Skip To Content

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
The Schmooze

German Ballerina Spy Blamed by M15 for WWII Defeat

The ballerina with an alias! The landlady with a weak heart! A mystery agent called “von Finckenstein”!

In a movie script, it would sound so bad it’s good. But these are real characters in once-secret Word War II files from Britain’s M15 spy agency released this week by the UK’s National Archives.

A former ballerina named Marina Lee emerges as a central player in the files. Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Lee was married to a Norwegian communist and had trained as a ballerina before becoming “a highly valued and experienced German agent,” according to a BBC report on the files.

The “glamorous Nazi spy may have been behind one of the biggest setbacks suffered by Allied forces during World War II,” the BBC reports. According to the files, Lee “stole battle plans, which led to the fall of Norway to Germany in 1940.”

The Jerusalem Post reports that the files also reveal M15 investigated the loyalty of employees of German conglomerate Siemens. A file called the “Siemens-Halske-Schuke Combine” reminded British agents of a 1936 law that said “every German man and woman must render service to the Fatherland in time of war and that Germans who live abroad, including those of dual nationality, are bound to serve when called up.”

Incidentally, the Jews didn’t escape M15’s watchful eye. The declassified files include a dossier on Jewish scriptwriter and novelist Wolf Mankowitz, who wrote the screenplay for the original film version of James Bond classic “Casino Royale.”

According to the Post, “MI5 was worried he might be a communist agent, even though the file contains a report from his commanding officer who said he observed Mankowitz during his time in the army — and wasn’t worried.” Mankowitz had neither “the personality or strength of character to pass them on to his fellow soldiers,” the report said.


Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.