"The following is a complete, unedited, unverified
Cohen: We met Ben at first in the Dacha, on the outskirts of Moscow. My wife and I met him together, and then she had to go away on a mission. So I was left with him. We undertook an improvement of the English language, in American style, and I understood from listening to Ben that he knew there were just small, you may say, nuances, which he caught on to very, very quickly. I believe he first came to the US when he was about twelve years of age, and he was there until about the age of sixteen. When I first heard him speak, I thought he'd been there much longer. He had picked up and become familiar with the language within a period of four years. He knew the ways of American children, the games they played, the schooling; he'd been in an American school, he knew what was happening in the World. His mind was open, and he was interested in knowing what was taking place, in line with our activities, our objectives. He'd spent some time in the University when we came together. He was married and divorced. All this we learned from him. We spoke quite a bit about what had happened under Stalin, and I would say that he provided an insight nobody else had spoken to us about, what Stalin had done, -- the well, one might say, mistakes, which fell upon the country during the period of Stalin. We were in a certain sense surprised. He was probably the first to speak in this manner and provide for us a basis for thinking more about what had happened during the time of Stalin. I would say to you that I don't think we understood enough. We had to spend more time and discussion in order to really understand what had happened and the differences between 1953 and let's say 1950, 1945 and earlier. Because, after all, I came in contact with our people in Spain in 1937. Do you want me to say something about this period or not?
Interviewer: When you've finished the story that you have started then talk about that period.
Cohen: I see. So Ben from time to time, told us of his meetings with various people in America. For example, on an aeroplane he met an American, a well to do with a family. The man invited him to his home. I forget in which Western State, whether it was California or one of the states in that area. From the very beginning, the children immediately addressed him as Ben. Now you know that in the Soviet Union, if a man is older, not a child, but a man, a grown man, they do not readily teach him to say Uncle Ben, Uncle John, and so on. So you will often find children speaking to an older person, three, four times their age, and addressing him by his first name, Ben, John, Jim and so on.
Ben learned things like this, which were absolutely necessary in order to know the Americans. It was very interesting for Helen and myself to see this coming from Ben, because you cannot say that there was no field of knowledge or area of human endeavour, which we should not speak about. We spoke about absolutely everything. It was during that period while Helen was away; Ben and I went to the theatre, to concerts, to the Opera. We would have a meal in a Soviet restaurant, and he would point out things, which were absolutely new to myself. Things, which, left on my own with Helen, we couldn't understand as well. Well, then we understood our perspective on a broader scale, I mean, what we should know. It's one thing to know if it comes simply as in a book, but to feel this, see.
For example Ben had to come to see us on the dacha. The dacha had a fence around it. You know what this is, a fence around, the people who took care of the dacha, had a dog, how do you call, an Alsatian. I forget in Russian how to say this word, but they had a big dog, he was only eight months, he seemed much older. One day Ben came to the door and he knew how to put his hand over and open the door of the fence from the outside. It seems the dog was waiting for him. When he put his hand in, the dog bit it. It wasn't too serious, but nobody could hold back the dog at that time. There were only the two children, little children who were present, and I forget who yelled out. The mistress, the one who took care, the mother of the two children ran out, the dog immediately obeyed her. She was the only one; that the dog would obey, see? So I remember this happening.
People came to see us and the dacha, but mainly when Ben was with us. We had comrades from our service, only they appeared. Then my wife had to go away on a mission, and I was left with Ben. And we got down to business as is said in the American language. He learned very quickly, and he gave me solid material to think about on the development of the Soviet Union and of our activity. He told me about his days in college here, in the classroom in the USA. I was very glad to learn this from him. It left an indelible impression in me, so that 1953 had a special meaning. It was from then on that we came together.
In the early part he did not sleep in the dacha. He would come to work every day, but then later when my wife left, he slept in the dacha. I was older than him, but we went like two friends two bosom friends to places like concerts, opera, restaurant and so on. I was able to learn many of the customs of the people by talking with him, watching how he reacted to people around him, see? So I felt he had become an American in those years, four and a half years that he spent over there. To me the experience was very valuable, and when Helen came back, to her as well.
After she came back, he was with us a while longer, and then went away. We did not know whether we would work together. Finally, there was a point when we got to know where we would be working, we didn't know at first where we would meet. We did not know. When we found out, this was perhaps the beginning of 1954 perhaps. We found out, I had to come to a certain place on the outskirts of London, every month, on a certain day and time. Months went by, nobody came. I don't think we met there. But we did meet in Paris accidentally. If I tell you now you will understand why this was so, well, interesting.
Helen and I had to go to Paris to meet somebody. To meet one of our comrades, that's right, I remember now, to meet one of our comrades in Paris. We were going to meet in a part of the Sorbonne where the students have their dormitories. They sleep there. Now, this comes back to me. We were both to meet this comrade. So we told him about Ben -- we didn't know their exact relations -- but we told him. We were then scheduled to go to Japan. So we said there maybe a matter of money, and perhaps there were some things you could clear up. I'm meeting with the comrade. He said "Well I'm not supposed to". We weren't sure what to do on this instance. So one day we walked on past the same river in Paris. He was watching the river from the stone parapet, the boundary, and the comrade said to us, to my wife and myself, "no, I won't meet him". And we walked past. It was after that when we got back to London that I went to this point where we were supposed to meet, Ben and I, once a month. We were supposed to meet. We didn't come together.
We met then in Paris accidentally, Helen and I. I think it was in the month of April, maybe '54, something like that. Helen and I were walking on the street in the centre of Paris, and I look ahead of me; it was about seven o'clock in the evening, still a little light. I said to Helen, Look, look who's coming." Helen saw it was Ben. We had no arrangements, nothing at all. We didn't know he was there, even. It was purely accidental, and we were sure that the Communists wouldn't believe us when we told them. We met, we embraced, kissed. He had been sick, so we said, "Well let's have a bottle of wine". That was the first thing.
I remember, you know, Paris and wine go together. We went into a big café, sat down, ordered the bottle of wine, began to talk, and we even had a meal there and another bottle of wine. Well, then we understood that we would be working, very likely, we would be working together. This was for maybe the first time that we actually understood. We went back to London, where we were living at the time. Arrangements were made, we had to go over some materials, and also, we didn't know exactly where we would be going.
There was a period, even, when we were preparing to go to South Africa to work. It didn't turn out that way. Perhaps that's why the name Peter J. Kroger is what we chose, because we would be going to South Africa. You know in South Africa there are many people whose families came from Holland, two and three hundred years ago. So the name Kroger fits in. This is why we chose it.
Ben had to go away from us, perhaps two months or so, before we left Moscow ourselves. He went away, and we knew only that we would meet him in the future. Exactly when we did not know. We couldn't be sure. It was in Paris, when we were drinking the wine that we found out, yes, that he'd been sick, he'd had a heavy fever. He says that our meeting, this accidental meeting, and the wine we drank was the best medicine for him. He seemed to be, yes, become alive again. Well we met, I'm not sure whether we met in between that time, but we got directions, and he came to us. I forget where it was that we actually met the first in London. Whether he came to our house, because we had borrowed a house from a professor and his family. The professor went to work in the USA with his wife and children, he had two little children. Helen and I lived in that house of the professor for a year. After that, we went to live in a bungalow that we had bought. This is now all coming back to me, so excuse me if it's a little mixed up.
Helen had a house that she was interested in. This house was in a town called Ruislip. That's about thirty miles north of London. She liked it very much, and she told Ben about this. He had a look at the house, he didn't go in, but he had a look. He agreed. Why were they so satisfied with this house? I should tell you. It was in a place where you could go from Ruislip to North Ruislip. That is already another town. You could walk through a gate, but you could not go by car through that gate. This was a factor that we favoured. Then we could sort of keep a better watch.
Number two; behind us and on the side, there was a club for recreation. People played cricket, the English game of cricket. There were tennis courts. There was a building where they could have a drink and something to eat, and the house had a stone wall around it. All of these features we felt were helpful for our purpose.
We had a good-sized garden, but we did not raise any thing. The apple tree, vegetables so on, were there from before, but we were able to get apples, which we put in the attic of the bungalow we were living in. The bungalow was fine. Just to give you an idea of such matters, we had this for eight hundred pounds. At the time the pound was about two dollars and sixty or three dollars, maybe three dollars to a pound, and that house now would cost over a hundred thousand pounds. Of course I sold it thirty years ago, but still to show you the kind of house, the rooms everything about it were, well, to have wished for more than that, wouldn't have been very serious at all.
There was a basement as well. In the basement, Ben and Helen (she also helped) made a hole in the ground of the kitchen, and there they prepared a place where we could place our radio. Which we would be able to send and receive materials from Moscow, but we had to climb down under the refrigerator. Everything was kept very clean, so that it looked plausible, understandable that the refrigerator was in that place, and very few people really noticed that you could lift part of the floor to go down below. I mention this to you to understand how much care was taken in all of these matters.
Well then we met with Ben, in the flat. I told you, our house that we had borrowed from the professor. By the time we came to London and lived in Ruislip, north of London, by then we had gotten to know Ben much better, and he would come to visit us regularly. But we didn't always know. He would drop in, or phone us. We knew then, over the phone, that he would be coming. Or he would tell us the week before, when meeting with us, when he would be coming the next time.
