Lisa Rozensweig (Elizabeth Zubilina) was born in Bessarabia on 1st January, 1900. Born into a Jewish family and studied history at university. A talented linguist she spoke Romanian, Russian, German, French, English, and Yiddish.
Zarubina became a Bolshevik after the First World War. In 1924 she joined the NKVD and the following year she was based in Vienna. She also spent time in Turkey. In 1928 she was posted to Denmark. Later that year she married fellow NKVD agent, Vassili Zarubin. "In Denmark, the Zarubins gave themselves out to be Czech citizens and organized a small textile export company as their cover. In 1929 Moscow Center decided to relocate them to France. After some time, they managed to settle in a suburb of Paris posing as a Czech couple, and Vassili became a partner in an advertising firm. The agent group Zarubin organized in France managed to obtain documentation not only from French but also from German sources, some of which included secret communications of the German Embassy in Paris." (1)
After Adolf Hitler gained power in 1933, Elizabeth Zarubina and her husband was sent to Nazi Germany. One of their tasks was to work with Gaik Ovakimyan in Berlin. In 1939 he returned to the Soviet Union where he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner. It has been claimed that in 1939 Zarubin took part in the Katyn Forest Massacre when the Soviet Union conquered eastern Poland under the terms of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. (2) However, Christopher Andrew, the author of The Mitrokhin Archive (1999), has argued that "in reality, though Zarubin did interrogate some of the Polish officers, he does not appear to have been directly involved in their execution." (3)
In the autumn of 1941 Elizabeth Zarubina and Vassili Zarubin were sent to work in the United States. Christopher Andrew argues: "Vassily Zarubin (alias Zubilin, codenamed MAKSIM) was appointed legal resident in New York. Already deeply suspicious of British commitment to the defeat of Nazi Germany, Stalin also had doubts about American resolve. He summoned Zarubin before his departure and told him that his main assignment in the United States was to watch out for attempts by Roosevelt and 'US ruling circles' to negotiate with Hitler and sign a separate peace. As resident in New York, based in the Soviet consulate, Zarubin was also responsible for sub-residencies in Washington, San Francisco and Latin America." (4)
Zarubin was unpopular with the other agents in New York City. It was believed that he showed too much faith in Elizabeth Zarubina and other officers he had brought with him to the United States. One of his officers, Vassili Dorogov reported back to Moscow that he disapproved of his "crudeness, general lack of manners, use of street language and obscenities, carelessness in his work, and repugnant secretiveness." (5)
Hede Massing informed Boris Bazarov that she was no longer willing to work for the NKVD. Bazarov arranged for Hede and Paul Massing to meet with his boss, Elizabeth Zarubina. Massing described her as having strange, beautiful eyes - large, and dark, heavy-browed, with long, curled eyelashes. They shone from a face of small, delicate features, dark skinned, and narrow of mouth. Her warm and engaging smile which she gave so sparingly, exposed large, beautiful teeth. The exquisite head belonged to a small, frail body. Her posture was poor, however, and she had large, painfully bad feet, and ugly hands. She was polite and completely self-assured. She had an authoritative air about her without being annoying or aggressive. Her English was flawless as was her German."
Zarubina explained to Massing that Reiss posed to the Soviet Union: "In case you have not been advised. Ludwig (Reiss) has betrayed us, he has gone over to the bourgeoisie, he is a Trotzkyite. You know that he was critical of the Soviet Union." Paul replied "He is not more critical than I am. He is no more a traitor than I am." Hede added: "He (Reiss) is not a traitor. He cannot be a traitor!" Zarubina responded by claiming that "Ludwig has joined the enemy, he ran away from us, he did not come home to discuss his doubts, to get contact again with the workers and the revolution. He left the service without permission. He is dangerous."
Massing, who heard about NKVD agents such as Theodore Maly, Yan Berzin, Dmitri Bystrolyotov and Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, being recalled and murdered commented: "You don't make it very inviting for comrades to go home to discuss their doubts, as you put it, at a time when all the old friends and fighters are liquidated as enemies of the people. Trotzkyites, and Gestapo agents." Paul added: "A man of Ludwig's status within the organization does not have a chance to be let go - if a small and comparatively unimportant functionary like Hede could not be released easily?"
