Litzi Friedmann

Laurence Duggan

Alice Kohlmann, the daughter of Israel and Gisella Kohlman, was born in Vienna in 1910. She married Karl Friedmann in 1928 but the following year they were divorced and she returned to live with her parents. Like her parents she was a left-wing activist and in 1932 she was briefly arrested. it is believed that around this time she was recruited as a NKVD agent.

Litzi Friedmann met Kim Philby in 1933. "When I first met Kim he had just come down from Cambridge and had come to Vienna to learn German. He stayed with my parents as a paying guest and we went out together sometimes. He had very leftish views and was very progressive. I was a member of the Communist Party, which was then illegal and worked underground. We had an affair and I was fond of Kim." (1) Philby immediately fell in love with the 23 year old Litzi, who has been described as "dark-haired, Jewish, vivacious, direct to the point of bluntness". "When Philby met Litzi, he was still a virgin and a political naif; she swiftly attended to both deficiencies. Litzi was a fully committed revolutionary... Philby was instantly besotted." (2)

Natasha Walter has argued: "For her, the young Englishman who presented himself at her door in 1933 was, at first, a potentially useful helper and source of funds.... Philby had already been intellectually convinced by communism, but Friedman radicalised him. He began to work with her - begging people for money, acting as a courier for underground organisations, helping hunted militants to get out of Vienna, and seeing what the fight against fascism meant for people risking their lives because of it. As he himself said later, these experiences crystallised his faith." (3)

Litzi Friedmann in Vienna

Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss instigated the suppression of the left and after banning trade unions ordered the arrest of socialists and communists. It is estimated that in four days 1,500 people were arrested and most of the leaders were executed. Philby realised that a British passport would offer Litzi protection and on 24th February 1934 he married her in Vienna Town Hall. "The police were hunting down active communists, and I found out that they were after me. One way I could avoid arrest was to marry Kim and get a British passport and leave the country. And this is what I did. I wouldn't call it exactly a marriage of convenience. I suppose it was partly that and partly love." (4) A few weeks later the married couple arrived in London. They lived with Philby's mother, who wrote to her husband in Saudi Arabia: "I do hope Kim gets a job to get him off this bloody communism... He's not quite extreme yet, but may become so." (5)

Kim Philby - Soviet Spy

While in London she met an old friend, Edith Tudor Hart. She had also been born in Vienna and recently married an Englishman, Alex Tudor Hart. In January 1934 Arnold Deutsch, one of NKVD's agents, was sent to London. As a cover for his spying activities he did post-graduate work at London University. In May he made contact with Edith and Litzi. They discussed the recruitment of Soviet spies. Litzi suggested her husband. "According to her report on Philby's file, through her own contacts with the Austrian underground Tudor Hart ran a swift check and, when this proved positive, Deutsch immediately recommended... that he pre-empt the standard operating procedure by authorizing a preliminary personal sounding out of Philby." (6)

Philby later admitted. "Lizzy came home one evening and told me that she had arranged for me to meet a 'man of decisive importance'. I questioned her about it but she would give me no details. The rendezvous took place in Regents Park. The man described himself as Otto. I discovered much later from a photograph in MI5 files that the name he went by was Arnold Deutsch. I think that he was of Czech origin; about 5ft 7in, stout, with blue eyes and light curly hair. Though a convinced Communist, he had a strong humanistic streak. He hated London, adored Paris, and spoke of it with deeply loving affection. He was a man of considerable cultural background." (7)

Deutsch asked Philby if he was willing to spy for the Soviet Union: "Otto spoke at great length, arguing that a person with my family background and possibilities could do far more for Communism than the run-of-the-mill Party member or sympathiser... I accepted. His first instructions were that both Lizzy and I should break off as quickly as possible all personal contact with our Communist friends." It is claimed by Christopher Andrew, the author of The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) that Philby became the first of "the ablest group of British agents ever recruited by a foreign intelligence service." (8)

Litzi Friedmann
Litzi Friedmann

Litzi and Kim Philby visited Spain on behalf of the NKVD in February 1934. However, his Soviet controllers began to grow concerned about their marriage. It was a constant reminder that in the past he had held left-wing views. As Phillip Knightley, the author of Philby: KGB Masterspy (1988) has pointed out: "Litzi was a constant reminder to Philby's friends and colleagues that he had spent time in Vienna, that he had rescued this Austrian girl because she was in danger of arrest as a communist, and that he married her to get her a British passport. If, as the Russians wanted, Philby was to establish an impeccable right-wing persona, Litzi, a Jewish communist, was going to be a continuing handicap. There is evidence that Philby's Russian control told him - and perhaps Litzi too - that from now on Philby would operate better alone." (9) Philby told his close friend, Jim Lees, that he would "have to get rid of Litzi". (10)

The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936 offered Kim Philby a solution to the problem of how to get away from Litzi. Philby was instructed to go to Spain using freelance journalism as a cover. His main objective was to "spy on the Nationalists and to report back on troop movements, communications, morale, and the military support being provided to Franco's forces by Germany and Italy". (11) Philby quickly ingratiated himself with the people surrounding General Francisco Franco. It also enabled him to get several pro-Franco articles published in The Times to help develop his image as a neo-fascist.

