The Darkrooms Of Edith Tudor-Hart

On The Trail Of My Cousin, The Spy

To walk from Marble Arch to their rendezvous point takes 25 minutes at the most. But on this morning in mid-May 1934, she mustn’t run any risks. Not in the company of this man. Edith hails a cab near the tube station. The taxi heads toward Victoria but after a short stretch she tells the cabbie to stop. She and the man continue on foot for several minutes. Edith keeps turning around to look at the man, then she hails another taxi travelling in the opposite direction, says “Queensway” to the driver. Shortly thereafter, they exit the cab again and walk to the Ladbroke Grove station.

“Aren’t you making a bit too much of this?” asks her companion, out of breath. He speaks fluent German, almost without an accent. And she doesn’t answer. They glance around, disappear into the corridors of the underground, and far below street level take a train on the Hammersmith & City line toward Farringdon. They wait to board until everyone else has gotten on. They’re barely in the car when Edith flings open the door again and at the last second, they leap back out onto the platform. The man gives a pained, slightly reproachful smile. Edith turns her head to see if anyone except them might have left the train at the last minute. No: they’re alone on the platform. They take the next train to the end of the line. And so it continues a while longer by tube, bus, and taxi. The man makes fun of Edith for overdoing things. They get to Regent’s Park just before noon, three and a half hours after meeting up this morning. She’s in the lead, walking briskly. The man follows. Finally they reach their goal, a park bench near the northern tip of the boating lake.

There they are met by Edith’s friend, who’s been waiting over an hour already, hoping that the longer they take to get here, the less likely it is they were followed. Or did they have to shake off a tail? His right arm is stretched out on the backrest and his head tilted back, offering his broad face to the June sunshine. Now he stands up, says a brief “Guten Tag” in a deep, mellifluous voice, and extends a large, sun-warmed hand to the stranger. He doesn’t say his name. Edith’s companion, now slightly intimidated, whispers, “I’m Kim. Kim Philby.”

“I thought you might be,” Edith’s friend replies in a surprisingly loud voice and grins. “Edith has told me a lot about you.” The two men sit down. As Philby starts to make room for Edith on the bench, he looks up just in time to catch sight of her disappearing among the rose bushes.

Under interrogation years later, Kim Philby would repeatedly say, “I don’t know anyone by the name Edith Tudor-Hart.” But of course, that wasn’t true.

Ferris Wheel

It must have been in the autumn of 1967. I was 14—almost 15—and in Junior high school at the Akademisches Gymnasium on Beethovenplatz. My parents had invited Edith to Vienna. My father paid for the trip and my mother put up her only cousin in the Pension Nossek in the very centre of town. This return to the city of her birth was Edith’s first trip abroad in the more than 30 years since emigrating to England in the fall of 1933. I can’t recall the exact details of her visit and I’m not sure how many days she stayed in Vienna. But in my mind’s eye I see a cool, rainy Sunday morning when the two of us, Edith and me, rode the Riesenrad Ferris wheel – it was one of the things she wanted to do.

We had the gondola to ourselves. Edith wanted to know if I was interested in music, and what kind I liked: opera? symphonies? piano concertos? violin sonatas? How often did I go to the Musikverein? the Konzerthaus? She was impatient with my hesitation. For me, music meant the Beatles, the Stones, the Troggs, Kinks, Tremeloes, Monkees,the Small Faces, the Bee Gees. Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert, Verdi, Wagner, Mahler – none of them meant anything to me. We didn’t even own a stereo or a single classical record. Only a year ago, my parents had given me a little portable mono phonograph that played 45s, and that’s where I listened to my favourite hits over and over again, hundreds of times.

“So who’s better, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones?” asked Edith a bit distractedly. They were the only two bands she’d even heard of.

“The Beatles.”

“How come . . .?”

“I find the Stones are too wild . . .”

“What’s their wildest song?”

‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction . . .’

“Madness . . .” And then she fell silent.