Zarubina eventually told them "Nobody here has the authority to release you. Hede. You know that. That can only be done at home (Moscow). A comrade who has problems goes home and faces his superiors and discusses his problems. He does not run away, like Ludwig!" (6)
Elizabeth Zarubina called another meeting with Paul Massing. She told him that Ignaz Reiss had been assassinated on 4th September, 1937. (7) Paul said to Hede: "Do you realize that Ludwig's death means immediate danger for us?" However, amazingly, they both agreed to visit Moscow to discuss the purging of Soviet agents.
Elizabeth Zarubina and her husband became close friends with two members of their network, Hede Massing and Paul Massing. They used the names Helen and Peter. Hede wrote in her autobiography, This Deception: KBG Targets America (1951): "In time I was to learn that her name was Elizabeth Zarubin; that she and her husband, Vassili Zarubin, had been stationed in the United States in the early 1930's and returned during the war years when Zarubin occupied various Soviet Consulate and Embassy posts. In Moscow I would realize that they were top-shelf officials of the GPU, or the NKVD, as it had meanwhile been renamed. The food and drink at such parties was superb and always too abundant. The procedure the same. Very much to drink, rapid toasting for all sorts of reasons, very much to eat, and singing until the early morning hours. They are a gifted people, the Russians, and they can sing! Peter would take his place in the center of a room and strum his balalaika tirelessly, singing in a strong, natural voice the long, sad Russian folk ballads, or gay, naughty stanzas with a wicked grin on his face; at the end were always the Red Army songs. At such parties he looked like a simple Russian peasant, blond, blue-eyed, happy. I could not help but think that without the Bolsheviks, he might have been just that." (8)
In 1942 Paul Massing notified the NKVD that his friend, Franz Neumann, had recently joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Massing reported to Moscow that Neumann had told him that he had produced a study of the Soviet economy for the OSS's Russian Department. (9) In April 1943, Elizabeth Zarubina, a Soviet spy in the United States, and the wife of Vassily Zarubin, met with Neumann: "(Zarubina) met for the first time with (Neumann) who promised to pass us all the data coming through his hands. According to (Neumann), he is getting many copies of reports from American ambassadors... and has access to materials referring to Germany."
Neumann promised to cooperate fully during his initial meeting with Zarubina, after becoming a naturalized American citizen later that year he appeared to become reluctant to pass secret information. One memorandum sent to Moscow in early January 1944 described a conversation between Neumann and his friends Paul and Hede Massing, in which they "directly asked him about the reasons for his ability to work" and tried to determine whether he had changed his mind. Neumann responded: "I did not change my mind. If there is something really important, I will inform you without hesitation." (10)
Vassili Zarubin came to the attention of the FBI when in April 1943, he attempted to meet Steve Nelson, a member of the Communist Party of the United States in California. "Zarubin travelled to California for a secret meeting with Steve Nelson, who ran a secret control commission to seek out informants and spies in the Californian branch of the Communist Party, but failed to find Nelson's home. Only on a second visit did he succeed in delivering the money. On this occasion, however, the meeting was bugged by the FBI which had placed listening devices in Nelson's home." (11)
The FBI bug confirmed that Zarubin had "paid a sum of money" to Nelson "for the purpose of placing Communist Party members and Comintern agents in industries engaged in secret war production for the United States Government so that the information could be obtained for transmittal to the Soviet Union." (12) J. Edgar Hoover responded by telling Harry Hopkins, a close advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, that he was instituting a special codenamed COMRAP program to "identify all members of the Communist International (Comintern) apparatus with which Steve Nelson and Vassili Zarubin are connected as well as the agents of this apparatus in various war industries." (13) Hopkins then warned the Soviet ambassador that a "member of his embassy had been detected passing money to a Communist in California". (14)
The FBI carried out an investigation into Vasssily Zarubin. Robert J. Lamphere reported: "Zarubin was stocky and blond, with a broad-featured face and a manner that, according to those who had dealt with him, could be alternately pleasant and menacing." (15) According to Robert Louis Benson and Michael Warner, the authors of Venona: Soviet Espionage and the American Response (1996) it was established that Zarubin held the rank of general and that he was "engaged in the movement of Soviet agents into and out of the United States" and "organizes secret radio stations, prepares counterfeit documents, obtains industrral and military information for transmittal to the Soviet Union." (16)
Hede Massing saw Elizabeth Zarubina (Helen) and Vassili Zarubin (Peter) for the last time in 1943. "We retired to the living room again. I left the dishes to do later. Peter looked at our books. Helen had nestled herself in a corner of our red living-room sofa. It was a fine, contrasting background for her pitch-black hair. It was she who started the discussion and it was addressed directly to Paul. They wanted his opinion-on the war, the possible outcome of it for America, for Europe, specifically Germany. Did he think there would be a revolution in Germany after Hitler? Not one direct question as to whether he was still interested in it! What would happen to France and England? What did he think of the strength of the working class in these countries? Would capitalism get a new lease on life?
