Ignace Reiss
Ignace Reiss
Allegiance Soviet Union
Active 1919–1937
Award(s) Order of the Red Banner
Codename(s) Ignace Reiss
  Ignatz Reiss
  Ignatius S. Reiss
  Ignace Poretsky
  Hans Eberhardt
  Steff Brandt

Birth name Nathan Markovic Poreckij
Born 1899
Died Template:Death year and age
Cause of
strangulation and/or machine gun
Religion atheist
Spouse Elsa Bernaut (AKA "Else Bernaut" AKA "Elisabeth K. Poretsky," AKA "Elsa Reiss")
Children Roman
Occupation spy
Alma mater Faculty of Law, University of Vienna

Ignace Reiss, AKA "Ignace Poretsky,"[1] "Ignatz Reiss,"[2] "Ludwig,"[3] "Ludwik",[1] "Hans Eberhardt,"[4] "Steff Brandt,"[5] and Nathan Poreckij[6] (1899–1937) was one of the "Great Illegals" or Soviet spies who worked in third party countries where they weren't nationals in the late 1920s and 1930s.[7] An NKVD team assassinated him in September 1937 near Lausanne, Switzerland, a few weeks after he declared his defection in a letter addressed to Joseph Stalin.[7][8] He was a lifelong friend of Walter Krivitsky; his assassination influenced the timing and method of Whittaker Chambers' defection a few months later.

Career[edit | edit source]

Early life[edit | edit source]

Reiss was born Nathan Markovic Poreckij[6] in 1899 into a Jewish family in Podwołoczyska (Pidvolochysk),[9][10] then in Galicia, Austria-Hungary, just across the river from Volochysk, then in Podolia, Tsarist Russia (now both in Ukraine). His mother was "Russian" from "across the river." His father had his elder brother and him educated in Lwow (modern Lviv), the provincial capital. There, he formed lifelong friendships with several other boys, all of whom would become committed Communist spies. These boys included Kalyniak, Willy Stahl, Berchtold Umansky ("Brun"), his brother Mikhail Umansky ("Misha," later "Ilk"), Fedia (later "Fedin"), and the young Walter Krivitsky (born Samuel Ginsberg). During World War I, the friends traveled when they could to Vienna, where they gathered around Fedia and his girlfriend Krusia. The name Krusia (also "Kruzia") became a codename between these friends in later years. Reiss also visited Leipzig, Germany, to meet German Socialists: there, he met Gertrude Schildbach, later involved in his assassination. He earned a degree from the Faculty of Law, University of Vienna.[6] In 1918, he returned to his hometown, where he worked for the railway. (His older brother was killed during the Polish-Soviet War in 1920.)[1]

Fourth Department: "Ludwig"[edit | edit source]

In early 1919, Reiss joined the newly formed Polish Communist Party (the Communist Workers' Party of Poland or KPRP), since his hometown had become part of the Second Polish Republic. The KPRP adhered closely to the policies of Rosa Luxemburg. Julian Marchlewski (AKA "Karski") represented the KPRP at the Third International in March 1919.[1]

By the summer of 1919, he had received a summons to Vienna, Austria, where he moved quickly from work with agencies of the newly formed Comintern to "Fourth Department of the General Staff"—which became the Soviet GRU. He then conducted party work in Poland. There he met Joseph Krasny-Rotstadt, a friend of both Rosa Luxemburg (already dead) and (more importantly) of fellow Pole Felix Dzerzhinsky. Having fought in the Bolshevik Revolution, Krasny was already directing propaganda for Eastern Europe. During this time, Reiss published a few articles as "Ludwig" in one of Krasny's publications, called The Civil War.

