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Walter G. Krivitsky
Walter Krivitsky in 1939
Walter Krivitsky in 1939
Born Samuel Ginsberg
(1899-06-28)June 28, 1899
Podwołoczyska (Pidvolochysk), then in Galicia, Austria-Hungary
Died 1941 (aged 41–42)
Washington, DC, USA
Cause of death bullet to the temple
Nationality Austrian (first), French (last)
Occupation spy, espionage, intelligence
Spouse(s) Antonina (AKA "Tonya Krivitsky" AKA "Tonia Krivitsky," AKA "Antonina Thomas")
Children Aleksandr ("Alek")

Walter Germanovich Krivitsky (Ва́льтер Ге́рманович Криви́цкий; June 28, 1899 – February 10, 1941)[1] was a Soviet intelligence officer who revealed plans of signing Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact before defecting weeks before the outbreak of World War II.


Early life

Born to Jewish parents as Samuel Ginsberg in Podwołoczyska (Pidvolochysk, then Galicia, Austria-Hungary), he adopted the name "Krivitsky" (a name based on the Slavic root for "crooked, twisted") as a revolutionary nom de guerre when he entered the Bolshevik intelligence around 1917.

He operated as an "illegal" (agent with false name and papers) in Germany, Poland, Austria, Italy and Hungary, and rose to the rank of control officer. He is credited with stealing plans for submarines and planes, intercepting Nazi-Japanese correspondence, and recruiting many agents, including Madame Lupescu and Noel Field.

In May 1937, Krivitsky was sent to The Hague to operate as the rezident, or regional control officer, operating under cover of an antiquarian. It appears that he coordinated intelligence operations throughout Western Europe.


At that time the General Staff of the Red Army was undergoing a purge in Moscow, which Krivitsky and close friend, Ignace Reiss, both abroad, found deeply disturbing. Reiss wanted to defect, but Krivitsky repeatedly held back.

Finally Reiss did defect, which he announced in a defiant letter to Moscow. Reiss' assassination in Switzerland in September 1937 prompted Krivitsky to defect the following month.

In Paris, Krivitsky began to write articles and made contact with Lev Sedov (Trotsky's son) and the Trotskyists. There he also met undercover Soviet spy Mark Zborowski, known as "Etienne," whom Sedov sent to protect him. Sedov died mysteriously in February 1938, but Krivitsky eluded attempts to kill or kidnap him while in France, including flight to Hyères.[2]

At the end of 1938, anticipating the Nazi conquest of Europe, Krivitsky sailed from France to the United States. With the help of journalist Isaac Don Levine and literary agent Paul Wohl, he produced an inside account of Stalin's underhanded methods called In Stalin's Secret Service (also published as I Was Stalin's Agent), published in 1939 after appearing first as a series in the Saturday Evening Post. (Note: the title appeared as a phrase in an article written by Reiss' wife on the first anniversary of her husband's assassination: "Reiss... had been in Stalin’s secret service for many years and knew what fate to expect."[3]) The book received a tepid review by the very influential New York Times.[4]

Violently attacked by the Left in America, Krivitsky was vindicated when a Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact (which he predicted) was signed in August 1939.

Caught between dedication to socialist ideals and detest of Stalin's methods, Krivitsky believed that it was his duty to inform. This decision caused him much mental anguish, as he impressed on American defector Whittaker Chambers. Krivitsky told Chambers, "In our time, informing is a duty" (recounted by Chambers in his autobiography, Witness).[5]

Krivitsky testified before the Dies Committee (later to become the House Un-American Activities Committee) in October 1939, and sailed as "Walter Thomas" to London in January 1940 to reveal secrets to British Military Intelligence, MI5. It is a matter of controversy whether he gave MI5 clues to the identity of Soviet agents Donald Maclean and Kim Philby. There is no doubt, however, that the NKVD learned of his testimony and initiated operations to silence him.

He soon returned to North America, landing in Canada. Always in trouble with the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, Krivitsky was not able to return to the United States until November 1940.

Krivitsky retained Louis Waldman to represent him on legal matters. (Waldman was a long-time friend of Isaac Don Levine.)


The August 1940 assassination of Trotsky in Mexico convinced him that he was now at the top of the NKVD hit list. His last two months in New York were filled with plans to settle in Virginia and to write, but also with doubts and dread. On February 10, 1941, at 9:30 a.m. he was found dead in the Bellevue Hotel (now The George[6]) in Washington, DC, by a chambermaid, with three suicide notes by the bed. His body was lying in a pool of blood, caused by a single bullet wound to the right temple from a .38-caliber revolver found grasped in Krivitsky's right hand. A report dated June 10, 1941,[7] indicates he had been dead for approximately 6 hours.

According to many sources,[5][8] (including Krivitsky himself)[9] he was murdered by Soviet intelligence,[10] but the official investigation, unaware of the NKVD manhunt, concluded that Krivitsky committed suicide.[11][12]

Two people with close ties to him later recounted opposite interpretations of his death.