East Germany

When he arrived back in London Philby cut off all contact with Litzi Friedmann. Litzi began a relationship with refugee Georg Honigmann, a former activist in the German Communist Party (KPD). After the war they moved to East Germany and Honigmann became an editor of Berliner Zeitung. Philby contacted Litzi in 1946 to ask her for a divorce as he was anxious to marry Aileen Furse, the mother of his three children. Litzi agreed to petition for a divorce on the grounds of Philby's adultery with Aileen. The decree was made absolute on 17th September 1946. Kim and Aileen were married a week later. He was thirty-four; she was thirty-five and seven months pregnant with their fourth child. (12)

Litzi Friedmann had a daughter, Barbara Honigmann, in 1949. Litzi found work in the film business, specializing in dubbing films from English into German and vice-versa. In 1966 she divorced Honigmann and went to live on her own in a flat in Karlshorst, a suburb of East Berlin. Phillip Knightley interviewed her for his book, Philby: KGB Masterspy (1988): "She had a good income and freedom to travel to the West once a year. Today, even as a grandmother of seventy-eight she retains her youthful attractions - sharp intelligence, a love of life, and a sparkling vivaciousness." (13)

Litzi Friedmann died in 1991.

Primary Sources

(1) Phillip Knightley, Philby: KGB Masterspy (1988) pages 40- 41

In May 1932, Dr Dollfuss, the leader of the extreme right wing of the Christian Social Party, became Chancellor. Within a year he had suspended the constitution, adjourned Parliament for an indefinite period, prohibited political meetings, strikes and demonstrations and imposed censorship on the press. The situation steadily worsened. Dollfuss and the Heimwehr feared that the socialists would proclaim a general strike and use the Schutzbund to try to seize power and restore parliamentary government. The socialists feared that growing agitation within the Heimwehr and in Dollfuss's own party for union with Germany would lead to a nazi rebellion and a fascist dictatorship. It became a matter of who would strike first. This is what Philby meant when, describing how he committed himself to communism, he said that in Vienna at that time "matters were at crisis point".

On arriving in Vienna he went straight to the contact address given to him in Paris. This was Latschkagasse 9, in the ninth district, the house of Israel Kohlman, a Pole who had arrived in Austria before the First World War. Kohlman had a job as a minor civil servant and he and his wife Gisella spent most of their spare time in Jewish welfare work. But it was not this self-effacing couple who were to induct Philby into the communist underground. It was their daughter, a dark, attractive divorcee called Alice Friedmann.

Alice, then twenty-three and usually known by the diminutive Litzi, had been married to Karl Friedmann when she was eighteen but she divorced him fourteen months later. Friedmann had founded a Zionist organization called the Blau Weiss to provide recreation for young Viennese Jews, and had tried to enthuse Litzi in its work and in the principles of socialism and Zionism. But she found all three rather stultifying compared with the demands and excitement of the Communist Party and left both Friedmann and the Blau Weiss for underground work against the Austrian government. Her recruiter was a Hungarian, Gabor Peter, a refugee from the dictatorship of the Hungarian fascist leader Admiral Horthy. Physically, he was a most unattractive man: he limped, he had a slight hunchback and a thin, ugly face. But he had a powerful personality and was absolutely dedicated to the Party. Friedmann described him as "a real Stalinist, a tough, ruthless and professional operator".

Philby's original assignment was to work as a courier, using his British passport and posing as a freelance journalist, to maintain links between the outlawed Austrian communists and sympathizers in Hungary, Prague and Paris. But in February 1934 his work changed dramatically. Dollfuss decided to disarm the outlawed Schutzbund, occupy the offices of socialist organizations, dismiss socialist mayors and prefects, put the trade unions under State control and establish a one-party corporate State on the lines of Mussolini's Italy.