In early 1920, Reiss was in Moscow, where he met and married his wife, Elisabeth (also called "Elsa"). During the Russian-Polish War in 1920, Willy Stahl and he received their first assignment, Lwow, where they distributed illegal Bolshevik literature. By 1921, as he took on the alias "Ludwig" (or "Ludwik" in his wife's memoirs), Reiss had become a Soviet spy, originally for the GPU/OGPU, and later the NKVD. In 1922, he was again working in Lwow, this time with another friend of Fedia and Krusnia's from Vienna, Jacob Locker. Elisabeth was in Lwow, too. Reiss was arrested and charged with espionage, which carried a maximum five-year sentence. En route to prison, Reiss escaped his train in Cracow, never to return to Poland.[1]

From 1921 to 1929, Reiss served in Western Europe, particularly Berlin and Vienna. In Berlin, their house guests included Karl Radek and Larissa Reisner, ex- wife of Fedor Raskolnikov (a Naval officer who chronicled the Kronstadt rebellion).[11] In Vienna, friends included Yuriy Kotsiubynsky, Alexander Schlichter, Angelica Balabanov, Paul Ruegg, Ivan Zaporozhets, Alexander Lykov, and Emil Maurer. In Amsterdam, Reiss and his wife knew Henriette Roland-Holst, Hildo Krop, Princess Juliana of the Netherlands, "Professor Carvalho" (Ricardo Carvalho Calero), "H. C. Pieck" (Henri Pieck), and most importantly "Henricus" or "Henryk Sneevliet" (Henk Sneevliet).[1] In this same period, Richard Sorge brought Hede Massing to Reiss for training.[3]

In 1927, he returned briefly to Moscow, where he received the Order of the Red Banner. From 1929 to 1932, Reiss served in Moscow, where he worked in a nominal post of the Polish section of the Comintern—already sidelined as a "foreign" (non-Russian). Among the people whom Reiss and wife knew at that time were Richard Sorge (AKA "Ika"), Sorge's superior, Alexander Borovich, Felix Gorski, Otto Braun, Max Maximov-Friedman, Franz Fischer, Pavlo Ladan, and Theodore Maly. Valentin Markin reported to Reiss in Moscow, who in turn reported to Abram Slutsky.[1]

Defection and assassination (1937)[edit | edit source]

From 1932 to 1937, Reiss was stationed in Paris. There, Reiss and his wife met Egon Erwin Kisch, Alexander Rado, Noel Field, Vasily Zarubin ("Vasia"), Yakov Blumkin, Boris Bazarov, J. K. Berzin (Jānis Bērziņš), and Arthur Stavchevsky.[1] By 1936, their friends were returning to Moscow one after the other, most of whom were shot or disappeared during the Great Purge. Reiss himself received a summons back to Moscow, but allowed his wife to travel there in his stead in late 1936, staying into early 1937. In early 1937, Krivitsky was recalled but managed to finagle his way out again on foreign assignment.[1]

Upon Krivitsky's return, Reiss composed a letter to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, addressed to Stalin and dated July 17, 1937. He returned the Order of the Red Banner with his letter, stating that to wear the medal "simultaneously with the hangmen of the best representatives of the Russian worker" was beneath his dignity.[12] He went on to condemn the excesses of Stalin's purges and the actions of Soviet state security services.[1] While criticizing Stalin and Yezhov, Reiss promised not to reveal any state security secrets.[13]

Reiss then fled with his wife and child to the remote village of Finhaut, Valais canton, Switzerland, to hide. After they had been hiding for a month, they were contacted by Gertrude Schildbach at the instruction of Roland Lyudvigovich Abbiate, alias Francois Rossi, alias Vladimir Pravdin, codename LETCHIK ("Pilot"), a Russian expatriate, citizen of Monaco, and a Soviet NKVD agent. Schildbach was a German Communist refugee who was persuaded to write to Reiss to request a meeting and ask his advice. Schildbach refused a request by Abbiate to give Reiss a box of chocolates filled with strychnine, but agreed to set up the meeting. On September 4, Reiss agreed to meet Schildbach in Lausanne. His wife and son Roman boarded a train for Territet, Vaud canton, Switzerland. Reiss stayed with Schildbach before he was to board a train for Rheims to meet Sneevliet, who was to publish Reiss's letter and news of his defection. Then he would rejoin his family in Territet. He never made his train to Rheims.[1]

As Reiss's wife Elisabeth (Elsa) related in her memoirs, she went to Vevey to meet Schildbach again on September 5, but the woman never showed up. On September 6, she saw a small article in a Lausanne newspaper about a dead man with a Czech passport in the name of "Hans Eberhardt" found dead on the night of September 4 on the road from Lausanne to Chamblandes. She later identified the body carrying Eberhardt's passport as that of her husband.