It was the kind of conversation people have when they have not seen each other for a long time. Not once was any personal reference made. Nothing was asked that could have made us uneasy. They stayed for about two hours after lunch and they, after thanking us several times, drove off." (17)
The Zarubins moved to Washington in the summer of 1943. This indicated that Soviet's senior intelligence officer should based in the capital. (18) Vasssily Zarubin took up the position of third secretary of the Russian Embassy. However, on 7th August, 1943, J. Edgar Hoover received an anonymous letter naming Elizabeth Zarubina, Vasssily Zarubin, Elizabeth Zarubina, Semyon Semyonov, Leonid Kvasnikov and seven other NKVD agents working in the United States. This included Soviet officials, Vassili Mironov and Vassili Dolgov, and consular officials Pavel Klarin (New York) and Gregory Kheifets (San Francisco). (19)
The letter also accused Elizabeth Zarubina was was working for Nazi Germany , whereas her husband was described as a Japanese agent. Zarubin was also accused of being involved in Katyn Forest Massacre and was "interrogated and shot Poles in Kozelsk, Mironov in Starobelsk". The writer went on to describe a large network of Soviet agents, "among whom are many U.S. citizens". He named Earl Browder and Boris Morros. He also claimed that a "high-level agent in the White House" (this was probably Lauchlin Currie). The FBI believed the letter was genuine and carried out surveillance on Zarubin and other Soviet operatives mentioned in the letter.
Vassili Zarubin continued to work in Washington. In early 1944 it was reported that he had lost his temper at an official dinner and upset important guests. Soon afterwards a NKVD Personnel Directorate reported that his period in charge had been marked by a series of blunders, including calling his agents by their codename in front of American government officials. That summer, one of NKVD's agents, Vassili Mironov, contacted Joseph Stalin and accused Zarubin of being in secret contact with the FBI. (20)
In August 1944, Zarubin, his wife, Elizabeth Zarubina, and Mironov, were recalled to Moscow and he was replaced by Anatoly Gorsky. Mironov's allegations against Zarubin were investigated and found to be groundless and he was arrested for slander. However, at his trial Mironov was found to be schizophrenic. (21) According to Pavel Sudoplatov, the author of Special Tasks: The Memoirs of an Unwanted Witness (1994), the letter sent to the FBI had been written by Mironov. (22)
Vassili Zarubin now became deputy chief of foreign intelligence in Moscow. Mironov was sent to a labour camp. In 1945 Mironov tried to smuggle out of prison to the US Embassy in Moscow information about the Katyn Forest Massacre. Mironov was caught in the act, given a second trial and shot. (23)
Elizabeth Zarubina died on 14th May 1987.
It was at this party that I learned for the first time of the relationship between Helen and Peter. Peter was Helen's husband! Helen had come back aglow from a successful mission, judging by the many toasts that were made to her health. Peter, rather high, was enamored with her, and when I said, something like, "You show good taste in women, Peter," he could hardly stop rolling with laughter.
Between gasps, he said, "That's a good one! She's been my wife for over ten years and the mother of my son! You must come and meet our son!" In the many, many meetings we had had, never was there an indication of this relationship. It added one more feature to the conspiratorial setup.
