E-mail: hfield@bicnet.net

 

Book review of Departure Delayed (German title for Trapped in the Cold War) by Adelbert Reif in the German national newspaper, Die Welt, November 1996
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Abducted into the Gears of the KGB: An American Family as Stalin's Hostage in the Cold War.


       It happened on the afternoon of August 22nd at Warsaw airport:  The American architect, Hermann Field, about to fly to Prague, had already bid farewell to his Polish hosts and passed through customs, when he was ushered into a small room.  There Colonel Jozef Swiatlo, assistant head of the Department X of the Polish Security Ministry was awaiting him.  Without explanation, and shielded from the possibility of the other passengers' awareness of the incident, Field was arrested by Swiatlo and taken to a secret location.

       Not until October 1954 did Hermann Field return to freedom from his jail hideout in a Warsaw villa converted for the holding of special prisoners. Behind him lay a time span of physical, psychological and spiritual terror without parallel.  Hermann Field had become Stalin's and Beria's Cold War hostage.

       Written after a gap of almost four decades, Hermann and Kate Field now present their autobiographical report Departure Delayed (Europaeische Verlagsanstalt, Hamburg).  It proves to be not only the detailed account of the tragic fate of one individual in the Cold War, but at the same time brings back to life a political era which in spite of its monstrous cruelty, threatens to disappear from general historic memory.

Helle Panke Announcement, click to enlarge       Hermann and Kate Field, true to their humanistic credo as "convinced anti fascists," wanted above all to help its victims.  When the Second World War broke out, the Fields were working for the British sponsored Czech Refugee Trust Fund, a small liberal aid organization, Hermann Field in Krakow, Kate in London. Putting his life on the line, Hermann Field also saved hundreds of human beings from being shot or from certain death in concentration camps by organizing their flight from Czechoslovakia or Poland to England.  Once again among those thus rescued there were a large number of communists who later were destined to play a considerable political role in their countries.

       When in 1948 Tito broke with the Soviet Union and undertook to establish in Yugoslavia its own socialism independent of the Soviet Union, Stalin and his secret police chief Beria set every effort in motion to suffocate in its germ every sign of independence in the communist parties of Eastern Europe.  In this situation Stalin and Beria developed their paranoid fiction of a widespread "imperialist conspiracy" within the leadership of the individual East European communist parties. By way of spectacular trials of leading party functionaries, Moscow wanted basically to make clear who had the last word.  The show trials were not put together to achieve legal punishment for an actually committed crime.  Rather they had a political-tactical function.

       The plan for an "imperialist conspiracy" developed its own dynamics.  Quickly the so called "west-emigrants" became the focal point of the "Soviet advisors" whose assignment was the preparation and execution of the trials in line with Moscow's concepts.  It must have seemed a bit of good luck to Stalin and Beria that Noel Field repeatedly went onto communist soil and sought out high level communist party functionaries.  When Hermann Field, in search of his brother, also turned up in Eastern Europe, and in addition Herta Field landed in Prague with the same mission, the lock snapped shut.  On August 25 1949, she also disappeared from Prague's Palace Hotel.

       Now the avalanche began to roll.  In preparation of the Rajk trial in Hungary, Noel and Herta Field were abducted from Prague to Budapest and at once brutally interrogated.  Noel Field signed a false confession which listed several dozen names as supposed "imperialist spies." Although Noel Field immediately recanted it, his "confession" was used both in the Rajk trial and later in the Slansky trial in Czechoslovakia.

Hermann, Kate, & Kiessling on stage, click to enlargeMeanwhile Hermann Field was held in part in "reserve", further trials being planned in Poland itself and in East Berlin.  But Hermann Field, as he reported, defied all torture to which he was subjected to the edge of suicide in resisting getting a "confession" out of him.  Thousands of pages of interrogatory papers of the security service proved worthless for their assigned purposes.  Only with Stalin's death in March 1953 did the trial and death merry-go-round come to a standstill.  But another year and a half went by before Noel, Herta and Hermann Field could become free human beings again.  In spite of all they had endured, Noel and Herta stayed on in Hungary.  In an article, "Hitching our Wagon to a Star", published after his release, Noel Field declared that his heart belonged, as before, to the communist cause.  He died in Budapest in 1970, his wife ten years later.  A documentary film "Noel Field: the Invented Spy", by Werner Schweizer which will shortly be released, pursues the traces of his secret life.

