1930-1932 Berlin

I arrived in Berlin on the day of the fateful Reichstag elections, September 14, 1930.
Up to September 14, the National Socialist Party had occupied twelve seats in the German Parliament. After that day, one hundred and seven. The parties of the Centre were crushed. The Democratic Party had all but vanished. The Socialists had lost nine of their seats. The Communists had increased their vote by 0 per cent, the Nazis by 800 per cent. The final show down was approaching. It came thirty months later.
The day after the elections, I took up my new job in the imposing building in the Kochstrasse. Everybody there was still dazed. I had to pay courtesy calls on the editors of our four daily papers and of a dozen weeklies and monthlies, all housed in that one labyrinthine building. They shook hands limply, with absent looks. One or two of them said with a wry smile: "Why on earth didn't you stay on in Paris?" The arrival of a new Science editor at that particular moment struck them as exceedingly funny.
After a few days the panic subsided and the people in the Kochstrasse, as everywhere else in Germany, settled down to carry on business as usual in a country that had become a minefield. More than half the people in the Kochstrasse building were Jews. The other half did not fare much better later on. The Ullstein crowd was Dr Goebbels' bete noir. We stood for everything that he hated. We were steeped in German culture, yet immune against German chauvinism through a hereditary Judeo-cosmopolitan touch. We were fervently anti-war, anti-militaristic, anti-reactionary. We were for "Locarno" and for "Rapallo", that is, for Franco-German and Russo-German collaboration. We were for the Kellogg Pact which outlawed war, and for the League of Nations which would punish every possible aggressor, and for Briand's Pan-Europa.

It is in this situation that Koestler began more and more being attracted to the socialist ideas, studying Marxist classics and trying to figure out how to save Germany from the impending collapse into Nazism. In the meantime, his professional life was more and more successful, culminating with Koestler's participation as a journalist to the historical expedition of the Graf Zeppellin Arctic Expedition.

On the return of the expedition, I received invitations for lectures from all over Europe. I obtained six weeks' leave and, equipped with my log-book and set of lantern slides, went on a lecture tour through Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Holland. When I got back to Berlin in September, 1931, the Ullsteins offered me the post of foreign editor and assistant editor-in-chief of the B.Z. am Mittag - Germany's largest evening paper - in addition to retaining my post as science editor of the Vossische. I accepted. It was an unusual - and perhaps symbolic - combination of jobs which involved a considerable amount of work, a high salary, and much professional satisfaction. It lasted for about nine months; half-way through I formally joined the Communist Party.
I applied for membership to the Communist Party on December 31, 1931: the new life was to start with the new calendar year.

Koestler's application was accepted, and after a few contacts with other people he was put in contact with Erns Schneller, member of the German Parliament, head of the AGITPROP (Department for agitation and propaganda) of the German Communist Party and chief of one of the Comintern's secret apparatus.

I told him of my desire to throw up my job and go as a tractor-driver to Russia; but within a few hours Schneller had convinced me that I would be more useful to the Party by keeping my membership secret, carrying on as a journalist, influencing, within the limits of my possibilities, the policy of my paper, and passing on to the Party any inside information that came my way. The Party, he explained, though still enjoying the privilege of legality, would probably quite soon be outlawed and forced underground. In that event people like myself, who were in respectable positions and untainted by suspicion, would be even more valuable than at present in the struggle against Fascism and imperialist aggression. Everything he said sounded so plausible that by the end of our first meeting I agreed to his proposal and became, without being fully aware of the fact, a member of the Comintern's intelligence network.

But Koestler's activities as a spy were doomed to failure. His modest activities were discovered when a collaborator of his, and a colleague in his espionage apprenticeship denounced both of them to the Ullsteins. Koestler was fired, and to avoid a scandal the pretext of staff reductions was given. Koestler was now free to join more openly into the Party's activities, the political climate was growing more and more tense in Germany with the Nazis seizing power with little or no reaction from the parties of the left. At the end, he decided to go to the USSR.

I was waiting for my visa to Russia. When I lost my job I had asked the Party for permission to emigrate. This was regarded as a rare privilege, for the duty of every Communist was to work for the Revolution in his own country. However, I still enjoyed a certain reputation as a liberal journalist (the reasons why I had to leave the Ullsteins were not known in public), and the Party was willing to exploit this advantage. It was agreed that I should go to Russia and write a series of articles on the First Five Year Plan, maintaining the fiction that I was still a bourgeois reporter. I accordingly entered into an agreement with a literary agency, the Karl Dunker Verlag, who undertook to syndicate the series in some twenty newspapers in various European countries.

Koestler aboard the Graf Zeppellin