Гражданская Война 1917, сводный линклист - - Nicholas Svindine. The treasure of the white armyИстория >> Мемуары и жизнеописания >> Гражданская война >> Гражданская Война 1917, сводный линклист
Nicholas Svindine. The treasure of the white army
Translated from the French by Leonard Mayhew
Hart-Davis, MacGibbon London
Copiright 1973 by Editions Robert Laffont, S.A.
To the memory of my brother, Ivan, who was killed at eighteen years of
age in Russia during the Civil War while serving in the ranks of General
This unusual story of high adventure was discovered by Robert Laffont,
the well-known French publisher, who responded to a mysterious note which
read as follows: "I have an extraordinary tale to tell. But I cannot reveal
my identity unless you are interested in its publication. I am, in effect,
the keeper of a number of secrets. Place an ad in France-Soir. Indicate the
hour when I can telephone you and meet you personally. The ad should read as
follows: Robert Laffont asks Nicholas to telephone him on ------- day,
------ hour." The result is Nicholas Svidine's dramatic account of the
legendary White Army treasure, which has been acclaimed by the French press.
The story of my odyssey with the "treasure of the White Army" will
bring down criticism on me from every side. My Russian fellow exiles will be
incredulous. Many others will say that I had no right to keep the existence
of this fortune a secret. They will tell me that others had a right to know
about it. But the truth is that I didn't know whom to tell. And I sincerely
believed that no one had a better right to the "treasure" than I.
Actually, however, in the end the "treasure" and my many attempts to
recover it ruined my life and brought me nothing but terrible moral and
physical anguish. I risked my life for it. Others died for it. If it had not
been for the treasure I could have led a normal life -- done normal work and
earned normal satisfactions.
It's too late for regrets, but enough is enough, and I am forgetting
about the treasure. It will never be found, because I could never possibly
describe where it is and how to find it. After so many years even the
landscape must have changed considerably. No, I am the only one who might be
able to identify the place, but I shall never go back to Bulgaria to try.
I will be condemned as well for having sold secret information to
several governments. But the fact is that these countries struck good
bargains -- whatever they may say now. And it kept them on their toes. Even
the Soviets have no complaint; most of my "information" came from their
weekly, the New Times, which at that time had a small foreign circulation. I
shall explain why and how I became an "informer" for the United States and
for Nationalist China.
I know only too well the risks involved in publishing this story,
because I have already suffered the most cruel punishment -- exile.
I. Officer of the Czar
1. Siberian Spring
NOVEMBER 1920. The steamship Vladimir was docked at Theodosia, on the
Black Sea, the decks, cabins and hold all filled with Cossack soldiers.
There was no room to budge. From the city came the constant sound of gunfire
and bombs. To prevent the Reds from getting our stores we had set fire to
warehouses that were filled with all the things we had lacked so sorely at
the front: uniforms sent by the English, canned food, everything we had
needed. Thousands of riderless horses galloped in confusion all over the
beach while their Cossack masters wept at having to abandon these comrades
who had saved their lives so often. Those of us on board were anguished at
the sight of the English cannons that had arrived just too late to help us.
The soldier-workers and the Greens -- Bolshevik partisans who operated in the
forests and mountains -- wanted to block our escape but were afraid to
advance on us even now. Defeated by superior numbers, ironically, our
departure was a kind of victory: our enemy's bitterest defeat was its
powerlessness to keep us from getting away. The last Cossacks mounted the
gangplank, their rough faces twisted with confusion and despair. None of us
had ever been outside Russia. Now we were leaving forever.
Eventually, I found a warm place to sit, propped myself up against the
smokestack, and looked back over my short life. I was twenty-two. I had
grown up on a small estate in the Cossack territory of Kuban. My family had
lived for generations in the Caucasus, a land with rich resources, pleasant
climate and natural beauty. But when Russia conquered the Caucasus my
grandfather had decided to settle on the Kuban.
