Leopold Trepper in later life
|Died||January 19, 1982 (aged 77)|
Active Resistance leader, agent of MID
|Organization||Hashomer Hatzair (1924-1929)|
|Known for||Head of a Resistance group|
Leopold Trepper (February 23, 1904 – January 19, 1982) was a Polish Communist, agent of the Red Army Intelligence, with the code name of Otto and had been working with them since 1930. He was the technical director of intelligence agency in western Europe and was responsible for recruiting agents and creating espionage networks. He was also a resistance fighter and journalist of Jewish descent. Trepper was an experienced intelligence officer, an extremely resourceful and capable man who was completely at home in the west, a man who could not be drawn in conversation, who lived a concealed life and whose special talent was a keen judge of people that enabled him to penetrate significant groups with ease. By the start of World War II, Trepper controlled a large espionage network in Belgium and seven espionage networks in France.
On February 23, 1904, Leopold Trepper was born to a large Jewish family of 10 children in Nowy Targ, Poland that was part of Austria-Hungary in that time. His father was a travelling farm machinery and seed merchant, who died when Trepper was almost twelve. His parents sent him to school in Lviv in Ukraine to escape the strong militant and anti-Semitic tradition in Poland. Trepper met Sarah Orschitzer in Lviv, who was working in chocolate factory and taking evening classes to train as a teacher. She was either the mistress or wife of Trepper and was also a Jewish communist who travelled under the alias Luba Brekson. After school, Trepper moved to Kraków to study history and literature at the Jagiellonian University. His lack of money lead him to political artisans and left wing student groups. After the October Revolution he joined the Bolsheviks and became a communist.
After the Polish war with the Soviet Union, Poland suffered an economic crisis and Trepper had to leave university for lack of funds. He found work first as a locksmith workshop, mason and later worked in the mines in Katowice. Two years later in 1926 he moved to Dąbrowa to work as a labourer in a foundry In 1927, due to the extreme poverty and lack of food, he agitated the workers to strike. As one of the ringleaders he was caught and imprisoned for eight months. Finding it impossible to get work after the uprising, Trepper applied for a visa for France but was refused. In the same year, Trepper then joined the Zionist socialist movement Hashomer Hatzair who helped him to emigrate from Poland to Haifa, Palestine via Brindisi to work on the roads, later in a Kibbutz Sarah Orschitzer followed Trepper to Palestine. She was involved in an illegal communist demonstration, was arrested and jailed. She would have been deported had she not married a Palestinian citizen.
In 1929 after moving to Tel Aviv, Trepper became a member of the central committee of the Palestine Communist Party. Between 1928 and 1930 Trepper was the organiser of the Eḥud or Unity faction, a Jewish-Arab communist labour organisation within Histadrut trade union body. Most of its members came from the Kerem HaTeimanim area and worked against the British forces in Palestine. In 1929 he was attended at a meeting of the International Red Aid, when he was identified as an agitator and militant communist by the British, who subsequently arrested and interned him for 15 days at the citadel's prison in Acre, Israel. Trepper organised a hunger strike after learning that the communist prisoners were to be deported. He was released after news of the hunger strike reached London and the British newspapers. Trepper and the hunger strikers were placed on stretchers outside the prison as by that time, they were too weak to walk with lack of food. In March 1930 after given the choice of leaving Palestine or face being forcefully deported to Cyprus. Trepper travelled via Syria to Marseille, France and worked as a dishwasher. Trepper then travelled to Paris where he found work as a decorator living a poor existence. He came into contact with numerous left wing intellectuals and communist workers that eventually led him become a member of with the Rabcors, an illegal political organisation that was dominated by communists who sent both men and intelligence to Moscow. He continued to work for the organisation until French intelligence broke it up in 1932. Trepper escaped by train to Berlin, where he contacted the Soviet embassy. After several days he was ordered to report to Moscow in the spring of 1932. Trepper left Paris on a Polish passport.
Between 1932 and 1935, Trepper worked to became a GRU agent by learning his trade. He initially attended the Kumns University where he obtained a diploma. Later he studied history at Pokrowski University and awarded a degree, enabling him to work as a teacher. During that period he in Moscow, Trepper was in constant touch with the Russian intelligence instructors who taught him the practical skills of an espionage agent. At the same time, Trepper's wife also attended Kumns University for a year. By the winter of 1935 and after spending several months teaching history at a school in Moscow, his training was completed.
World War II
In 1938, Trepper was sent to organize and coordinate an intelligence network in Nazi-occupied Europe, based in Belgium. The Gestapo named it the Red Orchestra (Die Rote Kapelle). Prior to the German attack on the Soviet Union, he sent information about German troop transfers from other fronts for Operation Barbarossa through a Soviet military attaché in Vichy France. Eventually, the Gestapo uncovered the network and Trepper fled to France.
In France, Trepper established another network, but eventually the Abwehr tracked him down. They arrested Trepper on November 24, 1942 from a dentist's chair. The Gestapo treated Trepper leniently in the expectation that he would serve as a double agent in Paris. It is disputed as to how helpful he was to the Nazis. In 2002 author Patrick Marnham suggested Trepper not only exposed the Soviet agent Henri Robinson but may have been the source that betrayed French resistance leader Jean Moulin. Trepper may have embedded secret hints within his communications that allowed the GRU to eventually deduce that he had been turned.