He knocked on the door in a certain way. Now I mention this because it had a particular interest. He would leave his car somewhere in North Ruislip and walk. There was a public thoroughfare, a public street. Traffic could not go on it, but people could walk, and this was behind our bungalow. So he would walk behind, and then come around, and then to the door, he would enter our house. The door had a knocker, so it is called; it was made of steel. The person who wants to go in can pick this up. When we heard his knock we knew that was him, nobody else but him.
These are details, which I tell you, which will provide a certain insight. We were always very glad to meet with him. We looked forward to this a great deal. In London, we had our own car, well I shouldn't say in London, but while we were there. Ben recommended that Helen should be the driver. He felt that it would be better for us if she drove the car. She reacted better than I did to driving. So that I learned the geography of London. She did too, and I could tell her which street to go into, which avenue and so on. The walking behind the house was very important. Therefore, they did not see Ben coming down the street. People did not see him. In other words, only a minimum of people saw him. I tell you this because this has connections with what happened in 1960 in our arrest.
I tell you of these features. In our bungalow, Ben slept there sometimes, had a meal. Helen made a good meal, and he was satisfied, because very often he came, and he was tired, very tired. But there were times we had to work through the night, three o'clock, four o'clock in order to make pictures, photographs, from material which Halton and his girlfriend handed over to Ben. I mentioned to you before, we met a comrade from Paris, and we went back to London to Ruislip. Then from Ruislip, again, we started out for Paris and for Japan. Well this is what we were doing in accord with what our comrades in Moscow wanted us to do.
We met in places, right in London, in the heart of London very often. Where? It differed. For example there is Oxford Street in London, a well-known shopping street. You may say this is the spine of London, not far from the Thames River, and there was one of those big department stores. We met there once in a while. Another time, we met at a metro station near Trafalgar Square; we met there, I remember distinctly. We met on the sidewalk as ordinary people, for example, as if Helen and I were shopping, in the window. It's called window-shopping. People who live there know what this means. It means you're not buying the material, but you're looking in the shop window to see what is on sale. We were watching, looking at the things, and he would come along, we would meet there.
Or one time, now I'm moving away from the sequence of events, but I want to tell you of a very important evening. We were scheduled to meet him. At first we were going to go to the theatre to watch a play by the name of Galileo. Now this is coming back to me see. Burt Rest wrote this play, and there was a company of a progressive nature, who was playing in this theatre in the play Galileo, see. We had invited another bookseller, an antiquarian bookseller, whom we knew very well. He had a bookshop in Windsor, where the Queen has a castle, and we thought we would have dinner with him and his wife. We had been to his house, and he'd come to our house. He was very well known, maybe at the very top of the book selling business throughout Great Britain.
We were supposed to go watch this play, and then we'd received a call, it may have been a telephone, I'm not sure or that we had to listen to the radio that evening. That made it difficult, because we had to take the radio from below. Helen managed this. How she managed exactly, I tell you, I didn't know. Because we made a plan that I would meet the couple, see, at the theatre in London. We would have dinner first, and then go to see the play, but Helen was supposed to be with us. What shall we do? So we told them. We arranged I would meet with them; we would have dinner in a London restaurant. Helen had to meet people, customers, who would come by aeroplane from the continent. This is the usual thing over there, and I would meet with this friend, go to the restaurant and then go to the theatre. And Helen, once she was finished, would meet us at the theatre.
So you see how much work she had on her own hands to take the radio out from underneath the fridge. It was, in those days, fair size, about two-thirds the size of that package. She listened, put everything away, and drove the car to London where the dinner was. And we met a little bit after ten o'clock, ten thirty, something like this. But I tell you this is something, which she did. One of the interesting evenings that we had to do this work. We had to meet someone, she had to arrange to get the message by radio, and then we would all come together and meet, see?
Now going back to the period when you asked about these meetings, I told you that we had to go to Japan. I'm not sure now whether to speak about Japan at all?
Cohen: Because it didn't involve?
Interviewer: No, leave it alone.
Cohen: All right.
Interviewer: Leave it alone.
Cohen: So when we came back, of course, we met with Ben, at our house. We found that for him, well, it was more convenient, and he watched himself. Since he had to go in that small street, that narrow street, which was a public thoroughfare, thoroughly legal, he had to go around that to come into our house. This was good for us. Well, we knew nobody could walk by without him seeing who. At the same time, he was not watched by many people, see, because in London you find, and in many towns of England, such geography. Those streets existed for three hundred years or more in such a form.
Therefore, I go back to 1956 and '57, when we began to see each other more often, and were able to collect material. For example, I remember distinctly a time when we had to photograph materials that Halton and his girlfriend gave to Ben, and Ben brought the materials over to our house. He, we photographed them. We didn't get through until about four o'clock in the morning. He had something to eat, and he left. Maybe he slept an hour or two, because if he went during the night, we felt this wouldn't be so good, and he went back wherever he had to go. I am trying to recollect, yes, there were also times when we met at a restaurant. He knew which one, and we had supper there.
Interviewer: What did he have to say about the questions?
Cohen: Do you want me to read the two that I have in mind? If you want I'll read them.
Interviewer: Okay, do one.
Cohen: How did Ben come to your bungalow? How much materials did he usually bring?
Interviewer: With him?
Cohen: With, with him? There, it's outside the range, with him. Now the first one; how often did Ben come to your bungalow? It varied a great deal. Shall I speak to you? Face you?
Cohen: It varied a great deal. Did you contact Moscow? I said before, shall I speak to you?
Interviewer: To me, yes please.
Peter: As I said before, that he never came more than once a week to the bungalow. If it was absolutely necessary, then we met somewhere else, usually in London of course. Café in a certain street or subway metro station. Now was that an adequate answer? No? Yes?
How much materials did he usually bring with him? He never brought anything which required a bag. Whatever he brought was in his pocket. They did not bulge, they seemed very ordinary. He paid special attention to that. Is that adequate? Seems to me to be adequate to the question.
Interviewer: I see.
Peter: I myself can see him coming in. Since you put it this way, I should tell you how he came, because that's interesting. He usually came by car, which he drove. He drove well. He knew how to drive, and his reactions were very good. He left the car in what was called North Ruislip. People generally spoke of that region as Ruislip, and there was the town itself of Ruislip. There was a gate between North Ruislip and Ruislip. This gate kept traffic out, but people on foot could go through. However, the road that he used was a public road and at the back of the bungalows and houses. He had discovered this on his own. Therefore it was not abnormal for him to take that path back of the houses, where there was little chance of him meeting people, especially in the evening, late at night. So that he would come out on, on our street in front of the bungalow. He would come to the door. There was a steel knocker. You know what a knocker is on the door, and we knew from the sound of the knock that was him. He usually came at the time that we had discussed, on time. He did not come, let's say within two, three hours one way or the other, but he came on time. Is there any, any other question that is attached to this? I mean, maybe someone has another question?
Interviewer: All right, yeah. They want you to repeat how often he came and how many times a week or a month you saw him.
Cohen: Well if we understand the job that had to be undertaken, we know that it cannot be more than, let's say at the most once a week. Therefore, our meetings were reduced to once a week, unless as I said before, there was an emergency. Something which called for immediate action, and then we would meet somewhere else.
Interviewer: Like where?
Cohen: He was quite punctual in all of this. If you think that some more should be added to it, all right, but as I say, he usually came in the car. There were certain times when he used transport, let us say he felt for some reason that was better. There was the time also when he came to our house, and we hadn't seen him for some time. He'd been in Moscow. We met, and therefore he didn't know that someone else was in the house. That was one time, of course, when we had to decide between ourselves what to do. The person who was in our house was going to sleep over. He was the professor from the University of Pennsylvania in the US and bought books. And he gave us names of people who would be interested in those books, since to some extent we pointed out that we deal in Americana. That is the word that is used by the booksellers for the speciality that they were addicted to. So just like one said, "He deals in science," which means books on science. Or he "deals in art."
In the end, while I dealt with books, or Helen and I dealt with books, known as Americana, we added more and more, for example, science. Quite a number of the people who bought expensive books, professors in universities were interested in science. There was one man who was at a university, and who taught. He wanted to become a member of the British Academy, The Royal Academy. He was a scientist, a top scientist, and therefore, his wants were in the field of science, especially of the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth centuries.
Interviewer: What about Ben?
Cohen: What about?
Interviewer: You mentioned Ben was knocking on the door when that scientist from the United States was in your house.
Cohen: How did Ben fit into this you mean?
Interviewer: No, I mean what happened after that?
Cohen: After that? We got into something else. I was coming to that. Therefore, we thought the best thing, and Ben understood that, we would have supper together, Helen, this professor, Ben, myself, and then he would leave. He understood that. He was very fast in understanding. Perhaps at this point I should say a few words about this development; I think it is in place now.
You may know that he came to the U.S. when he was a little over twelve years of age. He lived in California with his aunt, the sister of his mother. And, he learned very quickly. His reactions were fine. He had a good understanding, and he was open to others' speech, to what they had to say about any event at all. The age of twelve in American schools is very important for the following reason. They have three sections, elementary school, junior high and senior high. Elementary school goes up to the seventh class, then junior high school, which is a division that took acceleration, about nineteen, twenty. Students or pupils in the junior high went for three years to junior high school, that means the second, third and forth year of high school were done in senior high school. What was the reason for this, just a few words to point out that the educational experts in the US came to the conclusion that this is the transitional period, psychological period for youth?
