Jewish 'Bond Girl' Christine Granville Fought the Nazis in Style

Secret Agent Didn't Inspire Ian Fleming — But She Could Have

A Spy Who Loved: Though Ian Fleming denied that he knew Chrisine Granville, she was rumored to have been the inspiration for two female characters in James Bond novels.
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A Spy Who Loved: Though Ian Fleming denied that he knew Chrisine Granville, she was rumored to have been the inspiration for two female characters in James Bond novels.

By Benjamin Ivry

Published October 09, 2013, issue of October 18, 2013.
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When Granville reached Poland, she tried in vain to persuade her mother to leave. Goldfeder preferred to risk being denounced and arrested rather than register as a Jew, as required by law. She may have chosen to remain in hiding rather than identify herself as a survival strategy, and not because, as Mulley claims, she was trying to avoid “life in the ghetto.” The Warsaw ghetto was not even established until November 1940.

In 1941, Goldfeder would be arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Pawiak prison, part of the Warsaw concentration camp. She was murdered, although no one knows exactly where, since Pawiak prison’s archives were never located. One Nazi collaborator informed Granville that her mother had died at Auschwitz, but that death camp’s records indicate no trace of her.

The idea that she had failed to protect her mother would weigh heavily on Granville and contribute to an increasing desperation and lack of prudence during the rest of the war. The British minister in Hungary accused her of having an “almost pathological tendency to take risks,” and it was difficult to find espionage work that was “sufficiently risky and bloodthirsty to appeal to her.”

In January 1941 in Budapest, the Hungarian police arrested Granville and a fellow agent (who was her lover). During lengthy interrogations, Granville bit her tongue until it bled, so that she could feign symptoms of tuberculosis. She appeared to be coughing up blood, and her captors, frightened of the infectious disease, released her and her fellow agent because they might be contagious.

In the summer of 1944 in southern France, just before D-Day, Granville had been parachuted in to help prepare for the Allied invasion. Her British commander and lover, Cammaerts, was imprisoned, about to be executed with two colleagues. Granville presented herself to the French Nazi collaborator who ran the prison as a British agent, and claimed to be the niece of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery of Alamein, threatening dire reprisals after the imminent Allied invasion if these prisoners were shot. Her arguments were so persuasive that, thinking about his own postwar fate, the terrified prison official let them all go free.

In a review of the British edition of “The Spy Who Loved” for The Spectator, the octogenarian historian Alistair Horne, who knew Granville personally, stated: “Of all the women agents who risked their lives in Nazi-occupied Europe in the Second World War, Polish-born [Granville] must surely rate as one of the bravest of the brave…. [Her] reckless exploits smacked more of the age of Baroness d’Orczy [author of ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’] than of the vile century of Heinrich Himmler.”

At the end of World War II, both Granville’s heart and spirit were battered; she had lost her mother and her homeland, which was handed over to Stalinist tyranny at the 1945 Yalta conference. Granville received a few medals, but her espionage days were over. The British intelligence agency MI5 no longer employed Jewish agents, as Mulley writes, “fearing divided loyalties” after the 1946 bombing of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel by the Irgun.

Left unemployed as an “angry, exiled, female, Jewish, Pole,” as Mulley describes her, Granville found menial labor as a stewardess on a shipping line. There she met an Irish steward who supposedly fell in love with her, but in 1952, when she did not respond to his advances, he stabbed her to death in a shabby London hotel. This tragic fate only echoed the untimely demise of her mother and most of European Jewry during the war. Granville’s life was so intertwined with the tragic victims of that conflict that any subsequent existence would have necessarily seemed superfluous.

Benjamin Ivry writes frequently about the arts for the Forward.


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