Vilyam Genrikhovich Fisher : biography
Vilyam "Willie" Genrikhovich Fisher () (July 11, 1903 – November 15, 1971) was a Soviet intelligence officer. He is generally better known by the alias Rudolf Ivanovich Abel (Рудольф Иванович Абель), which he adopted when arrested on charges of conspiracy by FBI agents in 1957.
Born in the United Kingdom to Russian émigré parents, Fisher moved to Russia in the 1920s and served in the Soviet military before undertaking foreign service as a radio operator in Soviet intelligence in the late 1920s and early 1930s. He later served in an instructional role before taking part in intelligence operations against the Germans during World War II. After the war, Fisher began working for the KGB, which sent him to the United States where he worked as part of a spy ring based in New York City.
In 1957, for his involvement in what became known as the Hollow Nickel Case, the U.S. Federal Court in New York convicted Fisher on three counts of conspiracy as a Soviet spy and sentenced him to 45 years' imprisonment at Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, Georgia.Whittell (2010), p. 109. Fisher served just over four years of his sentence before he was exchanged for captured American U-2 pilot Gary Powers. Back in the Soviet Union, he lectured on his experiences before dying in 1971 at the age of 68.
Fluent in English, Russian, German, Polish and Yiddish,Hearn (2006), p. 10. Fisher worked for the Comintern as a translator, following his family's return to Russia.Arthey (2004), p. 73. Trained as a radio operator, he served in a radio battalion of the Red Army in 1925 and 1926.Arthey (2004), p. 76. He then worked briefly in the radio research institute before being recruited by the OGPU, a predecessor of the KGB, in May 1927.Arthey (2004), p. 81. That year he married Elena Lebedeva, a harp student at Moscow Conservatoire.Whittell (2010), p. 10. They would have one child together, a daughter named Evelyn who was born on October 8, 1929.Arthey (2004), p. 84. Following his recruitment, Fisher worked for the OGPU as a radio operator in Norway, Turkey, United Kingdom, and France. He returned to Russia in 1936, as head of a school that trained radio operators destined for duty in illegal residences.Andrew (1999), pp. 146–147. One of these students was the British-born Russian spy Kitty Harris, who was later more widely known as "The Spy With Seventeen Names".Damaskin (2001), p. 140.
Despite his foreign birth and the accusation that his brother-in-law was a Trotskyite, Fisher narrowly escaped the Great Purge, which took place during 1936–1938. He was, however, in 1938 dismissed from the NKVD, which in 1934 replaced the OGPU. During World War II he again trained radio operators for clandestine work behind German lines.Andrew (1999), p. 146. Having been adopted as a protégé of Pavel Sudoplatov, Fisher took part in Operation Scherhorn (Операция Березино) in August 1944. Sudoplatov later described this operation as "the most successful radio deception game of the war". Fisher's role in this operation was rewarded with what his superiors regarded as the most prestigious posting in Russian foreign intelligence, the United States.Whittell (2010), p. 13.
Fisher was born on July 11, 1903, in Benwell, Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom, the second son of Heinrich and Lyubov Fisher. Revolutionaries of the Tsarist era, his parents were ethnic Germans from Russia. Fisher's father, a revolutionary activist, taught and agitated with Vladimir Lenin at Saint Petersburg Technological Institute. In 1896 he was arrested for sedition and sentenced to three years internal exile. As Heinrich Fisher had served a sentence for offences against the Russian state, he was forced to flee to the United Kingdom, the alternative being deportation to Germany or imprisonment in Russia for avoidance of military service. While living in the United Kingdom, Fisher's father, a keen Bolshevik, took part in gunrunning, shipping arms from the North East coast to the Baltic states to help the proletariat.Whittell (2010), p. 9.Arthey (2004), p. 11.
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