Interviewer: Yeah, that's very interesting Peter. How does that relate to Ben?
Cohen: The person himself, the youth, whether boy or girl, does not know why these changes are taking place. Sexual and psychological changes especially. The girls, of course, begin this change, perhaps a year before the boys. So they came to the conclusion to move from a two-sector period, that means elementary and high school to a three sector, elementary, junior high and senior high school, all right.
Interviewer: Number two please.
Peter: Therefore he was very sensitive to all these changes that were taking place, considering where he came from. Okay?
Interviewer: I see. So, how about the second question now?
How much materials did he bring each time he came to visit you? And what kind of materials? How it looked? What it included?
Cohen: Yes, how much. He never brought more than he could carry within his pockets, and never bulging pockets, which look rather abnormal. He never did. Whatever had to come to us, he managed in some way to bring it. For example, if there was material, which had to be photographed, he came usually in his car. When he had to bring it from his car to our house, it was already dark or getting dark, therefore, without exciting any improper attention from spectators or people he may be passing by. He came through. He took all of these matters into observation, and as I said before, he was very sensitive to these points, and what had to be done. Is this enough?
Interviewer: I guess so yes, that's enough.
Cohen: How often and which way did you contact Moscow? We used every means available. When you try to imagine what one in our positions can do, you must consider also, that as a bookseller, most of the books that we sold went by post. This is not unusual, especially in the antiquarian trade. Of course, such books were insured. It's a legal transaction, and you can insure them if the book is worth the money. So you take out insurance on that as well. We did all of that, and therefore it was nothing unusual for me to be carrying some books to the post office in a parcel.
There is a special way to wrap those books. What do I mean by the special way? I'll mention it. Each country has it's own rules on this, post office rules. The American rules -- and most of our overseas customers were from America, professors and such --the American rules call for one end of the package to be opened. As long as you opened enough to put your finger in, like a wedge, which was adequate, they understood it was book. They understood that it would not be torn and you paid, of course, a tax for that.
Let me mention a few of the means that were used in contacting Moscow. We, ourselves, rarely used the radio in our house to contact Moscow, whether the regular radio or a special one. We had a special radio, which was in contact with Moscow, and we kept it under a fridge in the kitchen. Ben, Helen and I had dug a hole underground in the earth, and it was placed very neatly underneath the fridge, so that only we knew this. It was not, as far as I can recall, discovered by the British Services, until they put us under arrest, not until then.
The means were used of keeping contact with Moscow. Well, two or three examples I believe should be given; they were interesting. We wrote with invisible ink a few times. Writing above the printed line. Also we used letters with invisible ink. We rarely, I don't think ever, sent any post direct to Moscow. We did send some materials to people, for example, in Switzerland, to an address. We didn't know the people. We were given the address. We could send a card or letter to them, and they would contact Moscow. The invisible ink was a second way. A third way was we sent a book to somebody. The page on which we wanted to arouse interest was known somehow, either beforehand or there was some way by which we could provide it. So that they knew, look at page twenty-three or sixty six, and there would be certain words, which gave the clue to what we wanted. These were the ways, which we felt we had to be very careful about. I think that's understandable. All right?
Now when you say about the contacts with Moscow, I think I should put in something, which just occurred to me. We lived in Ruislip, and actually the town was very strongly covered by aerials, army aerials. Why, there was a British airfield, army airfield on one side, and an American army airfield on the other. They were at least half a mile, in other words more than five hundred metres, from our house. However, these sounds got into the air, and there were people, army radio experts on duty all the time, see? We only began to feel the affects of this in the last month, December of 1960. Maybe November, when we began to feel something like that was taking place. Why, we saw a post office truck near our house, the army and air force used such trucks. If it had only come once in six months, that would be another thing, but Helen and I did notice that it was near, close to our house for a few days in a row, and therefore we felt something. The something that we felt is connected also with our neighbours and the house they lived in. I wonder whether I should speak about this or further on?
Interviewer: You can go on, because it's one of those questions you have on your list. So since you started it, you might as well go ahead with it.
Cohen: So I'll come back to that after?
Interviewer: No, no. You can go ahead now.
Cohen: Well this means I'm making a break, that's why I -- I say this. All right?
Interviewer: This is fine.
Cohen: I'll go on. Then it means that I'll be coming to the unusual Saturday, when the trouble took place. I think it was the last Saturday in December of '60, or the first Saturday in January of 1960, I forget, but it was very close, one or the other. What took place was the following: I had typed a few letters, which had to be sent out by post to customers, by airmail. I may have even had two or three books that had to be sent by post. The post office was about three or four blocks from our house. It never was full of people, as you see in some cities or towns, and it was actually where the Britons were on duty in the floor above. We did not know that, but we did have a strange feeling that something was not going the way it should. And we wondered what could we do about it.
We were due for our meeting that evening at six o'clock, and we felt, above all, we should not leave until we saw Ben. Of course this took into consideration that we may have an unwanted visit, but we felt better to have the unwanted visit and the trouble it would cause us and who knows for how long. Better to have that than to go away and have him come in there with neither Helen or myself in the house. This is something that required some important decision.
Secondly on this matter, when I left the house, I saw that Bill was washing his car. That was the name of our neighbour, Bill, William. He was attending to his car, wiping it, and I felt he was doing this without much pleasure. Usually he did this. If I came out we'd have talks and pass some jokes and so on. This time I noticed he was like a clam, he didn't say much at all. I thought this was rather strange coming from Bill, and something was up, which I wasn't sure of. I thought I would discuss it with Helen when I came back. So I went to the Post Office, posted the airmail letters and the books, two or three packages of books, came back home. By that time, he was not there.
He used to work for one of the biggest firms in Britain, the Lucas firm. Lucas, a firm which produced parts for aeroplanes and war materials, he was not an expert on those parts. When people came in from oversees, travellers so on, to the firm, he would go to meet them, look after them and make sure that they got the comforts they needed. That was part of -- the biggest part of his duties. We had been very friendly. His wife was a bit sickish. She liked Helen, and was very friendly with her. They had two children, a boy and girl, very modern. The girl became a freelance journalist, and a play or two, which she and her boyfriend, I say boyfriend -- they were not married, which she and her boyfriend wrote and it became a hit on the London stage.
I understood that I had to talk with Helen about all of this, and to see where we stood, and what could be ahead of us. I got back; there was nothing at the post office, which excited any suspicions, and nothing on the way. I came back to the house. Bill wasn't there anymore with the car. I remember that. Helen and I spoke, and we came to the decision that we have to see Ben, even if the worst comes to the worst, otherwise it would be even worse if we were not there, as if we were leaving him. That is how we felt. Close to six o'clock, there was a knock on the door. We knew it was not Ben. Who could it be? You could imagine our anxiety. Even if it was, say, just a neighbour.
We opened up the door, and there was a strange man, heavy set. I felt from the very beginning, that's the security -- he had that almost stamped over him. He was very polite, very punctual within the gradients, or degrees of British society. At such a moment, not having ever met us before he said, "May I come in?" Well how could I refuse him, so I said "yes", and no sooner did he step in, there were three or four others, on the side. I didn't see them before, but I did see a car behind. We had a garage as part of our bungalow, so they came in right after this with their chief. He was not the top chief of this group, but the second, and there was a bit of rivalry between them, but they came inside. We took them into the room, which acted as our library, where the books, were stacked. This was more like, of course, a private library not a commercial but a private library, this is what people enjoy. If it looks commercial, it doesn't have the drawing power or interest.
They sat down and began to ask questions. One of the first things that their chief did was to hand me a piece of paper which pointed out that they were holding us on a special law of 1910, that had been amended, I think, in 1913. Well, we could understand that, since it was close to the time when the First World War broke out, so they had the law and its amendments, which meant that they could hold us on practically anything at all. I mean if you dug down, that's what it would mean. They wanted Helen to come. She already understood, and she wanted to go to the toilet. There was a policewoman with them. Whenever there was a woman involved, they'd bring a police or service woman with them, and she would not let Helen go to the toilet, with a closed door. So that she went right up to the door. What Helen intended to do was to get rid of some papers, in plain words; she couldn't get rid of them. The woman would have stopped her and would have got some help from the men and so on. They took those materials. Whatever was available in front of us, which in any way dealt on this matter, they made sure came into their hands. They did not yet undertake to search the books. There were very many books, a few thousand. But I'm speaking only of things that were available immediately, because with all the books around and papers, who knew what was in them. Also, as I said to you, there were the materials, materials for posting and so on. We spoke, perhaps another fifteen or twenty minutes, and finally they made us understand that we were being held under arrest.
Interviewer: Why didn't you try to get rid of those materials when you heard that knock on the door, that peculiar knock on the door?
Cohen: Well, which materials would you say we should have gotten rid of?
Interviewer: Well the ones that you have in your house?