In time I was to learn that her name was Elizabeth Zarubin; that she and her husband, Vassili Zarubin, had been stationed in the United States in the early 1930's and returned during the war years when Zarubin occupied various Soviet Consulate and Embassy posts. In Moscow I would realize that they were top-shelf officials of the GPU, or the NKVD, as it had meanwhile been renamed.
The food and drink at such parties was superb and always too abundant. The procedure the same. Very much to drink, rapid toasting for all sorts of reasons, very much to eat, and singing until the early morning hours. They are a gifted people, the Russians, and they can sing! Peter would take his place in the center of a room and strum his balalaika tirelessly, singing in a strong, natural voice the long, sad Russian folk ballads, or gay, naughty stanzas with a wicked grin on his face; at the end were always the Red Army songs. At such parties he looked like a simple Russian peasant, blond, blue-eyed, happy. I could not help but think that without the Bolsheviks, he might have been just that.
In 1942-43 the New York rezidentura was ruled by the unpopular and bombastic Major-General Vasili M. Zarubin (MAXIM) who operated from January 1942 under the nom-de-guerre Zubilin with the rank of third (later second) secretary, and was married to the shrewd Elizaveta (VARDO) who held the rank of colonel. Originally from Bukovina in Romania, Elizaveta had a degree in philology, and spoke several languages, including French, German, English and her native Romanian. According to her declassified KGB file, she had been recalled from Germany in April 1941 to cultivate the wife of a senior German diplomat in Moscow, and later successfully ran a code-clerk in the German Foreign Ministry.
Zubilin, who had been a banker in Moscow before he joined the NKVD, had worked under diplomatic cover at the Soviet embassy in China, and was believed to have been implicated in the massacre in 1939 of thousands of Polish officers at Kozielsk in the Katyn woods. In late 1943 Zubilin was replaced by Stepan Apresyan (MAY), and was transferred to Washington DC, where he initiated direct communications with Moscow, eliminating the necessity of relaying them via New York. The Zarubins stayed in Washington only briefly because, as a result of a false allegation made by Vasili's secretary, Colonel Mironov, the rezident and his wife were recalled to Moscow at the end of August 1944 to face a lengthy investigation. In March 1943 Leonid R. Kvasnikov (ANTON) was sent to New York to establish a separate rezidentura on behalf of the 8th Department and concentrate on collecting information about the Anglo-American atomic bomb programme, which he accomplished until his hasty withdrawal in October 1945.
On August 7, 1943, the director of the FBI received an anonymous letter written in Russian. It purported to name leading KGB officers operating under diplomatic cover in Soviet offices in the United States, Canada, and Mexico and charged that they were engaged in espionage on a broad scale. The letter stated that the chief KGB officer in the United States was Vasily Zubilin, that Zubilin's real name was Zarubin, and that his wife, Elizabeth, was also a KGB field officer running her own network of American sources. Other KGB officers named in the letter were Pavel Klarin and Semyon Semenov, officials at the Soviet consulate in New York; Vasily Dolgov and Vasily Mironov, officials at the Soviet embassy in Washington; Grigory Kheifets, Soviet vice-consul in San Francisco; Leonid Kvasnikov, an engineer with Amtorg; Andrey Shevchenko and Sergey Lukianov, officials with the Soviet Government Purchasing Commission; Vladimir Pavlov, second secretary of the Soviet embassy in Canada; and Lev Tarasov, a diplomat at the Soviet embassy in Mexico.
The FBI was, not surprisingly, perplexed by the letter and suspicious that it was a fraud. But an investigation of the activities of the Soviet diplomatic personnel named in the letter quickly convinced the bureau that they probably were indeed Soviet intelligence officers. Years later, the deciphered Venona messages further confirmed the accuracy of the identifications provided in the letter.
