Georgii Chavchavadze brings us to another family, the Klimovs. Georgii’s wife, Irina Georgievna Ben-Chavchavadze (1922–2011), was born Klimova. The Klimov family is important for two reasons. First, it played a central role in the social life of the Russian émigré community in Riga; their dacha was a place to see and be seen, and through it the family secured important links with the philosopher Ivan Ilyin. Second, the family’s two children, Irina and her brother, Oleg, worked directly for Goebbels’s Propaganda Ministry and were, therefore, key pawns in the Nazi’s strategy for occupied Soviet territories.
The father of the family, Georgii Evgenievich (1895-1967), after graduating from the Naval Corps in 1916, took part in the White movement and then emigrated from Crimea to Riga, where he worked as an insurance agent. He collected antiques and objects of Russian art, a passion in which he was assisted by his famous nephews, the painter Evgenii Evgenyevich Klimov (1901-1991)
and the musician Konstantin Evgenyevich (1896-1985).⁶
The Klimovs became famous for receiving literary figures in exile in their dacha outside Riga. They hosted Ivan Ilyin when he was visiting Riga in the 1930s upon the invitation of the Russian Academic Society of Latvia. In 1936, the Klimov family also hosted the writer Ivan Shmelev (1873–1950), famous for his idyllic recreations of the prerevolutionary past and his exaltation of the White resistance as depicted, for instance, in The Sun of the Dead (1927).⁶⁵
But the most striking figure of the family was Georgii’s daughter, Irina Klimova
. After the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, Irina was mobilized by the Germans as a translator, as she was fluent in several languages, particularly German. She worked for an unknown general at Goebbels’s Propaganda Ministry and took part in a joint propaganda project of the Wehrmacht and the Goebbels’s Ministry called Vineta that was broadcasting radio stations to occupied territories. Read more: The Vineta operation.
In 1944, Irina transferred from Vineta to, it seems, become the personal secretary and translator of the General Andrei Vlasov
, then served as a typist in the officer school of the 1st Vlasov Division under the command of S. K. Bunyachenko, yet this information is confirmed only by Irina herself.⁶⁷
According to Vladimir Gnezdilov⁶⁸
(b. 1948), while serving in the Goebbels Propaganda Ministry, Irina married a German general she served as translator. However, the general was arrested and sent to the Eastern Front, where he died, and his family did not recognize the marriage and the child born from it. Irina had met Georgii Ben-Chavchavadze earlier, when, together with her first husband, she came to Vlasov 1st infantry division of the KONR Armed Forces where Ben-Chavchavadze, then served. After the death of the Nazi General, George found Irina in Berlin and married her.⁶⁹
We know very little about Georgii’s other son and Irina’s brother, Oleg Klimov (1918–???)
, not even his year of death. Oleg graduated as an engineer from the University of Latvia and, like his sister, served as translator for the Nazi occupants. He then joined the Gatchina operation, which we will discuss below. According to information from the investigation of Nazi crimes carried out by the KGB, Oleg was a member of the Nazi commando that participated in the killing of civilians in the villages of Zhestyanaya Gorka and Chernoe in the Novgorod region in 1941–1943. Discover: the KGB document on Klimov.
Ivan Ilyin’s aforementioned lectures in Riga, during which he became friends with the Klimovs, were organized by Roman Zile (1900–1971).
