gernstadt met Ilze Stebe, who soon became his wife. It was an alarming time. They gathered to actively fight for the liberation of Germany from the Nazis. It was very dangerous. Ilse and Rudolph decided not to register a marriage until better times.
A year has passed, and Rudolph attracted his wife to intelligence work. Initially, the Center assigned her the pseudonym Arnim and offered to engage in the collection and processing of political information.
From May to November 1930, Rudolf Gernstadt was forced to leave Breslau for Prague by a correspondent for the Berliner Tageblat newspaper. Military intelligence officer Jacob Bronin, a resident of Soviet military intelligence in Germany, became head of the intelligence work of Ilze Stebe. In the secret correspondence of the Intelligence Agency, J. Bronin was mentioned under the pseudonym Abram.
In 1931, J. Bronin reported to the Center: “Arnim is from a petty-bourgeois family. Father died. He has a mother and a brother. ”
Here it is necessary to make some explanation. Ilse Stebe had no sibling. After the death of her husband, Frau Frida Stebe, Ilse’s mother, she married a second time to a certain Muller. The second husband had a child. His name was Kurt. Ilse and Kurt grew up together, were very friendly. Kurt also took part in the fight against the National Socialists.
Further Bronin wrote about I. Shtebe : ‘Non-Party, sympathises with the Communist Party. Works with us by conviction. By profession the secretary-typist of the editor-in-chief of Berliner Tageblat, Theodor Wolf. Links are limited to editorial staff. The main connection is a good relationship with Wolf, who trusts her and tells a lot. The newspaper works for several years. Its possibilities are exhausted by the editors. May give separate, not intended for publication on the basis of oral conversations.’
Such were Bronin’s first impressions of Ilse Stebe.
In December 1932, Bronin gave Stebe the following description : ‘Arnim at work proved her commitment to the cause. All the data suggests that with appropriate political influence from our side, a good worker will come out of it over time.’
The resident of the Red Army Intelligence was not mistaken.
Bronin met Stebe once a week. She handed over to the Soviet intelligence officer the information that had been compiled on the basis of conversations with Wolf and brought copies of materials from closed editorial folders.
As an experienced illegal intelligence officer, Bronin understood that Arnim’s informational opportunities are still small, but from the very first meetings with him he felt that he was dealing with a like-minded young woman who could not accept the transformation of Germany into a fascist state. Bronin taught Stebe the wisdom of intelligence work, gave her specific tasks, explained how best and safer to carry them out, always found time to analyse the reports she had prepared, taught to choose among compatriots those who could help in the fight against fascism.
Ilse Stebe was a talented student. A year later, under the leadership of Bronin, she recruited a valuable source of political information.
In May 1930, the roads of Rudolf Gernstadt and Ilse Stebe diverged for a while. Gernstadt was sent to work in Moscow. But his journalistic activities in the Soviet capital were short-lived. After the arson of the Reichstag staged by the fascists, on September 21, 1933, in Leipzig, a noisy trial began in the case of the Bulgarian communists Georgi Dimitrov, Blagoy Popov and Vasil Tanev. The Nazis accused them of arson. Soviet journalists accredited in Germany were not allowed to the process. In response, the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs of the USSR responded. They were set out in the official TASS report published in the newspapers. It said, in particular, that on September 30, recalled Soviet journalists left Berlin: TASS representative Comrade. Bespalov, a representative of Izvestia, Comrade. Kite and Pravda representative Comrade Chernyak. On the same day, German journalists left Moscow for which they were asked to leave the USSR in connection with the recall of Soviet journalists from Germany : representative of the Kölnishe Zeitung newspaper of Yust, representative of Berliner Tageblatt of Gernstadt and representative of Locale Antseiger g . Gorbong.’
At the end of 1933, Gernstadt ended up in Warsaw, where he represented the interests of several German newspapers. At the same time, on the instructions of the Soviet military intelligence, Gernstadt set about creating an agent group, the main objectives of which were to obtain information about the true intentions and plans of Germany against the USSR.
For a while Ilze Stebe continued to work in Breslau. Using the position of a reporter for an influential newspaper, she performed the most varied tasks of the Soviet military intelligence.
The work of Stebe, under the leadership of Bronin, was completed in the middle of 1933: the Centre decided to entrust a new job to Abram. He had to go to China and head the residency in Shanghai, which was previously headed by Richard Sorge. Ian Berzin, the head of the Red Army Intelligence Directorate, considering Japan’s growing danger to the USSR, decided to send Sorge to Tokyo to create a new secret military intelligence group there.
