The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville
By Clare Mulley
St. Martin’s Press, 448 pages, $26.99
A new book about the spy Christine Granville, born Krystyna Skarbek of Polish Jewish ancestry, raises the question of whether there could be any joy in espionage after Auschwitz. “The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville,” describes the derring-do of a flamboyant anti-Nazi agent during World War II.
The book’s author, Clare Mulley, debunks some of the most persistent myths about Granville, such as that she was “[Winston] Churchill’s favorite spy” — no such statement made by Churchill has survived — or that after a postwar love affair with the intelligence officer and novelist Ian Fleming, Granville inspired the sultry characters Tatiana Romanova in Fleming’s “From Russia With Love” and Vesper Lynd in “Casino Royale.” Mulley writes that Fleming “never claimed to have met [Granville], even in passing.”
Even without being a Bond girl, Granville proved that she was willing to live and let die. And she had a talent for waving around hand grenades when necessary. Granville was born in Warsaw in 1908 to the Jewish banking heiress Stefania Goldfeder and Jerzy Skarbek. He was an impoverished descendent of Włodzimierz Krzyżanowski, a Civil War general who fought at the Battle of Gettysburg.
“Much respected and liked by everyone,” according to one archival document, Granville’s mother would see her fortunes decline when the Goldfeder bank collapsed in 1926 because of economic distress in post-World War I Europe. Granville’s father abandoned the family and became an “anti-Semitic drunk,” as Granville told one lover, Francis Cammaerts, a British fellow special operations executive agent who organized French Resistance groups.
One observer of the family’s decline was author Witold Gombrowicz, whose autobiographical sketches, “Polish Memories,” describe Granville at Zakopane, a ski resort in southern Poland. Gombrowicz classed her with other offspring of marriages between Polish Catholics and Jews, as one of the “unfortunate creatures… never fully accepted in the salons.” Nonetheless, Granville soon married the author and diplomat Jerzy Giżycki, who later termed her “the most intrepid human being I have ever met — man or woman.”
In the 1930s, Granville spent time in London visiting Polish Jewish journalist Florian Sokolow, son of the Zionist leader Nahum Sokolow. Learning about Zionism from the Sokolows, Granville accompanied her husband in 1939 to South Africa, where he had been assigned a diplomatic post; the couple found that Johannesburg was “full of Polish Jews.”
After Poland was invaded by Germany in September 1939, Granville concocted a plan to ski over the Carpathian Mountains from Hungary to her homeland to fight the Nazis.