Originally from Latvia, Zile served in the White Army before returning to Riga in 1922 to study at the University of Latvia, where his father was the rector. Between 1924 and 1926, Zile was in charge of getting propaganda literature into the Soviet Union in case there were peasant uprisings—a project funded by ROVS and the Treasury of Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich
In 1928 Zile became acquainted with Ivan Ilyin, becoming his student and secretary. In 1926, together with like-minded people (including the Klimov family), Zile had organized—and would later head—the Russian Academic Society in Latvia, which would invite Ivan Ilyin to lecture almost on an annual basis.⁷
² On top of this, Zile was a member of the BRP’s Latvian section; the head of counter‑intelligence for the ROVS’ Latvian section; the NSNP’s representative in Latvia; and a member of the Brotherhood of Russian Truth, where he led the youth group (under the pseudonym “Podgorny,” Brother No. 137).⁷³.⁷⁴
In 1931, Anatolii P. Lieven
decided to reorganize the counterintelligence apparatus of the Brotherhood of Russian Truth, making Zile the head of the terrorist section. Soon an underground explosives workshop was established in Riga. The group tried to plant a mine in a Soviet train car, but the explosives were spotted by the conductor and the attack was thwarted.⁷⁵
Zile also planned an attack on the Soviet embassy and the assassination of its ambassador, but this effort likewise failed.⁷⁶
He further participated in the installation of a secret radio station that was broadcasting from Rezekne
(a Latvian territory from 1918 to 1940) to neighboring districts of Belarus and the Pskov region.⁷⁷
In October 1932, when Soviet-Latvian trade negotiations were underway, Soviet intelligence “leaked” details of Zile's adventures to the émigré liberal press. He was expelled from Latvia and went to Germany. It was not until a year later, in September 1933, that Zile was allowed to return to Latvia. Zile is said to have managed to avoid conscription during the Second World War and served in a civilian position on the railroads of the Third Reich.⁷⁸
In 1939, Zile married Helena Rahr, the sister of Gleb Rahr (1922–2006)
The Rahr family evacuated Russia during the civil war and found refuge in Latvia, but left the small Baltic republic for Germany in 1941 in order to avoid Soviet repression against White Russian organizations. Once based in Breslau (Wroclaw), Gleb joined the NTS, becoming close to one of its leaders, Vladimir Dmitrievich Poremskii (1909-1997)
. In Berlin, he also met with the head of the union Victor M. Baidalakov (1900–1967)
Gleb became secretary of the ROCOR Orthodox parish in Breslau and travelled to cities and camps with Soviet POWs to distribute NTS leaflets.⁸
¹ He also met Major Mikhail Meandrov, the future head of the ROA officer school and general of Vlasov’s army.⁸
² Gleb was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944, when the NTS was seen as not supportive enough of Vlasov’s project and sent to concentration camps, until he was liberated by American forces in April 1945.
His brother, Lev Rahr (1913–1980)
, was, for his part, a member of the Brotherhood of Russian Truth, who introduced the whole Rahr-Klimov to Ilyin’s brochures.⁸
³ While he emigrated with the rest of the family to Germany, Rahr returned to German-occupied Riga and joined the NTS, working closely with the Kimovs and Rutchenko. Rutchenko recalls that Lev Rahr often supported his ideas in disputes and even insisted that Ruchenko be invited for more public speeches.⁸
⁴ In 1944, Rahr returned to Germany to work as an adjutant of General Vlasov with Colonel Konstantin Kromiady and NTS D.A. Levitskii in the apparatus of KONR. This was in charge of the destruction of the KONR lists and documents during their evacuation from Berlin.⁸⁵Glazunov-Rutchenko and the Zeppelin Operation in Gatchina
Oleg Klimov’s destiny as a war criminal brings us to another group of protagonists, Boris Glazunov and Nikolai Rutchenko, whom we pick up on after the war and who will bring us back to the Soviet Union and then to the Radio Liberty networks.Boris Fedorovich Glazunov (approx. 1890s–1963)
grew up and lived in Tsarskoe Selo, the small city that hosted the Romanov residence near St Petersburg. The official narrative about him is that he was a POW forced to work for the Nazis using his engineering skills.²² This would fit with his family’s path, as Boris’ brother, Sergei (father of the famous Soviet painter Ilya Glazunov
), and almost his entire family died of hunger in besieged Leningrad, and his other brother, Mikhail, served as a doctor in the city until the end of the war.
However, archival documents provide an entirely different story about Boris, one of volunteered cooperation with the Nazis as early as 1942, when Leningrad was besieged. He was transported with his wife and children by the Germans to Gatchina, a small city 45 kilometers south of Leningrad (named Krasnogvardeisk from 1929 to 1994), to evacuate the frontline around the northern capital. In Gatchina, Boris worked in Section A of the Zeppelin Operation (see below); under the nickname Glazenap, he trained and sent saboteurs to the rear.