All the men in my family had been soldiers. No other way of life had
ever occurred to them. My great-grandfather had fought the fierce Cherkess,
a people of ancient Islamic culture who were unbelievably fanatical and
fiercely courageous -- and armed by the Turks. And the men in my family were
giants -- my relatives considered it tragic that I had stopped growing at six
feet. Only half jokingly, my father and grandfather had dubbed me a freak.
My father was a strict but scrupulously fair man whose rewards and
punishments were always deserved. He was six feet six inches tall. My mother
adored me but she interfered between us only when she thought my father had
gone too far in finding fault with me. Since family custom dictated that I
be "toughened up," I was sent at eight years of age to a boarding school a
hundred and twenty miles away. I hated it at first, and would cry myself to
sleep each night. But I got used to being away from home except for
When world war broke out in 1914, I was a teenager, the kind of student
who did just enough to get by. My father had died two years before from
wounds he had received in the Russo-Japanese War. When war came, my whole
upbringing had led me quite naturally to dream of gallant exploits. I was
disgusted with myself that I was too young to join, but the war ground on
and by the end of 1915 I was seventeen, old enough to volunteer. I had set
my heart on becoming an officer.
The army had lost so many that an accelerated officer training course
had been established -- four months instead of the usual two or three years;
you could complete your course work after the war if you lived that long. I
was still technically a year too young to be eligible for the military
academy, but it was now possible, because of the circumstances, to take the
examination whenever one felt ready. I didn't tell my mother, but I began to
try to cram a year's work into the shortest possible time, and I often
studied until the early hours of the morning. After three months, I notified
the director of the school that I was prepared to take the entrance
examination for the military academy. Because of my mediocre school record,
he thought I was just mouthing off. But I persisted, and he finally gave in,
warning me that no special allowances would be made and that he was all but
certain I would fail. But I passed the difficult examination with flying
colors, much to his surprise.
"All those years you've been pulling the wool over our eyes," he said,
"pretending to be a second-rate student."
"1 want to go to war so much, it has worked a miracle," I told him.
I had not given my mother even a hint of what I was up to because I
knew she would object. And of course when I showed her my report card and
told her I wanted to enter the military academy, she was vehemently opposed
and refused her consent. Since I was a minor, I could not join without it.
But a month of arguments, pleading and tears finally won her permission, and
on a day that was glorious for me and sad for her, I donned my uniform and
set off for the reserve battalion stationed at Ekaterinodar, the capital of
the Cossack Kuban territory. I had requested assignment and been given to a
military academy that had just been established at Tashkent in central Asia,
a region I had read much about in school, so, carrying my free railway
ticket and all my documents, I said good-bye to my mother and family and set
out on the long trip.
Anyone who has not experienced the immensity of Russia firsthand cannot
grasp what a voyage lay ahead. It was freezing cold and the train was so
packed that I counted myself lucky to find a tiny space in the baggage
compartment. Even the corridors were crowded with soldiers on their way to
and from the front. Near Tzarizin (later Stalingrad) a snowstorm nearly
buried the train, and it took two days of going hungry and nearly freezing
to dig ourselves out. The returning soldiers were frantic at the thought of
losing precious time from their short leaves. All the way to Samara
(Kubichev) on the Volga the train inched slowly forward between mountains of
On the other side of the frozen Volga, I changed trains for Tashkent.
Now, even the third-class cabins were almost empty. The countryside was a
constant surprise to me. The Russian forests had given way to desert plains
where only small bushes, called saksaule, could grow. Whenever the train
stopped, the nomadic Kirghiz rode up on their ponies to stare at the demon
locomotive; the railroad was new in central Asia, and the people of the
steppes would ride hundreds of miles to see it.
At last we reached Tashkent. We discovered we were only part of a
steady stream of Cossacks arriving from the Don, Kuban and Terek
territories. The director of the military academy was overwhelmed by us all,
and put us on a railroad car and off we went to Irkutsk in central Siberia.
