John Noble, 84; wrote, lectured about captivity in Soviet camps

By Adam Bernstein, Washington Post
November 23, 2007
John H. Noble, a Detroit native who languished for nearly 10 years in Soviet penal labor camps after World War II and spent the rest of the Cold War lecturing and writing about his captivity, died Nov. 10 at his home in Dresden, Germany, after a heart attack. He was 84.

Noble's gulag ordeal -- including four years in the Vorkuta coal mine and prison complex near the Arctic Circle -- began in 1945 when he was swept up by Soviet forces in Germany at the end of World War II.......


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The following report is a summary of information obtained by the U.S. Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs, and by analysts of the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office.

The information, referred to as the "Memoirs," was provided to the analysts through an interview with a source who had been living in internal exile in the former Soviet Union.

Our analysts translated the interview with the source, and passed it to the Russian side of the Commission during the Commission's plenary meeting in Moscow in late 1999   In
addition, U.S. analysts stationed full-time in Moscow are using this report to investigate leads and examine archives m Russia which may shed some light on the information in the "Memoirs."

It should be noted that the information in the "Memoirs" relates to the 1940s and 1950s, and most of it is collated from second, third or fourth hand reports.

A relatively small portion of the "Memoirs" is excerpted from the original as the information does not relate to the POW/MIA issue, or the information would tend to reveal the identify of the source.


             In the spring of 1954, a new worker, who had previously served as a radio operator
aboard fishing vessels belonging to the Far Eastern Flotilla, arrived at the Leningrad Gold-
prospecting Brigade in Partizanskit (Udereslu District, Krasnoyarskii Region). He recounted
that, in    n n                      when he was fishing some forty miles from the Island of Okusiri in the
Sea of Japan, he "forced his way into" discussions about a certain aircraft that had crashed
Within a few minutes, a "radio message" arrived from the base of the Trawler Fleet, stating that
all vessels belonging to the flotilla were to commence at once a search for the crewmembers.
Immediately thereafter, an encoded message arrived from the base's deputy political officer
directing that the "enemy spy pilots," or their corpses, if they were found, be brought at once
"under the strictest secrecy" to the coast guard ships belonging to the Border Patrol   Just one
point was not clear From whom was this "strictest of secrets" being kept? From the fishermen
of an enormous flotilla scattered across the oceans and seas-who were supposed to be the ones
searching for those involved in the crash?      For days, it seemed that the entire communications
network was saturated with transmissions by crews of the search aircraft    Then, suddenly,
everything went silent

            A week later, we radio operators were informed in the Port of Ol'ga that an American
military spy plane had been downed over our territorial waters by air defense (PVO) units, had
fallen into the sea and that the entire crew had perished       Why were they so incredibly quick to
bury the Americans, who, unlike our pilots and sailors, had top-quality personal rescue gear? .
Two months later, the captain of the fishing vessel on which the worker served served, returned
from Khabarovsk (He had been visiting with his sister there ) He told the radio operator that not
all the crew members of the "American" [aircraft) had, in fact, died "back then" (in June) and that
ten of those people were now in pre-trial solitary confinement in a prison in the city of
Svobodnyi, near Blagoveshchensk   To keep them away from curiosity seekers, they were
transferred there immediately from the internal prison of the Khabarovsk MGB [i e , Ministry of
State Security, predecessor organization of the KGB, trans  ]   The worker added that his captain
was unfazed by this and that he knows the truth -- His sister was married to "just about the most
prominent figure in the Khabarovsk Regional Committee" [of the Communist Party, trans] In
reply to the worker's question, "What happens now"," the captain answered.

