Life of a Soviet Spy


Man never foresees where destiny would lead him! There are some things that men do by internal motivation! There are other things that they do because of force of circumstances! Combine these factors together and we arrive at an answer that many term as “Destiny”.

Samuel Ginzburg was a Polish Jew by birth! Galicia his place of birth was at the time of his birth (before First World War) a part of the Hapsburg dynasty ruled Austro-Hungarian Empire! Being a Jew in  Austro-Hungary  at that time was an unwritten crime! Jews were persecuted officially as well as unofficially. Samuel was a man of conviction and did not resign himself to fate, as most men do! He chose the honourable albeit more dangerous path! He decided to be a Communist and to overthrow the Austro-Hungarian Dynasty! Since the Communist Party had its real roots in Russia Samuel was associated with the Russian Communist Party! It was this association that added the alias of Krivitsky to Samuel’s name. History knows Samuel by the name of General Krivitsky although Krivitsky never became a major general. Samuel was an idealist and thought that communist revolution would eliminate all man-made distinctions of class, caste, religion or colour! It was this idealism which brought men of many religions and races including Muslims in the Russian Communist Revolutionary movement! The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 was the major turning point in Samuel’s life! He became an intelligence officer of the GRU (Glavnoye Gosudarstvenno Politcheskoye Upravleni) i.e Soviet Military Intelligence.

Samuel was sent to Germany in 1923 to create conditions for a revolution in Germany. Later once the USSR and the German government came closer Samuel was recalled and assigned intelligence duties within the Soviet General Staff. This lasted from 1924 to 1926. Later Samuel was appointed the chief of the Third Section of Soviet Military Intelligence. In 1933 we find him in Vienna working along with  Ignace Reiss, a man of conviction and great moral courage to defy his seniors  (a sterling quality very rare in   99% intelligence operatives all over the world!) another Polish Communist who was in the Soviet Military Intelligence. Samuel  was transferred from Vienna to Holland as Resident Director of Intelligence with liaison responsibilities for many West European countries. From 1933 to 1934 Samuel also worked as Director of War Industries Institute for a certain period of time. 1934 saw Samuel coming back to the military intelligence. During the course of these duties Samuel’s most important appointment was that of Chief of Soviet Military Intelligence for Western Europe.

Life took a fateful turn in 1937 for the man who had become a revolutionary out of sheer internal conviction. Ignace Reiss who was a close friend of Samuel rebelled against the egoistic and opportunist policies of Stalin! Stalin who ruled USSR from 1924 to 1953 was a highly self-centered man and had decided to turn USSR into a personal fiefdom! Anyone who opposed Stalin was an enemy of the Revolution!  Reiss was one of the very few men in USSR’s history who rebelled open against Stalin! Reiss then in Holland thus wrote a letter to Stalin stating ” I cannot stand it any longer. I take my freedom of action….”!

Stalin was outraged and ordered the execution of Reiss. Reiss escaped to Switzerland with a Czech passport and left his wife and child in Paris! In 1937 Soviet Military Intelligence was an awesome intelligence set up! It was highly efficient, consisting of many highly motivated and intelligent people and could strike with perfect ease in any part of the world! In September 1937 Reiss was killed with a machine gun in Lausanne in Switzerland while he was travelling in a car to an unknown destination.

Reiss’s execution deeply disturbed Samuel! At this point in time Samuel was operating in Holland under cover of running a bookstore and art gallery in The Hague! Samuel was summoned to Moscow by cable! Samuel knew what going back meant! The bullet riddled body of his friend Reiss was like writing on the wall! Samuel decided to defect and escaped to France in September 1937. Samuel was slightly luckier than Reiss. He succeeded in reaching the USA where he testified before the US Congress. Samuel testified before the Martin Dies Committee that there were 61 Soviet agents in UK alone and only 6 out of these were Soviet citizens with a legal diplomatic status. That there were sixteen Britishers among these agents out of whom three were members of Labour Party, four trade union officials, three British Foreign service people, three in SIS or MI 5, two foreign correspondents of British newspapers and one independent politician! Samuel also revealed that Soviet Intelligence operations were partially financed by gold and jewellery smuggling!

Samuel also wrote a book “In Stalin’s Secret Service: An Expose of Russia’s Secret policies by the former Chief of Soviet Intelligence in Western Europe”. The readers may, however, note that Samuel was never the chief in Western Europe but only looked after Western Europe as part of a team and that his military rank was that of a captain. The title was, however, coined by Samuel’s co-author, an American author Isaac Don Levine who changed some facts in order to make the book’s title more attractive! Needless to add the book was a best seller!

Samuel’s assessment while in USA that Hitler and Stalin would arrive at a political understanding was not accepted in the Western World. History proved Samuel right when Hitler and Stalin signed a non-aggression pact in 1939 and divided Poland.

Stalin did not forget or forgive Samuel! Samuel as a matter of fact predicted that Stalin would get him. His friends dismissed this fear as a phobia and as highly irrational! The Soviet Military Intelligence made the fatal strike on 9th February 1941! A hotel maid found Samuel’s body in a Washington DC Hotel! The assassination was so perfect that the US Police ruled it to be an act of suicide! As per the police report Samuel had shot himself dead!

The journey from a small village in Austrian ruled Poland to Russia and finally to Capitol Hill was something that Samuel could never have foreseen in the wildest of his dreams! Samuel Ginzburg, famous in Intelligence History as General Walter Krivitsky was an idealist! A revolutionary by choice! He participated in a revolutionary movement that held hopes of an ideal state! Instead Stalin a Georgian hijacked the revolution! Samuel’s perceptions changed with time! Samuel’s life is a lesson in history! In Pakistani history we have Sheikh Mujeeb and Colonel Osmany who began their adult lives as patriots and sincere Pakistanis! These men were forced to change their convictions when they realised that the dawn of freedom for which they had worked was in reality another type of exploitation in the name of Islam! Samuel Ginzburg only died as everyone does finally! The harm that he inflicted on Soviet Intelligence outlived his death by many decades ! Human beings are much less important than institutions! However, when Institutions are hijacked by men with totalitarian and dictatorial egos, even one individual can damage whole institutions and even  divide countries! Institutions must recognise talent and sincerity in case a nation has to progress! When merit is disregarded and sincerity and solidity of conviction branded as disloyalty to state, history destroys countries! Many Empires have disappeared without much trace after centuries of supremacy! What is the Indo-Pak! Fifty years are nothing in history! The countries of Indo-Pak must learn from history so that they are not drowned in the irresistible current of history! Some psychiatric help is badly needed in the entire region from the Oxus to Brahmaputra!

A. H Amin is a writer , journalist , ex editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan), ex Editor of Globe (Pakistan); author of Indo Pak Wars from 1947 to 1971, Man’s Role in History and Land of the Pure (short stories). He contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Sindh, Pakistan.