One of his brothers, Vladimir, was a member of the Tsarskoe Selo scout troop, commanded by Oleg Pantyukhov and that included the young Alexandr Kazem-Bek. Pantyukhov’s physical training aide was Boris Solonevich, the brother of the White conservative philosopher Ivan Solonevich (1891-1953)
Boris’s fate was largely influenced by his encounter with Nikolai Rutchenko-Rutych (1916–2013)
. Born in Odessa from a White family, Rutchenko first graduated from the workers’ faculty and then, in 1939, from the Department of History at Leningrad University, where he began a doctorate. With the outbreak of war, Reserve Lieutenant Rutchenko was drafted into the NKVD troops and, in August 1941, as a company commander, voluntarily surrendered. Soon he appeared in Gatchina where he initially served as an interpreter at the local SD (Sicherheitsdienst, the intelligence agency of the SS and the Nazi Party) office. In 1942, he joined the NTS and soon, due to an acute shortage of personnel, found himself on the governing council of the organization and leading the Gatchina cell.
Rutchenko was a friend of the Klimov family. A rare photo from 1935 shows Georgii Klimov; Ivan Ilyin; Pavel Delle and his wife; as well as Elena Rahr, Zile’s second wife; and several friends spending time at the Klimov’s datcha.⁸⁶
We also know from Rutchenko’s memoirs that Irina invited him to spend Easter of 1942 together, where he met Dmitrii Levitskii, the leader of the student association, Ruthenia—linked to the Brotherhood of the Russian Truth⁸⁷
—and an NTS member liaising with the Germans.⁸⁸
One day in the summer of 1942, Oleg Klimov brought Ilyin’s brochure “On Resisting Evil by Force” to Rutchenko and Glazunov.⁸⁹
Impressed by the text, Rutchenko and Glazunov decided to reprint several copies of the brochure for dissemination. The Gatchina trio decided to contact like-minded people among Riga-based Russian nationalists, especially Pavel Petrovich Delle (1900–1998)
, who was already known by Rutchenko and Klimov.
A Latvian, Delle was a convinced monarchist and an Orthodox, who was working as an architect, first in Tallin, then in Riga. He managed to escape from the June 1941 deportation, although he was on the NKVD’s wanted lists as an anti-Soviet activist. After the Nazi occupation of Latvia, Delle voluntarily entered the service of the German punitive units and took the lead of the Sonderkommando in Gatchina. In the fall of 1941, the group was joined by Sergei Smirnov—son of the famous vodka manufacturer and then the Russian burghermeister of the city of Kalinin—who became an interpreter to the Gatchina branch of the SD. Read more: Except from Rutchenko’s memoirs on the Gatchina operation.
Eventually, the Gatchina group merged with the Riga-based NTS cell and continued to work for the SD. Rutchenko engaged with Alexandr Würgler
, leader of the NTS Polish section of NTS based in Warsaw, who was the main intermediary between the NTS and Abwehr and a member of Sonderstab R, a military unit made out of White Russians that was part of the Wehrmacht.⁹⁰
Abwehr had created a Russia cell in charge of anti-Soviet diversion activities that was mostly managed by NTS members.⁹
¹ But the relations between the Gestapo and the NTS were complex. The NTS was divided between many fractions, each having different contacts with all of the Russian organizations at the Nazi’s service. Nikita Lomagin, a scholar of the Leningrad siege, states that the NTS in Gatchina was directly under the Gestapo’s supervision.⁹
² According to a historian of German intelligence, Sergei Chuev, certain Abwehr groups not only relied on NTS, but were the platforms for recruitment of new NTS members.⁹
³ Lander also confirmed the close connections between NTS and the Gestapo’s special operation, such as the Zeppelin operation—a top-secret German plan to recruit Soviet POWs for espionage and sabotage operations behind the Russian front line.⁹
⁴ Read more: The Zeppelin Operation.