On 12 February he was given the excuse he needed to move. In Linz, Upper Austria, police and army units, claiming later that they were planning to search for hidden arms, had surrounded the People's House which contained the offices of the Social Democratic Party. Soon after dawn someone fired a shot at the police from one of the upper windows of the building. This shot triggered off a nationwide attack by government forces on trade union headquarters, newspapers, socialist offices and welfare centres, and eventually on the huge council housing estates in Vienna's outer suburbs.

The socialists were caught unprepared, their leaders arrested before they could organize proper resistance. The rank-and-file blundered around in confusion. The militants rushed to their hidden armouries to take up arms but found them either locked or already in police control.

(2) Litzi Friedmann, interview with Phillip Knightley (November, 1967)

When I first met Kim he had just come down from Cambridge and had come to Vienna to learn German. He stayed with my parents as a paying guest and we went out together sometimes. He had very leftish views and was very progressive. I was a member of the Communist Party, which was then illegal and worked underground. We had an affair and I was fond of Kim. The police were hunting down active communists, and I found out that they were after me. One way I could avoid arrest was to marry Kim and get a British passport and leave the country. And this is what I did.

I wouldn't call it exactly a marriage of convenience. I suppose it was partly that and partly love. Anyway, we didn't stay married very long. We both left Austria together and went to stay in England. As far as I know, apart from marrying me, a communist, Kim took no part in communist underground activities while he was in Vienna. He knew some communists, of course, through me. I was one myself - and, as I say, he was very progressive with decided leftish leanings. I feel fairly certain that he never travelled to Budapest or any other place as a courier for the party. If he did, I knew nothing about it.

(3) Phillip Knightley, Philby: KGB Masterspy (1988) pages 52-53

The Soviets had Kim Philby, so they too knew exactly what the Fellowship was up to. Philby had worked so enthusiastically part-time for the Fellowship that in 1936 it offered him a full-time job. He was to start a trade journal, which would be financed by the German Propaganda Ministry, and which would have the aim of fostering good relations between Germany and Britain. Philby flew to Berlin several times for talks with the Ministry and with the Ambassador in London, von Ribbentrop.

Philby's magazine was never published because the Fellowship switched its backing to a rival, the Anglo-German Review, which started in November 1936, edited by C.E. Carroll. It did not matter to Philby because, as he has made clear, he was already reporting to his Soviet control from his privileged position within the Fellowship -`Overt and covert links between Britain and Germany at that time were of serious concern to the Soviet Government.

Philby's control must have been pleased with him. He was doing useful work for the Soviet intelligence service and his communist past had been successfully blurred. But it could not be made to disappear entirely until one major problem was solved - the presence of Litzi.

Litzi was a constant reminder to Philby's friends and colleagues that he had spent time in Vienna, that he had rescued this Austrian girl because she was in danger of arrest as a communist, and that he married her to get her a British passport. If, as the Russians wanted, Philby was to establish an impeccable right-wing persona, Litzi, a Jewish communist, was going to be a continuing handicap. There is evidence that Philby's Russian control told him - and perhaps Litzi too - that from now on Philby would operate better alone.

In July 1936 the ex-miner Jim Lees, who had come down from Nottingham to see Guy Burgess, went to the Philbys' for Saturday lunch. It was not a happy occasion. The food was bad because Litzi had never really learnt to cook, and then Philby and Lees got into a heated argument, first over what was going to happen in Spain, already on the brink of civil war, and then over Germany. "I remember Kim saying that Franco's rebels were romantics who could not possibly threaten the Spanish Republic... Then Kim and I quarrelled violently about what was happening in Central Europe, with him defending the Germans and maintaining that the left was finished. That was why he had taken his job with the Fellowship, he said, and (in an aside to me) that was why he would have to get rid of Litzi. Lees stormed out of the house.

The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936 offered Philby a quick solution. Moscow had been following developments in Spain for some time and had sent Philby there twice - in the summer of 1934 and again the following year. He had gone with Litzi as if on holiday - although the source of the money for these trips was later to give him an anxious moment or two with his interrogators from MI5, as we shall see. The Spanish immigration records show that Philby travelled on British passport 383531 and Litzi on a British passport issued in Vienna on 26 February 1934, number 2516. Now the Russians wanted him to return "to get first-hand information on all aspects of the Fascist war effort".

First Philby needed a cover. He could hardly move around the front as a tourist, so he managed to persuade the London General Press, a news and syndication agency, to give him a letter of accreditation. It was quite understandable that a freelance journalist covering a war would not take his wife with him, so Litzi was left behind, the beginning of their split. All this took some time to arrange, so it was not until February 1937 that Philby arrived in Spain. He immediately began to bombard The Times with unsolicited articles, all written from the fascist side.