       With Departure Delayed Hermann and Kate Field have further illuminated this case.  A "political thriller" of breath taking tension and a work of human grandeur and of historical-political reflection, as rarely encountered.
 
  Translation of book review of Departure Delayed (German title for Trapped in the Cold War) in the German newspaper Junge Welt, Jan. 4-5, 1997
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Cold War, Hot Phase
Wolfgang Kiessling about the Book of Recollections Departure Delayed by Hermann & Kate Field.


       "The little crack at the top of my cellar window often provided a glimpse of a cloud moving against the blue of the sky. At night it revealed the bulb of a lamp post outside which sometimes acted as a backdrop to streaks of rain passing in front of it as a visual confirmation of the clatter in a nearby down spout. And one night - truly a wonder - the bright clear disk of a full moon with fluffs of clouds scudding across it, a special visitation for me in my tomb, with the world that I had once known and been a part of. Somewhere far off, this same moon hung over the night in which Kate and the boys were asleep. Perhaps she had noticed it too and had the same thought that it alone could be seen by both of us, a bond beyond the reach of man's inhumanity.  It happened just that one night.  It was over a year before I caught a glimpse of the moon again."

       Hermann Field was not a hostage in the usual sense. At the behest of Moscow, in August 1949 the Polish secret police had got the Dean of Architecture at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, into its power.  However there were no ultimatums.  Neither his wife, Kate, nor the American government were recipients of counter demands in return for his release.  More than that, for five years all parties in question denied his being in their hands.  It was only Hermann Field's name that was used. The man himself had to disappear to make it impossible for him to defend himself when others, because of their association with him, were damned, hunted down and destroyed.

       A malicious idea, thought up in the Kremlin, claimed that the brothers Field - Hermann and his brother Noel, kidnapped in May 1949 in Prague - had before and during the Second World War undertaken to convert communists from Central and Eastern Europe who had emigrated to the West into anti Soviet spies and agents.

       Furthermore, in the postwar period, while Hermann and Noel Field were held in solitary after their kidnapping, in the Soviet satellite states the show and secret trials against communist party and state officials were staged.  The name Field floated through the court rooms as the spirit of all evil and served - that was the actual purpose - the ideological manipulation of the masses.  Of all this, the isolated and kidnapped Hermann Field had no knowledge.  And his wife knew nothing as to what had happened to him. In London, where she stayed with her parents, she tried to fit together an endless puzzle.

PIW announcement, click to enlarge       At the end of 1996, Hermann and Kate Field published chapter by chapter in alternating authorship the story of their forced years of separation.  Great is the distance in time between their experiences and their account of them.  Nonetheless, nothing has been lost in immediacy.  After Hermann's release - the result of a curious act of providence worth following up - he and Kate, each individually, put down their experiences. Then they laid their notes aside as they once more "resumed their normal life."

       More than four decades later Hermann and Kate Field decided to allow a book to take shape from the original manuscripts.  The world of "socialist reality", in which they had once placed many hopes and wishes for humanity, had collapsed.  The fate of the Fields - including Hermann's brother Noel and Noel's wife - reflect early causes for the end of one social system.

       For years, Kate's efforts came to naught as she battled for her husband, lacking any leads as to where even to seek him.  Hermann existed in complete isolation from the world outside.  His ability to replicate mood images, such as the example cited at the beginning of this review, give the memoirs their artistic strength.  The substance of the account would have been worth reporting anyway just in its unadorned factuality.  However Hermann Field's images of the externality surrounding him, determined the form of expression.  While maintaining full authenticity, when it came to narrating experience he was impelled to literary creativeness.  This fact lifts the book out of the contemporary flood of autobiographies of politicians, mimes and other prominent figures swamping the market.  Devoid of self justification and vanity, it provides evidence of events engraved deeply into the history of the 20th century.  The fates of individuals reflect the most heated phase of the Cold War which affected millions of people and held sway over their lives for a long time.