                  "They will be squeezed for what is required And, of course, they will finish them off
They'll be worked to the bone and shipped off to Zeya and not for the first time
Svoboduyi is where they have their principal drowning base   In echelons, straight from the
trains, they had been drowning people for thirty years like nothing   And that's all    They
definitely will be counted in all the docunents as having drowned     See, even TASS made the
announcement: They fell, as it were, into the sea"

            The report alarmed me a great deal

                 In the very beginning of 1953, a courier from the Udereiskii Regional KGB
summoned me to the Nizhne-Angarskoe Geological Reconnaissance Directorate in Motygino
I was informed that, at the direction of the senior geologist, Ivanchenko, I was being sent


to handle an emergency situation at the Northern mining enterprise     On that same day, with an
escort and two geologists, we flew off to Krasnoyarsk   We were met there by representatives of
the director of the Regional GRU    He reported that, together with other specialists, I was to fly to
the north, where a ChP (Extraordinary Event) took place at one of the enterprises constituting the
"integrated system"    A crust of ice within the ground had burst apart and flooded the area of the
elevator   Responding to my retort that I lacked the proper educational background, and, therefore,
the results of my expertise (or my suppositions) would be considered incorrect.     He waved in
front of my face a thick folder with my "Personal File "                                     the discussion, he
announced, "Around here what matters we not your diplomas but your actions!   Don't get
gloomy, young man   Go!  You do your work and I'll worry about freeing you from exile. . ."

             The following day - it was January 8th - along with two geologists from Motygine and
another three specialist from the "26th [Post Office] Box, (Krasnoyorsk), we flew out toward the
Island of Dikson. (approximately 2,000 kilometers to the north of Krasnoyarsk) Two or three
days later -- there was a blizzard and the airports were closed -- we flew for about three hours to
the village of Solnechnyi (?) on Bol'shevik (an island in the Severnaya Zemlya archipelago)
There we once again "sat" because of the weather   Finally, after flying across the Vil'kitskn
, we landed in the tundra, some 160 kilometers from Chelyuskin Bay The site was called

             It was inmates who worked here at the mining enterprise since the camp was right next to
the mine    The reason for the emergency situation -- an ignorance of elementary engineering --
could have been clarified without having to fly out to the site   Its consequences could have been
eliminated as well by instruction from a competent engineer    What was needed were experienced
pyrotechnic specialists and demolition experts And they sent us a demolition-qualified inmate
tall, exhausted by hunger and the Artic, with a very characteristic, slightly elongated artistic face
on which the unnatural protrusion of gray eyes in sockets sunken from emaciation revealed
someone ill with exophthalmos goiter    In an accent clearly that of an English speaker, he also
only identified himself as a citizen of the United States of America, Allied Officer Dale          His
statement did not appear to make any impression on my colleagues    In fact, on the return trip,
already in Krasnoyarsk, one of them heard me say "Tell me, please   An American!   An ally
And also in the camp"         He retorted  "And they're not only in Rybak  You have as many as
you want of them in Strelka!   So much for our 'so-called allies'"

              Somewhat later, after having returned to Udereya, I asked those who had escaped from
Strelka about our "allies"  Yes, they knew about the Americans, but they had no contact with
them From the very moment of their arrival on the territory of the Enterprise, they were all kept
in isolation

            I was unable to converse with the American prisoner Dale   The camp guards
"monitored" me very closely Even before we entered his area, I and all the others were warned
that it was strictly forbidden to speak with anyone!

                Six days later, we flew to Dikson Only then did I learn that we were in a uranium mine


            In Kranoyarsk I was compelled to sign a non-disclosure statement with regard to
everything that I had seen and heard in Rybak    In Noril'sk, many years later, a colleague who
had worked with me in Udereya at the time in question, related that many of the Americans "who
had fallen into our hands in 1945 from the liberated Fascist camps" were held in Rybak and
probably perished there.     "

               My status as an exile did not permit me to clarify anything at all about those Americans
who were alive from the aircraft downed in the Far East     This applied even in the case of those
Americans who were located much closer -- in Rybak or in Strelka     But at least in the case
of Rybak I had a chance to see one of them with my very own eyes!   I could also not but believe
those who fled from Strelka, who trusted me with their lives, and who understood perfectly the
price of such information