Reiss using the alias Eberhardt was lured by Schildbach onto a side road near Lausanne where Roland Abbiate was waiting for him with a Soviet PPD-34 submachine gun.[14] Realizing what whas about to happen, Reiss lunged for Schildbach, grabbing a lock of her hair before Abbiate shot him. Reiss was hit by fifteen bullets from Abbiate's submachine gun, killing him instantly.[15] The two then dumped Reiss's body on the side of the road.[1][16] Later police investigations revealed that a long strand of grey hair was found clutched in the hand of the dead man. In his pockets were a passport in the name of Hans Eberhardt and a railway ticket for France. An American-brand automobile, abandoned on 6 September at Geneva, was found to contain abandoned clothing, which led to the identification of two men and a woman. One of the men was Roland Abbiate, who had registered on 4 September at the Hotel de la Paix in Lausanne with Schildbach, the two had fled without their baggage and without paying their bill.[17] The woman was none other than Gertrude Schildbach, of German nationality, a resident of Rome, and in reality a Soviet OGPU agent in Italy.[17] The other man was Etienne-Charles Martignat, born in 1900 at Culhat in the Puy-de-Dôme, living since 1931 at No 18 Avenue de Anatole France, Clichy, Paris.[17][18] Among the effects left by Schildbach at the hotel was a box of chocolates containing strychnine.[17] Soon thereafter, a deposit in a Swiss bank was made in Gertrude Schildbach's name in the amount of 100,000 Swiss francs.[19] However, as France's Popular Front Government of the period did not wish to upset diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and Stalin, no arrests or announcement of the results of the police investigation were made at the time.[20]

In a 1951 French Ministry of Interior study titled A Soviet Counter-espionage Network Abroad: the Reiss Case, the French government analyzed the actions of Soviet state security forces involved in Reiss's abduction and liquidation. Published on 20 September, the study concluded that "the assassination of Ignace Reiss on 4 September 1937 at Chamblandes near Lausanne, Switzerland, is an excellent example of the observation, surveillance and liquidation of a `deserter' from the Soviet secret service."[citation needed]

Aftermath[edit | edit source]

On the first anniversary of Reiss's assassination, his wife (as "Elsa Reiss") described their situation:

He would wait no longer, he had made up his mind. And now I tried to dissuade him from being over-impulsive, to talk things over with other comrades. I was justifiably afraid for his life. I pleaded with him not to walk out alone, to make the break along with other comrades but he only said: “One can count on nobody. One must act alone and openly. One cannot trick history, there is no point in delay.” He was correct – one is alone. It was a release for him but also a break with everything that had hitherto counted with him, with his youth, his past, his comrades. Now we were completely alone. In those few weeks Reiss aged very rapidly, his hair became snow-white. He who loved nature and cherished life looked about him with empty eyes. He was surrounded by corpses. His soul was in the cellars of the Lubianka. In his sleep-torn nights he saw an execution or a suicide.[21]

Family[edit | edit source]

Between 1920 and 1922, Reiss married Elsa Bernaut (AKA "Else Bernaut" AKA "Elisabeth K. Poretsky," AKA "Elsa Reiss") (1898-1976[22]) in Moscow; at times, Reiss used her maiden name as another alias.[1][23] (In French, her book received the title Les nôtres by "Elisabeth K. Poretski" in the Bibliothèque nationale de Paris[24] and by "Elizaveta Poretskaya" in The Black Book of Communism.[25])

They had one child, a boy named Roman, born around 1926.[22]

Influence[edit | edit source]

1952: Witness, by Whittaker Chambers[edit | edit source]

Reiss appears in the 1952 memoirs of Whittaker Chambers, Witness: his assassination in July 1937 was perhaps the last straw that caused him not only to defect but to make careful preparations when doing so.