In 1943 Trepper escaped German custody and went underground. He emerged with the French Resistance after the liberation of Paris. He later claimed that he had contacted the French communist resistance during his imprisonment by Germans.
The Soviets took Trepper to Russia but instead of rewarding him, they interned him in the Lubyanka prison. He vigorously defended his position and avoided execution for unknown reasons, but remained in prison until 1955. Before that, he was personally interrogated by SMERSH chief Viktor Abakumov. After his release, he returned to Poland to his wife and three sons. He became a head of the Sociocultural Association of Jews in Poland.
Emigration to Israel
After the Six-Day War and the subsequent antisemitic campaign in Poland, Trepper wanted to emigrate to Israel. While the Polish communist government promoted and encouraged the emigration of thousands of Jews at that time, in the case of Trepper, who wrote a letter protesting the treatment of the Jews, permission was refused until international pressure forced the authorities to allow him and a number of other Jews in a similar situation to leave. He settled in Jerusalem in 1974.
In the epilogue to The Great Game, Trepper wrote,
I do not regret the commitment of my youth, I do not regret the paths I have taken. In Denmark, in the fall of 1973, a young man asked me in a public meeting, "Haven't you sacrificed your life for nothing?" I replied, "No." "No" on one condition: that people understand the lesson of my life as a communist and a revolutionary, and do not turn themselves over to a deified party. I know that youth will succeed where we have failed, that socialism will triumph and that it will not have the colour of the Russian tanks that crushed Prague."
- Coppi Jr., Hans (July 1996). Dietrich Bracher, Karl; Schwarz, Hans-Peter; Möller, Horst (eds.). "Die Rote Kapelle" [The Red Chapel in the field of conflict and intelligence activity, The Trepper Report June 1943] (PDF). Quarterly Books for Contemporary History (in German). Munich: Institute of Contemporary History. 44 (3). ISSN 0042-5702. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
- Kesaris, Paul. L, ed. (1979). The Rote Kapelle: the CIA's history of Soviet intelligence and espionage networks in Western Europe, 1936-1945 (pdf). Washington DC: University Publications of America. p. 367. ISBN 978-0-89093-203-2. Retrieved 17 July 2019.
- Bauer, Arthur O. "KV 2/2074 - SF 422/General/3". The National Archives, Kew. p. 14. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
- "Trepper, Leopold". Jewish Virtual Library. American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. Retrieved 4 January 2019.
- Kesaris, Paul. L, ed. (1979). The Rote Kapelle: the CIA's history of Soviet intelligence and espionage networks in Western Europe, 1936-1945 (pdf). Washington DC: University Publications of America. p. 15. ISBN 978-0-89093-203-2. Retrieved 17 July 2019.
- Kesaris, Paul. L, ed. (1979). The Rote Kapelle: the CIA's history of Soviet intelligence and espionage networks in Western Europe, 1936-1945 (pdf). Washington DC: University Publications of America. p. 89. ISBN 978-0-89093-203-2. Retrieved 17 July 2019.
- Perrault, Gilles (1969). The Red Orchestra. New York: Schocken Books. p. 15. ISBN 0805209522.
- Kesaris, Paul. L, ed. (1979). The Rote Kapelle: the CIA's history of Soviet intelligence and espionage networks in Western Europe, 1936-1945 (pdf). Washington DC: University Publications of America. p. 318. ISBN 978-0-89093-203-2. Retrieved 17 July 2019.
- Perrault, Gilles (1969). The Red Orchestra. New York: Schocken Books. p. 16. ISBN 0805209522.
- Perrault, Gilles (1969). The Red Orchestra. New York: Schocken Books. p. 22. ISBN 0805209522.
- Green, David B. (27 October 2019). "This Day in Jewish History / Soviet Spy Leopold Trepper Is Born". Haaretz Daily Newspaper. Haaretz. Retrieved 27 October 2019.
- Perrault, Gilles (1969). The Red Orchestra. New York: Schocken Books. p. 17. ISBN 0805209522.
- Bennett, Richard (24 April 2012). Espionage: Spies and Secrets. Ebury Publishing. p. 107. ISBN 978-1-4481-3214-0. Retrieved 28 October 2019.
- Kesaris, Paul. L, ed. (1979). The Rote Kapelle: the CIA's history of Soviet intelligence and espionage networks in Western Europe, 1936-1945 (pdf). Washington DC: University Publications of America. p. 368. ISBN 978-0-89093-203-2. Retrieved 17 July 2019.
- Perrault, Gilles (1969). The Red Orchestra. New York: Schocken Books. p. 19. ISBN 0805209522.
- Bauer, Arthur O. "KV 2/2074 - SF 422/General/3". The National Archives, Kew. Retrieved 20 September 2019.
- Leopold Trepper and H. Weaver, The Great Game: Memoirs of the Spy Hitler Couldn't Silence (New York, New York: M.W. Books Ltd., 1977), pages 171-172.
- Patrick Marnham Resistance and Betrayal: The Death and Life of the Greatest Hero of the French Resistance Random House ISBN 978-0375506086 (2002) in "Postscript"
- Coppi, Hans (1996), Die "Rote Kapelle" im Spannungsfeld von Widerstand und nachrichtendienstlicher Tätigkeit. Der Trepper-Report vom Juni 1943, Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte 3/1996, 431-548
- Hastings, Max (2015). The Secret War: Spies, Codes and Guerrillas 1939 -1945. London: William Collins. ISBN 978-0-00-750374-2.