Our gondola had reached the top, and there we remained for a while, rocking gently in the wind. From two 200 feet in the air we looked down on the city. The rain had stopped and there was a clear view in all directions: the Kahlenberg, the Leopoldsberg, St. Stephan’s cathedral, the Karlskirche, the Ringturm skyscraper, Schönbrunn Palace. Edith stared straight ahead, lost in thought. As the wheel slowly began to turn again and we swung down toward the ground, she mentioned a friend she had been with in the Ferris wheel years and years ago. She said he could hardly stand to be there. He was in a cold sweat and panicky the whole time until they were back on the ground. Today, I think I know who it was: Kim Philby suffered from vertigo all his life. Or was she thinking about her first love, Arnold Deutsch, at that moment?

Edith was the daughter of my maternal grandfather’s brother. Is my mother’s first cousin my second cousin, my great aunt, or my cousin once removed? I’m not very good at identifying the proper gradations of kinship relations. I have hardly any relatives – just one first cousin, the daughter of my mother’s sister. At this writing, Edith’s brother Wolfgang Suschitzky still lives in London; he’s over a hundred years old and healthy as a horse. Wolf’s three children (and their children) are distant relatives, third or fourth cousins. I have no siblings. My parents are dead. My mother’s brothers Uncle Pepi and Uncle Willy – both of whom I dearly loved – are dead. Aunt Karla, a sister my mother loathed and repudiated, is dead. My father was an only child like me and his three cousins are all dead. Edith Tudor-Hart, née Suschitzky, died in 1973. I did not know her well.

Edith smoking a cigarette
Portrait of the artist: Born in Vienna, Edith studied photography at the Bauhaus, then came to London to train with Maria Montessori

What was she really like? What are my ties to her besides that we are relatives? She was 17 when she first left her parents’ house to take a course with Maria Montessori in London, intending to be a kindergarten teacher. How did she choose to do that? Why did she leave Vienna at such a young age? By the time she was 18, Edith was already a member of the Communist Youth Movement. What motivated her? Who influenced her? Whom did she serve? And whom did she oppose?

A year and a half after the break-up of the Soviet Union, an article in the London Daily Express identified Edith as “the 1930s photographer with open left-wing sympathies” and as one of the most important “talent hunters” who ever worked for the KGB. A photo of Edith from the Thirties that I had never seen before was captioned “Woman agent who sparked spy story of century.” Large eyes and an uncommonly intense gaze. The article surprised, fascinated, and frightened me; nobody in my family could tell me anything about it. Edith’s brother dismissed the story as a prank. My mother considered it a typical lie of the British tabloids. I tried to encounter Edith in my dreams, get to know her better and ask her endless questions from this side of the divide. But she never showed up in my nocturnal visions. She remained an enigma. I wanted, I needed to follow the trail of her secrets, wrest them from her – I had no other choice. And so I began to research her life story, hesitantly at first, but then more and more tenaciously. For years, I wandered in the maze of secondary literature and historical archives and almost lost my way more than once. Beyond that, the results of my quest are the product of stories told by my mother and my two uncles, the extensive reminiscences of Wolf Suschitzky, and my encounters with a great number of Edith’s contemporaries. In very few instances, my imagination had to fill in where some gaps still remain.

An Interrogation

Edith’s first love was Arnold Deutsch, perhaps the most important relationship of her entire life. Four years her senior, he was born in Slovakia to orthodox Jews. They had moved to Vienna when Arnold was a little boy. His father loathed Arnold’s turning away from religious life. He hated his political activities so much that he would constantly abuse and insult him, retreating, in later years, into desparate resignation. Against his parents’ will, Arnold studied physics, chemistry and philosophy. When Edith first met him, at her father’s bookshop, he was already a leading member of the Communist Youth Organisation and from 1924 a regular member of the Party, helping the KPÖ, Austria’s Communist Party, in their propaganda work.

Arnold did not try to deceive Edith: He told her of his commitment to a fellow Viennese Jew, Josefine Rubel, right from the start. He had known Fini, as he called her, since she was 15 years old. She had become a member of the Communist Party at his behest and he had promised to marry her before too long. Fini was a year older than Edith and hoped to become a kindergarten teacher with the Montessori movement.