I found Siberia even more dramatic than central Asia. Even though it is
intensely cold in western and central Siberia, there are seldom any strong
winds, and so it is not unpleasant. The air was so still that the smoke from
the engine rose straight up into the air; there was not the slightest
breeze. The most extraordinary thing, though, was the overwhelming, absolute
silence that fell whenever the train stopped. It was haunting. Occasionally
the quiet was broken by a piercing sound like the crack of a gunshot, as a
tree would explode in the thirty-below-zero cold.
The military school at Irkutsk consisted of a long, one-story building
with a huge courtyard in front and riding grounds behind. It had been
established in 1872 to train officers for the crack Siberian divisions. We
were welcomed by the director, who declared us officially student-officers,
We had four months to be transformed into officers. Into those four
months, we had to cram what would take two years in peacetime -- classes,
drills, riding. We were up at 6 A.M. and retired at 10 P.M., with only two
hours in between to ourselves. Each night I threw myself exhausted onto my
bed, wondering whether I could stand the intellectual and physical
punishment. But in a month's time my young body had become so hardened that
I no longer felt the least fatigue.
Spring in Siberia is the most beautiful I have seen anywhere. It
happens suddenly as the bright sun melts the last traces of snow. We used to
take map training on the other side of the majestic Angera River, and from
there we could see a breathtaking woods, all white birch surrounded by the
freshest, greenest grass in the world. Once I gave in to the temptation to
stretch out on the grass -- but I leaped to my feet the second I touched
ground: underneath the green grass, the earth is eternally frozen. On a day
in May, a few days before the end of our course, we took a train to Lake
Baikal, about thirty-eight miles from Irkutsk. It is the deepest lake in the
world; the water is like crystal and the banks are a scene out of a fairy
tale. It was warm so I put on my bathing suit and dived in. To my shock, the
water was so cold I felt as if I were being boiled.
And then we were commissioned as sublieutenants. Foreigners could not
possibly understand what that meant to us. In czarist Russia an officer was
received everywhere, and admired and respected by everyone. He had to wear
his uniform at all times in public, and no one, especially women, could
resist him. And there were many courtesies. For instance, at the theater,
officers never remained in their seats during intermission. Even the Czar
observed the formality.
By custom, the entire school was turned over to the new graduates on
the eve of graduation. The officers all stayed away and the school orchestra
played only for us. Legend has it that the famous poet Lermontov, who had
been a junker, had designed the ceremony we observed. We danced and sang the
whole night long and in the morning we took our time getting dressed since
there were no officers to make us hurry. We put on our new officers'
uniforms, still with our cadet insignia on the epaulets. By 9 A.M., we were
assembled in the courtyard. The authorities arrived with the
governor-general of eastern Siberia at their head. For the last time we
listened to the command "Come to attention!" as the director read the
telegram from St. Petersburg that said that we were commissioned. Then we
broke ranks and dashed to the dormitories to take off our cadet insignia.
Back in the ranks, we were greeted as "my fellow officers," and then we all
filed past the officers, who shook our hands and congratulated us. We
thought it unbearably moving that the customs were observed even though we
were "twelve-day wonders."
After the ceremony, we were each issued twenty-five rubles. Many of my
older comrades went to one of the numerous geisha houses, but I had decided
to have dinner in a good restaurant, and I had a date with a pretty young
Siberian girl I had met on leave. Then I took her to a concert by the famous
singer Plevitskaya, who had sung before the Czar. Two days later, our
arrangements were made, and we started on the long trip back. I was sad to
leave my girl, and the marvels of Siberia, but I had a month's furlough and
I longed to see my family and home.
2. First Feat of Arms
i WAS APPOINTED to the renowned 22nd Plastonais battalion -- of the
Cossack infantry. We were deep in the mountains on the Caucasus front, and
life was very hard. There were almost no paved roads, which was particularly
hard on the injured who had to be moved to hospitals, since everything had
to be moved by mule. We were always short of provisions, and when food did
arrive, it stank so much we had to force ourselves to eat it. There was no
firewood in those cold, barren hills. And at night, hungry jackals prowled
close to our tents. War wasn't the game I had dreamed about as a boy;
suffering attacked before the enemy.