Cohen: The materials that would hold us suspect, were in the attic. We had an attic where we kept fruits, apples; we had a couple of apple trees and so on. There we kept a few things hidden in certain places that only we knew. Of course, once they get to work, the police or the security, they rip everything open. They have special carpenters for that purpose. It would have meant that if they hadn't been there, but we were suspicious that they may come, we would have talked it over with Ben. Now this attic, when we bought the house, did not have the type of stairs we were used to, it was a moveable staircase, which we had to carry. Therefore, we had installed by carpenters a stair, which would be released if we used a rope, just like for a window. When we pulled the rope, it would release the stairs and you could go up with less trouble than it was originally constructed. Is it clear?
Cohen: They had trouble, as soon as this was opened, their chief got in front of me. I was going to go up there. He got in front of me. Well, I guess that's part of their duty. He couldn't find the switch and, he dabbled and dabbled, dabbled and dabbled, began to curse and so on. Finally the switch was found. It was a small thing in the floor near the stairs. We got up there. They called in their carpenters after that, and they ripped it especially. This is where there were papers, which shouldn't have been there, you might say, that, would incriminate us.
Interviewer: Can we go to number five now? Number five.
Cohen: Well wait, I should tell you how we landed in a cell.
Interviewer: Okay? Yes.
Cohen: I think it's interesting. It was raining that evening, the weather was terrible. When it got dark it was raining, and they, I could tell, did not make assurance of a cell at the nearby jail. Why do I say that? Without asking us about supper or anything like that, they told us to get dressed, we were going somewhere. They put Helen in one car and myself in another car, with automobiles in front and in back of us. They took us to one jail. There was no room there. They cursed a bit, then they took us to another jail. The other had plenty of room. A room that was four times as big as this, they put me in. They put Ben in another one and Helen in a third one. No, no, Ben wasn't yet with us. They put Helen in one, myself in another. I recall that now. They did bring us a sandwich. I'm not sure whether that was supper.
I would say from what I can recall of it, we were very, well, emotionally stirred. We knew what we had to face, and I would also say that we were under control. It certainly wasn't a place to catch a night's sleep in, as we had no covers. There was a leather couch, I remember that. The next morning I think they did bring us some tea to drink for breakfast, something to eat. Then they took us to a jail opposite the Covent Garden Opera House. There you have an interesting contrast. You got the Opera House itself, and next to a market, a wholesale market. It was big and would sell fruits, vegetables and flowers by the case, not by the pound, but by the case.
There was a Police Station and a Magistrates Court opposite, where we had to go in. What is the meaning of a Magistrates Court in British terms? It means a court where you can be sentenced up to four years. Otherwise, you go to another court. Secondly, they can hold you there in a jail overnight. In the Magistrates Court, the Magistrate is not a member of the King's Bench, or Queen's Bench. A member of the King's Bench or Queen's Bench means they have the power of handing out sentences up to death. Well Magistrates Court means up to four years. As I said, hearings, in other words, that they were to conduct further hearings on whether we may be liable for or not, it would be in that courthouse.
So we were kept there for almost two months, Ben, Helen and myself. Each in an adjoining, separate cell but joined at one with the other. I should mention here that we needed a lawyer. Now we did have our own lawyer for our business, but we felt in the circumstances, he would not defend us. We had to get what is called a solicitor. That's British law. The solicitor takes your case and he goes to a member of the King's Bench. He asks you is there any particular lawyer that you want, if you know one, you tell him, and he tries to get his services. Then we did not, since we couldn't call upon this man, we felt we shouldn't, then whom should we get?
We talked it over with Ben, and he felt that his lawyer would get us a lawyer. We even specified, I remember the name, a well-known lawyer by the name of Durrand. Why we specified him? Well, we'd heard from others in the prison about him. We felt in the circumstances, he wouldn't touch politics, so we should call upon him.
Interviewer: How often at that time did you see Ben and Helen?
Cohen: Ben as I said was in an adjoining cell. In other words, he was in one cell next to mine, Helen in another one. I'm not sure whether Helen had another woman in the cell with her. I did not see. Ben did not. I had a chance to talk with Ben when we went to wash our hands opposite the cell. He said he would get a lawyer. That was the main thing that we spoke about. He went back to his cell, and I went to mine.
The next day, Monday, I think it was, or was it Sunday? We met Halton in the jail. When we first came we didn't meet him, but we did the next day there. We didn't speak with each other much -- very little, if at all. We were waiting for the inquest or inquiry to begin. When they began, it was before a Magistrate.
To our surprise, people in the book trade were there, especially a woman who I mentioned to you that Helen had arranged and organised the birthday party for. It was this woman's husband. She was Irish by birth, and she lived a good part of her life in Ireland, before she came to England. Her husband was actually her second husband and she his second wife. The two of them had a daughter when we met them, of about ten years of age. And there was an older daughter. The older daughter was the one who came to us a couple of years ago. Very well, knowledgeable, and understanding woman. She's by now about 56 or seven years of age. Now, the next thing is whether I should stop here or go on?
Interviewer: Maybe you should go to number five, and you start answering number five.
Cohen: So you see, actually the hearings started from that day on, another phase. I'm just going to mention something to you now. This is of great importance, because they had no solid material on us, and our background. Who were we? Where did we come from? What was our name? Then began the search. Now, they did through the army records find out material about me. Every soldier had to be fingerprinted. Perhaps we should leave off right here, and take it up the next time, or do you want me to go on? Whatever you say.
Interviewer: We can go ahead.
Cohen: Go ahead?
Cohen: All right. They let us know, in no uncertain terms, that if we did not allow them to take my fingerprints, they would force me. By then, about a month had gone by and I guess they did not have any solid material on which they could hold us. So they told us that they would force us to provide the fingerprints. They were banking on that.
By that time, we had already said a few words to Halton, to Ben. We did not unite our efforts with Halton for defence. We didn't do anything. Whatever he did with his girlfriend, that was his business. We united our efforts. Therefore, in the next few days, it didn't take long; they confronted me with the statement that they had my fingerprints. I'm not sure, but I think they did show them to us, to myself, but I forget now, I wouldn't swear to it. It was evident that they had or would have to pass inspection. That meant that they would make a ruling on the trial, a trial by the Queen or the King, was there a King then or a Queen?
Cohen: Queen. By the Queen's Bench. Because they change it from depending on whether there is a King or a Queen on the throne. So, the Queen's Bench. All the lawyers who are eligible to practice cases of more than four years have to belong to the King's Bench or Queen's Bench, otherwise they cannot appear in such cases and actually defend the prisoner or the person being held. This went on for eight sessions, five of one week, three of another.
There are a few things that I believe are interesting and worth noting here. One of them is that people connected with the book trade, especially this Nora, I told this woman there was a woman who was the top specialist in autographed letters. Autographed letters are a special part of the antiquarian book trade. So that a signature, let us say, by Galileo or Cant, the philosopher, brings in a great deal of money, of course, excites a great deal of interest. For this woman was one, you may say, of the top ten specialists of the entire world on autographed letters. She came regularly with Nora to the hearings.
Now mind you, these were not yet hearings, but it was a regular case now. In other words, it would be over in four years or three. They used the radio, which they had found in the area, underneath the fridge. They used this as a star piece of evidence against us. Why did we have such a set? It was tuned into Moscow. They however could not operate it. When they were asked to operate it, as they said it was hooked up to Moscow -- they could not. Of course this didn't mean that it would be in our favour. The court was certain, 99.9% already that we were guilty. You may say that.
Our lawyer, Durrand, was limited of course in how far he could go in defending us, and also we overheard a judge. See, there were judges of the Royal Court, Royal Bench. We overheard him saying to somebody that they had to finish the case that day, or Wednesday, because Friday was Easter. He had an aeroplane ticket to leave for the continent. So that meant our hash had to be cooked by that Wednesday. I'm trying to recall exactly what they did, at that moment, when they declared us guilty -- what took place in the Courthouse at the time. We were allowed to speak. I'm not sure whether I spoke before Ben. Halton spoke of course, I think Ben spoke last, Helen and I spoke before.
Then Ben was put into another prison, not our prison where we had been. We were not in the same prison where we had been before the hearing. During the hearings we were taken to another place, it may have been Liverpool, I forget now. Anyway we were taken to a prison, and there was a hole in the wall between the two cells. We understood that this might have been deliberate. If we wanted to talk Ben and I, we should go on and talk. We didn't ask any questions about it.
What was important to Ben was the following. He said, "Let's pull a milt on them." Milt meant MILT Milton. Why? "Pulling a milt," meant that we would say nothing. Understand now? So that we said nothing at all about any of these activities, nothing at all. What Ben did when it was his turn to speak, he accepted it. You accept or not. He accepted it, and he said that if there is anything to hold us for, any suspicions of someone, then he is to be blamed. He said whatever was in the books is something that he put in there. I mean, that in a way answers something you brought up before. That he had put them in there. There was nothing that we could have done which was against the British laws. This is the essence of the position, which he took.
We had objected the night before when I was speaking with him through the hole, and he said, "No, no." We argued, argued, argued and finally I gave in, I said, "All right, we'll do as you say. We'll pull a milt." So you have the idea. It was an important moment to us, and we felt that the protection of our interest of all of us came first. Who, I mean, in the background, you understand. Therefore, they declared the sentences by the, I think, eight judges provided the decisive statement, and accepted what was proposed by the Chief Judge. So that Ben got twenty-five years, Helen and I got twenty years and Halton and his girlfriend got fifteen years a piece, in jail. That meant the trial was finished, we could appeal it, but immediately we could not. We had to wait some time.