                 But then, in Udereya, my sad experience showed that the "flow" of Americans from
the prisoner of war camps in Germany and in the Far East, and now from Korea was proceeding
at a robust pace, filling in the bottomless hell of the GULag      I first met these people in Peveka
There, in the region to which I was sent after the hospital (as a result of an accident in "Zemlya
") four Americans, specialists in automation systems, were being detained     They were sent
there from the mining camps of the Northwestern Directorate of Sevvostlag to delve into the
functionality of mobile electric power stations that reached Chaunskaya Guba under the Lend-
Lease program  .   Later, at the very beginning of navigation in the Sea of Okhotsk, I met a still
another group of Americans in the summer of 1948, at the Magadan transfer point in the Bay of
   There were 14 of them and they had just been taken from the holds of a ship
transporting slaves: helpless, enfeebled by a week-and-a-half's worth of tossing on the seas,
hunger, exhaustion, and desperation    I cannot single out anyone of them   They all appeared
uniformly lifeless and faceless   But I recall how many of them there were and the number of their brigade
"1014."   I recall the name of their brigade leader Geldol'f   He, too, was indistinguishable from the others, except, perhaps, by his height   He was tall and, for a tall person, very round-shouldered.    It is difficult for me to remember anyone's individual features, anyone's eyes, because in enormous barracks with three levels of wooden cots it was dark and hazy, as in a crypt        What I also recall is the physical appearance and name of the American  doctor in the group of fourteen, a small but thick-boned fellow named Gertsige

            And this is all that I can recall about the meeting in the Bay of Nagnev

            Both the brigade leader and the doctor knew a bit of German.  They said that they had
served with the navy somewhere out at sea       There they were seized by the Japanese in 1943
They were detained in camps, first in the Philippines (?), then in Manchuria, outside of Harbin,
where they were duped by Soviet "liberators "   There was very little opportunity to communicate
with them   One night they were taken off to the depths of Kolyma, into the bottomless abyss
of its vastness   We were incomparably better off    A week later we were loaded into the hold of a
military transport heading into the Bay of Vanin, toward construction site "501" . .

             Just to finish this point I did not have any direct contact with Americans in Peveka   I
saw them several times as they were taken by convoy to and from the port    But a doctor from
Leningrad told me about them on numerous occasions    The doctor even provided the names of


two of them Filipp (Pill') Etth and Frederkink (or Frederling). I might be in error here That is

           During the latter half of the 1960s, I once again had occasion to hear about the fate of the
crewmembers aboard the American plane downed in the Far East in June(?)1952    I was called
upon to fly out to Komsomol'sk-na-Amure on a business trip with the deputy director of my
institute.                                               "those" years this fellow was the director of DAL'STROL,
i e , from the viewpoint of the Nurenberg charge sheet, he was a war criminal of the first order

                      and then, in a moment of particularly "sincere closeness," I made my decision

             He was not in the least surprised by my question    He replied at once

"Yes, at first ten people were alive.   Yes, first they were brought to Khabarovsk     But, then, of
course, they were sent off to Svobodnyi         They were to have been met by people
from the Ministry of Defense          They were not met, though You see, there was some screw-up
in Moscow      Well, I can tell you that they were not met What happened to them after that, I do
not know   And I would advise you not to know as well         Let the leadership worry itself about
it "

            Later that very same year, in Murmansk, an acquaintance who was a friend and
erstwhile colleague of the Deputy Director "throughout the Far East," repeated almost word-for-
word the testimony of the former DAL'STROI director but went on to clarify        "The guys from
within 'worked over' the Americans so badly that only eight were take                                  .And
those had nowhere to go after all that.        And  so what? Do know what sort of arrogance they
had?   They were Americans!   You understand !!!"