When our battalion moved to the front lines I heard for the first time
the sounds of bullets whistling by me. Like us, the Turkish artillery had
only small mountain cannons but the cannonballs made a terrible noise as
they echoed over the cliffs and through the gorges. I soon learned, however,
that there was more danger from rifle bullets, either hitting directly or
ricocheting off the rocks. The first day on the front lines three of our men
were killed and several wounded.
Our commanding officers planned a major offensive. Because one of our
lieutenants had been seriously wounded, I was assigned to direct the
reconnaissance operation. October 4, 1916 -- I remember the day clearly. I
set out at nightfall with twenty Cossacks. My orders were to push forward
about two miles to a demolished Turkish village. The night was very dark and
windy. I divided the men in two, one group under my command and the other
led by a sergeant who was infinitely more experienced than I.
If the first detachment were ambushed, the other was to counterattack
from the rear. We wrapped our boots in cloth to dull the noise of our heels
on the roads. As we got near the village, we came upon a man sitting on the
ground. One of our soldiers jumped him and pinned him to the ground, holding
his Cossack dagger to his throat. I heard him say the word kardash
("friend"); he was unarmed. One of the soldiers who spoke Turkish soon found
out that he was an Armenian, and that his family had been killed by Turkish
soldiers. Only he had escaped. He had been hiding in a cave for several
days, was without food, and was now trying to find the Russian troops. He
told us there were more than fifty soldiers and two officers in the village
and that they had at least two machine guns. I decided to dare it. I
signaled the other group that they were to attack from the left as we came
in from the right. The Turkish position was directly in front of us.
Our battalion was called the plastounis (from plast, theword for bed)
because they were famous for surprising their foes at night by crawling up
on them on their bellies. This is the way we moved now. It took us an hour
to advance another half mile, but we surprised the Turks and took them in
twenty minutes. We captured one officer and nineteen troops, and lost four
killed and seven wounded. From a distance of two and a half miles the main
Turkish force opened an artillery barrage, but the Russian artillery
returned their fire to protect our retreat and we got safely back with the
Armenian, our prisoners, the two machine guns, and documents that would
prove useful. For my first feat of arms I was promoted to lieutenant and
received the order of St. Anne, which is worn on the saber and bears the
inscription "for courage."
That Christmas on the front was the saddest of our lives. Cold and
hungry, all we could think about was the gaiety and beauty of the
traditional Russian Christmas celebration. (We had no way of knowing that
this would be the last Christmas of the Russian Empire.) During January and
February the cold was so intense we could not undertake any serious action.
But we knew that spring would bring a major campaign designed to knock
Turkey out of the war.
News from Russia arrived a week late, and we were stupefied when we
learned that a revolution had broken out in St. Petersburg, and that the
Czar had abdicated in March 1917. I had been raised with a deep devotion for
the monarchy, and these events seemed to me unbelievable, even
.catastrophic. The ordinary Cossacks were as broken up as we officers. None
of us could imagine living without the Czar. The Cossacks had always been
the main protectors of the throne, and they wondered what then-fate would be
in a republic and feared that the revolutionaries would never forgive their
support of the Czar.
The Russian infantrymen on our right had received the news with
boisterous joy; we could hear them cheering in their camp. Ten days later
they sent a delegation to find out how the Cossacks, whom they disliked
anyhow, would react to revolution. They were astonished and angered to
discover that strict discipline still prevailed among our troops -- none of
us would wear the red ribbons that decorated their coats. We begged them to
go away and leave us alone, but that infuriated them further and led to
threats against us. After that our general ordered the Cossacks on a double
alert -- against the Turks and against our fellow troops.