(4) Phillip Knightley, Philby: KGB Masterspy (1988) page 75

Philby soon found that there was not much work for a twenty-eight-year-old war correspondent in Britain in the summer of 1940. He wrote a couple of articles for The Times about the lessons to be learnt from the debacle in France and contemplated the fact that if he did not quickly find some sort of job that exempted him from military service then, as he had predicted to Alison Outhwaite, his colleague on the Review of Reviews, he was going to end up in the trenches.

Meanwhile he made an effort to get his domestic affairs sorted out. His separation from Litzi was now complete. After he went to Spain she moved to Paris for a while and then had gone back to Vienna to bring her parents to safety in London. Philby found that she was living with Georg Honigmann, a German communist refugee who had a job monitoring German broadcasts for the news agency Extel. Although Philby thus had good grounds for a divorce he made no move to obtain one, possibly because it might have endangered Litzi's right to hold a British passport and her residence status in Britain.

Although still married, he devoted himself to courting Aileen Furse, the woman he had met through Flora Solomon. Aileen, an attractive blonde, then aged twenty-nine, had left home and taken a job on the advice of her family doctor. She had shown signs of a self-destructive streak - her family said she sometimes deliberately injured herself to gain attention when she felt she had been neglected. But her career under Mrs Solomon appeared to have helped her. Philby found that she had an open manner, an easy laugh, and was a good companion. He treated her with sentimental affection, talking to her about his adventures, listening to her stories about her work - he often jokingly introduced her as `Miss Marks and Spencers'. They were obviously in love and soon they were living together.

(5) Natasha Walter, The Guardian (10th May, 2003)

In 1933, Kim Philby, the future spy, was an idealistic young man who had just finished at Cambridge. He set out for Austria, keen to witness the fight against fascism first hand, and a communist friend gave him an introduction to a leftwing Viennese family who were prepared to let out rooms to sympathisers. When Philby went to the house, it was the daughter of the family, Litzi Friedman, who answered the door.

For the rest of his life, Philby remembered her sparkiness that afternoon. "A frank and direct person, Litzi, came out and asked me how much money I had," Philby said later. "I replied, one hundred pounds, which I hoped would last me about a year in Vienna. She made some calculations and announced, 'That will leave you an excess of £25. You can give that to the International Organisation for Aid for Revolutionaries. We need it desperately.' I liked her determination."

Philby went on liking Litzi's determination, to such an extent that he went on to work with her, to fall in love with her, and then to marry her and take her to London. It was also Litzi who provided him with an introduction that would shape the rest of his life. This obscure Jewish woman from Vienna became the vital link between the idealistic men of Cambridge and the dark world of Soviet espionage.

Litzi Friedman's story has often been lost or distorted in histories of the Cambridge spies, who are usually seen as a purely masculine elite. All the spies were men, two of them were homosexual, and whether you imagine Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt, Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess arguing with one another in smoke-filled rooms in Cambridge, buttering up naive diplomats in the Foreign Office, or sitting with grey-faced Russians on park benches, you are unlikely to imagine any women by their side.

Yet the two most successful spies, Maclean and Philby, were inspired and supported by extraordinary women. Until archives in Moscow were opened after the end of the cold war, we knew very little about them, and many of the biographical sources are bafflingly contradictory. I have pieced together their stories from the sources that had the most access to Soviet archives, but it is still tough trying to work out where certainty lies.

Litzi Friedman stands very far from the usual image we have of the Cambridge spies. A photograph of her in her youth shows a woman who looks as if she is living in the 1960s, rather than the 1930s, with her thick, cropped hair, sleeveless dress and bare legs. The energetic pose she has taken up, turning to look out of the picture, as if listening to someone, is utterly unselfconscious, the pose of an intelligent young woman at ease with herself.

When Friedman and Philby met, she had the emotional and political experience that he signally lacked. She was first married at 18, but was divorced after just 14 months, then joined the Communist party. In Austria at the time, the government was cracking down on all leftwing activity, and in 1932 Friedman was imprisoned for a couple of weeks.

For her, the young Englishman who presented himself at her door in 1933 was, at first, a potentially useful helper and source of funds. But physical desire soon flowered between them. They first made love in the snow on a side street in freezing Vienna, heated by the touch of flesh on flesh. "I know it sounds impossible, but it was actually quite warm once you got used to it," Philby said to a later girlfriend. Male friends have also said that this was Philby's first sexual experience. First physical love, first political involvement; no wonder the affair fired him up as no other relationship in his life was to do.

