Walter Krivitsky bigraphy, stories - Spies

Walter Krivitsky : biography

June 28, 1899 - February 10, 1941

Walter Germanovich Krivitsky (Ва́льтер Ге́рманович Криви́цкий; June 28, 1899 – February 10, 1941)

  was a Soviet intelligence officer who revealed plans of signing Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact before defecting weeks before the outbreak of World War II. 


Early life

Born to Jewish parents as Samuel Ginsberg in Podwołoczyska (Pidvolochysk, then Galicia, Austria-Hungary), he adopted the name "Krivitsky" (a name based on the Slavic root for "crooked, twisted") as a revolutionary nom de guerre when he entered the Bolshevik intelligence around 1917.

He operated as an "illegal" (agent with false name and papers) in Germany, Poland, Austria, Italy and Hungary, and rose to the rank of control officer. He is credited with stealing plans for submarines and planes, intercepting Nazi-Japanese correspondence, and recruiting many agents, including Madame Lupescu and Noel Field.

In May 1937, Krivitsky was sent to The Hague to operate as the rezident, or regional control officer, operating under cover of an antiquarian. It appears that he coordinated intelligence operations throughout Western Europe.


At that time the General Staff of the Red Army was undergoing a purge in Moscow, which Krivitsky and close friend, Ignace Reiss, both abroad, found deeply disturbing. Reiss wanted to defect, but Krivitsky repeatedly held back.

Finally Reiss did defect, which he announced in a defiant letter to Moscow. Reiss's assassination in Switzerland in September 1937 prompted Krivitsky to defect the following month.

In Paris, Krivitsky began to write articles and made contact with Lev Sedov (Trotsky's son) and the Trotskyists. There he also met undercover Soviet spy Mark Zborowski, known as "Etienne," whom Sedov sent to protect him. Sedov died mysteriously in February 1938, but Krivitsky eluded attempts to kill or kidnap him while in France, including flight to Hyères.

At the end of 1938, anticipating the Nazi conquest of Europe, Krivitsky sailed from France to the United States. With the help of journalist Isaac Don Levine and literary agent Paul Wohl, he produced an inside account of Stalin's underhanded methods called In Stalin's Secret Service (also published as I Was Stalin's Agent), published in 1939 after appearing first as a series in the Saturday Evening Post. (Note: the title appeared as a phrase in an article written by Reiss' wife on the first anniversary of her husband's assassination: "Reiss... had been in Stalin’s secret service for many years and knew what fate to expect." ) The book received a tepid review by the very influential New York Times., David Martin, March 9, 2008.

Violently attacked by the Left in America, Krivitsky was vindicated when a Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact (which he predicted) was signed in August 1939.

Caught between dedication to socialist ideals and detestation of Stalin's methods, Krivitsky believed that it was his duty to inform. This decision caused him much mental anguish, as he impressed on American defector Whittaker Chambers. Krivitsky told Chambers, "In our time, informing is a duty" (recounted in Chambers in his autobiography, Witness).

Krivitsky testified before the Dies Committee (later to become the House Un-American Activities Committee) in October 1939, and sailed as "Walter Thomas" to London in January 1940 to reveal secrets to British Military Intelligence, MI5. It is a matter of controversy whether he gave MI5 clues to the identity of Soviet agents Donald Maclean and Kim Philby. There is no doubt, however, that the NKVD learned of his testimony and initiated operations to silence him.

He soon returned to North America, landing in Canada. Always in trouble with the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, Krivitsky was not able to return to the United States until November 1940.

Krivitsky retained Louis Waldman to represent him on legal matters. (Waldman was a long-time friend of Isaac Don Levine.)

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Living octopus

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