The motive behind the letter was clear: the anonymous author hated Vasily Zubilin and accused him of a variety of sins, including participating in the murder of thousands of Polish prisoners of war in the Katyn forest. This last accusation caught the attention of American authorities because at that time they were not sure what had happened at Katyn, and out of nowhere came a letter asserting inside knowledge about one of the participants in the Katyn action. Only a few months earlier, the German government had announced that it had uncovered a mass grave containing the bodies of thousands of executed Polish military officers in the Katyn forest near Smolensk, on Soviet territory overrun by Nazi forces. According to the Nazis, the Soviet Union had captured these Poles in 1939 when it conquered eastern Poland under the terms of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. The USSR blamed the mass murder on the Nazis, saying that the Germans had captured the Poles alive when they overran Soviet prisoner-of-war camps and had subsequently murdered them. In fact, the Soviets had murdered the Poles: on March 5, 1940, Stalin ordered the KGB to shoot 14,700 Polish prisoners of war.
The anonymous letter also correctly asserted that Zubilin had some role in the KGB's Katyn operation. The FBI had no way to verify it at the time, but eventually the Venona Project deciphered a KGB cable in which Zubilin himself confirmed having played a role. On July 1, 1943, he reported to Moscow that he thought he had noticed surveillance of his activities by a hostile intelligence agency and speculated that it had found out about his 1940 service at one of the camps at which the Poles had been murdered.
But while the claim that Zubilin had taken part in the Katyn massacre was accurate, the letter also contained the outlandish claim that he had betrayed the Soviet Union and was spying on the United States in the service of Japan. It urged American authorities to reveal Zubilin's treachery to Soviet authorities and asserted that when his betrayal was revealed, one of the other KGB officers, Vasily Mironov, would surely execute Zubilin on the spot. Mironov, nominally a Soviet diplomat, was described as a patriotic KGB colonel who hated Zubilin.
The FBI suspected that the author of the anonymous letter was a disgruntled KGB officer, but it was never sure of his identity. A passage in the 1994 memoir of a retired KGB general, Pavel Sudoplatov, suggests that Mironov wrote the letter. Sudoplatov, who held a headquarters role in KGB foreign intelligence operations during World War II, states that Mironov, a KGB lieutenant colonel, had sent a letter to Stalin denouncing Zarubin (the anonymous letter was correct about Zubilin's real name) as a double agent.
Mironov's letter caused Zarubin's recall to Moscow. The investigation against him and Elizabeth lasted six months and established that all his contacts were legitimate and valuable, and that he was not working with the FBI. Mironov was recalled from Washington and arrested on charges of slander, but when he was put on trial, it was discovered that he was schizophrenic. He was hospitalized and discharged from the service.
Given the closeness of the British-American "special relationship", the Centre inevitably suspected that some of the President's advisers sympathized with Churchill's supposed anti-Soviet plots. Suspicions of Roosevelt himself, however, were never as intense as those of Churchill. Nor did the Centre form conspiracy theories about its American agents as preposterous as those about the Cambridge Five. Perhaps because the NKVD had penetrated OSS from the moment of its foundation, it was less inclined to believe that United States intelligence was running a system of deception which compared with the supposed use of the Five by the British. The CPUSA's assistance in the operation to assassinate Trotsky, combined with the enthusiasm with which it "exposed and weeded out spies and traitors", appeared to make its underground section a reliable recruiting ground. Vasili Zarubin's regular contacts with the CPUSA leader, Earl Browder, plainly convinced him of the reliability of those covert Party members who agreed to provide secret intelligence.
By the spring of 1943, however, the Centre was worried about the security of its large and expanding American agent network. Zarubin became increasingly incautious both in his meetings with Party leaders and in arranging for the payment to them of secret subsidies from Moscow. One of the files noted by Mitrokhin records censoriously, "Without the approval of the Central Committee, Zarubin crudely violated the rules of clandestinity." On one occasion Browder asked Zarubin to deliver Soviet money personally to the Communist underground organization in Chicago; the implication in the KGB file is that he agreed. On another occasion, in April 1943, Zarubin travelled to California for a secret meeting with Steve Nelson, who ran a secret control commission to seek out informants and spies in the Californian branch of the Communist Party, but failed to find Nelson's home. Only on a second visit did he succeed in delivering the money. On this occasion, however, the meeting was bugged by the FBI which had placed listening devices in Nelson's home. The Soviet ambassador in Washington was told confidentially by none other than Roosevelt's adviser, Harry Hopkins, that a member of his embassy had been detected passing money to a Communist in California.