A few days later, the famous order N1 of the new government arrived,
abolishing all discipline in the army. All military formations, large or
small, were to be governed by committees elected by the soldiers. The
committees were to be in charge of everything, even military operations. The
rejoicing of the ordinary soldiers can be easily imagined; they hated their
officers. Many of the officers of the regular army were severely harassed,
and some were even arrested for their harsh treatment of the men. The
Russian soldiers were furious when they found that the Cossack committees
were ninety percent officers (as opposed to only three percent -- mostly
young revolutionary officers -- among the regulars).
When the soldiers learned that the new government was promising to give
them confiscated land, they had only one idea -- to get home before the
distribution was completed. They deserted the front en masse. The Cossack
formations, however, maintained discipline, closing their ears to
propaganda. But by November 1917 our presence on the front was no longer of
any use. The Cossacks started to return to their stanitzas (villages, or
At every railroad station along the route, soldiers ordered the
Cossacks to turn over their officers, and the Cossacks, with machine guns
mounted on the trains, would reply, "Come and get them." Thousands of
officers were assassinated during these days, but not a single Cossack
officer was touched.
During a stopover at Prochladnaya, I put over my uniform an overcoat
that had been lent me by a friend who was the battalion physician. I didn't
think my officer's gold braid could be seen, or that the tiny gold crown on
my fur hat would betray me.
"Look, comrades," a soldier called out, "There's an officer disguised
as a soldier."
A crowd gathered around me and I was forced to remove my coat. On my
uniform were my lieutenant's epaulets. The soldiers seized me and began to
carry me to their camp behind the station. I was sure I was going to be torn
Two Cossacks who did not even belong to my battalion saw what was
happening to me and dashed to their trains yelling, "Quick! The soldiers are
going to kill a Cossack officer."
About a hundred Cossacks grabbed their rifles and chased away the
soldiers, who were beating me as they dragged me along. The Cossacks charged
after them with bayonets. My would-be executioners left behind one dead man
and ten seriously wounded. Some from my battalion carried me to the
officers' car, where my doctor friend gave me a big glass of vodka. "Those
bastards did a job on you but there is nothing serious." I was covered with
bruises and both my eyes were so blackened I could barely see.
Our train started up again. A division famous for its revolutionary
ardor was waiting at the Goulkevitchi station. Whenever a train arrived they
would ask if there were any officers aboard. They would drag their
unfortunate victims out of the cars and murder them with unbelievable
cruelty. As we pulled in, we saw some soldiers but they simply stared at us
with hatred. The station-master told us that they had got wind of the
incident at Prochladnaya and had decided to let us be.
Our regiment arrived finally at Tichoretzkaya, a maJoir railroad
junction where everybody was given leave buit me. Our commander, Lieutenant
Colonel Postovsky (who was to play an important role in my life), did not
want my mother to see me in the condition I was in. It was hard to be so
close to home and not to be able to see my family after such a long absence.
Even more, the thought of being seen in such a state by one very special
person with blond curls and wonderful blue eyes was worse.
Ten days later my face was almost back to normal, and the cuts and
bruises could be passed off as signs of valiant deeds. But as I was packing
my few belongings to go home, the colonel summoned me.
"You cannot go on leave. The commander-in-chief of the Cossack
divisions has ordered me to send an officer to Baku on the Caspian with a
confidential dispatch. You are the only officer I have that I trust. I'm
"But Colonel, I shall never return. You saw what the soldiers did to
"I know it's dangerous, but it would be for any officer. I have had
word that most of the soldiers have left the railroad stations. It's less
risky now. You will take the Rostov-Baku express, which has an armed guard
under an officer."
I was given no choice. I was handed a large sum of money and documents
asking the authorities (but what authorities?) to assure my safe passage. I
went to Tichoretzkaya, where I caught the train for Baku. It took two days.