Why I mention this is what happened after. As we were going out of the pew, you know, you sit in a certain place, sort of stand on benches up above. So you're above the people sitting below the Judges, but you're not on the ceiling, and there we were leaving. Just as I left it, two guards grabbed my arms. I didn't know what was going to happen. I was just walking out to go to this place, the cell where Ben and I, a room actually, an office, that's where they told Ben and I to go, and I was going to meet him there. We'd been there before, earlier in the day, and here the guards grabbed me by one arm, the other arm and made me bend over. You've seen such scenes in the films, I'm sure. So I was bent over and my arms were held like this. And I had to walk that way until we came to our room. Finally they put me in. I may have spent, I forget, an hour or a half-hour, and then was able to meet with Durrand, the lawyer. He asked us what we wanted to do. We told him we want to appeal. We knew that was one thing that was left to us. So we launched an appeal. An appeal is held by a special group of judges for that purpose. They allowed us an appeal; I think forty days, only at our expense. Well, what does that mean? That means that it wouldn't be part of, if we had to do the sentence, those forty days would be counted as part of the sentence. It was only in addition, plus those forty days. Clear?
The next thing that bothered me was, would I see Helen? They allowed us to meet, and what would happen after. They wouldn't give us any word. We were taken, Ben and I were taken to a prison, especially for the purpose. We had been staying at Brixton, and we were taken to, I believe, Wormwood Scrubs Prison, where we spent a day or two, maybe two or three days before he went to Manchester Prison. I went to Birmingham, and I believe Helen went to Birmingham Prison. That was an old prison house. We spent a year there, and then they took Ben, I believe, to Birmingham Prison, and by that time had a place for Helen in Manchester Prison. So the second year we spent in Manchester Prison. Well, to speak about prison life, I'm not sure until I ask you first what to do? It would be best to deal with the entire prison period. After all, it's a period, which is unusual for most people.
Interviewer: Do you want to do it now?
Cohen: If I do, it means that it would take at least an hour.
Interviewer: And yes? You and Ben were taken to court, and Helen as well, and you also finished with the sentences you received, and then you went?
Interviewer: Please face me, Peter.
Cohen: Oh, excuse me. Then there was a very dramatic episode, which is very important in our story -- of the utmost importance. This took place in 1945, August, about the time when the Americans dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At that particular time, I was in West Germany with the military government. I had been transferred from my own outfit in the army to military government, which was located in various units throughout Germany. This took place in Western Germany, near the Rhine River.
And I remember that I had not received any post from Helen for a few weeks. The post came regularly. But this was a period when I was getting very anxious. What happened? I understood that she may be on a mission at the same time; not to get anything at all, you can understand my feelings. I remember being in a swimming pool with other soldiers; we had the use of this public swimming pool, outdoors, in that period. I kept thinking about it, because I hadn't received anything. I was anxious about her. Finally a letter did come and told me, gave me a hint that she was busy. Well, on a mission. It gave the slightest of hints I could guess from this. That was as much as I knew at that time. Therefore what I have to tell you really took place when she told me by word of mouth, months later, when I was discharged from the army. So I believe I could tell it in that sequence?
Cohen: All right. What is it that she told me? I had written a full report for our people, and I think there is more than one report on what I had written, and some others. I'm thinking some more, well, images; they come into my mind just now as I'm talking about this. That's why I halted.
What took place was, that Helen arranged for her vacation holiday from the job she had in an aeroplane factory. Where did she pick for a holiday? She did not advertise it, but she would be going to New Mexico where the weather was dry, and this would help her condition. She was Shop Chairman of the Trade Union in this factory, which had about eight hundred workers. To elect a woman in such a job at that time was rather unusual, but the workers had confidence in her. She felt it her moral duty to protect their interests, and therefore she had undertaken what they call the Shop Chairman. She's a lady!
Helen went by train and eventually landed in Los Alamos, no, where the University of New Mexico is located. I made that distinction because where the research was going on was some distance from the university. She had to go to a rooming house, a lodging house, in order to hire or rent a room. It was comfortable, pleasant, and she had heard about this earlier, because railroad workers would sleep there. They would work on the train for, let us say, thirty-six consecutive hours, and then get a full day off so they could sleep, and therefore this house proved popular with them. Helen heard about it on the way, and she thought she would go there to get a room. Also I should mention to you that on the trip, she went through beautiful mountainous scenery, and there a guide tried to make her. You know what this expression means?
Interviewer: Yes I do.
Cohen: So he tried to joke with her to make her stay with him for a while and so on, and she told him straight off to stay away from her. Eventually she arrived in this town and was able to go to the house where she had heard of and hire a room. One flight up on the second floor, she was satisfied with that. She also got her breakfast with it.
According to the understanding with our people, she was to go to the university town, which was a few miles from where she was staying, to meet a young fellow. That is from whom she was to get the material. She went three weeks in a row; he didn't show up. She understood who, what he looked like according to the information given her. What he would carry, a journal, he looked like a student and so on. It was not unusual, because students were still studying and attending summer classes there. However, she thought that she would go one more time, the forth time, and then if he didn't show up, she would go home.
So she went the forth time by bus, regular public transport bus, from the town she was staying to the university town where she was to meet him. From his dress, and the materials he carried, she understood that was the one she wanted. They met. He spoke as if someone else had made a mistake, not him. Well they patched it up, and he gave her the material. This is, well, quite important. It was with some journals in a big envelope or packet. She immediately went to the boarding house, where she'd already packed everything, so it didn't take her long, and she had a transport ticket to the town, the railroad station.
At the railroad station she was stopped when the train came in to go north. After all, this was the South West part of the U.S., so she had to go north, and she was stopped by security men. One was a fatherly figure. He was very lenient with her. He said they have to get her baggage examined. So she made out as if she was in a hurry, in a flurry and as if she had left something in the station, and she said, "Here, hold this." "Oh," the man said, "you're just like my daughter, she acts the same way when she has to make such trips." So I believe she ran back to the station to get something, or -- or make out that she had to, and she then returned to the train.
There was a younger security fellow on duty as well. He was more anxious to well suspect her, and the older one assured him, "It's all right, let her alone." Then, he helped her up on the train. She took her baggage. She didn't have much, but she had a bag, a packing case, a small one, and she went inside. The man waved to her, the security man. She waved to him, smiled and the train went off.
She reached Chicago where a change had to be made. Of course there was anxiety throughout. And from Chicago she got on another train going to New York. She came to New York in the evening, or early morning, about midnight I think, pretty close to midnight, and I think she met with a man the next morning, and delivered the material to him. That was just what she was waiting for. The young fellow, the student, received this from someone else who was responsible for putting it together. He didn't put it together. Someone else did. But it went through these channels or hands, until it came to her.
There is one more point to add. The one who compiled, in other words, the young scientist who did something to compile this, I met him for the first time with Helen, in a park. I forget whether it was Central Park in New York City, in Manhattan. I think it was Central Park. Our objective was to keep him with us. He didn't want to. Maybe he was twenty-six or seven. Evidently, well, an accomplished person, scientist, but he was, his wife was insistent that they should not go on with this. Our people tried, but they couldn't go any further than that. I think there was one more time when we went to the home of the fellow, with whom she had met, from whom she received the materials. We did go once to his house where he and his wife and child were living. We thought, well, we should go. Perhaps we could do some good that way. That was about the last that we heard of them. It may be that he had something to add to this. I'm not sure. Well, that takes care, yes, of that incident, and it's dramatic impact on us. You can understand yourself.
It was connected, actually, with other events taking place over there, you can also imagine and understand. I think you know what I'm referring to, all right. I believe then that from there I can go on to the arrest and sentencing. We will finish with this project as far as Helen and myself are concerned. That was about 1948. Our people at that time, perhaps you know about it, were in this particular frame of mind or situation not to pull any more from outside the Soviet Union into this activity for a certain period of time. This is how we understood it; they were very careful if they got new people.
Now we were expanding our group, this we were. And once Orbo came, we felt we could go ahead and, well, recruit people for this, and we did. So that we were right in the midst of that activity and carrying out contacts with a number of people including, I should say some of the Biffs who were in Spain. As the months passed Big Yuri, you know who I mean by Big Yuri, came into the picture. He replaced Orbo and he said to us that we would have to prepare to leave. It might be the end of '48, the beginning of '49 or somewhere close to there, when he came into the picture, and we had to prepare to leave.
We left in the end of June or beginning of July, I forget it may have been the second of July something like that. We left here for Mexico. It was a complicated trip, because you have a place in the U.S., Louisville, Kentucky. There is a mountain, and you have to go around the mountain; that lands you in the western part. If you go to the east of the mountain you land in the coastal part of the American States like Florida, Louisiana. I'm giving you a picture. All of this had to be clear including the people who were working with us. We completed everything, and in the second or third of July we went out. So we did not feel any direct threat at that time.
The U.S. was in a frenzy of anti-communism; it was proceeding through the year. We knew that it was coming closer and closer to us. Laws were being passed in each individual state, or in most of them, which would allow people to be interrogated because they used certain words. And of course if one wants, one can make whatever he or she wants with those words. And were used for the purpose of enmity against the U.S. I think I will leave this matter now. Now, to pick up the thread from the time of the trial, the ending of the trial.