In 1933, Bronin went to China, and Sorge settled in Japan. The head of the illegal residency of military intelligence in Germany became Oscar Stig. Fulfilling the tasks of a new resident, Stebe traveled to Austria, Switzerland, France, Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia and other European countries. Gradually, she gained experience intelligence work. Once there was an opportunity to arrange Stebe to work in the German military intelligence. The prospect was interesting. However, the Centre did not take this promising step. Berzin did not forget that Ilze Stebe worked with Theodore Wolf, who was already persecuted by the Nazis for democratic beliefs. Attempting to get a job in the German military intelligence would require a serious test of Stebe’s trustworthiness, her political views and connections. The centre did not take risks. On the instructions of Moscow, Stebe went to work in Bucharest. But in the capital of Romania, she failed to gain a foothold. Ilse had no university education, without which it was impossible to get a good job.
In September 1935, an event occurred that played an important role in the subsequent life of Stebe. After one of the trips to Prague, which Arnim made on the instructions of the editorial office, an article appeared on the front page of the Prague newspaper Lidovy Listi (‘The Beautiful Lady from Berlin – an accomplice of the Gestapo agent Berthold’). The article stated that in the society of the German subject Berthold, arrested for espionage activities in favor of the Gestapo, one could often see a young lady who was neither his wife nor the wife of another gentleman arrested in the same case. The name of this mysterious beauty – Ilse Stebe.
Freylin Stebe was a frequent guest in Czechoslovakia. Visiting Prague, she stayed at the Blue Star Hotel, traveled to the districts of the city where German immigrants live. On May 9, according to the newspaper, Ilse Stebe was seen in the Berthold society.
Further, the newspaper wrote : ‘For the last time, Stebe was in Prague between July 30 and August 5; stayed at the Central Hotel, on Rybin Street. The hotel staff called her a ‘mysterious foreigner.’ She behaved very discreetly, received daily mail from Germany, but no one visited her. From nine in the morning until the evening she was absent and declared that she was studying in Prague. She had dates with Berthold on August 4 and 5 at the restaurant Wilson Station. On August 5, Stebe left the Central Hotel, but left Prague only on August 7; where she spent these two days, is still not clear. She finally left Aug. 7 from Wilson Station by train departing at 22.40 to Slovakia.’
Stebe did from time to time come to Prague from Berlin. She had nothing to do with Berthold, a Gestapo agent who was arrested in Prague, and accidentally came into the view of the watchful progressive German émigrés who lived in Czechoslovakia because they feared the Gestapo agents.
The sensation from the newspaper Lidovy Liszty exhausted itself on November 9, 1935. The newspaper published a short article under the heading ‘Concerning articles about the maid of honour I. Shtebe’. Expressing an apology to the readers about the September publication, the newspaper wrote : ‘In September, we placed articles in which we wrote about the German national Ilze Stebe in connection with the sensational case of Gestapo agent Bertold. It was alleged that the maid of honor Stebe was connected with Berthold, that she was involved in his case, that she met with him and also worked for the Gestapo. We were convinced that the maid of honor Stebe has nothing in common with either the Gestapo or Berthold’.
The story of the publication in the newspapers about Ilse Stebe did not undermine, but, on the contrary, strengthened Stebe’s authority in the eyes of the Nazis. Nevertheless, the Centre decided to send Stebe not to Berlin, but to Warsaw. In the Polish capital, she met her husband, Rudolf Gernstadt, whom she began to assist in reconnaissance work. From November 1935 to September 1939, they worked together very successfully and were happy.
After arriving in Warsaw, the Centre assigned Stebe a new operational pseudonym – Alta. She liaised with the people who provided intelligence services, took pictures of secret documents that Arbin was mining.
By the end of 1936, Arbin created a military intelligence station in Warsaw. His organisation included agents of the CEC, ABC, LCL, Aryan and some others. The most valuable agents were Aryan, CEC and ABC.
Aryan – Baron Rudolf von Shelia, Advisor to the German Ambassador Moltke in Warsaw – obtained valuable information on almost all issues of Germany’s foreign policy towards Poland and the Soviet Union. Counselor von Shelia hated the fascist regime established in Germany. He disliked the Soviet Union. In order to attract von Shelia to cooperation, Rudolf Gernstadt, under the leadership of the Moscow Centre for Military Intelligence, developed and carried out a complex operation. As a result of joint efforts, von Shelia agreed to hand over secret documents, as Gernstadt convinced him, to British intelligence. The correspondence of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany with Ambassador Moltke in Warsaw was under the complete control of Soviet military intelligence.