In Baku I bought my mother and brother Christmas presents -- a case of the
local mandarin oranges. I also came down with a fierce sore throat and a
Just before I was to leave for home, our train was overrun by soldiers
who were fleeing the front. Compartments that were intended for four people
had to accommodate eight, and even the corridors were packed. I wore an
enlisted man's coat over my officer's uniform. I was prostrate on an upper
berth and obviously sick as a dog. Thinking I was one of them, the soldiers
kept asking me what was the matter. I pointed to my throat and whispered a
few words in an indistinct, hoarse voice, conscious that my accent might
give me away.
My fever rose and, off and on, I lost consciousness and sank into
delirium. I was blinded by my own sweat, and from the overheated, crowded
One of the soldiers said to me, "Comrade, you should take off your
overcoat. It's hot in here and you are burning up. We will just lay it over
you." Some of the others rose to help him. I was too sick to care. When they
took my coat off and saw my insignia, there was a disquieting silence. Then
someone said, "There must be a medic on the train. Someone should ask in the
other cars." A very young soldier replied, "You're right, comrade. I'll
Soon he was back with a medic, who swabbed my throat with some
awful-tasting medicine. It worked like a miracle and, by morning, I was a
lot better. He came back later and gave me some more medicine, and by
evening I was almost myself again.
I was astounded and very moved by the way these soldiers treated me.
They were always solicitous, asking me how I was, and whether I needed
anything. At each stop they would fetch boiling water to make tea. All
during the three-day trip these companions looked after me, and when I
arrived at Tichoretzkaya the whole car came out to shake my hand and wish me
a safe trip home. A little while before soldiers had tried to kill me. Now
other soldiers were doing all they could for me, with great kindness.
When I reached the stanitza, I delivered my report to the colonel as
well as the receipt for the package. He complimented me for a job well done,
had the treasurer advance me three months' pay and gave me a paper for an
unlimited leave. I would never return to my battalion. It no longer existed.
Leave papers in hand, I set out for home and my mother, who was
overjoyed to see me all in one piece. It was two days before Christmas 1917.
I forgot about the dire political situation, the Bolsheviks, the threat of
civil war, and the soldiers on the trains looking for officers to kill and I
thought only about my joy in being home at last.
The next day my mother told me that my close friend, Lieutenant Joukov,
had been killed just a few days before. He had survived the war, his own men
worshiped him, and he had been assassinated by soldiers from his own
country. I was beside myself. I dreamed of rallying the Cossacks of my
stanitza to revenge the Cossacks.
In fact, the czarist government had always had an incredibly foolish
relationship with the Cossacks. They were the protectors of the throne, the
bodyguards of the Czar and his family, and yet they had always been looked
on with distrust. It was a policy that was based on the memory of the
revolts of the Zaporov Cossacks-now only about half of those who lived in
Kuban -- under Stenka Rajin and Emilian Pougatchev, both Don Cossacks.
Pougatchev had threatened the reign of Catherine II. The government had then
adopted the policy of colonizing the Kuban Cossack territory with Russian
peasants, who were encouraged to buy land on low-interest loans from a
specially constituted bank.
The intricate social organization of the Kuban Cossacks endured in
spite of all this. To rid herself of the trouble some Zaporov Cossacks, who
lived in the southern Ukraine, Catherine II had moved them to the rich lands
of Kuban, which had been conquered from the Turks, along the banks of the
Kuban River, one of the swiftest and most dangerous in the world. With this
act, the government both neutralized the Cossacks militarily and
consolidated its new frontiers.
When a Cossack reached sixteen, he received from the government a piece
of land called a nadel. The parcel varied in size depending on how much
reserve the stanitza held, but it was generally thirty or forty acres. Every
four years the land was redistributed, a system that impoverished the famous
black soil. As the Cossack population increased, the nadels became smaller
and smaller and the Cossacks, especially those who lived along the Caucasus
frontier, grew steadily poorer. They, the masters, became poorer than the
Russian peasants who had been thrust into their midst.
... ... ...
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