Edith flirted with Arnold, as though he were free, and Deutsch allowed it to happen. He cherished the admiration of this slender, tall, good-looking Viennese girl. She’d had a glass of wine at the café where they had their first rendezvous, that certainly added to her audacity. Nothing of this sort had ever happened before. Her father was a prominent  spokesman for the temperance movement; his small publishing house printed numerous temperance pamphlets, calling upon the working classes not to spend their wages in bars and pubs, but rather to bring the money home to their families. Edith mischievously pictured how angrily her father would react if he could see her now.

“I have chosen you, Arnold,” Edith whispered into Arnold’s ear a few days later, as they were walking through the alleys of huge chestnut trees in Vienna’s Prater. He kept his distance at first, but then came closer and closer, until they finally stopped for a moment and embraced. Arnold was almost a head shorter than Edith, she had to bend down a little when they kissed for the first time near the Ferris wheel. Those were timid kisses at first, on lips, cheeks, forehead, but they propelled them both into a state of shy bliss. Edith felt as though she were floating a few millimetres above the ground. And a little later she found herself floating 200 feet above the ground: in one of the Ferris wheel’s gondolas where the two of them kissed again and again.

In the fall of 1937, when Arnold Deutsch had already been working as a secret agent for the Soviet Union for a number of years under the code name “Otto,” he was unexpectedly ordered back to Moscow. By now he had married Fini and their daughter Nina was one year old. By now, Edith, too, had been married: in August 1933 in Vienna, to Alexander Tudor-Hart, a trained orthopaedic surgeon, thereby helping her to gain British citizenship and leave Austria, where she’d already been arrested. Arnold was following orders that caught up with so many Soviet agents working abroad in the mid-1930s. Deutsch must have been aware of Stalin’s purges, which were already under way. In retrospect, it’s hard to understand why he didn’t go into hiding with his wife and daughter, as did his old friend Alexander Orlov, GPU agent and the London Rezident, who defected to the U.S. when recalled to Moscow. Hundreds of thousands of supposed enemies of the regime, including close friends and comrades of Arnold’s, were branded traitors and executed. In the course of the “Great Terror”, they died before firing squads following eerie show trials or ended up in gulags because Stalin suspected them of being enemies of the Soviet state.

Upon their arrival in Moscow, Arnold and Josefine were immediately arrested and subjected to weeks of interrogation, while their little daughter Nina was placed in an orphanage. The Deutsches, however, were able to refute all charges against them – a very rare exception in those years of uninterrupted murder. After a relatively brief imprisonment, their Soviet citizenship was even restored. Theodor Stepanovich Maly on the other hand – former seminarian, former London station chief, and jointly responsible for recruiting Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, and Guy Burgess – was executed in the purges, like so many of his comrades on the absurd charge of being a Nazi agent.

Later, when reviewing the course of her life, Fini recalled those days and weeks: “In that dangerous time after the interrogations, we came back to Moscow. Once when we’d already gone to bed, there was a knocking somewhere out in the hall. It was pretty late at night, and Arnold got up to see if the knocking was at our door. When he came back, I asked him, ‘Why did you get up? Are you afraid?’ He didn’t want to admit it. So I said, ‘You know you’re a decent person and you know I haven’t done anything wrong either.’ And he replied, ‘Listen, you don’t think we’re the only ones that didn’t do anything wrong, do you?’ It was a bitter discussion, and I was especially tough because . . . because I was very impulsive. I’m much calmer now than I was back then. I said, ‘There’s one thing I understand: I understand the Party has to purge itself. It has to: there are bad elements, spies, I have no trouble imagining that. But the Party takes a broom’ – and I made this enormous gesture – ‘it takes a broom and sweeps up. Not like that, like this!’ And I took both hands. . .I made a much bigger sweep with them. ‘That’s how it sweeps, it sweeps up its own people along with the spies! People who are loyal!’ Later, people weren’t even sure anymore if maybe they weren’t spies themselves after all. The rug had been completely pulled out from under our feet. Oh, it was a catastrophic time.”