Philby had already been intellectually convinced by communism, but Friedman radicalised him. He began to work with her - begging people for money, acting as a courier for underground organisations, helping hunted militants to get out of Vienna, and seeing what the fight against fascism meant for people risking their lives because of it. As he himself said later, these experiences crystallised his faith.

In February 1934, the political tensions in Vienna flared into armed conflict. As socialist leaders were arrested and executed, the rank-and-file blundered around in confusion. Philby and Friedman were at home when the revolt began, and the first they knew about it was when the lights went out, a result of a strike by the power workers. Then the telephone rang and a communist leader asked them to go and wait for him in a cafe. They went. Two hours later, he arrived and asked if they were prepared to set up a machine-gun post within the city. They agreed, and were told to wait for further orders. They spent that day at the cafe, waiting. At night they went home through a city full of patrols and roadblocks, which they passed by relying on Philby's British passport. The next day they waited at the cafe again, but the arms never materialised. In the end, they helped the revolt by collecting clothes and food for the strikers, and enabling some of the leaders to get into hiding.

Given her previous brush with the authorities, once a crackdown on known revolutionaries began, Friedman was in real danger. At first, Philby tried to find her new sanctuaries, but eventually he took the only sure way to protect her. On February 24, in the Vienna town hall, he married her, and then took her with him to London. "Even though the basis of our relationship was political to some extent, I truly loved her and she loved me," he said later.

It was at this point that Friedman played her most important role, as far as the history of 20th-century espionage is concerned. She had a friend in London already working for Soviet intelligence, a woman called Edith Tudor-Hart, a photographer and communist who was born in Vienna. According to Genrikh Borovik, a biographer of Philby's who gained access to the Soviet archives, Tudor-Hart recommended Friedman and Philby to the KGB for recruitment in 1934. Yuri Modin, a Soviet agent who handled the Cambridge spies throughout their careers, agrees that Friedman was undoubtedly the catalyst. "Contrary to received opinion, it was neither Burgess nor one of our own agents who lured Philby into the toils of the Soviet espionage apparatus," he has said. "It was Litzi." Since Philby then recommended his other Cambridge friends for recruitment, Friedman's relationship with Philby was a tipping point not only for him, but for the whole group.

Before Philby could begin his new career, which was to work for British intelligence on behalf of his Soviet controllers, he had to get rid of all his obvious communist affiliations. He did so partly by working as a journalist for the Times, writing reports from Spain that were diligently pro-Franco. But he also had to put distance between himself and Friedman. It has only recently become clear that the two remained in touch for some years after this separation, not as lovers, but as fellow spies.

It was Friedman who, during the purges of the late 1930s, when Philby's handlers were constantly being recalled to Moscow, kept contact going for the Soviets with their precious new recruit. She moved to Paris in the late 1930s, and until at least 1940 was paid by the KGB to maintain this contact with her husband. Although Philby started an affair with another woman in Spain, according to the Russian files, by then "she saw their relationship more as an espionage agreement than a love relationship".

We are accustomed to seeing Philby as he presented himself - unswerving in his dedication to his cause. But in August 1939, the faith of many communists in Europe was shaken when the Soviet Union signed its pact of non-aggression with Nazi Germany. Given Philby's experiences in Austria, where he had seen the terror of facism first hand, it is hardly surprising that he found this move hard to take. One entry in his files reads, "According to Mary [Litzi's codename], to whom he complained in conversations, he was beginning to experience a certain disillusionment with us. He has never said this to us directly... The signing of the Soviet-German non-aggression pact caused Söhnchen [Philby's codename] to ask puzzled questions such as 'Why was this necessary?' However, after several talks on this subject, Söhnchen seemed to grasp the significance of this pact." So it was Friedman who enabled Philby to remain on board during those dark days at the beginning of the war, when the Soviet Union lost many of its friends in the west.

By odd coincidence, Donald Maclean's faith in the Soviet Union was supported at exactly the same time and in the same place by a secret female companion. In August 1939, he was working at the British embassy in Paris. The KGB officer who was looking after him at the time was a woman called Kitty Harris, with whom he was also having a passionate affair. Just as with Friedman and Philby, Kitty Harris was way more experienced in both her political and personal life than Donald Maclean. For a start, she was 13 years older, and when they met she had already been working for the Soviet Union for 16 years.

Harris was born in the East End of London, in a working-class Jewish family, but grew up in Canada and then Chicago, where the harsh lives of the workers made her receptive to the arguments of communists - including the man who was to become her husband, a charismatic party organiser called Earl Browder. She spent a couple of years with him in Shanghai, trying to organise the underground Communist party, before leaving him and moving to Europe, where she began to work for Soviet intelligence.