                   "They probably drowned them," I offered as a supposition

                   "Well, well! And how did you find that out? He probably bared his soul to you,
                   In 1973, I had my birthday celebration, to which I invited only my closest friends    The
group included the husband of my classmate    He was a general with an outstanding service

                   Much was said over 19 years of complete mutual trust and affection     While
accompanying the general after an evening at our home, I decided to ask him whether he knew
anything about "those" Americans   [His reply ]

"I know only that they did not come over our way If that had been the case, they would be alive
and healthy   And, by now, they would have been back home for a long time, across the ocean.  I
know that Zhukov was aware of the extraordinary event (ChP) that occurred in the summer of
1952.   I know that Zbukov immediately contacted Stalin directly with a request that be involve
himself in the fate of the American pilots, who as he understood, were lusted from the very
beginning as having perished   But neither Stalin nor his underlings responded to the disgraced
marshal.  Lastly, I know that, as soon as he became deputy minister of defense in 1953, the


marshal directed a search for people and documents. But Beria's archives, as it were, had neither
those people nor the documents about them       Probably, 'nothing was there any longer.'     "

              In the 1980s, I once again was in the Far East, to which I was inextricably drawn by
the undisclosed secret regarding the loss of the American aircraft   My companion on these trips was
a new acquaintance I became acquainted with him and convinced him to transfer over to my
institute, into the scientific field, I must say, all for the same reason   his many years of
involvement in the geographical area of constant interest to me   Before we met, he was for many
years a supervisory official in two agencies in the capital and directed energy-related and
hydromechanical construction in the Far East   And, as an advisor to the minister, he had to have
been closely acquainted with those who could have and rr          ive known the truth about the
Extraordinary Event (ChP) of thirty years before   Two years of persistent searching by him, who
unquestionably was himself intrigued by the idea of revealing the crime, shed no new light on the
course of events of the summer of 1952 or related details   But he did learn the names of two
crewmembers of that aircraft, BUSH and MOORE, who will forever remain in the soil of the
Khabarovsk Region    And however blasphemous this thought may appear to the uninitiated, let
people take my word     By their horrible fate they were spared the vastness of the GULag's
underworld a prison isolation cell with the proud name "Svobodnyi," which is in close
proximity to Blagoveshchensk! And many others

August 1983


             In the fall of 1951, a group of American - POWs (?) from Korea (7) arrived at the
Kirovskij mining camp, Uderejskij administrative district, Krasnoyarsk region
However, in the beginning of 1952, they disappeared without trace    In any case, during
the liquidation of the prison camp during the winter of 1951 and into 1952, none of them
were among the frost bitten prisoners, who were marched in column to Motygmo (in the
south part of the region) and offered medical assistance

           A worker from Kirovskij, a deportee, witnessed how "late at night, on Russian
Christmas, a group of approximately 20 persons, maybe slightly more, were led from
the camp along the Venisminovkij road [note the road connecting the town of Kirovsk and
Venisminevskij] "

            The deportee's daughter and her friend, a Cossack, witnessed that during the last
days of December 1951 "more than 20 prisoners, wearing bare threads and half frozen,
were moved along the road to Veniaminovkij     "

            The daughter of the manager of Veniaminovkij, stated that "on Christmas we
were given a present; frost bitten prisoners being led and driven like cattle by the NKVD
They did not speak Russian   They only said "American, American" and "eat, eat"    They
wanted food Then, in the morning, around 6o'clock, they were marched away to
somewhere further However, further lies only a wasteland, mountainous, desolate and
uninhabited, the taiga     a dead-end

           A driver and hunter from village of Chinuel, observed from his car, prisoners of
some sort that were speaking, but not in Russian, coming at him and being marched
passed his car along the road   The guards were trying to prevent the prisoners from
talking    This was early in the morning, on Christmas He could not understand why
prisoners were being marched on a holiday(?) Why to the north? There is nothing
there, there is no work for them to do

               That evening, when he returned to his home in Chinuel, the column was passing
the mouth of the Ishimbi River                          it seemed, towards him, to Chinuel itself
The next day, around 7am he was going back to Kirovsk when he again encountered the
same column of prisoners,   having  t h i n n e d o u t                It was approaching the
town of  Kameaka, nearing the river.

            Yet another witness He worked as a dredge operator at the Kirovskij mine
 In February 1952, while hunting in the lower reaches of the Parenda, where it empties into
the Kwnenka river, he happened upon small clearing already slightly covered with snow
For some reason it had been covered over with beams of logs The dogs immediately
were aroused. They dragged out some type of boot - worn out at the heel , slippers and
even a shoe, resembling American shoes by the - copper nails    Forcing him to put on his
glasses, in disbelief as to what they had in their teeth. 

