Foreign News: The Whistler

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At dusk one day last February, a middleaged, professorial sort of man opened the door of his neat, middle-class Frankfurt apartment to a stranger. "Are you Herr Okolovich?" asked the caller, in perfectly accented German. "I am." "Then I must talk to you privately. It is most important." Herr Okolovich ushered the stranger in and offered him a cup of tea. It was brusquely declined. A moment later, switching from German to Russian, the stranger told Herr Okolovich his and business: "I am Captain Khokhlov of the MVD, and I have been ordered to kill you."

Last week, before a battery of microphones, cameras and newsmen in a U.S. Government office at Bonn, Captain Khokhlov, 31, told why he had failed to MVD CAPTAIN KHOKHLOV (WITH FAMILY) With poison and conscience. carry out his murder assignment. The stated reason was simple enough: "A conflict between Soviet intelligence, which tried to force me to commit criminal acts, and my conscience"; but the facts leading up to it made a story that sounded like a collaboration of Graham Greene and E. Phillips Oppenheim.

As a young man in Moscow and a dutiful member of the Young Communist League Organization in the late '30s, Nikolai Khokhlov was only interested in becoming an actor and eventually a movie director. He played a few bits in Russian plays and movies, and even made himself a small reputation on the variety stage as an "artistic whistler." When the Nazis invaded Russia, he volunteered for frontline duty, but was rejected because of bad eyes. As the Nazis drew near to Moscow, however, Khokhlov was recruited, along with many other young actors and artists, by the NKVD (the MVD of the time) to fight a rear-guard guerrilla action in case the city fell. From then on, he was in the secret police to stay.

Dirty Missions. Under a host of different names and forged passports, he was sent from one European country to another and ordered to use his actor's skill to pass himself off as a native. In 1943, by his own account, he directed the assassination of German Gauleiter Wilhelm Kube in Minsk. After a hasty cram course in German, he was planted in a camp for German P.W.s. In 1947, he was granted Rumanian citizenship under the name Stanislaw Lewandowski. But for all his success and all his skill, Khokhlov was far from happy as an undercover agent. "I got into Soviet intelligence when my country was at war," he explained last week. "At that time, I considered it my patriotic duty . . . but the war ended, and I was used not only for matters of defense of my country but also for missions which had nothing to do with defense. They were dirty missions."

Once Khokhlov tried to quit the MVD but failed. Another time he refused to undertake a mission involving murder. His bulwark and supporter in such bold actions, according to Khokhlov, was his wife Yanina. She was a young construction engineer and a Roman Catholic. Tears formed in Khokhlov's eyes last week as he talked of her: "She helped me to understand that there exists in the world real decency, and that there is such a thing as purity of motive."

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