Suddenly, revolutionists with a lifetime of devoted activity would pop out, like rabbits from a burrow, with the G.P.U. close on their heels—Barmine from the Soviet legation in Athens, Raskolnikoff from the Soviet legation in Sofia, Krivitsky from Amsterdam, Reiss from Switzerland. Not that Reiss fled. Instead, a brave and a lonely man, he sent his single-handed defiance to Stalin: Murderer of the Kremlin cellars, I herewith return my decorations and resume my freedom of action. But defiance is not enough; cunning is needed to fight cunning. It was foredoomed that sooner or later the door of a G.P.U limousine would swing open and Reiss's body with the bullets in the defiant brain would tumble out—as happened shortly after he deserted. Of the four I have named, only Barmine outran the hunters. Reiss's death moved me deeply.[2]

Compared to Reiss, Chambers considered far more carefully how to elude the Soviets when he defected in April 1938, as described in Witness.

1995: Ignace Reiss, by Daniel Kunzi[edit | edit source]

Swiss filmmaker Daniel Kunzi made a 53-minute documentary film called Ignace Reiss: Vie et mort d'un révolutionnaire about Reiss's life and death, following several years of research. The film includes testimonials, historical footage, a reconstruction of his assassination, all narrated by readings from his wife's memoirs.[26][27]

Participating in the film are:

1998: Fear of Mirrors, by Tariq Ali[edit | edit source]

"Ludwik" forms the background history of Tariq Ali's 1998 novel Fear of Mirrors, set during German reunification in 1990. Ali was fascinated by the story of Ignace Reiss: "Ludwik became an obsession with me."[22]

See also[edit | edit source]

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Reiss's inner circle[edit | edit source]

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Reiss's assassins[edit | edit source]

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Reiss's outer circle[edit | edit source]

