Spies like her
A biography of a uniquely brave and complicated patriot
IN 1939, according to British Secret Service records, “a flaming Polish patriot…expert skier and great adventuress…absolutely fearless” submitted a courageous plan to the British. She was to ski into Nazi-occupied Poland from Hungary, over the Tatra mountain range dividing the two countries. Poland had fallen to the Germans, and the woman proposed to take British propaganda into Warsaw to bolster the Polish spirit of resistance. She would then ski back out with secret information about the disposition of German SS and Wermacht units around the capital.
The woman was Krystyna Skarbek, a glamorous, resourceful and extraordinarily brave Pole, who had been a Warsaw beauty-queen candidate at 19, and then married a feckless but charming Polish aristocrat. In 1939, determined to help her country, she immediately travelled to London and demanded to be taken on by the British Secret Intelligence Service’s Section ‘D’. This was to become the Special Operations Executive, or SOE, in 1940, tasked with sabotage and undercover missions in Axis-controlled Europe.
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