Interviewer: Right. Maybe even later, when you are ready.
Cohen: What happened since the British police did not know who we were, what our relations were? They knew that we, Helen and I, had an antiquarian bookshop. This they knew. And a house in which we lived, the bungalow, had many books especially on the subject of what is called Americana. You can take, tell from the word, as well as songs, they were the two subjects from where we got our customers mostly. The scientist part was growing in its interest.
A couple of the people, a few of them wanted to get into the Royal Academy the same as the in the Soviet Union, the Academy of Science, but in Britain it's called the Royal Academy. Every one knows that it refers to science and, as a result, they knew that we were in this field. There was a journal, an antiquary journal, which came out every week. So that if you wanted certain books, let us say Alexander wanted a certain book from the sixteen hundreds, he asked me as an antiquarian bookseller to get it for him. That means I could advertise in that journal, "books wanted." They did this for booksellers all over the world, but especially the Association of British Antiquarian book dealers. I became a member of that association. We could regard that as a triumph.
Why? Well, what did I know about antiquarian books when we first opened up in 1945 in London? The main thing about these books is to make sure that the price coincides with the period, the inflation that took place in antiques and antiquarian books throughout the world, and especially in Britain, which was the leading exponent of this. In other words it went up as much as ten times within a period of ten years, in the 1960s through '70s. I had to learn the value of a book according to the interest in it, it's time of printing, every thing in the book was important including the binding, the ancient paper that was used -- you usually had two, three blank pages at the front and the back. All of that was measured in money, so that if a page was missing, and they knew all this from the records.
There was a book called Book Auction Records that came out every year. It had the prices of books sold at auction in the year passed, so that one could look it up. And I had to keep looking and looking, until I learned more and more about this. People, the booksellers understood that, but they didn't advertise it, and I had to thank them for it. They let it go with that. To show you what can happen I should give you an instance.
The sales took place in Sotheby's; you've heard of Sotheby's they've been on Russian radio, Soviet radio and so on. Perhaps they are the number one firm in the World when it comes to books and many other relics. You also had Franks. That was older than Sotheby's but not quite in the elite. They sold a great deal. And I used to meet with the assistants and the small managers on the lower level before the sale. We'd go for a bite to eat and a beer. If there were ten of us, it meant we had to buy ten bottles of beer, each one had to buy. I couldn't drink ten bottles of beer and go to the sale. So I guided myself, or I was actually on guard, take a sip here and there, but we paid for the ten bottles.
Therefore, when a number of the assistants and managers invited me to go with them to a private sale, that meant when the regular sale was over, and some one had won the book, that person was invited to an auction, which took place in the basement of a bookseller. A London bookseller who was very famous, well to do, and head of a benevolent association. He had an entire block. In other words a street block, an avenue block, the entire space down below the earth with books on shelves. For example ten volumes of the works by a French author and a English author and a Spanish author and so on, going back two, three, four hundred years.
And they would undertake once again an auction in the basement, a second auction that was the real auction. The book reached a much higher price even. The difference between the two, the sale that took place in Sotheby's and the sale under the earth, that difference was divided amongst the booksellers, and the one who won it -- he got the book. That meant it would be a much higher price on the market. The fact that they trusted me, they told me, invited me to come down there; I never joined in that auction. I wasn't in the book business long enough to think of that.
However, I would go with them for a cup of tea at Lyons. Lyons was a well-known chain of teashops throughout Great Britain. I would go with them, we'd have tea and crumpets, and then we would go to this private auction sale underneath. We left it at that, they trusted me, and, well, I felt it was the right thing to do.
The next question was the Association of Antiquarian Booksellers. Why wasn't I in it? The head of the association, a woman that year, I think in '56, fifty, ah, seven or eight, fifty, ah, eight maybe. She said, "Why don't you join?" So I said, "I thought that you have to be elected in there." She said, "Yes." I said, "Well, I was waiting for that." She laughed and said, "All right."
Jack, he was actually the head of the where these books were, the antiquarian books under the earth. He had one of the biggest stores in Britain and very experienced. He was the chairman at the time. She said, "He would propose you." He did that, and I was elected unanimously into the Antiquarian Association. It meant also once a year we had a dinner, we played cricket, had indoor dances. Also, once a year, in a hotel we got dressed up and had a dinner, dancing. At midnight we stopped for a bite to eat and drinking again. And this went on till some time in the morning.
There was a bookseller whom we knew very well. He had a shop in Windsor, where the Queen's castle was located. He had a beautiful shop. It was furnished as in the sixteenth century; it went back to that period. He liked to take -- his wife was with us and so was Helen -- took all of us to his home. He didn't have to worry about taking his car, he was very glad of that. He enjoyed himself, and we took them there. We had a bit to eat again with tea or coffee and so on, and we then went home. This was part of the life that we lived. But we were very friendly with the people, and I should tell one more incident, since I'm now talking about it, to show you how the people judged us, accepted us.
There was a family. In fact a film was made about three years ago in the interior garden here, on this floor. The team that did it, well they're another team just like this team. They undertook this film. In the film they show a birthday party that the manager of one of the biggest firms celebrating his birthday. We knew his wife and children very well. It was his daughter who came here about two years, two, three years ago. We saw the film on the TV.
On the lawn we had at the back of our bungalow, a big lawn with a few apple trees, Helen arranged it so that in the afternoon we had a bar, keg of beer wine and some whiskey, something to munch on, pretzels with salt, and the booksellers were there. Then about six thirty or seven o'clock we had a meal, too. Helen, after the food, brought in a big cake and handed it to Frank whose birthday it was. When he saw that, he almost passed away. "What for?" he says, "Nobody ever gave me a birthday cake before and here I am getting this now." I'm trying to convey to you the feelings of the people.
So that week when Ben came to our house, we drank a bottle of champagne, because we felt it was justified. I was taken into the Antiquarian Association. I was asked to make a speech at the dinner that they held that evening. All this was part of the atmosphere I'm trying to convey to you and the feelings of the people there.
They decided to want to take our fingerprints. They still didn't know our background, and many things were being said under suspicion, you know. It could be realised to one who is experienced in this that they did not have the evidence they wanted. Therefore they may have gotten in touch with other people and, who maybe would be Americans, yes, and decided to look up the fingerprints which they had on hand. Every one who went into the armed forces had his fingerprints taken. And it is there that they found my fingerprints. And therefore they knew to start from there.
This brought the Americans into the picture, and the British services weren't very grateful for that or happy about it, perhaps I should say. So as time passed, they decided to hold the trial. They felt by then that they had enough material. They knew where to go and who Howton was. It meant that he'd played a key figure at Portsmouth. This was where one of the biggest ports of military ships in Britain was, in the South, in the South of Great Britain. Portsmouth played a big role in this.
Now there is a question here about materials. Yes, Ben was able to get materials from this Howton, which he brought to our house. It was photographed and given back immediately or the next day. From Howton and his girlfriend, though she was not legally married to him I'm calling her by the usual name, girl friend. He was present at the day Ben was arrested, with his girlfriend. Before the arrest Ben said to him in anger, "Why did you bring her along?" Well he gave an excuse. He hadn't seen her for some time. He had to see her and therefore he felt what danger would there be? There were British agents sitting at the table nearby that Ben failed to see. I only learned this when we got to see each other in the prison. You see that this was the beginning you may say of pursuing the thread. On the last day of the trial the papers had everything about Cowan and myself that they could pick up from the day we were born. They did not have all of that for Ben.
They decided to hold the trial five week days towards the end of March, the last three days. I overheard the Judge say that there were eight. I'm not sure whether seven or eight Judges present. I over heard him say to a friend that they must end the trial on that day -- that meant a Wednesday. Friday I think was Good Friday. He said they must end it that day, because he has a ticket for the airplane to go to ah, Europe, Western Europe, Spain I think. So they said that had to be the day. The last day of the trial we were sentenced.
I told the Barkers and also how Helen went to the room where she was allowed to stay, and I was grabbed by a couple of guards. I told you about this. They allowed me to meet with Dorrand the lawyer who was actually our member of the Kings Bench or Queens Bench, and then came back with Helen. We didn't have a lot of time to spend together. She had to go to a woman's prison in London, and I went to a man's prison. No, we were taken; I think we were taken, to another prison.
Then Helen and myself, from what I recall, then I slept on the bed on a mattress. They didn't have enough room in regular rooms, beds for us. We appealed, and that took over forty days. They turned the appeal down immediately, and Helen and I ended up in Birmingham Prison, Ben went to Manchester Prison. Manchester was much newer, it had over three thousand, I believe, inmates. Though you understand what kind of city Manchester is, a real business city. Birmingham was the old style and Helen was in one section of it, the woman's section, and I in the man's section. We were there for a year. I don't think there was anything dramatic there in Birmingham prison we just had to learn how to make life liveable.
I should say the following to you, about the early days. Every person has a handbook. It tells the prisoner what he or she can do, what they cannot do. I tried to read it. I couldn't understand it. It took three days, well, that's how my system worked. I couldn't understand -- think out. On the forth day it cleared. I was able to think out how we should live, what we could do, what all of this meant, and that we had to make the best of it. No matter how long it took, these were the very principals you make safe, and life became more liveable after that.