Though Zarubin became somewhat more discreet after this "friendly warning", his cover had been blown. Worse was yet to come. Four months later Zarubin was secretly denounced to the FBI by Vasili Mironov, a senior officer in the New York residency who had earlier appealed unsuccessfully to the Centre for Zarubin's recall. In an extraordinary anonymous letter to Hoover on 7 August 1943, Mironov identified Zarubin and ten other leading members of residencies operating under diplomatic cover in the United States, himself included, as Soviet intelligence officers. He also revealed that Browder was closely involved with Soviet espionage and identified the Hollywood producer Boris Morros (FROST) as a Soviet agent. Mironov's motives derived partly from personal loathing for Zarubin himself. He told Hoover, speaking of himself in the third person, that Zarubin and Mironov "both hate each other". Mironov also appears to have been tortured by a sense of guilt for his part in the NKVD's massacre of the Polish officer corps in 1940.
Zarubin, he told Hoover, "interrogated and shot Poles in Kozelsk, Mironov in Starobelsk". (In reality, though Zarubin did interrogate some of the Polish officers, he does not appear to have been directly involved in their execution.) But there are also clear signs in Mironov's letter, if not of mental illness, at least of the paranoid mind set generated by the Terror. He accused Zarubin of being a Japanese agent and his wife of working for Germany, and concluded bizarrely: "If you prove to Mironov that Z is working for the Germans and Japanese, he will immediately shoot him without a trial, as he too holds a very high post in the NKVD.
By the time Mironov's extraordinary denunciation reached the FBl, Zarubin had moved from New York to become resident in Washington - a move probably prompted by the steady growth in intelligence of all kinds from within the Roosevelt administration. As the senior NKVD officer in the United States, Zarubin retained overall control in Washington of the work of the New York and San Francisco residencies; responsibility for liaison with the head of the CPUSA, Browder, and with the head of the illegal residency, Akhmerov; and direct control of some of his favourite agents, among them the French politician Pierre Cot and the British intelligence officer Cedric Belfrage, whom he took over from Golos.
Helen and Peter picked me up in a car that was slightly battered. When, as a matter of course, I began to advise him as to the best route, he insisted he knew a much better one. Only much later did it occur to me that this was a precaution; that he thought I might have someone following us, and this indirect way would shake him off. At the time, I sat next to him, full of fear, wondering what was going to happen and what this trip signified.
It took much longer to get to our farm via Peter's route and Paul looked worried when we arrived. He had been cutting wood near thee barn. He wore a torn navy blue sweater and his little cap was pushed back from his forehead. He came towards us as we drove up to the parking space and there was all-around greeting and smiling. The dogs did their bit to make it a real country welcome. No observer could have guessed the underlying tension. For neither Paul nor I believed this to be a social call.
Paul took them around while I cooked and prepared our lunch. He told me later that Peter had shown great understanding of the beauty of our place and a slight envy. Helen joined me after a little while. Paul fixed a fire in the fireplace and we had a drink in the living room. Then we had lunch in our lovely old-fashioned kitchen. Everything was duly admired. My dishes, my cooking, the atmosphere. I had prepared a big lunch; and I had brought a bottle of wine from the cellar. I wanted to repay them for their hospitality in Moscow. It was all light and pleasant. Not one disturbing word was said.
We retired to the living room again. I left the dishes to do later. Peter looked at our books. Helen had nestled herself in a corner of our red living-room sofa. It was a fine, contrasting background for her pitch-black hair. It was she who started the discussion and it was addressed directly to Paul. They wanted his opinion-on the war, the possible outcome of it for America, for Europe, specifically Germany. Did he think there would be a revolution in Germany after Hitler? Not one direct question as to whether he was still interested in it! What would happen to France and England? What did he think of the strength of the working class in these countries? Would capitalism get a new lease on life?
It was the kind of conversation people have when they have not seen each other for a long time. Not once was any personal reference made. Nothing was asked that could have made us uneasy. They stayed for about two hours after lunch and they, after thanking us several times, drove off.