Stare Misasto Plaza in WarsawA presentation full of suspense, from beginning to end, awaits the reader, whether he be a witness from that or later generations.  Every section of the book is gripping and striking, both the chapters of the husband from the perspective of his cellar grave on the edge of Warsaw and those of his wife as seen from London from the other side of the Iron Curtain.  Is it the human quality of the two Fields or the wisdom grown of age that permits them to write without rancor? In any case the intensity of their feelings and their clear comprehension make them sympathetic to us.  From their humanistic and anti fascist backgrounds one can understand their anger and sadness that one of our global social systems imploded, the surviving system now without the threat of its competitor.  The threat to the world emanating from Hitler's Germany had made active Anti Nazis out of the American citizen Hermann Field and the English Kate Thornycroft.

       Kate, who became Hermann's wife in 1940, worked in 1939 for an English refugee committee with the task of saving and supporting Anti Nazis threatened in Prague, just seized by the Wehrmacht and the Gestapo.  On the plea from his friend, the 29 year old architect Hermann Field agreed to a secret mission to the Moldavian metropolis.  His assignment was to rescue the German, Sudeten German, Austrian and Czech opponents of Hitler - among them numerous communists-who now after the occupation were trapped there, and to siphon them off to Poland and to bring them from there to England.  At the center of the book stand the consequences years later of these interventions.

       Kate tells of her life between despair and hope.  Hermann takes the reader along into his cell and interrogation existence.  It is nightmarish, abstruse, perfidious and filled with drama.  Fascinatingly written are the phases on the edge of death with the final sentence "..Unlike the dead, I still had the privilege of surveying what life had all been about, and I went at it with intense curiosity."

       Departure Delayed is a criminal case that could not have been contrived, renewed evidence that there is nothing more sensational than reality itself.

 
Mählert Review
Translation of book review of Departure Delayed in the Suddeutsche Zeitung, a daily with national circulation.
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Departure Delayed: Hermann & Kate Field - A Kafka - like Hostage Taking in the Cold War


       The book's significance lies less in its revelation of details of the Field incident. Much more it is the detailed description of solitary confinement, of the nightly interrogations, of the subtle dual effects of sugar bread and whip on the psychology of the prisoner, as well as the documentation of the conditions of incarceration, which raises the book to become an important historical document.  Beyond that it is the gripping story of a man who in the face of the most abhorrent conditions was able to maintain dignity and self respect.

       Hermann Field describes how his initial hope of the whole arrest being a mistake gradually shifted to sheer despair. The torture of isolation, the withdrawal of every kind of intellectual stimulus, the complete inactivity, the sense of being buried alive, all these led to the captive almost feeling the start of the interrogation as a relief.  After weeks of questioning Field was almost prepared to confess to the indicated agent activity.  Solely through a confession did it seem possible to escape the round and round of interrogations and solitude.  But in the last moment he refused to make the expected admission.

       Shortly before year's end the interrogation stopped abruptly.  What Hermann couldn't have known: the Kostov show trial in Sofia and the one against Rajk and company in Budapest had meanwhile taken place.  The obstinate Field hadn't confessed "in time" and thus lost in significance.  Shortly before Christmas a basic change occurred.  After months of solitary, he was to share from then on for several years his cell with Stanislaw, a Polish intellectual.

       The two couldn't have been more different.  Stanislaw "was catholic, conservative, anti communist, steeped in Latin culture coupled with a quick Slavic temperament.  He lived by the strong prop of faith with an underlying dose of mysticism which to me bordered on superstition.  He countered the disasters that had dogged most of his life as they had that of his country, with an intense capacity for full enjoyment, for the attraction of the existential moment.  On my part, I was raised in the Quaker environment of service, of will over pleasure, of reason over faith, of a belief in progress and the essential goodness of man in a vision of a world without violence and with equal opportunity."

       However, in spite of, or just because of this difference, this dissimilar pair achieved the necessary hold enabling them to survive the years of incarceration.  Twice Field, who sought to improve their conditions and to accelerate a decision about his case, looked death straight in the eye.  Nonetheless he was able even in the circumstances of the Polish cellar to separate himself from his circumstances: "So in my personal agony and close view of these terrible faults of Communist rule, was I to allow myself to become an uncritical Capitalist yes man and a fanatical fighter against Communism?  As I looked at the true villain in human frailty in each one of us, obviously that also was not the rational response."

        After his release and financial indemnity by the Polish government, Hermann Field was unwilling to become a part of the Western publicity mill.  Thus the life of the Fields documents a firmness against the black/white thought processes of the Cold War, a position which survived all personal blows of fate.

Ulrich Mählert

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