Didn’t you hear about all those events, Edith? You certainly must have known about them. But if you knew, how could you justify the killing machinery of the Stalinist chistka, the systematic murder of Party members branded “untrustworthy”? How could you approve of Stalin’s antiSemitism, which was especially virulent despite all official assertions to the contrary. You don’t answer. I don’t understand your attitude, Edith, I don’t understand your slavish loyalty.

Spies Are Us
Infamous Five: The Cambridge Spies (l.-r.) Deutsch, Philby, Donald MacLean, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt

It was a time of absolute paranoia, when no one in Moscow knew who the Cambridge Five were – since their former handlers had been either executed or deported to prison camps. Coming across the names Philby, Burgess, Maclean, Blunt, and Cairncross, the new people in the Lubyanka expressed great scepticism that these men who had been recruited a few years earlier were reliable. They were the sons of rich parents, one of them the scion of a noble family, no less – how could the Soviet secret service have ever trusted such dyed-in-the-wool bourgeois? Even worse: it was unthinkable that the British were stupid enough to let a bunch of Communists (nobody still alive in Moscow knew that they had never joined the Party) attain important positions in the government. There could certainly be only one explanation: the five of them had to be double agents. It took the outbreak of the Second World War for Kim Philby and his friends to be trusted as they had been at first.

Before he was ordered home from London, Arnold Deutsch had written a brief profile of Edith for his superiors in Moscow: “She is modest, diligent, and brave. She is prepared to do anything for us, but unfortunately she’s not careful enough. This arises from the fact that she became accustomed to legal Party work… She takes up many things  at the same time. She is extremely honest with money (even parsimonious). One has to be very cautious when arranging to meet her, since she is one of the best known children’s photographers in England. We have to demand more precision and carefulness from her.  She has greatly improved in this respect in the period that she’s been connected with us because it was strictly demanded of her. Her occasional carelessness can also be explained by the fact that she is very shortsighted.”

Arnold’s mention of her carelessness probably refers to anxious days for both of them when Edith thought she had lost a little address book of Deutsch’s. They feared the worst, for if it had fallen into the wrong hands, the consequences could have been disastrous. To their enormous relief, it turned up again after three weeks; it had slipped between the couch cushions in Edith’s apartment, a spot where she had already looked several times.

Since her move to Swiss Cottage, she had in fact become more focused and also more careful. At first, upon their arrival in London, Edith had lived in Brixton with Alexander. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, he decided to join the International  Brigades to care for the wounded, and promised to return home after a couple of weeks. Edith trusted him, all the more so, since their son Tommy had just been born. But in reality, Alexander did not come back as promised. In fact, two years had already passed since he had left London.

The relative calm Edith had been experiencing was to change abruptly in the early morning hours of 5 March 1938. Two men rang the bell to her apartment. They looked just like the stereotype of English undercover agents: grey raincoats, black hats. Edith guessed they had been assigned to bring her the news of Alexander’s death: Mrs Tudor-Hart? Your husband has been killed in a Falangist bombardment.

The gentlemen produced their agency IDs and asked Edith to accompany them. They needed to ask her some questions.

“Questions? Who wants to question me? And what for?”

“We cannot give you any information about that. Come along.”

“I can’t leave. I have a child and my husband is away. My son is two years old and still sleeping. What will happen if he wakes up and I’m not here?”

In an hour, Fräulein Hilde Glücksmann would be arriving, the young woman from Vienna who had been helping Edith for some time now. She didn’t tell the two gentlemen about her, however. Besides, they were totally unmoved and continued to insist that Edith come with them. They ordered her into the back seat of a run-down Rover parked in front of the building and drove her to the centre of town. Asked where they were taking her, the two men remained silent. They chatted with each other about how cold it was that morning and how fortunate that a spot of sunshine was predicted for the afternoon. It was only when the car turned into Birdcage Walk, drove along St. James’s Park, and turned right into Queen Anne’s Gate, that Edith knew where they were headed: the headquarters of the secret service of His Majesty King George VI.

