She was beautiful and looked fragile, but years of skiing had strengthened her body. She faced death many times without flinching. She also seduced virtually every male agent with whom she worked. After her death in 1952, a group of her lovers formed a club to protect her reputation. In the 1950’s, women who slept around were sluts, even if they were also war heroes.
Christine Granville (Krystyna Skarbek) was born in 1908 into an aristocratic Polish family. Her father, Count Jerzy Skarbek, married a Jewish heiress who converted to Catholicism. Jerzy soon resented his wife’s Jewish heritage which denied them access to the top tier of society and the fact that her money saved his ancestral estates from bankruptcy. He eventually abandoned her.
When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, Christine and her father fled to South Africa and then sailed to England. Her mother remained in Warsaw and later turned down Christine’s offers to smuggle her out of Warsaw. Her mother believed that her status as a Polish countess and a Catholic convert would protect her from the Nazis. It didn’t.
Christine offered her services to the British Secret Intelligence Service, later renamed the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Agents of SOE infiltrated Nazi-occupied Europe to spy on Nazi activities, commit acts of sabotage and support local resistance groups. Christine offered to serve as a liaison between the British and her contacts in the Polish resistance.
Christine’s earliest efforts to help Poland were stymied by the Polish resistance leaders. They didn’t trust her because she was an amateur and an agent of the British. So Christine joined forces with a childhood friend, Andrzej Kowerski, who had set up an escape organization based in Budapest, Hungary.
They smuggled spies into and out of Nazi-occupied Poland. They also helped Polish soldiers who had escaped from prisoner of war camps to get out of Poland, many on their way to England to join the Free Polish Forces. The British later estimated that in 1940, about 5,000 internees escaped from Nazi-occupied Poland using Kowerski’s escape routes through the mountains.
Most of the escape routes snaked through the Tatra Mountains on the Slovak-Polish border. They often traveled in Kowerski’s old Chevrolet which had a broken heater. During winter trips everyone in the car risked frostbite and had to dig the car out of snow drifts.
Christine relied on her skills as a skier to persuade a couple of agents to let her join them as they infiltrated Poland. They skied across the Tatra Mountains from Slovakia into Poland in the middle of winter. They survived a blizzard that killed a nearby Wehrmacht patrol searching for escapees.
A few days after the ski trip, Christine boarded a train for Warsaw with a packet of incriminating documents. To avoid suspicion, she began flirting with a Gestapo officer. She told him that her packet contained tea for her mother which she feared would be confiscated at the train station’s checkpoint. She asked the officer to take her packet until they were through the checkpoint, knowing he wouldn’t be searched. After they cleared the checkpoint, she retrieved her packet, waved goodbye to the Gestapo officer and went on her way.
On another trip over the Tatras, Christine and another agent were caught by the Slovakian border police. While Christine tearfully told the police a story of her tragic life, complete with a fable about escaping from an internment camp, her companion was able to destroy most of the incriminating evidence they had brought along. Hours later, when the Gestapo still hadn’t shown up to arrest the suspected spies, Christine and her companion staged a fight that allowed them to escape.
Eventually, Budapest became too dangerous for Christine and Kowerski and they fled to British-occupied Egypt. Their Budapest exploits enhanced their credibility with the British and led to many later assignments. Christine worked as a British spy in North Africa and in occupied France.
Along the way, she apparently seduced almost every male agent with whom she worked. Each man was enthralled by her beauty and charm and bravery. Several later named their daughters Christine in her honor. After her death in 1952, a group of them banded together to protect her reputation by suppressing all evidence of her promiscuity.
To learn more about the dangerous life of Christine Granville, see The Spy Who Loved, by Clare Mulley (2012)
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