Nearing the end of his journey in As Far as My Feet Will Carry Me (orig.: So weit die Füße tragen), when Clemens is in Kazakhstan, he is recognized as a German by a man named Igor who invites him into his house and agrees to help him with his escape, eventually organizing a passport for him.

Given that Igor introduced himself as an exiled Polish Jew and told of his brothers having been killed by the Germans, Clemens wonders why he helps him then, even more so since he still seems a bit bitter about the fate of his brothers and his reaction to Clemens' standard excuse of "we didn't know" seems rather unconvinced. Yet he goes out of his way to help Clemens and when asked again, still evades the answer of why he does so:

Clemens: Why do you do this for me?

Igor: Do you have a bad conscience for not helping a Jew? That you have to arrange with yourself.

But when he is visited by Kamenev and interrogated about Clemens, he first evades his questions but then suddenly falls down and dies, clinging to his heart as if he had a heart attack or something. When Kamenev goes to look after him he says his last words:

Yes, I helped him. And I would do it again. I would help anyone, do you understand?

So while it seems he just got over his possible anger and helped Clemens out of a genuine kindness and will to help other people, I wonder if his motives are maybe drawn out a bit clearer in the base novel (if actually part of it, given that the movie doesn't seem follow it too thoroughly anyway)?

But the even more burning question is, what actually happened to him? Why did he suddenly die during the conversation with Kamenev? Was he ill (though that would be quite a coincidental time for dying) or did he poison himself (but why then?)? Is this clarified any further in the novel (or maybe in a longer movie version, since I watched a 2 hour version while there also seems to be a 2.5 hour version)?



The enemy of my enemy is my friend

Long version

The movies and TV series are based on Josef Martin Bauer's 1955 book So weit die Füße tragen. This in turn was based on what Cornelius Rost (called Clemens Forell in the book) told him.

Cornelius Rost was a soldier in WW2 who returned from Soviet captivity in 1947. In early 1955, he told Bauer the story. Bauer, who worked for the "Wehrmachtpropaganda" during the war, chose to leave out Igor's motive. From wikipedia

Im Tonbandprotokoll behauptete Rost, der Jude, der in Sibirien an ihn herangetreten sei (um ihm als Angehörigen einer sogenannten Kulaki-Untergrundorganisation zu helfen), habe als einziger seiner Familie ein Anfang 1943 – kurz nach Stalingrad – vom sowjetischen Regime veranstaltetes Pogrom überlebt. Bauer sah allerdings davon ab, diese Aussage und die sämtlichen antisemitischen Klischees entsprechende Beschreibung des Juden durch Rost in den Roman zu übernehmen bzw. glättete hier erheblich.

In a nutshell: Igor's family was murdered in a Soviet pogrom in 1943 and only he survived. Bauer just kept the reference to the underground organization, and also dropped the antisemitic clichés.

Bauer himself did not fact-check what Rost told him. This was done by journalist Arthur Dittmann around 50 years later, who had access to the original recording of Bauer's and Rost's talks. It turned out to be fiction, e. g. Rost returned already in 1947, so there was no escape from Cape Dezhnev, where no prisoner-of-war cap was, from 1949 to 1952 etc. In short, it's all fictional.

But this leaves a hole in the book and therefore in all movies and series based on the book. What did Bauer substitute the motive with?

There is a 2013 version of the book on google books, where I got the following from (page numbers are not given, search for "Igor"):

  • Forell is fearful (why should a jew help a German?) and suspicious of Igor, shown in how he describes everything ("Gastfreundschaft, die doch nur eine verdächtige Form von Haft ist.", "versucht immer wieder und immer vergeblich aus dem Haus zu entkommen."), feeling like a prisoner of Igor and the housekeeper. He doesn't believe him when he tells him about the underground organization and deviates from his suggestion to flee via Caucasus. He tries the route via Iran and returns to Igor. He is still suspicious ("Und noch immer bringt Forell ein Gefühl beengenden Unbehagens nicht los,", "Verdammtes Uralsk! Forell hat nie hierhergehen wollen. Das war Igors Wille, Igors wie eine Befehl klingender Ratschlag ...", "Und jetzt, ..., geht ständig jemand hinter ihm her.")
  • Igor's actions are good, since he always nurses Forell back to health and gives him the correct hints
  • Forell never finds out, why Igor helps him

It is notable how the protagonist's description of the situation and Igor's deeds clash with each other. Instead of a motive, it's suggested that Igor may not be as kind as he seems to be and the underground organization may be one of its reasons, but it all remains vague. On a sidenote, Igor is an Armenian jew in the book, not Polish.

Regarding Igor's death, I didn't find anything in the book (but he doesn't seem to be present during the interrogation). It may have been an invention for the movie, or I missed it / it's not in the preview.

Note that the movie (from 2001) was shot prior to Dittmann's research and publication, so they probably didn't know about Rost's original version with the Soviets murdering Igor's family.

Maybe the best explanation is that Igor wanted to help a fellow human being in distress. The many plotholes may never be resolved and are not surprising, considering that it's all based on a fake story to begin with.

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