Mar­cus Kling­berg

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - JULIE CAR­BONARA


AS SPY sto­ries go, Mar­cus Kling­berg’s life is up there with Le Carré’s best ef­forts. Even be­fore he gained fame as the high­est-rank­ing Soviet spy to be caught in Is­rael, Kling­berg’s life had been packed with drama and achieve­ments. A Pol­ish-born epi­demi­ol­o­gist, he served in the Red Army Med­i­cal Corps dur­ing the Se­cond World War and em­i­grated to Is­rael in 1948. There he held se­nior po­si­tions in the Is­rael De­fence Forces’ Depart­ment of Preven­tive Medicine be­fore leav­ing it in 1957 to be­come deputy di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Bi­o­log­i­cal Re­search at Ness Ziona, a top-se­cret lab­o­ra­tory that de­vel­oped chem­i­cal and bi­o­log­i­cal weapons.

As well as work­ing at Ness Ziona, Kling­berg taught epi­demi­ol­ogy and was in charge of preven­tive and so­cial medicine at Tel Aviv Univer­sity; he was also an ex­pert on birth de­fects, es­pe­cially those caused by thalido­mide and the 1976 diox­ine-re­lated disas­ter in Seveso, Italy.

Sand­wiched be­tween aca­demic pa­pers and con­fer­ences, Kling­berg man­aged to fit in a ca­reer as a top Soviet spy, code name Rok (which trans­lates as “fate” in Rus­sian). Rok would leave coded mes­sages scrawled on a wall in Tel Aviv to ar­range a rendez-vous with his han­dler, Vik­tor. They would meet in a Rus­sian Ortho­dox church where se­crets would be ex­changed while re­fresh­ments and vodka were con­sumed.

For sev­eral years Kling­berg suc­ceeded in lead­ing a merry dance around Is­rael’s sharp-eyed se­cret ser­vices even if twice — in 1965 and 1976 — he was brought in and ques­tioned. He was sub­se­quently re­leased, once even pass- ing a poly­graph (a lie de­tec­tor test).

His luck fi­nally run out in 1982 but it took a dou­ble agent to un­mask him. His cap­ture was a cloak-and-dag­ger af­fair in­volv­ing a top-se­cret trip to Sin­ga­pore where his know-how was sup­pos­edly needed fol­low­ing a chem­i­cal plant ex­plo­sion.

But in­stead of be­ing taken to the air­port on Jan­uary 19 1983 Kling­berg was de­liv­ered to a se­cret lo­ca­tion in Tel Aviv where, af­ter six days of in­ter­ro­ga­tions, he fi­nally cracked and con­fessed to pass­ing se­cret in­for­ma­tion to the Soviet Union.

How­ever, he was adamant that his rea­son for do­ing so had been purely ide­o­log­i­cal and at no time had he re­ceived any pay­ment for his ser­vices. A deeply com­mit­ted com­mu­nist, he felt he owed a debt to the Soviet Union that, in his opin­ion, had saved the world from Nazi dom­i­na­tion. He was con­demned to 20 years in jail — the first 10 he would serve in soli­tary con­fine­ment — and his fate re­mained a state se­cret for years. Even in his high se­cu­rity prison in Ashkelon no­body knew his real iden­tity; in­stead he be­came Abra­ham Grin­berg, editor of a so­cial sci­ence jour­nal. It was only in 1993 that the Is­raelis ac­knowl­edged he was in jail.

Var­i­ous at­tempts to se­cure his re­lease failed and he served 15 years be­fore be­ing paroled and placed un­der house ar­rest. On com­ple­tion of his sen­tence, in 2003, he was al­lowed to em­i­grate to France where his daugh­ter lived, on the pro­viso that he never spoke about his work at Ness Ziona.

Abra­ham Marek (Mar­cus) Kling­berg was born into an Ortho­dox Jewish fam­ily but be­came sec­u­lar at an early age. He orig­i­nally stud­ied medicine at War­saw Univer­sity but left Poland for the Soviet Union in 1939, urged on by his father who, ac­cord­ing to his mem­oir, told him: “At least one of us has

Mar­cus Kling­berg: Cold War Soviet agent who dis­liked weapons se­crecy to re­main alive.” It would prove sadly pre­scient as Kling­berg’s par­ents and younger brother would all die at Tre­blinka in 1942.

He com­pleted his med­i­cal stud­ies in Minsk and trained as an epi­demi­ol­o­gist be­fore vol­un­teer­ing and serv­ing as a med­i­cal of­fi­cer in the Red Army on the front line un­til 1941, when he was wounded.

He went back to Poland af­ter the war to work as an epi­demi­ol­o­gist for the Min­istry of Health and mar­ried mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gist Wanda Yashin­skaya (real name Ad­jia Eis­man), a sur­vivor of the War­saw ghetto.

They later em­i­grated to Swe­den and sub­se­quently to Is­rael where Kling­berg was soon jug­gling two par­al­lel ca­reers — one in the field of epi­demi­ol­ogy and preven­tive medicine — the other as a Soviet spy.

It is un­clear when Kling­berg’s life as a spy be­gan: he sup­pos­edly told his Is­raeli in­ter­roga­tors that he started work­ing for the Rus­sians in 1957 — and only un­der duress — but in his mem­oirs he said he was re­cruited in 1950. How­ever, it is widely be­lieved that his con­tacts with the Sovi­ets go back to his time in Swe­den and that he was al­ready one of them by the time he em­i­grated to Is­rael.

In spite of call­ing his mem­oirs (cowrit­ten with his lawyer Michael Sfard in 2007), The Last Spy, Kling­berg re­peat­edly stated that he didn’t think of him­self as a spy, as he strongly be­lieved that in­for­ma­tion about weapons should not be se­cret.

In 2010 he went even fur­ther: “I have never re­gret­ted my mod­est at­tempt dur­ing the Cold War to un­der­mine what I be­lieved to be the dan­gers as­so­ci­ated with im­bal­ances in sci­en­tific knowl­edge.”

Even af­ter the fall of the Soviet Union, his faith in com­mu­nism never fal­tered. Is­rael may have given him a home, liveli­hood and sta­tus but his heart be­longed to the Soviet Union. It was to that coun­try, he said, that “I owe my life, my ca­reer in epi­demi­ol­ogy and my most use­ful work; but, above all, the op­por­tu­nity to fight fas­cism.”

Mar­cus Kling­berg is sur­vived by his daugh­ter Sylvia and grand­son Ian. His wife pre­de­ceased him.


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