by Mikhail Veller
Translated by Panikovsky
The whole thing is that Ivan Papanin wasn't simply the head of a scientific expedition. He was a simple man of the peasant stock and on this iceberg, lost in the polar night thousands of miles away from USSR, he carried out ideologico-political leadership of all aspects of life and work of the rest of the crew. He was personally liable for them as a true and tested communist, to whom the Party entrusted the responsibility for all that took place on the North Pole.
Now, let us remember in what year these events were taking place, when this foursome was glorifying the Soviet Way of Life in the North Pole. The year was 1937. This is why extra vigilance and political ripeness was necessary.
The clever enemy penetrated everywhere, including the ranks of the Red Army Command and Old Revolutionary Guard. So, you see, one could not at all vouch for the seals and polar bears, not to mention the polar scientists. Moreover because the planes that dropped off the expedition flew away. there no communication with The Land and its executive and punitive organs, save for the radio.
None other than the most famous Ernst Krenkel was the radio operator of the NP-1, the best anywhere. He had no back up, and he was in charge of the day to day operation and repair. You can imagine his responsibility and nerve wrecking concentration. If the radio goes out, with it will the polar heroism and sacrifice.
To his credit, the radio communication was beyond reproach despite the numerous hideous tricks played by the arctic weather.Krenkel's abilities as a radio operator and as a polar explorer are above any praise.
Unfortunately, however, he had two drawbacks. Firstly, he was a German, and secondly, he not a party member.
In 1941, of course, these two shortcomings might have easily outweighed any bouquet of accomplishments, but, we'll repeat that this was only '37 and we're dealing with a top rate radio specialist and a kind and quiet soul. Despite which, though, even back in '37 one might have been persecuted in a most unexpected fashion, which we'll observe in just a moment.
Four times a day, Krenkel would establish communication, transmit meteorological and hydrological data, and receive instructions from Moscow. And those interactions were of various sorts. As the political situation demanded.
Meanwhile public trials were going on throughout the country. Spies of the Imperialism were exposed. Demonstrative public processes took place. The entire country to the citizen was outraged and so forth.
And the drifting soviet polar station North Pole-1 was an integral part of the Soviet Society. And despite its geographic remoteness it, of course, could not be bypassed by the political storms. Even on the iceberg the Soviet people must be headed by the [Communist] Party Organization. The minimal number of members for the creation of a party cell is three people. And such a cell did exist on the iceberg! This in itself had a special political significance. And the secretary of the party cell was, of course, Papanin himself.
And the secret political information: "for communist eyes only" was regularly delivered to this ground roots party organization. Independent (non-party member)Krenkel received these missives, marked them "secret" and handed them over to the party chief Papanin.
But the secret information had to be discussed at party meetings "behind closed doors". Papanin would announce a "closed" party meeting; only members of the Communist Party of USSR could be present. The rest had to leave the premises.
"The rest" was Krenkel.
The only facilities available on the North Pole had six square meters (54 ft2), any visitor to the museum can confirm this fact for himself by reading the note next to the tent. Anyone still doubtful can even remeasure the tent with a yard stick.
The reaction to the party edicts had to be quick, the faster the better for the cell members. The policy and body politic of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of USSR had top priority, priority over the blistering cold or snow storms.
At this point, Krenkel cursing one and all was doing laps around the tent, peeking occasionally into the frosted over windows: are they just about done?? He'd rub his nose and cheeks with his mitten, he'd stump, he'd slap himself on the sides, he counted minutes on the dial, and perhaps even, quietly expressed various opinions about the party and her wise policies.
Meanwhile the others sat on the bunk beds, listened to the edicts, presented their opinions in an orderly fashion, jotted everything down into the minutes, formulated a decision about the enemy of the people d'jour, voted and recorded the text of their response for the transmission via radio to the mainland. And at the end they all sang the "International" standing up, of course, as they should.
Having finished singing the "International", Papanin would allowKrenkel to reenter the tent, the "closed" party transmission would be handed to Krenke. l and Krenkel would transmit it by radio.
