Russian Troops’ Exit Ends Cold War Saga in Germany : Europe: When a Red Army colonel arrived in Berlin, he didn’t foresee his grandson being there 49 years later.
In April, 1945, a Red Army colonel named Magomed-Khan Abdul Pashayev joined the assault on an encircled Berlin. After planting the first Soviet flag in the city’s suburbs, his regiment helped capture and hold the Reichstag until the Nazi surrender on May 9.
“Germany is defeated, but as soon as it is raised from ruin we shall leave,” he told his son. “What people would long endure a foreign army as masters of their own land?”
Two winters later, Pashayev was back home in Russia. But to his dismay, the Red Army stayed on and on. The occupation was to reshape Europe and help launch the Cold War, outlive the colonel himself and absorb three subsequent generations of his family before coming to an ignoble end this week.
Nearly five years after the Berlin Wall came down, nearly three years after the Soviet Union itself collapsed, another Pashayev in army uniform will close a chapter in postwar and family history Thursday when he joins the final trainload of Russian troops from Germany and chronicles their two-day journey to Moscow for the army newspaper Red Star.
Along with the departure of the last Russian troops from the Baltics this week, the pullout from Germany will complete a historic retrenchment. It will put the army that once occupied all of Eastern Europe back within the Soviet Union’s pre-World War II borders.
“The great war is finally ending,” Col. Sergei S. Pashayev said last week with the pride of finishing a grandfather’s mission. “Every army must come home someday. This was inevitable.”
It was also humiliating. The liberating heroes of 1945 became, to many Germans, Cold War occupiers of the 1950s, ‘60s, ’70 and ‘80s, puppeteers of a repressive East German Communist regime, agents of division. Unwanted in a reunified Germany, Russia’s most prestigious military forces--half a million officers, soldiers and dependents--began retreating in 1991 to an exhausted, disunified and indifferent homeland incapable of housing them all.
The Pashayevs who served in Germany during this extraordinary span look back on it, as many Russians do, with a selective and ambivalent view of history. They know they stayed too long yet refuse to see themselves as unwanted occupiers. The few Germans they knew were friendly and never challenged them on the Soviet propaganda about defending socialism against the West.
When the end came, the Pashayevs found it easier to blame their own leaders in Moscow--not for the decision to retreat but for the messy way it was done. “A withdrawal to nowhere,” Sergei Pashayev called it.
The Pashayevs descend from a prominent Muslim family from Dagestan, a mountainous southern Russian republic famed for fine carpets and fierce, freedom-loving warriors.
Sergei M. Pashayev, whose father stormed the Reichstag, was assigned as a staff officer to Dresden from 1963 to 1968. His son, the Red Star correspondent, was sent in 1992 to Wuensdorf, the main Russian base outside Berlin, to report on the withdrawal. Both had also lived in Germany as boys during their fathers’ tours.
The correspondent’s stepdaughter, Olga, became the fourth generation of the family to wear a uniform in Germany. She married a young Russian artillery officer at Wuensdorf in 1992 and enlisted there as a private, working as a telegrapher. The couple was transferred to Russia in May.
The founder of this dynasty, the late Magomed-Khan Abdul Pashayev, was a decorated war hero--"always there when the going got tough,” one historian wrote of him--and a strict regiment leader who once shot open every bottle in a captured German wine cellar to keep his men from drinking.
He was also a propaganda officer who taught his subordinates and his descendants to like all Germans who weren’t fascists. Practicing what he preached, he shared his officer’s rations with his German housekeeper after the war.
Sergei M. Pashayev, now 66 and living in Ukraine, was a teen-ager at the time. He fraternized with American soldiers who had arrived to partition Berlin after the Nazi surrender. He admired their ability to drive a jeep with only an elbow on the steering wheel.
After leaving with his father in early 1947, Pashayev enrolled in a Russian military academy and learned how quickly the Americans had become enemies. He was taught about the Soviet blockade of Berlin, the anti-Communist Marshall Plan, the first Soviet nuclear bomb, the East-West struggle for world supremacy.
Two years before he returned to Germany as an officer, the Communists built a wall dividing Soviet-controlled East Berlin from Allied-occupied West Berlin. “My mission was to protect the forward bastions of the socialist camp,” Pashayev said. “I think the task of the American army was more or less similar. It was us against them.”