There a rattling paternoster lift brought them in slow motion to the top floor. Edith thought it would never end. She hated these old lifts. They had frightened her ever since childhood. In Vienna they were installed in almost every public building, including her school, the four-storey Frauenerwerbverein (Women’s Employment Society) on the Wiedner Gürtel. When she was a pupil there, she always used the stairs and never once set foot in the one-person cabins of the paternoster. (In retrospect I ask myself why it didn’t seem to bother Edith to ride the Ferris wheel with me.)

The two men led Edith down long corridors smelling sharply of cleaning agents and with leather-padded doors on the right and left. They reached a brightly-lit office and offered her a seat in an armchair, telling her to wait there.

They left her alone. She was not afraid but did not find it pleasant to be led off like a criminal. And she worried about whether Fräulein Hilde would arrive on time that morning. She hoped Tommy would not wake up while no one was there! And what could be their motive for bringing her in? Had Kim Philby attracted the attention of the Special Branch and fingered her as his recruiter? Very unlikely! Did it have to do with Alex? Had he done something wrong? Or with Arnold Deutsch, Alexander Orlov, Theodor Maly?

Kim Philby
Kim Philby: Edith took this picture in 1934, the year she introduced him to Arnold Deutsch

After half an hour had passed, the heavy door to the office where she was sitting opened. A very young and obviously high-ranking member of the secret police introduced himself as Stephen Baird, sat down at the desk, and politely asked the subject to confirm her identity as Edith Hart, née Suschitzky, born in Vienna on 28 August 1908.

“Yes, that’s me,” she answered in a firm voice, “but it’s Tudor-Hart, actually.”

“You’re probably wondering why you’re sitting here across from me in the headquarters of MI5, Mrs Hart.”

“Tudor-Hart. My husband comes from a noteworthy British family. His father is the renowned landscape painter Percyval Tudor-Hart…”

“Just as you please. May I show you this bill for a Leica camera and accessories, made out by you personally? It was purchased from you in June 1936.”

Percy Glading! In that same instant her stomach went ice cold.

“I don’t understand . . .” she said in a small voice.

“Here, look here: signed by Mrs Hart, 68 Acre Lane.” Stephen Baird showed her the bill.

“I live in Swiss Cottage, Alexandra Road, where I was picked up this morning, as you no doubt know. And as I said, my name is Tudor-Hart.”

“Please don’t take me for an idiot. In 1936 you still lived in Brixton, Acre Lane, and that’s when you sold this Leica and some accessories to one of your comrades in the CP. Isn’t that so. . .?”

“I’m a photographer. I quite often buy and sell cameras. I’m sorry, but I don’t recall all the individual sales.”

“I’m very sorry as well, for I must inform you that you are under suspicion of having given aid to a Soviet agent, whom we were able to apprehend just two days ago. In any event, it can mean a few years in jail for you . . .”

Percy Glading’s arrest was complete news to her! Since Maly and Deutsch had left, there was no longer an official Rezidentura in London and no couriers to carry assignments, news, or warnings. Edith and her comrade Bob Stewart, a charter member of the English Communist Party and an active messenger between London and the Comintern, were on their own and without their usual handlers. Edith said nothing. Her hands were shaking. Glading, a Communist Party member, was well-known to her. He worked in the state arms industry as a grinder at the Woolwich Arsenal and with four other comrades had begun to smuggle technical drawings of the newest weapons systems out of the factory, take them to a safe house in Holland Road in Kensington, and photograph them. Glading was acting on orders from the Comintern and at Arnold’s suggestion had bought the Leica from Edith for four pounds. Why on earth had he kept the original bill? How could he have been so careless? “Otto” always planned for all eventualities. He should have made absolutely sure that the bill was destroyed!

“Mrs Hart? I’m waiting for an answer,” Stephen Baird insisted.

“I don’t know anything about a Leica. I fear I can’t be of any help to you.”

