Soviet Mata Hari

That was she who stole US nuclear secrets

In 1966, in Moscow, the novel Mr Kochek’s Advertising Office by Tevekelyan was published which at once became popular among Soviet readers. It was not that the novel was a real literature masterpiece, but the plot was really original. It was a story of a married couple of young Soviet intelligence workers who penetrated to German territory, became legal and got necessary ties to obtain secret information.

Though, at that time, not many readers could assume the plot was based on real life of Soviet intelligence workers Yelizaveta and Vasily Zarubin. In contrast to other intelligence luminaries like Richard Sorge, Rudolf Abel, George Blacke, they never failed.

Yelizaveta Zarubina realized dozens of fruitful operations, recruited hundreds of sources. She new 6 languages, and was a person of great culture and simply a beautiful women who attracted men. At the same time she was modest, even shy. In the USSR, she was the only foreigner who rose to the rank of KGB colonel. The name of Yelizaveta Zarubina became known after World War II, when the US press published some unclassified archive documents. At the same time, some versions appeared which disclosed sensational details of the Soviet intelligence operations in the US during WW II.

In the 1990s, when memoirs of some intelligence workers were published, the role of Yelizaveta Zarubina in obtaining US nuclear bomb secrets became known. In particular, she established contacts with Robert Oppenheimer, before he became the leader of the Manhattan Project. Today, Russian intelligence still cannot declassify the original file of Yelizaveta Zarubina: her activity was really very large-scale. Though, in the museum of Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, there is an exposure of Yelizaveta Zarubina. In official publications, some details of her biography are either inexact, or they are absent at all. Information about her is kept in closed party archives.

So, who was Yelizaveta Zarubina (Rosenzweig), called in our story Soviet Mata Hari?

She was born in North Bukovina, which was a part of Austrian-Hungarian Empire and belonged after WW II to Romania. She was philologist and fluently spoke Romanian, Russian, English, French, and German. Among her relatives, there were prominent political and military figures who suffered from Stalin’s repressive measures because of their independent views or Jewish origin. Liza started to work for intelligence since 1919. She worked for some time in the secretariat of Soviet intelligence founder Felix Dzerzinski.

Her first husband was famous Blumkin, who worked for Russian Special Commission and participated in annihilation of German ambassador Mirbach in 1918. Moreover, Blumkin was a key figure in the conspiracy of the Socialist-Revolutionist Party (SR) against Vladimir Lenin. Later Blumkin came cap in hand to Dzerzinski, was excused, and started to work for the Special Commission (ChK).

In 1929, Blumkin was the head of an illegal intelligence group in Turkey. Fulfilling the Soviet government orders, he sold Hasid books from special funds of Lenin State Library. The money was aimed for creation of a diversion terrorist unit to fight against Great Britain in the Middle East. Blumkin kept some part of money and handed it over to Lev Trotsky. Moreover, he was a kind of messenger between him and his supporters in the USSR. When Liza learned these facts, she reported them to the ChK leadership, and Blumkin was arrested.

Now Liza was single again. A charming girl, she easily established contacts in different circles and gathered necessary information. For her service purposes, she often changed her appearance.

Several years after her divorce, she married Vasily Zarubin, professional secret service man. Since 1929, the couple started to prepare for illegal work in France, where they lived as the Kocheks, Czech merchants. The couple became legal in Denmark, then they go to France. Some of their French contacts are still not opened, and some of them are probably still actual. Some contacts, for example that ones in German diplomatic corps in Paris, were actively used later, when fascist came to power. Since December 1933, the Zarubins acted in the Hitler Reich. That were they who recruited the Gestapo worker, Willy Lehman (nick “Breinbach”), who became a Soviet intelligence agent. Even when “Red Capella” failed in 1942, it did not influenced the agent net created by the Zarubins in the middle 1930s. A functionary of German Foreign Ministry, agent Winterfeld successfully acted after WW II.

Vasily Zarubin’s hour of triumph fell on the WW II first years. The couple was sent to the US, where he was appointed legal fixed-post spy. The day before his departure, Zarubin was received by Stalin, who personally instructed him and fixed main tasks.

Though, Vasily’s mission could not have been so successful, if not for his wife Liza. That was she who recruited more than 20 agents. Among theme, there was the wife of former USSR physicist Georgy Gamov, who left the country in 1933 and who possessed the freshest information about the US science achievements. Liza promised to Georgy Gamov’s wife the support of her relatives in the Soviet Union during the heavy war years in exchange for cooperation. According to Yelizaveta Zarubina’s order, the wife of Soviet sculpture and artist Konenkov became a close friend of Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer, who were responsible for scientific part of the US nuclear project. Having returned from the US to the Soviet Union, Yelizaveta Zarubina started to work in the Foreign Intelligence central staff. In 1946, she was forced to send in her resignation, being in the rank of colonel. Her services before the USSR were officially recognized in 1967, when 50th anniversary of Soviet intelligence was celebrated. The legendary Soviet spy woman died in 1987 as an aged woman, as a result of an accident.


Translated by Vera Solovieva

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