Harris seems to have been a headstrong woman who passionately believed in her cause, but who also found it hard to keep up the life prescribed by the KGB, with its fixed protocols and minimal freedom. No wonder that, when the chance came for an intimate relationship within these constraints, she seized on it. And she obviously felt deeply for Maclean. At the time - before drink and misery ruined his looks - he was a striking man, blond, 6ft tall, absolutely the upper-class diplomat.

In 1937, when one spy ring had been broken by British intelligence, Maclean had been put "on ice" by his Russian contact, and had been turning up to meeting after meeting without finding anyone there. And then, one day, he turned up as usual to find not his usual handler but Kitty Harris, who swiftly gave him the recognition phrase. "You hadn't expected to see a lady, had you?" she said. "No, but it's a pleasant surprise," he replied quickly.

When she was given the task of becoming Maclean's go-between, Harris was told he was the most important spy they had. Cherish him as the apple of your eye, she was told by Moscow. She did. Maclean would visit Harris in her flat in Bayswater twice a week, late in the evening, bringing papers for her to photograph that he had sneaked out of the Foreign Office for the night. From the start, he'd bring flowers and chocolates with those papers, and after a few months they agreed to have a special dinner to celebrate their birthdays, which fell within a few days of each other. One evening in May 1938, Maclean turned up at her flat carrying a huge bunch of roses, a bottle of wine and a box holding a locket on a thin gold chain. Harris wore it for the rest of her life; when she died in 1966, it was still among her paltry possessions. He had ordered dinner from a local restaurant, and they sat eating it and listening to Glenn Miller on the radio. That was the first night they made love, and true to her training she reported the event to her controller, Grigoriy Grafpen, next day.

Harris went on being entirely open in her reports, even telling her controllers that she and Maclean began and ended every meeting with sex. Sometimes this had adverse effects on their work. Telegrams from Moscow complained: "The material in the last two pouches turned out to contain only half of each image. What was the problem? Moreover in the last batch, many of the pages were almost out of focus..." It is rather wonderful to imagine the apparatchiks scratching their heads over photographs that had become blurred in the heat of Harris's passion.

After Maclean was posted to the British embassy in Paris in 1938, he was so crazy about Harris that he asked Moscow if she could come, too; to their surprise, the lovers' request was granted. They went on working together until June 1940, when the Germans broke through the Maginot line and invaded France. In her final report on Maclean, Harris summed up his character for Moscow. "He is politically weak," she wrote, "but there is something fundamentally good and strong in him that I value. He understands and hates the rotten capitalist system and has enormous confidence in the Soviet Union and the working class. Bearing in mind his origins and his past... he is a good and brave comrade."

The Cambridge spies are so often presented to us as loners fuelled only by cold ideology, but the sexual passion and political solidarity that flared between this working-class Jewish woman and the young British diplomat clearly sustained them both.

Kitty Harris wrote such a positive final report on Maclean, even though she knew that, by this time, his sexual interest in her was waning: a friend of Maclean's, Mark Culme-Seymour, had introduced him to a young American woman, Melinda Marling, in a cafe on the Left Bank in January 1940, and he had fallen for her immediately. Until recently, it was assumed that their marriage was founded on Maclean's talent for duplicity, and that Melinda knew nothing about her husband's links to Russia until his defection 11 years later.

But there is another layer to the story of Melinda Maclean. The friend who introduced the couple in the Cafe de Flore in 1940 was not particularly impressed by her then. "She was quite pretty and vivacious, but rather reserved," said Culme-Seymour. "I thought she was a bit prim." That is how many observers saw her - attractive, but also prim and spoiled. She was delicately good-looking, and carefully groomed - her lipstick glossy, her hair always waved, a double row of pearls usually clasped around her neck. She seemed to most people to have little interest in the world beyond family, friends, clothes and Hollywood movies. The success of the blandly conventional veneer she wore in public meant that, when Donald defected, she was easily able to pretend to everyone, even to MI5 and to her mother, that she had no idea that she had been married to a spy for more than a decade.

But in the 1950s, Culme-Seymour tracked down the exiled Macleans in Moscow, and another Melinda emerged. She told him that she knew she would be going to Russia right from the beginning, even before Maclean defected. By this time, he looked terrible and was obviously drinking heavily, but she seemed just fine. And when he said something that implied faint criticism of the Soviet Union, she "jumped down his throat".