Then Ben, as I say, went to Manchester prison and I went to Birmingham with Helen. We were there a little bit over a year. By that time they had set up a woman's section in Manchester prison, and they were able to send Helen and myself there and Ben was sent to Birmingham Prison. In Manchester Prison you felt the modern, what you might say, prisoner, the modern criminal and there were a lot of them in Manchester.
One day I received an order to go to the Deputy Governor's office; this was important. The Deputy Governor had part of his faced burned. I had heard that he had been a tank officer and received the burn in a tank battle during the war against Germany. He was very strict, younger than the head man, the Governor. And one day I was called down to his office. He said to me that an American Special Service man, intelligence man, wants to see me. He said, "It's up to you to say what you want." From the way in which he said this, although he was very severe I felt that I should not see the officer. They told me I don't have to. They wouldn't force me and I felt that he was lenient himself today. So I said to him under no circumstances. He said twice to me, "Are you sure?" I said, "Yes."
I believe that then there was a rivalry or conflicting views of this matter between the British services and the Americans. He said, "All right, you can go back." The way in which he said it told me a great deal. He had relaxed; he was not that severe type he had been fifteen minutes before.
And then, I should go on, that was in '62, '63, 1963 you might know that Ben was exchanged. Yes? He was exchanged for the British, who'd been with an advertising company, I think; they set up fairs, if I remember right. Fair for sales or market, as in Austria, he may have been arrested in Austria. I forget the exact details but our people were successful in bringing about an exchange. That's what I want to say to you, an exchange. And before Ben had gone away, he had said to me something about the following. "I will be exchanged first and then our comrades will take care of you. It means you just have to wait." How long it would take he did not say, but he did say this before he left.
Therefore, the day came when the door of the cell I was in was opened up. That was in Manchester Prison. They had a sort of hospital or treatment section, and I was in one of those rooms. I had over a hundred boils; I counted them, on my body all over. Well they gave medicines to me. When the guard opened up the door, there was a trestle I should tell you about. It's in most British prisons, which goes in a quadrangle or rectangle rather, so that when you step out of your cell, you step onto the steel floor underneath your feet. And in the centre is a wire, a steel net, a steel wire net. So that anyone who would try to throw himself in, and there were some, they would land on the net above the first floor. That was the object of the net in the centre of the quadrangle. The door was opened, but I didn't see the officer -- he stepped away -- it had three locks on it.
I heard a deafening noise, "Lonsdale exchanged!" Lonsdale swap that's the word, swap. It's an everyday word for exchanged. "Lonsdale swapped!" The air was full of it. I tell you, when I heard that I was in the clouds. I felt something good. I couldn't name it exactly. It had to do with Helen and myself. At that time and that was, I believe, in '43, March, something like that. And Ben was exchanged. Well, it acted certainly as a, a mixer. Yes? Like a drink of water to a thirsty man.
And we were in Manchester Prison for a further period, until I was taken to the hospital in London, Wormwood Scrubs Hospital. In Wormwood Scrubs there was a hospital for all the inmates of British prisons throughout Great Britain. My hands were like this. The artery which goes from the big artery of the body, the artery which parts and goes into the arms, there was soft bone like in the nose growing around it, and therefore making it difficult for the fingers to operate, because they were connected with this artery. So in '64 I was operated on the right hand, '65 the left hand.
The surgeon who did the job was very experienced, I believe his name was Richardson; he was top surgeon in Hammersmith Hospital. Hammersmith in London is well known. It's a working class town, and he was a surgeon there. He took down every word that I said, and then he asked before we finished, again, do you want to be operated on? I thought to myself, well what chance am I taking? Why shouldn't I be if this would allow me to use my hands? You can see this finger. This was part of the operation, this, and I said to him, yes.
Now there was a room in which sixteen of us, what you call post- operative cases, were recuperating. Then we went upstairs to the second floor, a big ward with about twenty beds or more. There was a woman nurse who was in charge, and I guess she was, you would say anti-Soviet. So I understood what I had to deal with, and I felt that she was antagonistic towards Helen, this is what I felt. She was over sixty, no youngster at all, and she was in charge. After a couple of weeks my hands recovered. We used to walk about an hour in the morning, an hour in the afternoon; they allowed us to walk outside with guards around.
This is where I first ran into the train robbers. I think you know about the train robbers. The others might not know, so I'll just say three four words. The train robbers were a gang of fifteen who had stolen from a post train, a postal or mail train about three million pounds. Whether the figures I'm giving you are absolutely correct or not, I can't say, but that's what I recall. They stole that, and after a number of months the engineer of the train died from the blows, which they had dealt to him. So they were given sentences of twenty years and fifteen years to the gang.
They had experienced lawyers, and they had set up quite an organisation, those at the top like a (pollit) bureau. You will excuse me for saying, but they were experienced, and then, underneath, another or wider group who helped, see. They got about ten years apiece, fifteen years apiece, the ones at the top got twenty-five and twenty years. But out of that they divided the booty, that's b-o-o-t-y, booty of treasure of over three million pounds.
The man, who was supposed to be the brains of this and had been in a University, had not, I'm not sure that he completed the University but he had planned this and they honoured him, yes? They paid homage to him. So that they felt they would not have to work as they got older and would share this money once they did the prison sentences. They were very familiar with British criminal life. They stood just like the Mafia, and they were part of it, you would say, of the Mafia. When Helen and I left the prison, five of them were on the Isle of Wight, that was one of the special prisons. Five were in a second prison and five in a third prison. They kept them separated in this way. I don't know now whether to go on with the years until we came to the day of our exchange. Oh, I forgot, excuse me. I should say a few words about the atmosphere in the prison.
Each prison has it's own atmosphere. Manchester you felt what you might call a Mafia atmosphere, in which the criminals played a big role. You felt this. When I first came in there, the officer in charge of the shop where they repaired the shirts for the prisoners, a uniform shirt, a blue shirt. Ben had worked in that shop. He was like, you would say, in charge of the records as to the inventory of the products put out by the prisoners. When I was in Manchester the same man was in charge, and he told me he was not a bad individual, when I say bad -- deliberately acting to pull the prisoners in his direction, do what ever he wanted with them, he did not. He told me that they were holding Ben under suspicion. This is how they looked at matters, that he was receiving material from Moscow.
How did he receive this material? There were pigeons in the yard, many, maybe several hundred pigeons, and those pigeons were bringing material from Moscow, such rumours were going around. The prisoners would bet on horses; they did not use the money that they earned but tobacco. Tobacco was express currency, so if you had half a package of tobacco it meant so many days of work. A whole package of tobacco could be an entire weeks work. This is how they measured, measure such things. Tobacco played an immense role in Manchester, and you could almost feel the control by certain of the criminal chiefs. They left me alone in that I was not important to their activities, so they left me alone.
After about two years, that means in 1965, I was transferred to Wakefield Prison. Wakefield was in central England. What is the difference between Wakefield and Manchester Prison? Manchester is the prison for one of the biggest cities in England, the second biggest in England or Great Britain. Wakefield is a working class city as well. It's smaller than Manchester. This is where they trained their officers to work in the prisons, a training centre. So in Wakefield you had novices who first came in to learn how to become a prison officer. And also Wakefield kept prisoners who had sentences from four years up, four years along to, it could be forty years although there was no one to forty years until Blake came.
In Wakefield you had prisoners from four years of sentence and up. Each prisoner had a card on the wall next to the door of his cell telling how many years he was to serve in the prison. Of course when they saw something like twenty years, in the prison Helen was in, the woman's prison, she got twenty years and they oh, ooh'd and ar'd. I guess I should say a few words about Helen. Is it all right?
Interviewer: OK. Go ahead.
Cohen: Yes? It means I'm interrupting here to talk about Helen. There's a question here about meetings, how often? Each prison may have a different period for meetings, so that in one prison, I would get, Helen and I, would get a visit every four weeks. In another prison it could be every three months, if it meant travel, which required an over-night stop, then well we couldn't expect that. So we would get a visit every three months. That means that she came from a county, from a prison in a county next to Wakefield, about sixty, seventy kilometres away from Wakefield. And in the prison she was at, during the war, they had people, refugees who would come from different countries. And the English government put them in, into the houses, two story houses. They had used this to keep German prisoners, various people and finally, when Helen was there, it was used for the purpose of English woman prisoners. Two storey houses, fairly comfortable, the food wasn't terrible at all. I should say a few words about Helen and the atmosphere there.
Well, there was a picture of Helen; it is not an advertising picture. This is how I think it very truly reflects her as a human being. She had a very determined character. And there a couple of woman were circulating all kinds of stories about her trying to take advantage of the prisoners. So one day in the fairly decent dining room, she closed the door, locked it from the inside, and she stood in front of the door and said to the woman prisoners that certain ones were circulating rumours about her, and they're going to settle her hash. You may know of this expression, to settle your hash. Well it means they would try to give a beating unless you did as they told you. So Helen said, "All right, now is your opportunity to come and settle my hash." The two women who were circulating the rumours didn't move at all. They changed places if anything. Helen understood this. And Helen told the woman in front of all the others. They said to the prisoners that they had nothing against Helen; this is how she put it. Helen said all right, she'd drop the matter. She didn't have any more trouble from them, but they left her alone.
