Biography
Michał Wójcik
Baroness. On the Trail of Wanda Kronenberg

The story of a shockingly beautiful and dangerous secret agent

At the beginning of April, 1943, Anna confessed to a weakness in her report to the AK. She informed headquarters that she had been flirting with a certain American in Warsaw. This was George Scott, a well-known black musician. Before the war he was a force to be reckoned with. It was he who imported American jazz to Poland. He performed in Artur Gold’s swing band, then later he had his own group. He was the star of the Adria. Literally everybody was fascinated with his solos: prime ministers, officials, the whole crème de la crème. Scott didn’t only compose and perform, he also educated the Poles musically. After the outbreak of the war he remained in Warsaw and continued to perform, not just in the Adria. In the Chameleon Café, on the corner of Mokotowska and the Plac Zbawiciela, he conducted jazz mornings for a very chosen public. As Andrzej Łapicki recalled, ‘each Sunday, young people gathered in the Cameleon – the place where decisions were made about verdicts and other Underground activities. How the Germans permitted those performances in the café I still can’t figure out, to this very day. The band was fantastic. Scott directed it American-style…’

Scott also performed at the restaurant U Aktorek, on Mazowiecka. Here too the audience was select: the pre-war élites, patriots, members of the Underground. Was it there that Wanda met him? Their first contact was certainly of a private nature. The rest, not so. In her report to the AK Wanda revealed that Scott had been performing in the German Savoy club for some six months. It was there probably, that he met some well-positioned German who facilitated the regulation of his status as a foreigner before the outbreak of the war with the Americans in 1941. ‘In this way he avoided internment. He still holds on to his old American passport. Scott feels 100% American. He’s a very clever and worldly-wise man,’ she wrote before getting to the point. She revealed that she had been tasked by the Gestapo with spying on him. The walls were slowly closing in around him. (…)

Wanda requested the Underground to take the jazzman under its protection. However, she wrote in such a way so as not to reveal that there was anything between them. It was just a professional suggestion made in the course of her service as an agent: ‘If, however, he is politically engaged on behalf of the Anglo-Americans, it would be proper to warn him that the local Gestapo has its eye on him.’ Scott survived the occupation, and the Warsaw Uprising as well. How their acquaintance developed – is unknown. The American was not Wanda’s only male interest, however. In the end, I found what I was looking for. It’s a dramatic story of her relations with a certain young Pole. Was it love? I don’t know. Perhaps it was only a crush and, in her hazel eyes, he saw only a shark of the Underground, a giant of the conspiracy, a mistress of political intrigue? At any rate, he seems to have forgotten himself, until the warning system started to blare Pull up! Pull up! As a result, Wanda was able to wind him around her little finger, and for his erotic adventure, he paid a stiff price.

Excerpt translated by Charles S. Kraszewski

Biography
Michał Wójcik
Baroness. On the Trail of Wanda Kronenberg

The story of a shockingly beautiful and dangerous secret agent

Publisher: Znak Publishers, Kraków 2018
Translation rights: Znak Publishers, bolinska@znak.com.pl

As was the case in many cities during wartime, in Nazi-occupied Warsaw many intelligence agencies were at work: that of the Poles, associated with the Home Army (Armia Krajowa); those of the British and the Soviets, as well as more than one semi-private spy network. The Nazi special services, from the Gestapo to the Abwehr, did battle with them all. In such a labyrinth wandered a certain young, beautiful, and unscrupulous woman trying to survive – and maybe climb her way to the summit. Seventy years after the war, a Polish historian strives to find the thread of Ariadne, which will lead him to the heart of this maze.

The journalistic research undertaken by Michał Wójcik, a reporter who specialises in the history of the Second World War (his previous work Treblinka, concerning the armed uprising in the death camp, was awarded by Newsweek), can’t cross all the ’t’s and dot all the ’i’s; he can’t arrive at any solid final conclusions. But this is, perhaps, impossible in the face of such material as arises from the fluid game of spy vs. spy in a Warsaw gutted by the Warsaw Uprising.

The entanglement of Wanda Kronenberg began early: in September of 1939 when, along with her ‘wartime husband’ Witold Jasiłkowski, she landed in Lwów, which was then under Soviet occupation – and there, most likely, she began to collaborate with the NKVD. But even this prologue must be fitted out with the caveat ‘most likely’, which is all the more necessary considering all her later involvements: her return to Warsaw, still before the outbreak of the Nazi-Soviet war and all the consecutive stages of her cooperation with ever more professional German services, from the SiPo through the Gestapo to the Abwehr.

There were several such collaborators as she. The difference with her lies in the fact that, at the same time, Wanda advanced in parallel fashion through the ranks of the agents working on behalf of the Home Army. As a double agent, Wanda is, in both of her roles, strikingly authentic. One reason for this is the fact that she is never entirely professional. From the several reports of hers which have survived, written in a clumsy young hand and in the style of a 19, 20-year-old girl, we find her succumbing to bouts of megalomania, to infatuation, never comprehending for a moment the entire context of the mortal conflict, which – especially as far as Poland was concerned – was the world war. Wanda was head-over-heels fascinated with the game.

How was it possible that organisations so professional as the Abwehr, the Home Army, and – it cannot be entirely discounted – the British and Soviet secret services failed to notice her inconsistencies, the misrepresentations, in her reports?

This story is something of a melodramatic film noir, like The Maltese Falcon. The author masterfully toys with the pathos, again and again deciding on such campy phrases as ‘the empty eye-sockets of death.’ However, in those places where Wójcik succeeded in arriving at important research discoveries, he presents them with an icy logic.

Wojciech Stanisławski, translated by Charles S. Kraszewski

Publisher: Znak Publishers, Kraków 2018
Translation rights: Znak Publishers, bolinska@znak.com.pl

Selected samples

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