Only a person of tremendous self-control and with purely German respect for rules and regulations could withstand such idiocy for half a year. Because the party activity in the country was high, poor Krenkel would run like rooster in the icy blackness of the Pole around the tent for half a year just about every God given day. He'd jump, squat and dream about what he'd like to do to Papanin when the expedition ends. Using Papanin as a live bait to catch a polar bear was the most humane image that his imagination drew up.
A week into the expedition, smart Krenkel applied for membership in the Communist Party. And which he was promptly denied by Papanin due to Krenkel's Germanic roots. Only a politically naive person, the one who has not at all absorbed the doctrine of the internationality of the proletariat and the unity of the Party and the People, would not understand this reasoning.
Partyless, Krenkel embodied the solidarity and international friendship of the soviet people, simultaneously his coexistence illustrated the unbreakable monolith of the block of the communists with non party members. So you see, everything was thought out.
And the partyless Krenkel meekly and quietly worked like a workhorse, because while during hurricanes and snow storms the technical work could wait, the radio communication was indispensable. And, of course, no one would free him from his cleaning and cooking rotation to do his job.
On the other hand, Papanin was somewhat bored on the iceberg. The longer the expedition went the more bored he got. He wasn't responsible for collecting data, and as a group leader he was also exempt from cooking: he simply lead. And also he was responsible for the political education of the crew.
This is how the political education took place.
Krenkel would receive the latest news over the radio, carefully he'd write them down and hand them over to Papanin. Papanin would take this piece of paper and using simple language would explain the content to the crew. It'd be redundant to point out thatKrenkel had to be present at these political education seminars. Moreover, as a partyless, and therefore a less politically ripe person, he was strongly encouraged to show more enthusiasm than his communist colleagues, partly by taking detailed notes. These notes would later be carefully checked by Papanin himself. If the notes were too brief or the penmanship too poor, he'd order them rewritten.
Political education was a daily event. And it represented the full list of Papanin's duties. But because a commander shouldn't allow his troops to observe him resting, and at the same time, he couldn't be bothered with the trivial, Papanin would clean his personal sidearm. As he wisely justified it, this activity strengthened his authority as a political and technical group leader, while simultaneously improving better understanding of the party line and the current political reality.
He'd spread out a rag on the table, get his Mauser out of the holster; from a side compartment he'd pull out a screwdriver, a wire brush, wire and oil, and carefully disassemble the 7.63 mm machine, lovingly wiping, oiling, and assembling. Finally, he'd click, returning the magazine to its place and hang the gun on a specially designated nail at the center of the tent. After this Papanin would go to bed.
In time this process evolved into a sort of militaristic masturbation; he enjoyed it with his heart and his soul rested. Having assembled the gun and reloaded the ten bullet clip, a smile of complete contentment would drift across the commander's face.
Gradually he'd complicate the Mauser cleaning process, attempting to surpass himself and reach unprecedented of mastery. He'd time himself, he'd assemble the gun in the dark, with hands tied, using only the sense of touch he's put it together behind his back, and sometimes only with the use of one hand .
Krenkel, a peace lover by nature, began despising the pistol with the passion with which a cat hates a clip on its back. He dreamed of drowning the pistol in a fishing hole, but he knew entirely too well what political implication this act would carry. So he just continued improving his political penmanship with a backdrop of happy gun clicking.
The drifting ended, one day the ice cracked and the icebreaker "Krasin" picked the brave explorers up off the water covered wreck.
Krenkel dutifully radioed off his last report, proclaiming a successful end to the expedition. Surrounded by admiration and care of the crew and recently notified about the high government honors: all four were granted a "Hero of the Soviet Union", the polar explorers slowly sailed toward Leningrad.
En route the degree of their occupation somewhat changed. The hydrologist along with the meteorologist were writing technical reports,Krenkel was enjoying his rest. And
Papanin was still cleaning his Mauser.