Working in Warsaw, Stebe gained popularity among family members of German diplomats in the Polish capital. At the end of 1938, she even received an appointment as a cultural assistant for the women’s section of the National Socialist organisation in Warsaw. On January 4, 1939, Arbin reported to the Centre on this occasion : ‘As a cultural adviser, Alta must educate German women in Warsaw in a national-socialist spirit. These women include, among others, all the wives of officials and secretaries. Once a month, there is a joint meeting where, at Alta’s choice, three or four women should make short reports. Since almost all women are afraid to make such reports, there are great opportunities for Alta to take care of, provide assistance and, first of all, establish personal contacts.’
Alta actively used her capabilities to obtain intelligence information. She established good relations with the leadership of the Warsaw Nazi organisation, achieved a correspondent representation from three provincial German newspapers, who wanted but could not have their own correspondent in Warsaw. Several years of work in the Polish capital, together with Rudolf Gernstadt, allowed Alta to gain extensive experience in intelligence work.
During the summer of 1939, the situation in Europe heated to the limit. The contradictions between Germany, England, France and Poland sharply sharpened. It went to a military conflict.
At the direction of the Centre, Arbin began to select a person capable of leading an intelligence group in Berlin. Jew Rudolf Gernstadt had no right to reside in Germany. All other members of his residency, which successfully operated in Warsaw, Alta, Ariets, KVTs, AVS, LCL, could return to Berlin and were supposed, in Moscow, to continue cooperation with Soviet military intelligence. These people could be managed only by a person who knew the intricacies of intelligence work, who enjoyed the utmost confidence of these reputable German diplomats and journalists, and who had no trouble with the state secret police of the Third Reich. Rudolf Gernstadt discussed the emerging problem several times with Ilze Stebe. In the end, they concluded that in Berlin, the work of the reconnaissance group should be led by Alta. About this Arbin and wrote to the Centre. In Moscow, they did not immediately support the proposal, however, having discussed all the available opportunities, they finally agreed with Arbin. After that, Gernstadt helped Ilze Stebe establish good relations with the Aryan and other members of the reconnaissance team who were not aware of her ties to Soviet intelligence.
It was quite natural that Stebe, the wife of Gernstadt, maintained friendly relations with the staff of the German embassy Gerhard Kegel (HWC), with journalist Kurt Velkish (ABC) and his wife Margaret (LCL), and also knew the adviser to the embassy Rudolf von Shelia (Aryan ).
On August 14, 1939, Arbin warned the Centre that Germany would attack Poland on August 30 – September 1, 1939.
In mid-August 1939, on the instructions of the German Foreign Ministry, almost all German diplomats and journalists left the Polish capital. The hour of difficult trials was approaching. Saying goodbye to Rudolf Gernstadt at the Warsaw railway station, Ilze Stebe told her husband:
– We have not yet managed to tell each other everything that we had to say.
The train with the staff of the German Embassy left the Polish platform. On September 1, 1939, after provocation in Gleuvice, organised by disguised Gestapo, German troops broke into Poland, destroying and destroying everything that resisted or could resist. The war began, the fire of which turned into the Second World War.
Rudolf Gernstadt, following the instructions of the Centre, went to the illegal position and went to Moscow via the Baltic States in a roundabout way. In Poland, it was dangerous for him to stay.
The news of the German attack on Poland caught Stebe in the German resort town of Francesbad. A few days later she went to Berlin to begin the task of Gernstadt – the creation of a reconnaissance group.
The situation in Berlin after the start of the war was difficult. In wartime, those accused of transferring information to foreign states were sentenced to death. The Ministry of Imperial Security of Germany had unlimited rights in the fight against foreign intelligence officers. Gestapo agents entangled a network of whistleblowers throughout Germany. They were everywhere, they knew everything and tried to keep every German family under a cap. In such incredibly difficult conditions, Ilse Stebe had to re-establish contact with Rudolf Gernstadt’s friends, set up a reconnaissance group and organise the acquisition of secret information.
Arriving in Berlin, Alta began to expect news from Arbin. Saying goodbye to her in Warsaw, Gernstadt said:
– Wait for my letter. Greetings from me will be given to you by Frau Velkish. A man from Moscow will arrive to her. Let’s call him Paul. Margarita will introduce you to him when it becomes possible …
The meeting with the mysterious Paul occurred in one of the Berlin suburban restaurants at the end of 1939. The scout handed Ilze a letter from Rudolph, inquired about her state of health, handed the money, part of which Alta was to give to Aryan.
Paul recommended Alta how to organise a meeting with Rudolf von Shelia, what questions to find out from him.
