[bas relief by Oleh Lesiuk]
References to Scheffer From Susan Taylor's 1990 Stalin’s Apologist
[N.B. Her references to Scheffer have an incorrect spelling of his name as 'Sheffer']
Everybody left town: Sheean out of Moscow for good, “Red” Lewis and his wife continuing with their tour, Duranty remaining behind to nurse fantasies about his fiction. Lots of snow and ice—it was going to be a hard winter. Duranty had received a none-too-encouraging letter from his agent in New York indicating he was having trouble selling the other stories Duranty and Knick had written.
Undaunted, Duranty wrote Knick that he didn’t “want to see the blue Mediterranean only from a bath chair.” If Russia wouldn’t sell, he would turn his hand to other topics. He had plans to write two more short stories, which he would then send to Knick. He would have them there in no time “unless things fizz here too much.”
The stones never got written. On the 18th of December, the Fifteenth Party Congress expelled the seventy-five leading members of the opposition from the Communist Party. Trotsky was sent to Alma Ata, on the borders of China in southeast Kazakhstan. In a letter dated the 23rd of January 1928, Duranty wrote Knick: “I saw Trotsky off the night of my return. . . .“
Duranty and Paul Sheffer, the highly respected correspondent of the Berliner Tageblatt, received a telephone call that Trotsky would be leaving for internal exile on an afternoon train, and Duranty and Sheffer were both there, watching Trotsky, his wife, and two assistants make their departure. The large group of onlookers assembled there behaved well, “a large force of police” and special secret service troops present just to make sure.
Sheffer and Duranty went home and filed their stories—orderly departure, “sympathetic” crowd sort of stuff. It was fully two days before they found out it wasn’t Trotsky.
Sheffer turned up at Duranty’s apartment, excited. He told Duranty that “there was no Trotsky at the Kazan Station.” The real Trotsky and his wife had been dragged, resisting, from their home earlier and placed on a single railway carriage, which, some fifty kilometer from Moscow, was “hitched to a train bound for Central Asia.” The authorities had been taking no chances. They wanted to avoid any disturbances, so they had deliberately arranged a “Potemkin” Trotsky. Duranty heard later “that the central figure was an actor who had impersonated Trotsky in one of the Civil War films.”
For Duranty, it was another reminder not to trust the judgement of others in Soviet matters. In some cases, he couldn’t even trust his own.
Duranty had planned a trip to Paris, but now postponed it, Strang wrote, worried that he wouldn’t be allowed back into the country. ‘”I am sure he knows that any such fate is almost out of the question,” Strang commented drily, “but he says the authorities here are in such a state of nerves that there is no knowing what they may do.”
Other Western correspondents documented the methods of coercion exercised by Soviet authorities over foreign newsmen, whom, it was said, they managed to control “almost as rigorously as they did their own.”6 For the Western reporters, there was the ominous threat of losing their visas, which were “granted to foreigners for a maximum period of six months at a time; and the foreigner who leaves the country even for a short time must reapply for an entrance visa.”
A delay in granting the return visa was one way of indicating to a journalist that he was treading on thin ice and that his work was not regarded as sufficiently “objective.” On occasion, as with the respected correspondent of the Berliner Tageblatt, Paul Sheffer, the visa was simply revoked when he left the country and re-entry denied. In most cases, loss of the visa meant loss of the job.
The Sheffer incident had taken place in the late-Twenties, but it still served as a reminder to the Western press corps that journalists could be vulnerable to the whims of Moscow.
The young Muggeridge fell immediately and by natural inclination into the pro-Cholerton, anti-Duranty camp, and Cholerton entertained him with allegations of Duranty’s earlier crooked dealings, all of which remained unspecified.4 The British Embassy told a different story—of competition between a young Duranty and a younger Cholerton which had taken place in early days, led by the eminent German correspondent Paul Sheffer. After Sheffer was refused his return visa into the Soviet Union, according to the Embassy version, Duranty and Cholerton fell into a state of permanent disenchantment with one another.5
There was still another version of the split-—-one that didn’t make it into the records of the British Foreign Office and that Muggeridge wasn’t informed of by Cholerton. Knick told John Gunther “a superb Story” about Cholerton, which Gunther wrote in his diaries.
Sometime during the mid-Twenties in Paris, Walter Duranty found Cholerton “down and out, brilliantly ejected from Cambridge, like Walter himself many years before.” Duranty believed Cholerton was just what he had been looking for—”an able young fellow who would do his work for him for almost nothing.” At the time Knick was still working in Moscow, and Knick gave Cholerton a story “and showed him how to write it.” The next day, Knick ran into Cholerton and asked him if the story went “off all right.”
“No,” said Cholerton, “I met Sheffer after I left you, and he told me your interpretation was incorrect, so I wrote it over.” Knick looked at the new version, and seeing it was wrong, harangued Cholerton into changing it back to the original version.
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