Secret Agent Krystyna Skarbek – the inspiration for James Bond’s Vesper Lynd
Maria Krystyna Janina Skarbek (1908-1952) was born in Poland to a Catholic father and a Jewish mother from a wealthy family. From a young age, Maria enjoyed horse-back riding, skiing, and extreme physical activities. At 22, her father died and her mother’s family wealth ran out. Skarbek got a job in a Fiat dealership but fell ill from the fumes. To regain her health, she returned to the slopes and spent the majority of her time skiing and hiking. With the outbreak of World War II, Skarbek fled to London and enlisted in the British Army. She found her way into the Secret Intelligence Service and was sent to Hungary for “espionage, reconnaissance and sabotage”. From there she re-entered Poland by hiking across the mountainous border. Skarbek first attempted to save her mother from the Nazis, but her mother refused to leave and was killed in a camp. Skarbek’s main work was to organize the transfer of vital intelligence reports out of Warsaw to the SIS. (One of these correctly revealed Germany’s planned invasion of the USSR, of critical importance to the Allied victory). She also assisted in smuggling weapons and exfiltrating key military personnel. Arrested by the Gestapo in 1941, Skarbek bit her own tongue until it bled, then pretended to have virulent tuberculosis and used the cover to escape her captivity. She made her way through the Balkans to Turkey, then to the SIS headquarters in Egypt. Upon arrival, she was suspected of being a counter-spy secretly working for the Germans! Thankfully, she cleared her name and returned to work. In 1944 she was posted in France under the name ‘Madame Pauline’. Here were some of her most infamous missions, including demolishing bridges and infiltrating a Nazi prison to save her commanding officer. After the war she was awarded with an Officer of the Order of the British Empire and France’s Croix de Guerre. However, she was dismissed from service with only a month’s salary and left alone in Cairo. She slowly rebuilt her life as Christine Granville. Sadly, in 1952 she was assassinated in a hotel room. Skarbek’s story inspired Vesper Lynd, the original ‘Bond Girl’ in Ian Fleming’s first 007 story Casino Royale. Many consider her Britain’s first female secret agent.
Words of the Week
God transforms spirituality into physicality; the Jew makes physical things spiritual. – Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov
Shimon Kazarnofsky (1922-2012) was born in Lithuania. His parents immigrated to Israel in 1925 when he was just three years old. At 15, he joined the Jewish Underground and fought valiantly to establish the State of Israel. With the outbreak of World War II, he enlisted in the British Army’s Jewish Brigade and would receive four medals for his bravery in fighting the Nazis. Stationed in Italy at the end of the war, he stayed in Europe to run underground operations: hunting escaped Nazis and smuggling Jewish refugees to Israel. At the onset of the Independence War, Kazarnofsky (now going by his new Hebraized last name, Erem) returned to Israel and organized the first Officer’s School of the Israeli Army. He battled (and was wounded) on both the Jordanian and Egyptian fronts. In 1956 he commandeered the Sinai War, then served in 1967 as commander of special forces in the Six-Day War. Despite moving to California in 1970 (where his wife is from), he immediately returned to Israel in 1973 to fight in the Yom Kippur War. Erem finally retired from the military with the rank of Brigadier General, and returned to the United States where he worked tirelessly to raise support for Israel. He once said, “Every morning when I get up, I ask myself: What can I do to help Israel today?” Sadly, Erem passed away last Sunday.
Words of the Week
… I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations… They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this earth. The Romans and their Empire were but a bauble in comparison to the Jews. They have given religion to three quarters of the globe and have influenced the affairs of mankind more, and more happily than any other nation, ancient or modern.
– President John Adams, in a letter to F.A. Van Der Kemp, 16 February 1809
Aubrey Shlomo Meir Eban (1915-2002) Known as “Abba Eban”, this South African Jew was fluent in 10 languages, including Hebrew and Arabic, making him the ideal spy. As an intelligence officer, he rose to the rank of Major in the British Army, while also working diligently for the World Zionist Congress and being editor of the journal The Young Zionist. He worked at the UN for over a decade, where he was instrumental in passing Resolution 181 (the partition plan). Aside from this, he was ambassador to the US, deputy prime minister of Israel, minister of foreign affairs, education, culture and a long serving member of the Knesset. He wrote 9 books and received the Israel Prize.
Words of the Week
Marriage is giving it your all, but recognizing you are only half. – Chassidic Sages