Captain Nikolai Zaitsev, a military intelligence officer who worked in Berlin under the roof of the USSR trade mission, met with Ilze Stebe. Zaitsev arrived in the German capital in October 1939. This was his second special trip to Germany. He grew up in Saratov among Volga Germans, from whom he learned the first communication skills in German, then studied German in an artillery school and at reconnaissance courses. After that, he studied German with a German teacher for two years, working in Berlin from 1937 to June 1939. Ilse Stebe and Nikolay Zaitsev understood each other well.
In December 1939, Alta met with the Aryan. I conveyed greetings to him from Rudolph Gernstadt and handed over several hundred marks in payment for the work that he performed for British Intelligence, in August 1939. Rudolf von Shelia told Ilze Stebe about the difficulties with which he was able to get an appointment to work at the Foreign Ministry. Alta recommended that Counselor von Shelia be careful and first of all collect information that would reveal the plans of the German leadership to address hostilities both in the west and in the east.
Spouses Kurt and Margarita Velkish (agents of ABC and LCL) left for work in Bucharest. In the Romanian capital, Kurt was first a correspondent for a German newspaper. Then he, like Richard Sorge in Tokyo, became the press secretary of the German embassy in Romania.
Gerhard Kegel (CBC) took a job at the German Foreign Ministry. He took part in the Soviet-German negotiations in Moscow and Berlin, promptly transmitting Hitler’s written instructions to Soviet military intelligence to the head of the German delegation, adviser Schnurre, who was obliged to strictly follow the instructions of the Fuhrer during the negotiations.
In 1940, G. Kegel was assigned to the position of economic adviser at the German Embassy in Moscow.
By the middle of 1940, Alta and Aryan remained in Berlin, from which valuable information came. Documents The Aryan Alta passed over to Nikolay Zaitsev three times a month.
The value of any intelligence officer is what information he was able to obtain at the direction of the Centre. What did Alta manage to do?
The most difficult meetings for Ilze Stebe and Nikolai Zaitsev were in December 1940 – February 1941. In Berlin, there was a harsh winter. Frosts sometimes reached 20 degrees. As a rule, Zaitsev, going to a meeting with Alta, stayed in the city for several hours, trying to make sure that there was no surveillance by Gestapo agents. In one of the reports of the meeting, the intelligence officer wrote that his face was ‘swollen from the cold’ and he had to clean up for several hours. Direct contact with Alta in such conditions lasted several minutes.
At the end of December 1940, Alta received information from Aryan that Hitler had approved a directive ordering him to begin secret preparations for war against the USSR. In order to present the degree of secrecy of information that Alte became known to, it is necessary to name only two related facts.
The first – the plan of Operation Barbarossa was signed by Hitler on December 18, 1940. Access to this top-secret document had only some of the highest political and military leaders of Nazi Germany.
The second – ten days later, that is, on December 28, 1940, information about the plan of Operation Barbarossa became known to Alta. On December 29, 1940, the head of the Soviet military intelligence, Lieutenant General F. Golikov, learned about them. This report of Alta was reported to I.V. Stalin and V.M. Molotov, as well as the People’s Commissar of Defense, S.K. Tymoshenko and Chief of General Staff K.A. Meretskov.
In the first half of 1941, from Alta, Moscow received data clarifying the plan of Operation Barbarossa and the timing of Germany’s attack on the USSR, as well as the step-by-step preparation of the Third Reich for this aggression.
In 1941, Zaitsev worked hard in Berlin. All employees of the Soviet missions came under special control by Gestapo agents. Zaitsev, who promptly noticed the increased activity of the German special services, suggested that the Centre reduce the number of meetings with Alta. In a letter to the head of military intelligence, F. Golikov, the intelligence officer said that in the new conditions he intended to hold only one meeting with Alta a month.
At the end of February 1941, Alta, on the basis of data received from the Aryan, reported to Moscow : ‘Preparation for the war against the USSR has already gone far. Leading circles still adhere to the point of view that the war with Russia will begin this year. Three army groups are formed under the command of the marshals of Bock, Rundstedt and von Leeb. The army group ‘Koenigsberg’ will advance in the direction of Petersburg, the army group ‘Warsaw’ – in the direction of Moscow, the army group ‘Poznan’ – in the direction of Kiev. The deadline must be considered May 20. A colossal battle is planned for the encirclement of the Pinsk region with the participation of 120 divisions from the German side. Armored trains with a Russian gauge have already been built.’
