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January 19: The Red Spy and the Red Orchestra

January 19, 2014
67693-300-408-scaleLeopold Trepper, who organized an anti-Nazi spy network that the Nazis called the “Red Orchestra” in occupied Europe (headquartered in Belgium), died at 77 in Jerusalem on this date in 1982. After being imprisoned for leading a strike in Krakow in 1923, Trepper moved to Palestine and worked as a communist activist against the British, until they expelled him in 1929. He then set up an activist underground in France, and spent the prewar years managing to sidestep Stalin’s purges while shuttling between Moscow and Paris as a Soviet spy. In 1941, Trepper warned Moscow of the exact date of Germany’s imminent attack, Operation Barbarossa, but Stalin disregarded him. Trepper continued making intelligence contributions to the Soviet war effort until he was captured in Paris by the Gestapo in 1943. Rather than executing him, they attempted to enlist his services as a double agent, and “according to previous orders from his superiors for such a contingency,” says the Jewish Virtual Library, “Trepper pretended to respond to these overtures, thus saving his life... During his imprisonment, he managed to smuggle out a detailed report, written in a mixture of Hebrew, Yiddish, and Polish, which was transmitted to Moscow by underground Communist party channels and which contained exact information about his arrest as well as about the German control already established over parts of ‘The Red Orchestra.’ ” Trepper escaped in 1943 and was with the French Resistance in Paris at war’s end. He then returned to the USSR, only to be imprisoned in Lubyanka prison for a decade. Following his release, he dedicated himself (mostly in vain) to the revival of Jewish life in the USSR before emigrating to Israel in 1974, where he published his memoir, The Great Game: The Story of the Red Orchestra. “Week after week, the heads of Red Army Intelligence received updates on the Wehrmacht’s preparations.” —Leopold Trepper