Reiss' wife wrote:

In the United States, he had to make a new start in life, without knowing the country or the language. He did find friends, good friends, but among them he realized how frightfully alone he was... He lived in relative security and even affluence from the sale of his articles. His family was safe and well cared for, he had friends, it seemed he could start a new life. But something else had happened. For the first time he had the leisure to see himself in his new situation. He had broken with his old life and had not built a new one. He went to a hotel in Washington, wrote a letter to his wife and one to his friends, and put a bullet through his head... To those who knew his handwriting, his style, his expressions, there could be no doubt that the had written them.[13]

Chambers recounted his memoirs:

One night one of my close friends burst into my office at Time. He was holding a yellow tear-off that had just come over the teletype.
"They have murdered the General," he said . "Krivitsky has been killed."
Krivitsky's body had been found in a room in a small Washington hotel a few blocks from the Capitol . He had a room permanently reserved at a large downtown hotel where he had always stayed when he was in Washington. He had never stayed at the small hotel before. Why had he gone there?
He had been shot through the head and there was evidence that he had shot himself. At whose command? He had left a letter in which he gave his wife and children the unlikely advice that the Soviet Government and people were their best friends. Previously, he had warned them that, if he were found dead, never under any circumstances to believe that he had committed suicide. Who had forced my friend to write the letter? I remembered the saying: "Any fool can commit a murder, but it takes an artist to commit a good natural death."...
Krivitsky also told me something else that night. A few days before, he had taken off the revolver that he usually carried and placed it in a bureau drawer. His seven-year-old son watched him.
"Why do you put away the revolver?" he asked. "In America," said Krivitsky, "nobody carries a revolver." "Papa," said the child, "carry the revolver."[5]


At first news of his death, Whittaker Chambers found Krivitsky's wife Antonina ("Tonia" according to Kern, "Tonya" according to Chambers) and son Alek in New York City. He boarded them on a train to Florida, where they stayed with Chambers's family (who had already fled New Smyrna). Both families hid there several months, fearing further Soviet reprisals. The families then returned to Chambers's farm in Westminster, Maryland. Within a short time, however, Tonia and Alek returned to New York.[5]

Both wife and son lived in poverty for the rest of their lives.[citation needed] Son Alek died of a brain tumor in his early 30s, after serving in the US Navy and studying at Columbia University. Wife Tonia (who changed her surname legally to "Thomas") continued to live and work in New York City until retiring to Ossining, where she died aged 94 in 1996 in a nursing home.[1]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 [|Kern, Gary] (2004). A Death in Washington: Walter G. Krivitsky and the Stalin Terror. Enigma Books. pp. early life 3–12, Paul Wohl 20–23, 172–175, 314–317, 420–424, 448–454, especially 245–246; family's fate 400–401. ISBN 978-1-929631-25-4. 
  2. Krivitsky, Walter G. (1939). In Stalin’s secret service: An Expose of Russia’s Secret Policies by the Former Chief of the Soviet Intelligence in Western Europe. New York: Harper Brothers. pp. 290, 294. Retrieved 26 October 2012. 
  3. Reiss, Elsa (September 1938). "Ignace Reiss: In Memoriam". New International. pp. 276–278. Retrieved August 30, 2010. 
  4. The New York Times and Joseph Stalin, David Martin, March 9, 2008.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 [|Chambers, Whittaker] (1952). Witness. Random House. pp. 27, 36, 47, 59, 317-318, 381, 402, 436fn, 457, 459-463; informing 463; murder 207, 337, 485-486; fate of family 486-487. ISBN 0-89526-571-0. 
  6. "The George Hotel". Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group, LLC. 2012. Retrieved 26 October 2012. 
  7. "Venona: Soviet Espionage and The American Response 1939-1957 (footnote 18: Charles Runyon [Department of State, Memorandum for the File, "Walter Krivitsky," 10 June 1947)"]. Central Intelligence Agency. 1996. 
  8. Hyde, Jr., Earl M. (July 2003). Still Perplexed About Krivistky. New York: International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence (Volume 16, Issue 3). pp. 431, 438. ISBN 1521-0561 (electronic), 0885-0607 (paper). Retrieved September 11, 2010. 
  9. Large, David Clay, Between Two Fires: Europe's Path In The 1930s, New York: W.W. Norton & Co. (1991), ISBN 0-393-30757-3, ISBN 978-0-393-30757-3, p. 308: Just prior to his death, Krivitsky confided to his friend Sidney Hook and others that "if I am ever found apparently a suicide, you will know the NKVD caught up with me."
  10. Secret murders ordered from the Kremlin (Russian), Interview with Nikita Petrov, historian and vice-president of Memorial Society, at Echo Moskvy,
  11. Knight, Amy W. (2006). How the Cold War Began: The Igor Gouzenko Affair and the Hunt for Soviet Spies. Carroll & Graf. pp. 304, n. 6. ISBN 0-7867-1816-1. 
  12. "Files on Walter G. Krivitsky". Federal Bureau of Investigation. Archived from the original on 2004-08-10. 
  13. Poretsky, Elisabeth K. (1969). Our Own People: A Memoir of "Ignace Reiss" and His Friends. London: Oxford University Press. pp. 269–270. 


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