Yet, the relationship was not without tensions. At the end of 1942, Rutchenko and Glazunov were caught by the Gestapo for distributing Ilyin’s essay. They were arrested on the denunciation of one of their members, a former student of the Lesgaft Institute in Leningrad, Vadim Dobochevskii, who suspected his comrades of having links with Soviet intelligence. However Dobachevsky's speculations had no grounds, during the confrontations and interrogations, he committed suicide by throwing himself from the fourth floor. With the intercession of Delle and a relative of Field Marshal von Kleist, who served at the headquarters of the 18th Army of the Wehrmacht, Glazunov and Rutchenko were liberated from Gestapo’s investigation in February 1943.⁹⁵
They soon were to discover the Vlasov project: Oleg Klimov sent them the Zaria
newspaper of March 1943, which contained an open letter from General Andrei Vlasov
calling the Russian people to join him under the banner of the Russian Liberation Army.⁹⁷
In the same spring of 1943, the Zeppelin operation was reformed, and a central section was created, Russland Mitte, covering the region from northern Ukraine to the coast of the White Sea, including the territories of Belarus and the Baltic states. The main section, section A, was engaged in the preparation, recruitment and transfer of reconnaissance and sabotage groups and worked near Pskov. It prepared four special groups of more than 100 people each for sabotage activities to be deployed deep into the Soviet rear up to the Volga and Kama Rivers. As Michel Slavinskii, an NTS member recalls:
In the northern sector of the occupied regions, many groups of Russian volunteers operated under more or less strict German control. One of them was led by Nicolas Rutchenko, parachuted in by the Soviet command to operate on the enemy’s rear. However, the commando he led crossed over to the German side and formed a small independent unit. Contacts were established with the NTS and Rutchenko himself joined the movement.⁹⁸
As part of the Zeppelin Special Group/A Russland-Mitte department, Rutchenko, Delle, Klimov, and Glazunov played a central role in destabilizing the Soviet rear in the Gatchina region that contained the crucial Leningrad front. The KGB interrogation protocols of German agents arrested by Soviet services contain information that Rutchenko personally shot several civilians.⁹⁹
After a short time teaching at a school for training personnel for the Nazi occupation administration, Rutchenko returned to active duties, including the introduction of agents into POW camps to identify hidden communists, political workers and Jews. It is alleged that he traveled to Vilnius to participate in the destruction of the Jewish ghetto and commanded a platoon of a punitive detachment. At the same time, he appears on the Zeppelin list under the modest designation of an interpreter and head of the local branch of the NTS.
On January 28, 1944, the Gestapo arrested Rutchenko in Warsaw as part of a repressive action against the NTSNP, who tried to distance itself from the Germans in anticipation of their obvious forthcoming defeat. Subsequently, Rutchenko developed a narrative about having created anti-German and anti-communist guerrilla groups in the Pskov and Novgorod regions. After a short time in prison, Rutchenko was sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he was kept in a separate room with good furnishings and decent food. He was not burdened with forced labor and was allowed to communicate freely with other completely uncommon prisoners— this was a clear sign of «preventive arrest», which individuals (for example, Stepan Bandera) were subjected by the Nazis not with the aim of destroying, but with «educational» objectives.
As for Boris Glazunov, he stayed in Gatchina. According to a report from a Soviet counterintelligence agent, Glazunov trained saboteurs in subversive activities for the Zeppelin operation.¹⁰⁰. ¹⁰¹
After the start of the German retreat in 1943, he followed Nazi troops west. The official family story suggests that Boris’s wife, Nadezhda Ivanovna Glazunova, left him because of his political position, but the documents show that they simply worked jobs in two different branches of the same organization: Boris trained demolition workers in the Pechki camp, which was part of the Russland Mitte unit, and Nadezhda headed the women’s department of the ROA Sandberge military camp, near Buchenwald. The camp hosted about 1,000 Soviet citizens (mostly Russian, Ukrainian, and Cossacks, with some Caucasians and Central Asians) used as agents by the ROA or the Nazi regime.¹⁰²
Boris’s role in training saboteurs in the Pechki camp is confirmed by documents held by both the Nazi and Soviet counterintelligence organization, SMERSH. The spouses were closely tied to the ROA and, by the end of the war, followed the course of many Vlasovites: they fled to the American zone of occupation in the hope that they would not be extradited to the USSR.
Delle followed an even more impressive path. Nicknamed Lange and SS Obersturmführer, he served as a shooting instructor and translator, supplying like-minded people with false documents and weapons. In 1943–1944, he participated in training saboteurs to be sent to the rear of the Red Army, including the famous Tavrin-Shilo operation—an assassination attempt on Stalin.
Read more: The Tavrin-Shilo operation. From mid-1945, Skorzeny worked in the security department of the KONR, then served in its intelligence school in Marienbad.