After six months of winter on the iceberg any normal person experiences shaky nerves, Papanin's preoccupation, though, was shaping up as a maniacal psychosis.
Krenkel would watch the Mauser with baited breath. More than anything else he wanted to steal some screw and see how Ivan Dmitreyevich (Papanin) will go out of his mind holding the rag, when the gun would not properly assemble.
But this was impossible, now in '38 this'd be viewed as political sabotage: premeditated destruction of weaponry belonging to the head of the expedition and a party chief besides.Krenkel viewed ten years of labor camps seemed too harsh a penalty for a simple pleasure from a harmless prank.
He approached the problem from the other side. He visited Papanin at night before bedtime, when he knew the latter would be tormenting his gun. He distracted Papanin with idle chit-chat and tossed a tiny polished triangle, borrowed from the boys in the ship's machine shop, onto the rag . And then left the scene of the crime.
For the remaining five days until Leningrad, Papanin was inconsolable.
Try to imagine his unpleasant surprise when having assembled the Mauser, he found discovered an 'extra' part. He took it apart again, now with greater care, but there was still this damned extra part!
Papanin spent the entire night assembling and disassembling the weapon, slowly losing his marbles. He was late for breakfast. He spent his entire free time in his cabin. And even during a press conference with the entire crew listening to his expedition story, he suddenly paused and fell pensive. And then abruptly, he took off for the cabin.
In quiet stupor he'd assemble it this way and that. He assembled it in the dark, he assembled it timing himself. From behind his door, an incessant metallic clicking could be heard, as if some machine was operating with a maddening speed.
Fallen and crazed Papanin clipped his lip while trimming his mustache. The ship doctor was feeding him medicine, while Krasin's captain fed him vodka. The entire crew of he ship commiserated: look at these tremendous stresses that the nerves of the explorers must endure!
During the last night on the shipKrenkel heard sporadic dull banging. This was despaired Papanin, who began hitting his head against the wall.
Krenkel felt sorry for him and knocked on the cabin's door. Papanin was sitting in white thermal underwear in front of the table covered with a white rag. His hands shook. Nonetheless he was juggling and shuffling the gun parts like a magician. His eyes, hidden in the blackened bags had an unhealthy sparkle. He was quietly howling.
- Ivan Dmitreyevich, - said Krenkel uncomfortably, - don't worry. Everything is fine. This was just a practical joke. A sailor's maritime prank, you know...And then he just took the extra part and shoved it in his pocket.
It took Papanin endless five minutes to comprehend what he heard. Then with a machine gun speed he began clicking the Mauser parts together. When the fully loaded clip was snapped into place,Krenkel took off and locked the door to his cabin.
The crew then heard a siren. It was a foreign siren which came from the wrong direction of the ship with a false pitch.
For a long, long time Krenkel unsuccessfully tried to apologize. The crew couldn't stop laughing. Papanin was grinding his teeth. If this were still at the North Pole, Krenkel would have been fed off to the polar bears. But how the hell do you punish the practical joker now, Papanin himself had sent glowing reviews for the guy; what can you accuse him of now? Everybody would just have another laugh at Papanin's expense.
His entire remaining life Papanin passionately hated Krenkel for this joke, which cost the latter dearly.Krenkel, having lost his flavor for the group expeditions, became somewhat of a loner, who passionately loved the Arctic. His entire life he nurtured a hope that someday he'll be allowed to have a one man expedition. An to his last days he was denied permission for such a trip. Papanin, who became one of the executives of the entire Arctic Department, would nix any application.
Papanin himself was drastically cured from his abnormal intimate tenderness toward small caliber armaments. He couldn't stand to see the damn Mauser altogether; there was just too much heartache associated with it. Only after a special reception of Papanin's four men crew at Kremlin, did they finally create a Museum of Arctic and Antarctica in Leningrad, and Papanin could gift them the gun as a valued exhibit. The Mauser is there to this day, in full working order and right next to the small black tent.