          He had heard rumors and became quite nervous. Especially disturbing to him was
the behavior of his dogs They were nervous, whimpering, scratching at the snow and
barking in a manner unlike any that they had before on the hunt. He tried to dig up the
ground -  covered in a half meter of snow    Suddenly, the snow was up to his waist   But
beneath, the ground was already frozen although, clearly the ground had been turned-up
and filled back in It was obvious that someone had been buried here and the dogs began
to back up and howl like near a corpse...
          He stopped tempting fate, - left   The hunt was over

          A week later, he met with his friend, who worked for the militia. His friend
recommended he keep quiet for God's sake...

           In July 1952, my friend and I, based on this information, tried to locate that
clearing However, the swamp had flooded over.

           In the fall, we again began to search But, we had been "sold-out"    We were
questioned by the police and held for ten days in detention

           In the 1960s, I again tried to locate this burial site    However, the taiga had
completely grown over it I was assisted by very kind people.   Again, someone did not
like my search   Just like the incident of the shooting of the Americans in Bodajbo, in
Moscow, again to the, prosecutor's office, USSR (local Government District Attorney's
office) the official car arrived . .

            Then, in August 1964, I officially requested from Krasnoyarsk . .  "as to the fate of
American prisoners of war at the Krovskij mining camp " But of course I did not receive
a reply So, I then submitted a letter to the USSR prosecutor's office itself    However, the
reply was not from Pushkinskij, but from Kuovskij - from the military prosecutor's
office   In the reply, on a carbon copy, it stated "...regarding the fates of citizens of the
USA, held at the Kirovskij Springtime camp, the Prosecutor      of the Krasnoyarsk region
has no information "

             The Prosecutor, USSR, through the military forced the regional Krasnoyarsk, to
reply     That reply stated there were such persons, however, we do not know where they
were taken.

             A list was compiled by a woman containing 22 names of citizens of the USA
imprisoned in the Kirovskij camp during the winter of 1951 to 1952.   When this person
arrived at Kirovskij, she worked as a sanitation worker   Part of her duties included
cleaning toilets at the camp   She put the list together over a months time   It is not
complete, since she was not able to ask anyone for help

             During ten years of repression even she herself had forgotten about this    Because
she is alone, in an exile brought about from working in the zone of the camp 

            By 1951, this once slim figured, fan-haired, gray-eyed beauty had turned into an
old woman    But, to this "old woman" I devoted to my investigative work    She was able
to recall and "Shed light on everything"   She was able to record only 22 names
of Americans, as she was being carefully watched   She was not even able to get their first
names   One day, she managed to sneak a pencil in, broke it into pieces and handed them
out to the Americans so they could record their names and addresses on pieces of
newspaper   Several days later, she smuggled them out, covered in filth, in a canvas bag
She cleaned them, dried them, placed them in a empty fruit jar, and buried them

              During Christmas of that year, when the Americans were being marched to north
toward Veniaminovkij, she disappeared without a trace, just like the Americans     And I
remain, still hopeful of finding this glass jar

                                                                             2 Sep 1979


                                                                                                                           [handwritten) No dates'

1 Al'bertson, Sam [Albertson, Sam]
2 Foster [Foster]
3 Xetch [Hatch]
4 Lion, Dtopdzh [Leon, George]
5 Sikssmit [ ? Smith]
6 Ambroze [Ambiose]
7 Miller [Miller]
8 Devis [Davis]
9 Summerbi [Summerby]
10 Budher Allan [Butcher, Allan]
11 Dzhonson, Xubert [Johnson, Hubert]
12 Veksiei [Vexler or Veksler]
13 Kuk, Irving [Cook, Irving]
14 Morin [Morin]
15 Larsen [Larsen]
16 Boyar [Boyar or Boyer]
17. Fisher [Fisher]
18. Gel'fand [Galvan, Halvan]
19. Natazon, Filipp [Natazon, Philipp]
20. Gershfel'd [Gershfield or Hershfield]
21 Sich, Garri [Seech, Gary or Harry]
22 Kajzer [Kaiser]






