Six Red Months in Russia

by Louise Bryant



IN Germany you can buy anything for money," was the flat statement of an American woman who had just come from Berlin. We were all sitting around in the music room of the tipsy little Bergenfjord, somewhere between Norway and New York. This Roman and her son were so healthy and prosperous that we couldn't help wondering how they had managed it in a country where we were pretty certain men were starving. Then some one ventured to ask. And this was her answer.

We felt we were really going to get some information about food speculation and graft so common to all warring countries and began to ply her with questions, but she withdrew into herself and answered so enigmatically that we finally had to abandon her in despair. I give parts of our conversation :

"How did you happen to stay in Germany so long after the war, especially after the United States came in?"

"Well, my husband died and I did not feel like travelling."

"Did you have any trouble getting out?"

"Why should I?"

"You might have observed certain things----"

"They understand I'm not interested in politics; all my life I have not been interested in politics."

"Didn't they examine you or anything?"

"Yes, they did examine me once--it was very embarrassing; they made me take off my clothes... ."

"Did they scrub you?"

"Of course not. I never heard of such a thing!"

The deck steward came in and passed around declaration blanks to be filled out before we reached New York Harbour. "I really don't know what to do," complained the lady from Berlin. "I don't know what is in my trunks."

"How's that?"

"My maid packed for me."

We tried a new tack.

"Did you find much suffering in Germany among the women and children" We understood that the infant mortality was very great."

"Oh, I don't believe so. People are very well taken care of. I got plenty of milk for my boy."

"How much did you have to pay?"

"A great deal."

"Is it true that they haven't any fat in Germany?"

"Yes, I paid one hundred and fifty marks for a goose--just to get the fat."

"And you say you always had plenty of food and plenty of bread?"

"Yes, one could always buy everything--there were ways. When we found we were leaving we ate every last morsel of all that we had stored up."

"Do you believe there will be a revolution?"

"I'm not interested in politics."

We gave her up and went to the smoking-room, where we found the Kaiser's dentist. Rumour ran around the ship that he had come out of Germany on a special passport signed by the Emperor, and further rumours maintained that he had had nine visits from his majesty within the last few months. Allied passengers walked up and down the deck saying queer things about the doctor. They speculated upon just what action they would have taken in similar circumstances. A mild religious youth burst out with sudden fury that the dentist had missed a great opportunity which he prayed every night to have. "I think he was a dirty coward!" he cried. "It would have been so easy just to let his hand slip. .. ."

There was an interesting group around the table at which we were invited to sit down. Two Americans, one a keen, practical Consul-General from one of the little neutral countries, a general of the United States Army, a Russian Prince, still wearing his title, Bessie Beatty, a San Francisco newspaper woman, myself ... and the Raiser's dentist.

We fell into a discussion of food speculation in Russia. Somebody said that it was the same in all countries.

"Even in Germany," remarked the Raiser's dentist.

From that moment he held our attention.

The doctor was an American. He had lived many years in Germany. His practice was exclusively of the court and the high officers. He was saluted, he said, when he drove about Berlin in his car.

"Doctor," said one of the men, "I hope you hurt the Kaiser."

The doctor flushed a little and answered slowly, perhaps out of professional pride. "No-o," he said ..."I didn't."

We began to talk about food conditions.

"It is always easy to get food if you have money," said the doctor.

"Tell us how you did it over there with all the strict rules and regulations," I said.

"There was a regular system. The porters of the apartment houses were in with the speculators and they kept us in touch. I'll give you an instance:

"One morning the maid came and said to us at breakfast, 'There's a man downstairs who has something to sell.' We told her to send him up. When he came in he showed us a large ham. He said he had gotten off the train before he reached Berlin and walked into the city in order to avoid the guards. While he was telling us his story the porter came in and said excitedly that the police were coming. We hid the ham, and the porter told the police that the man had gone to the top floor. We lived on the second. While they were up there the man escaped."

"How did the police find he was in the building?"

"There was a flower shop right across the street. Two girls who worked there saw the man come in with the bundle and reported it to the police. And it was mighty mean of them," he added, "because we had often bought flowers in their shop."

"After that we were regular customers of this man until he suddenly disappeared. I had been wondering what had become of him, when one day I was called to the telephone. 'I understand,' said a voice,'that you have been trading with a certain man....Well,...we have put him out of business. We had detectives on his trail and we know his customers. If you would like some nice flour we could deliver it to you on Wednesday afternoon at three o'clock.' I agreed.

"On Wednesday morning I was called up again. 'You had better come for the flour yourself,' said the person at the other end of the wire. 'Not on your life,' I answered. 'I know the law. Do you think I want to get fined?' You see, they have a law in Germany now that the one who delivers the goods gets fined--the purchaser merely has his goods confiscated.

"Anyway, at three a wagon drew up with two soldiers and a huge sack containing the flour. Because they were in uniform no one paid the slightest attention to them. The funny part was that they weren't soldiers, but that they wore uniforms over their clothes. It was part of the game.

"After they were gone a girl called and presented a bill. There was no name at the top, only the amount in the middle of a blank page. We paid the bill and distributed the flour from one end of the house to the other in case of a search. We put a lot of it in the attic under some papers and left only a small portion in the bin."

So much for shopping among Germany's well-to-do.

We wanted to know how the poor people managed. The doctor didn't seem to be clear about that. "If they don't get enough to eat--they steal," he summed up with some contempt.

"What makes you think so?" asked Miss Beatty, who has more faith in humanity than the doctor.

"Why, I've seen it myself. There was my little girl. She began to look pinched. I said to my wife,'I bet her nurse is eating her food.' After that she ate in the dining-room with us and she improved at once."

The General, who has a heart of gold, didn't like the conversation, it began to trouble him. "Look here," he said, "weren't you feeding that girl enough?"

The doctor coloured. "Whoever fed a German servant enough?" he burst out. "They eat like horses."

"Do you think the masses are restless? And that there will be a revolution?"

"I am sure I don't know," he said vaguely. "I didn't keep in touch; in fact, I never talked to them about it."

He assured us that it was true that they had paper clothes which had to be washed a special way or they would dissolve, and the bread, he said, contained no wood, "Because I masticate very well and I never was aware of it."

"And how does your passport read?" one of the company queried. The doctor smiled.

"It says 'no return' and I'm perfectly satisfied." The steward came and turned out the lights and we all filed down the long hallway to bed.

I got up pretty early and went to work. I was in the library, pounding out this story, when the doctor appeared.

"By the way," he began, a little belligerently, "I'd like to speak to you about last night. I shall have to request you not to use anything I said." "You can hardly do that because you were informed in the beginning that we were newspaper reporters looking for news."

"I don't want my name used," he said. "I have too many interests in Germany to have them spoiled by anything so trivial."

I promised not to use his name and I don't care to interfere with his interests, but perhaps they will forgive him anyway. You will remember he said that he didn't hurt the Kaiser.