Recent revelations from the Soviet archives confirm the existence of this other Melinda, a woman who was the greatest dissembler of them all. From the start, she and Donald had a relationship founded not on duplicity, but on trust. As Donald told Kitty Harris, on the very first evening he met Melinda, he saw another side to the prim American from the one his friends saw. "I was very taken by her views," he told Harris. "She's a liberal, she's in favour of the Popular Front and doesn't mind mixing with communists even though her parents are well-off. There was a White Russian girl, one of her friends, who attacked the Soviet Union and Melinda went for her. We found we spoke the same language."

Soon after they started dating, Melinda broke off the whole thing, apparently bored by the correct English diplomat. It was in order to get her back that Maclean told her the full truth: that he was not only a diplomat, but also a communist and a spy. It was an outrageous risk, one quite out of character for him at that time, but he reassured Harris that Melinda not only reacted positively, but "actually promised to help me to the extent that she can - and she is well connected in the American community".

There is no evidence that Melinda worked alongside Maclean, but it has been revealed that she supported him in his dangerous double life throughout their marriage. It was never an easy relationship: Maclean drank heavily, he expressed homosexual desires, they were often on the verge of splitting up and on one occasion he physically attacked her in public. But they stuck together, even beyond his defection.

They married in June 1940, days before the Germans marched into Paris, and spent the rest of the war being bombed out of one flat after another in London. Then they moved to Washington where, from the Soviet point of view, Maclean did his most valuable spying work in the position of first secretary at the British embassy. In 1948, he was appointed head of the chancery at the British embassy in Cairo. As soon as he arrived, however, Maclean had problems with his KGB contact, who arranged their meetings in the Arab quarter. Yuri Modin, a Soviet agent who has published his reminiscences of the Cambridge spies, says that the tall, blond Briton in immaculate suit and tie felt as inconspicuous "as a swan among geese". Maclean suggested that, instead of these absurdly dangerous games, Melinda should simply pass the information to the wife of the Soviet resident at the hairdresser. "Melinda was quite prepared to do this," Modin reports.

By now, the game of duplicity was telling on Maclean. He began drinking, brawling and even telling acquaintances about his life as a spy - confessions that they discounted as the talk of a dreamer. Cyril Connolly described him vividly as he struck him in London in 1951. "He had lost his serenity, his hands would tremble, his face was usually a livid yellow ... he was miserable and in a very bad way. In conversation, a kind of shutter would fall as if he had returned to some basic and incommunicable anxiety."

At this point, Philby, who was then based in Washington, discovered that MI5 had broken Maclean's cover and was planning to interrogate him. Philby passed this information to the Soviets, and they were desperate for Maclean to get out, fearful that, in his current state, he would crack immediately under interrogation. Maclean shilly shallied, afraid of staying, afraid of going, until he sounded out Melinda about the defection. According to Modin, she responded: "They're quite right - go as soon as you can, don't waste a single moment."

The day eventually earmarked for Maclean to make his escape happened to be his 38th birthday: May 25 1951. He came home by train from the Foreign Office to their house in Kent as usual that evening, and soon after Guy Burgess, who had just been persuaded to get out, too, turned up. After eating the birthday supper that Melinda had prepared, Maclean said goodbye to his wife and children, got into Burgess's car and left. They drove to Southampton, took a ferry to France, then disappeared from view, sparking a media and intelligence furore. It was all of five years before Krushchev finally admitted that they were in the Soviet Union.

The following Monday, Melinda Maclean telephoned the Foreign Office to ask coolly if her husband was around. Her pose of total ignorance convinced them; MI5 put off interviewing her for nearly a week, and the Maclean house was never searched. No doubt their readiness to see her merely as the ignorant wife was enhanced by the fact that she was heavily pregnant at the time - three weeks after Donald left, she gave birth to a daughter, their third child.

The evening of his defection, Donald had taken a cliché straight from an Eric Ambler novel, tearing a postcard in two, giving Melinda half, and telling her not to trust anyone who did not produce the other half as a sign. He later passed his half to Modin. More than a year later, Modin intercepted Melinda on her way home from school, just after she had dropped off the boys. He followed her Rover, then passed her and pulled up, signalling her to do likewise. "This she did, but not quite in the way we had expected. She burst out of the car like a deer breaking cover, yelling abuse at us for our bad driving." When Modin had recovered, he drew the half postcard from his pocket. Melinda immediately fell silent, reached across for her bag in the car, and produced the other half.