His father would challenge that Cold War logic during his son’s home leaves. “How long are you going to be there?” he recalls the old man asking. “All is in order. All is done. Why stay?”
But the Germans who ran the ground-floor bakery in the building where they lived showered Sergei’s children with cakes after school, and the Pashayevs never met a German who voiced objections to their presence.
Sergei’s only brush with hostility came after his unit rushed to neighboring Soviet-occupied Czechoslovakia to help crush the 1968 Prague Spring uprising. That part was swift and simple. But before leaving, he had to fall into a roadside ditch to avoid being run over by a resentful young Czech in a big truck.
It would be another 21 years before Eastern Europe escaped the loosening Soviet grip of President Mikhail S. Gorbachev. By then, Magomed-Khan Abdul Pashayev was dead, and his descendants had come to realize that the Cold War was “sheer madness,” as his grandson put it.
Arriving in a reunified Germany, Pashayev the army journalist was struck by how wealthy it had become since his boyhood there, when his mother would get cheap butter from the Soviet officers’ store for his German piano teacher.
Under a 1990 accord that made reunification possible, the German government put up $7 billion to finance the promised Soviet withdrawal. Most of the money went to supplement the salaries of officers waiting to leave and to build housing for them back home.
For Russian officers lucky enough to be in post-Cold War Germany, the new mission was simple: make money, acquire goodies, to cushion the blow of coming home to poverty.
The German allowances tripled their salaries. Pashayev the journalist bought a 1988 BMW. Stepdaughter Olga and her husband, First Lt. Alexander Voznyuk, who together earned more than $700 a month in Germany, bought a 1982 Ford, a stereo and years’ worth of new clothes.
“You see how the Germans live--in comfort, beauty and neatness--and you start feeling you want to live like they do,” 21-year-old Olga said. “Now it will be possible to live like that in Russia.” Her husband added, “The officers in my class who stayed in Russia have practically nothing.”
As their numbers dwindled, Russian troops sold off duty-free cigarettes and vodka--and, some German officials suspect, weapons. Then they grabbed anything they could barter back home--concrete light poles, barracks doors, windows, sinks and toilets.
The Wuensdorf base, once a military city of 70,000 Soviet soldiers, was stripped bare this summer, its hollowed apartment blocks abandoned to weeds, stray cats and advancing marshland.
Pashayev’s reports in Red Star over the past year have described assaults on the base and its environs--by German skinheads, thieves and immigrants from the former Soviet Union trying to buy weapons and sell stolen cars. As a journalist, he took part in two sting operations with the German police to nab would-be weapons buyers.
He also reported a scam by a Russian officer’s brother who took housing funds from the army, built cottages in Russia and sold them on the open market.
Despite German aid, as many as 200,000 soldiers and dependents have returned from Germany without housing, including Pashayev’s stepdaughter and husband. Lucky to get a Moscow assignment, they crowded with their baby into Pashayev’s tiny two-bedroom apartment on the edge of Moscow, where the journalist will soon join his wife.
Other officers, not so lucky, must live in barracks while their wives return to their own families.
“The decision to withdraw was correct,” the 44-year-old journalist said during a brief visit home last week. “But it should have been done in a more civilized manner. . . . Gorbachev is to blame for the ruined lives of many officers and for the broken families.”
That sentiment, echoed by his father and his stepdaughter, is stronger than any feeling that the Germans turned against them. So are two other complaints shared by the Pashayevs about the way the era ended.
One is that, while Germany united, the Soviet Union fell apart, forcing their family members to cross borders to visit each other. The other is the loss of prestige for their military profession. Coming home in May, Voznyuk realized that “civilians look at us as if we are mentally ill.”
And how do four generations of Pashayevs, whose mission in Germany changed so much over the 49-year occupation, judge its impact on history?
“We went to Germany to end one war and prevent a new one from starting,” said Sergei S. Pashayev, trying to speak for the whole family. “A new war did not start. There is hope that war will never break out again. Now we can get on with the work of our own country. . . .
“If my grandfather were alive, he would say, ‘Mission accomplished.’ ”
Times staff writer Mary Williams Walsh in Berlin contributed to this report.