[handwritten notation on bottom right)
POWs of North Korea
Through Khabarovsk
In the villages of Kirovskij-
Udereiskij region
Kransoyarsk kraj [administrative district],

May 1954 map
Trans Siberian Rail map



         At the end of June - beginning of July 194 1, during the massive repression against
prisoners by the NKVD (town of Kuybishev), many foreigners were executed    In July
1943, there was another wave of and executions, except now it was against foreign
specialists (a list of l38 names,who were executed in l941)     I found myself in the town
of Kuybishev, and I found out the reason for the executions

      Counterintelligence "SMERSH" (headed by Abakymov), during this period
"cleansed" the areas of any unnecessary specialists - Americans and Swedes, that were
utilized from 1936 for the construction of underground industrial complex by the
Shiguiev Mountains (on the right bank of the Volga River, opposite the town of

     All of them were recruited by Soviet representatives in Germany and Great Britain,
and according to the official paperwork worked in "Third World countries"    Once the
contract was formed, their fates were sealed    The head of "recruitment" of foreign
specialists was Leonid Skoblinskiy, who until 1929 was the head of the political section
of the VChK-OGPY predecessor to the NKVD) In the 1930s, he was the secretary of
the Party Bureau of the Soviet Bank in Paris And, during 1941 - 1943, under the cover
of [WWII], SMERSH "finished" its dealings with the Americans and Swedes.   They
were killed in the transportation tunnels that were labeled "Liter Zero One "   [After the
executions) they were taken out of the tunnels and buried near cemeteries of the German
POW camps    The actual cemetery was located of the south border of the "industrial
zone" of the Separate Labor Point No 5 in Kpaishe (in the area of the Kuybishev

     From May 1941 till November 1943, I was a prisoner and worked in the complex
"Liter Zero One.
"   I knew very well what was happening during that tune.   A witness to
all the crimes was my foreman   Somehow he escaped the liquidation   Another witness
who informed us of everything that went on in these tunnels I had a list of the executed
Americans and Swedes, that was prepared by my comrades [who were killed]    But in
November 1943, this list was lost possibly, the area where the Americans and Swedes
were buried is still open (i.e free from construction)   This area was "free' in 1957, when
I visited it in search of witnesses 

                                                                         16 November 1961

Memoir Part C Graphic
Russian book cover (translated Railroads of the USSR)
rail map

     Actually most of the lists on prisoners were lost in November 1943, when we had to
off load members from the "Baku Stage", and I had to destroy the lists    However, I was
able to save the list containing foreigners, by writing it on the inside of my jacket, and
later turned this list into the contents of my second letter

      The head of the medical examiner's office of the labor camp also gave me the first
and last names of the executed foreigners (including Americans)     Her department made
up the forms on all foreign prisoners, who were executed without a trial     These forms
listed fiction "history of illness" and made up the causes of death (according to the
GULAG statistics, these documents were coded by the number "08".

                                                                                22 December 1994


           In November - December 1945 from the occupied Manchuria (by the  Soviet
Army) a MVD convoy took out six groups of prisoners containing American POWs that
were held in Japanese prison camps in 1943 - 1945 The itinerary for the convoys were
"Dunfanhoon -- Chita -- Luan Ude" and Chan -Chun - Chita -- Ulan Ude"    It was known
to the convoy that these six groups of prisoners were going to a special GULAG to work
on the railroad between Ulan Ude and Ulan Bator. Actually, all the Americans from the
convoy, once it reached Ulan Ude, were transferred to winter camps in Bodaibo (North
Siberia). They were all executed there

           At the end of 1940s - beginning of 1950s, when the interior forces were
demilitarized, some of them stated that Americans were executed in the Bodaibo prison,
a place that "traditionally" hosted executions from the 1930s of middle-class Kozaks
from Zabaikal and Don (Andnus Krulikas and Vasilty Komov)     (There were a total of
200 individuals who were executed)


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