She was getting the beginning of her sickness in the gall bladder. She first felt it over there, but she didn't know what it was. I should tell you that there was a time when we were in Manchester Prison, and she felt something wrong. She told me about it when we met. She used to come from Manchester Prison to the men's section every thirty days. So she told me. I decided to send a letter to Mrs Thatcher, who was at that time a member of the House of Commons, a deputy. I pointed this out to her.
There were such articles in the newspapers, especially in the Sunday People; it was supposed to be a labour socialist paper. In the articles they showed a big chunk of roast beef, a bottle of milk, but they had no words underneath. So it left the reader with the impression this is what we were eating and drinking but there was nothing. They knew how to use these impressions for their purpose, and, they used this too. Such papers used to circulate of course, people want to read. Crime is popular you see.
In Wakefield once she got over that -- I am skipping time in order to save it for some thing else -- I'll tell you that before we left England there was another woman who threatened Helen. Helen wanted to put bread into the stove to make toast, and this woman orders her to take it out. She wants to put hers in. And Helen says, "No I won't. I was here before you." I'll go on with this. When the woman saw Helen stand, and that Helen was ready to defend herself, she ran away. Helen ran after her. Helen fell, she fell on a stone floor, marble stone, and she hurt herself pretty badly. Well, that was part of the injuries she suffered.
At this time, what I told you about, her and these other troubles that she had, I should say a few words. How did she spend her time there? She did a good bit of reading. She was allowed to go to the library, and also she was studying Russian. So you see, she didn't spend her time idly. This went on until the period before I was sent from Wakefield Prison to the Isle of Wight. That was an island off Portsmouth.
Now you may know about the Portsmouth affair. If a ship went to the Isle of Wight, it went from Portsmouth. So they were separated about thirty miles on the western side. Many retired officers, admirals, stayed on the Isle of Wight, and this is where three prisons were located. Each of the prisons have walls, one wall, two walls, three walls around it with guards and dogs, the kind of dog they have, you know an Alsatian dog, and they were on duty all the time.
How did they differ from other prisons? They had certain comforts there including a mechanics shop where machines could be repaired. These machines came from Japan. They were used for sewing buttons and many other parts of a shirt for prison purposes and even for sale to the public. In the process the Japanese were buying up factories in England in the merchandise and apparel business, where buttons have to be sewn on, buttonholes have to be made and so on. Some of the prisoners would deliberately spoil this, make it difficult and actually break the machine. Therefore the machine would come into the shop I was in, where I kept inventory. So the last three years that we were in prison, I was working in the machine shop keeping inventory, how many of this detail, that detail and so on, was on hand. They had machines, which all in all were worth between two and three thousand dollars for the purpose of making these shirts. There were many, well, I say quite a number of wealthy people who were living on the Isle of Wight in their holiday homes, well-to-do people. Therefore you found most of the others who looked after houses, they did the cleaning work, they sold them the goods and so on. You get the idea of what kind of place the Isle of Wight is, what kind of living place.
I think that as far as our departure, I will leave that now at this point and go back to where I was when I came to the Isle of Wight myself. No? I think I didn't finish about the letter going to Thatcher, I've just thought of it.
Cohen: Secondly, in order to tell you about our departure from England, I have to tell you about something about the two, three years spent on the Isle of Wight. How are people prepared? What happened with the Governor and the changes that the government itself had to undertake?
Interviewer: OK. OK go ahead if that's what you want to say.
Cohen: Helen got an answer to the letter, and I sent the second letter. In the letter that Thatcher sent she signed it. But what it said in substance was, in one sentence, we are doing our best for her. That's what it meant, just what they were doing. What was the cause, yes, and the disease? What was it? What was being done they didn't say. So I sent her a second letter. To Thatcher I received exactly the same answer as in the first letter. And that was it. I thought well, what could I do to protest?
Then it came to Blake's escape. That's the next event, which should be mentioned. Blake was in Wormwood Scrubs. I was there for the operation, two, three times to get operated on, and I myself worked in the shop. I didn't do much there. Until I put in three days, until they were ready to operate on me. I could see what George was doing. He was taking inventory of what each prisoner did or performed with their shirts. At the same time he was trying to study Arabic, to see if he could. I think they were very careful, the British Prison Officers, in their relations with him. How they handled him and so on. I felt myself that they would have liked to win him over. I think you know something of the background and so on.
While I was in Wakefield, no, in Wormwood Scrubs -- yes in Wormwood Scrubs, the prisoners used to play football on Saturday. Saturday was their half-day's work, so they used to play football in the yard. I would watch some of the game, and then go into the library and have a look there. I met Blake there. I didn't expect it. We spoke for a few minutes; we were very glad to see each other. We understood each other. Then I went, looked at the books, and went out to watch the football game. It was evident, when I did see him in the hallway; he was very popular as a human being. There were men who, well, rallied around him and were glad to have him amongst them selves. Therefore, when he escaped, I saw the place from which he escaped. There was an old window there, built over a century ago, and he was able to saw through the iron. On a Saturday afternoon he did it.
Why Saturday afternoon? Because the entire defence squad was not present. They didn't have enough to cover all the posts. In the month of October the weather became very rainy, and this is when it happened. Night came, evening came about five o'clock. So he was able to use that in order to break through the window, fall on the roof of a little cabin, then fall to the ground, and he climbed up on the wall. On the wall there was a bed sheet. A big bed sheet that was sewed together with needles, big needles. This man helped him to get up to the top. He jumped down from the top of the wall. Hurt himself, but he got into the car that was waiting for him. It took him to a lodging house, a room that was being kept especially for him. The lodging house was near the prison. They didn't expect it to be so near, so the police looked far away, and you see that they learned to do this, George learned, and the others, near the prison. That's where he stayed for several months before he went away. They built a little cabin, or, a little box in the truck.
Interviewer: They know that about Blake.
Cohen: You know that, all right. So I can go on. I came to the Isle of Wight and spent about three years there. We had our own garden, and I am mentioning the first year, well we had to get used to the place. You had what you might call the star criminals of England staying in that prison. By the time of the third year I began to feel that something was happening. What was happening? There was an evening newspaper. I think it was called the Evening News, which gave the horse race results. That's very important in Britain, including in the prisons, and the newspaper gave the results.
It usually had an article dealing with World affairs or national affairs in Britain. In April of 1969 the article dealt with something that a man by the name of Arthur Lewis wrote. He worked in conjunction with these newspapers. Some of the people know him. What it meant in essence was that our people were entering into negotiations or hoped to enter into them with the British Foreign Office. That's what it meant in substance. April went by. I watched the papers anxiously. May and June. Yes, we began to see articles. The Soviet Consul, the Ambassador, yes, Ambassador was able to meet with the British Foreign Office heads during these months, and these visits became more and more frequent until June.
If you take the month of June, he was going practically every day to a meeting with the head of the British Foreign Office, until finally during the month of July they arrived at an agreement. That Helen and I would be exchanged for Brooks and a couple others. At that time I had also been operated on. They took a vein out of my right leg. There was a varicose vein, and they did some other things. So we felt that the time was not so far off. Coming towards that period, there was a Sunday when I was called into the Governor's office. The Governor of this prison was head of the entire three prisons. He was not what you may call a cruel man, a regular British gentleman. I had to go through a gate, a wooden gate, to get in, and there I passed some of the officers holding dogs, Alsatian dogs. Every ten metres there was an officer with a dog. I finally got inside, and the Governor met me. I could see his attitude was quite friendly, and he told me that soon a Polish Consul would arrive.
We waited some maybe fifteen minutes or so. He arrived with his assistant. It was very interesting to see what was going on. The Governor of the prison spoke. There was also the Assistant Minister of the prisons. The Labour Government was then in power. He read the clauses of the agreement on our exchange that Brooks would be going, would be freed in July and would come in a Soviet plane, and Helen and I would be freed in October and would leave London in a British plane. You could see the reasons for that. Therefore they would do what they had to do. So you could see from both sides of the agreement, which took place.
The Governor got up, and he called me, "Mister, do you wish to say anything?" I thought a moment and then I said, "Yes, I would like to." He said, "What do you want to say?" So I pointed out that every time Helen and I had to meet, especially in different prisons, and it happened on the Isle of Wight as well, there would be various officers. For example on the Isle of Wight there was an Assistant Governor, he would come to watch what was going on, and even to read, if we had written anything. In the other prisons they had as many as ten officers around the table as big as that. They were sitting around. They would get tea and so on. Helen would not, and I wouldn't get tea. I said, "Well what kind of treatment is that? And why do you have to have ten officers there?" There was silence for a while. Nobody said anything.
Then the Polish Consul got up and said, "Gentlemen, the situation has changed." Those were his exact words. They looked at each other. Silence. The second time he said, "Gentleman, the situation has changed." Not the Deputy Minister, but the Governor of the prison then got up, and he said to me, when he called me Kroger, that's it. He says, "Kroger, I promise you that things will change." They did not have any more of that. They stipulated in the agreement that Helen and I would have two meetings in the prison I was in, on the Isle of Wight, and another one in London, in Brixton where they would keep me for a few days before we cleared London to get on a plane. So that is what took place at the time. Of course I'm not a diplomat.