“One of our very best agents – let’s call her Mrs X – shadowed Glading for months. She found the bill among his papers. She was present when he rented the apartment at 82 Holland Road. And she was there when a French couple visited the apartment a few days ago to photograph blueprints with your former camera, Mrs Hart. The French woman seemed extremely nervous. She took a great number of photographs and then passed the film on to a gentleman at Hyde Park Corner. Unfortunately, the lady slipped through our fingers, but that was the moment when Special Branch took Percy Glading into custody, and then yesterday, two more of his accomplices.”

“But. . .what has all that to do with me, if I may ask?”

“It was your camera that was used.”

“Most assuredly not!” The situation was an ominous reminder of Edith’s arrest in Vienna; she could already see herself sitting in a tiny cell in solitary confinement for months – or years? She began furiously asking herself questions. Who would be likely to take care of Tommy? The young woman who had worked for her for a few months now? Should Fräulein Hilde move into her apartment? Or would it be smarter to leave Tommy with Alex’s sister Beatrix?

“Forgive me, Mr Baird, but I have a two-year-old son. I left home this morning before he was awake and I have to get back to him as quickly as possible.”

“Then why not finally tell me whether the camera in question belonged – or still belongs – to you, Mrs Hart. Then I’ll be happy to let you go.”

Had her interlocutor suddenly given up, or was she just imagining things? Her file must contain the fact that Scotland Yard had expelled her in late 1930 for Communist activities. Or was Baird not connecting the two events on the assumption that her name was Hart and not Tudor-Hart?

Arnold had taught her: In an interrogation, deny everything without exception! No matter what they accuse you of, or how much proof they seem to have, deny it!

“I swear to you on my honour, sir, that I never owned that camera. I don’t understand how this – bill – could have come about. There has clearly been some mistake.”

“Are you prepared to put your signature on this statement, which we will get down in writing?”

Edith heaved an inner sigh of relief. Had he realised that he couldn’t prove anything against her? Had a miracle occurred?

“Of course,” she replied in a calm and friendly voice.

Stephen Baird typed half a page with astonishing speed. It said that Mrs Edith Hart gave her word of honour that she had never been the owner of said camera from the German firm of Leitz, which together with its bill had been found among Percy Glading’s effects. She signed it, taking care to make her handwriting look different than usual.

“I’ll walk you to the lift,” said Baird.

“Thanks, but I’d rather take the stairs.”

Edith felt reborn as she left the building at last. She ran along Broadway to St. James’s Park tube station. Seldom had she felt as happy as she did this morning. It took a long time to get to Swiss Cottage, but she didn’t care. She started running again on Alexandra Road when she heard distant screaming. She hoped it wasn’t coming from her building, her apartment. She rushed to her door, breathlessly unlocked it, and found Tommy standing stark naked in the front hall, crying, screaming, furious. Fräulein Glücksmann, otherwise so dependable, had not shown up on this of all mornings. The child threw himself into his mother’s arms, but despite all her efforts she was not able to dampen his piercing screams. It took an hour for him to grow quieter. She laid him in his crib and he soon fell asleep and slept into the afternoon.

A few weeks after their arrest for spying at the Woolwich Arsenal, Percy Glading and his accomplices were sentenced to six years in a maximum security prison. Edith, on the other hand, was never summoned back in the matter. Stephen Baird and his superior Maxwell Knight assumed that Glading represented an isolated case. They were quite proud of the successful unmasking of Glading carried out by their agent Mrs X (in reality, Olga Gray, born 1906 in Manchester). If they had investigated the case more thoroughly, taken Bob Stewart and Edith into custody, and tracked down their contacts in a large-scale operation, then it is very likely that the Cambridge Five would have been exposed long before they were able to cause real and serious damage to Great Britain.

This is an extract from Peter Stephan Jungk’s book Die Dunkelkammern der Edith Tudor-Hart: Geschichten eines Lebens (2015), translated by David Dollenmayer. Peter Stephan Jungk’s documentary Tracking Edith is distributed in the UK by Contemporary Films. Ltd.

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