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References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 Poretsky, Elisabeth K. (1969). Our Own People: A Memoir of "Ignace Reiss" and His Friends. London: Oxford University Press. pp. 1–2 (Letter), 7–26 (Childhood), 27–36 (Polish Party), 37–52 (Lwow), 53–71 (Berlin/Vienna), 72-85 (Prague/Amsterdam), 86-129 (Moscow), 103-107 (Richard Sorge), 130-155 (Europe), 156-207 (Moscow), 208-226 (Switzerland), 243-270 (Afterward), 271-274 (Epilogue). http://lccn.loc.gov/70449412. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 [|Chambers, Whittaker] (1952). Witness. New York: Random House. pp. 36 ("like rabbits from a burrow"), 47, 461. ISBN 52-5149. http://lccn.loc.gov/52005149. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Massing, Hede (1951). This Deception. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce. pp. 98 et al.. http://lccn.loc.gov/51002483. 
  4. Krivitsky, Walter; Isaac Don Levine (1939). In Stalin's Secret Service. New York: Harper & Brothers. pp. 252. http://lccn.loc.gov/40027004. 
  5. [|Kern, Gary] (2004). A Death in Washington: Walter G. Krivitsky and the Stalin Terror. Enigma Books. pp. Natan 80, Steff Brandt 122 and 438. ISBN 978-1-929631-25-4. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 "Reiss, Ignatius". Project Chronos. http://www.hrono.info/biograf/bio_r/reys_i.php. Retrieved September 8, 2010. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Pg 58 - Duff, William E.. A time for spies: Theodore Stephanovich Mally and the era of the great illegals (when ed.). Vanderbilt University Press. p. 58. ISBN 978-0-8265-1352-6. - Total pages: 249 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "name" defined multiple times with different content
  8. "ICL Decrees: No More "Reiss Factions"". internationalist.org. March 2001. http://www.internationalist.org/reissfactions0301.html. Retrieved September 5, 2010. 
  9. Template:Cite map
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  11. Raskolnikov, Feodor F. (1918). Tales of Sub-Lieutenant Ilyin. Sovetskaia Literatura. http://www.marxists.org/history/ussr/government/red-army/1918/raskolnikov/ilyin/index.htm. Retrieved August 30, 2010. 
  12. Duff, William E., A time for spies: Theodore Stephanovich Mally and the era of the great illegals, Vanderbilt University Press, ISBN 0-8265-1352-2 (1999), p. 170
  13. Reiss, Elsa, Ignace Reiss: In Memoriam, New International, Vol.4 No.9, September 1938, pp.276-278
  14. Andrew, Christopher, and Mitrokhin, Vasili, The sword and the shield: the Mitrokhin archive and the secret history of the KGB, New York: Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-00312-5 (1999), pp. 78-79
  15. Rosmer, Alfred, Serge, Victor, and Wullens, Maurice, L'Assassinat d'Ignace Reiss, Les Humbles, April 1938: Reiss was found with five bullets in the head and seven in the body
  16. Barmine, Alexander, One Who Survived: The Life Story of a Russian Under the Soviets, New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons (1945), reprinted Read Books (2007), ISBN 1-4067-4207-4, ISBN 978-1-4067-4207-7
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 Rosmer, Alfred, Serge, Victor, and Wullens, Maurice, L'Assassinat d'Ignace Reiss, Les Humbles, April 1938
  18. Dewar, Hugo, Assassins at Large: Being a Fully Documented and Hitherto Unpublished Account of the Executions Outside Russia Ordered by the GPU, London: Wingate Press (1951
  19. Duff, William E., A time for spies: Theodore Stephanovich Mally and the era of the great illegals, Vanderbilt University Press, ISBN 0-8265-1352-2 (1999), p. 169: It is unknown whether Schildbach ever drew out this money as she was never seen again.
  20. The Spymaster's Son, The Guardian UK, 20 February 1999
  21. Reiss, Elsa (September 1938). "Ignace Reiss: In Memoriam". New International. pp. 276–278. http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/ni/vol04/no09/reiss.htm. Retrieved August 30, 2010. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 [|Ali, Tariq] (February 20, 1999). "The spymaster's son". Guardian (Manchester: Guardian News and Media Limited). http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/1999/feb/20/weekend7.weekend1. Retrieved August 30, 2010. 
  23. "Chapter 4: Counter-intelligence Between the Wars: Attorney General Harlan Stone's Reforms". American Counterintelligence Reader: American Revolution to World War II. Federation of American Scientists (FAS). http://www.fas.org/irp/ops/ci/docs/ci1/ch4b.htm. Retrieved August 30, 2010. 
  24. "Elisabeth K. Poretski". Biblioteque nationale de France. http://catalogue.bnf.fr/servlet/biblio?idNoeud=1&ID=35507469&SN1=0&SN2=0&host=catalogue. Retrieved 19 February 2011. 
  25. Stéphane Courtois, ed. (1999). The Black Book of Communism. Harvard University Press. p. 293. http://books.google.com/books?id=H1jsgYCoRioC&lpg=PA293&dq=%22elizaveta%20poretskaya%20gives%22&pg=PA293#v=onepage&q=%22elizaveta%20poretskaya%20gives%22&f=false. Retrieved 19 February 2011. 
  26. "Ignace Reiss". ArtFilm.ch. http://www.artfilm.ch/ignacereiss?lang=e. Retrieved September 2, 2010. 
  27. "Ignace Reiss". Societe Productions Maison (DanielKunzi.ch). http://www.danielkunzi.ch/?page_id=142. Retrieved September 2, 2010. 
  28. "Ignace Reiss" (PDF). PetiteFleur.net. http://www.petitefleur.net/DanielKunzi/wp-content/uploads/pdf/Ignace_Reiss_montage.pdf. Retrieved September 2, 2010. 
  29. "Ignace Reiss". San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. http://www.sfjff.org/film/biography?id=1517&last=Kunzi&first=Daniel&role=Director. Retrieved September 2, 2010. 

External references[edit | edit source]

Writings of Reiss's wife[edit | edit source]

Elsa Reiss[edit | edit source]

Elsa Bernaut[edit | edit source]

Elisabeth K. Poretsky[edit | edit source]

Other references[edit | edit source]

de:Ignaz Reiss fr:Ignace Reiss pl:Ignacy Porecki ru:Рейсс, Игнатий Станиславович

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