It was another year before Melinda finally slipped the net of British intelligence and press interest. Her secret life during that last year in the west must have become a terrible burden. She knew the dangers if she had been implicated in her husband's treachery; two months before she left, an American couple, the Rosenbergs, were sent to the electric chair for spying for the Soviet Union. But, unlike her husband, Melinda always hid her feelings under a bland veneer that people often read as stupidity. "I will not admit that my husband, the father of my children, is a traitor to his country," she told everyone in outraged tones. She seemed to be settling into a directionless but comfortable life, wandering with her mother and children as the seasons changed from beach villa in Majorca to skiing holiday in the Alps. But in Geneva on the evening of September 10 1953, she told her mother that she was going to stay with friends for the weekend, got into her black Chevrolet car with her three children, drove to Lausanne and disappeared.

She prepared for her great flight in the way you might expect of a bourgeois American, rather than a closet Red. The day before, she spent hours at a salon having her hair and nails done. That morning she had gone shopping, then returned to tell her mother that she had bumped into an old friend who had invited her to spend the weekend with the children at his villa at Territet. After lunch, at which she seemed no more than preoccupied, she got the children and herself ready, throwing an electric blue Schiaparelli coat over a black skirt and white blouse.

When Melinda did not return on Monday morning, her mother telephoned the British embassy. Intelligence agents tracked reports of a woman with a bright coat and three pretty children on the train to Austria, where the trail went cold. Weeks later, Melinda's mother received a letter, postmarked Cairo. In it, Melinda said, "Please believe, darling, in my heart I could not have done otherwise than I have done." Later, it transpired that Melinda had been met by KGB officials in Austria and flown to Moscow.

In the late 1960s, Eleanor Philby, Kim's third wife, brought a rare glimpse of the Macleans back to the west. Melinda hadn't quite accepted the Soviet way of life: she and her children cut incongruously elegant figures in Moscow, dressed out of the parcels of American clothes sent by her mother and sister. But when the Philbys and Macleans sat in their Moscow apartments of an evening, getting toweringly drunk on Soviet champagne, Melinda joined in the dreaming. "In moments of nostalgia," Eleanor said, "Donald and Melinda would talk of the good times they would have in Italy and Paris 'when the revolution comes'. I found this world of fantasy slightly unnerving."

Melinda's marriage did not long survive the constraints of life in Moscow, and when it broke down she began a brief affair with Philby, who had arrived there in 1963. Given their practised secrecy, it's not surprising that their relationship remains rather obscure. After that relationship, too, broke down, it seems that the day-to-day reality of life in the Soviet Union told on Melinda. Finally, in 1979, she returned to the west, to be with her mother and sisters, and her children soon followed her. She is still alive in New York, but she has never said a single word to the press.

One thing is for sure: all three of these women who were close to the Cambridge spies were just as good as the men at keeping secrets. Litzi Friedman never spoke of how Kim Philby had been recruited through her; the archives spoke for her. She settled in East Germany, marrying again and making a decent career for herself in the film industry. Phillip Knightley, the last journalist to speak to her, said that she seemed entirely satisfied with her life.

Kitty Harris had a very different end. She had spent the rest of the war continuing her career as a successful intelligence agent in Mexico, and in 1946 was brought to the Soviet Union, where she stayed until her death in 1966. But once she reached Russia, she found that the society for which she had worked so tirelessly and at such risk to her own safety fell far short of her dreams. "The only thing I know is that I am terribly lonely," she wrote in her diary during her last years. "My life is in pieces."

Melinda Maclean, still preserving her glacial silence, is the most mysterious of them all. Some experts believe her final return to the US was allowed by western intelligence only on the grounds that she did not reveal anything about her husband's (amazingly successful) career as a spy. She may indeed be living under such a constraint. Or she may have chosen to remain silent for her own reasons; perhaps she cannot bear to revisit Donald's descent into disillusion, and her own corroded ideals. Her secrets remain, finally, her own


(1) Litzi Friedmann, interview with Phillip Knightley (November, 1967)

(2) Ben Macintyre, A Spy Among Friends (2014) page 37-38

(3) Natasha Walter, The Guardian (10th May, 2003)

(4) Litzi Friedmann, interview with Phillip Knightley (November, 1967)

(5) Anthony Cave Brown, Treason of Blood (1995) page 162

(6) John Costello and Oleg Tsarev, Deadly Illusions (1993) page 134

(7) Kim Philby, memorandum in Security Service Archives (1963)

(8) Christopher Andrew, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) page 170

(9) Phillip Knightley, Philby: KGB Masterspy (1988) pages 53

(10) Patrick Seale & Maureen McConville, Philby: The Long Road to Moscow (1973) page 81

(11) Ben Macintyre, A Spy Among Friends (2014) page 37-38

(12) Phillip Knightley, Philby: KGB Masterspy (1988) page 141

(13) Phillip Knightley, Philby: KGB Masterspy (1988) page 244