At the beginning of March 1941, Alta reports to the Centre : ‘There are grounds for saying that a demonstration against Russia will take place in the near future (call dates May 15 – June 15). They talk about the concentration of 120 divisions in Poland, the deployment of bomber aviation on previously unused airfields in East Prussia, the intensive creation of air defense in the eastern cities of Germany, which indicates the preparation of some extraordinary events. The transfer of the meeting of the Soviet-German border commission is also evidence of this. In April, it will not take place.’
Further, Alta reported that Aryan, during a meeting with her, stated that ‘well-informed circles of leading political and military instances report unanimously that the offensive against the USSR will undoubtedly be this year, namely, until June’.
Alta gave Zaitsev several personal letters that were addressed to her husband R. Gernstadt, who was in Moscow. In one of the letters she reported : ‘… I often think that when I left Warsaw, I knew that our last Goodbye. Would be fatal Goodbye! I am pleased that with such a feeling I then extended my hand to you and said my last words. And how stupid, and how hopeless it is to remain with words that I still did not have time to tell you, and with regrets that I have never — you understand, never! – I can’t express them to you anymore … And I want to talk to you so much. About everything. For business matters too. Consider, please, perhaps we can still conduct business correspondence? I can handle the work. Of course, I can handle it. But together still better than one. ‘
On April 25, 1941, Alta wrote to Arbin : ‘… How hard it is to observe all the preparations for the upcoming conflict, keep your eyes open and do not be fooled.’
At a meeting with a Soviet intelligence officer on June 7, 1941, Alta reiterated that in German government circles ‘the focus is on the question of Russia … 50 trains are going to the east as before, as before. … The campaigns against Russia were postponed after June 20, which is explained by the large material losses in Yugoslavia. None of the informed authorities have any doubts that military actions against Russia will be carried out.’
Alta had to perform the tasks of the Center in difficult conditions, surrounded by Gestapo agents, contacts with whom she avoided due to her natural resourcefulness and acquired professionalism.
Of particular difficulty for her was the work with the Aryan, whom she did not respect. Alta wrote to Rudolph Gernstadt : ‘I still cannot tolerate him. My only consolation is in the knowledge that he cooperates with us.’
Despite her personal dislike of Rudolf von Shelia, Alta firmly guided his work, supervised actions to obtain information, thought about how to fully use the Aryan’s ability to extract information from the German Foreign Ministry, regularly informed him that ‘the British Intelligence transferred certain amounts of pounds sterling to his Swiss bank account.’
On June 20, Alta once again met with Rudolf Shelia, who informed her that Germany was ready for war against the USSR. The attack will occur in the next two days.
Alta caused a conditional signal to a meeting of the Soviet intelligence officer. When he did not arrive at the meeting on June 21, she decided to approach the Soviet embassy and find out what had happened. While in the area of the Soviet diplomatic mission, Alta realised that the building and all the entrances to it were under heavy surveillance by Gestapo agents. This allowed her to assume that the German attack on Russia would inevitably happen in the near future.
On June 22, Ilse Stebe heard a message broadcast by Berlin radio that Germany had declared war on Russia. Although this message was not a surprise for her, she said in the presence of Frida Stebe’s mother : ‘It happened after all.’ And she cried.
The next day, Alta met with Dr. Karl Helfrich, who was attracted to work in 1940. Helfrich was a famous German journalist who had many acquaintances from whom he learned useful information. He reported these ‘news’ to Ilse Stebe, whom he met in Frankfurt am Main. Unexpectedly, Ilze Stebe fell in love with this man. She saw in Helfrich what she had been searching for a long time, trying to arrange a personal life. Rudolf Gernstadt, with whom she was friends for about ten years, differed from Karl Helfrich with inexhaustible energy, was a clear leader in all matters – at work and in personal relationships. Ilse had approximately the same character and understood that she could be friends and cooperate with Gernstadt, the leader in all her personal qualities. Together they always quickly solved the most difficult problems. But Alta wanted to be an independent person in the family and at work. Two leaders in one team is hard. They were loyal friends, reliable companions for the hard work, which devoted life.
When Ilze Stebe met Carl Helfrich, she realized that this was her man with whom she could start a family. Karla was surprised at the beauty of Ilse Steebe, her deep intelligence, excellent manners and exceptional sense of purpose, which sometimes he lacked.
Ilse Stebe attracted Carl Helfrich to collaborate with Soviet intelligence. The Centre approved its choice. Karl was given the pseudonym Heer, who, incidentally, was consonant with his journalistic pseudonym ‘Ger’. With this pseudonym, Helfrich often signed his materials, which he published in various newspapers.
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