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August 28: Taking Photos and Recruiting Spies

Lawrence Bush
August 27, 2016

Edith Tudor Hart (Suschitzky), an Austrian-British photographer who helped recruit Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt to spy for the USSR, was born in Vienna on this date in 1908. Raised in a socialist family, she studied photography at Walter Gropius’s Bauhaus (and also trained as a Montessori teacher in Vienna). Tudor Hart fled with her husband, a doctor, to England upon the rise of Nazism, and became a widely published photographer with subjects that included refugees from the Spanish Civil War, child poverty, disabled people, and industrial decline in her adopted country. Befriended by Arnold Deutsch, a Comintern spy, she also served as a courier and spy recruiter. Kim Philby, whom she enlisted for the KGB, was highly placed in British intelligence and compromised it broadly until the 1960s; Anthony Blunt, a famous British art historian whom she helped to recruit, was, like Philby, a member of the so-called Cambridge Five, a spy ring of mostly Marxist and mostly gay Cambridge academics. Although Tudor Hart evaded arrest despite constant surveillance, her life fell apart after World War II, when her son proved to be autistic and poverty overtook them In the years before her death in 1973, she opened a small antiques store in Brighton.

“MI5 subjected Edith Tudor-Hart to round-the-clock surveillance, opened her mail, tapped her telephone, bugged her home and eavesdropped on the conversations of her friends and associates. The agency even set up an observation post from which they could see her retiring to bed. . . . [T]he agency’s close scrutiny of Tudor-Hart’s life eventually drove her to a breakdown and serious mental illness. Its officers never caught her spying, however; the only time they witnessed her committing an offense was when she dodged paying her bus fare.” --Ian Cobain, The Guardian

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.