Soviet Spy Marcus Klingberg, of Blessed Memory, Stood on the Wrong Side of History

The Soviet spy stood at the major crossroads of Jewish history on the 'wrong' side, and did so with courage and genius. With pride.

Yitzhak Laor
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Avraham Marcus Klingberg released from Israeli prison. 1998.
Avraham Marcus Klingberg released from Israeli prison. 1998.Credit: AFP
Yitzhak Laor

Mordechai Vanunu was convicted of espionage and is still being tortured by the government, but Mordechai Vanunu was not a spy. He was convicted of espionage. And perhaps one day his judges will take themselves to account for accepting the government’s scandalous definition of his deeds.

Abraham Marcus Klingberg was a spy – arrested as a spy, tried as a spy, behind closed doors. It is not known what exactly took place between him and his interrogators.

Part of his life was a double one. On the one hand, he held a senior position in one of the infamous institutions of the State of Israel, after he had already been a senior officer in the Israel Defense Forces, a brilliant scientist. Afterwards he disappeared. None of his colleagues from Tel Aviv University medical school asked in public how a full professor disappeared in the middle of the year. The newspaper editors obeyed the gag order against publicizing his arrest. When he was brought to the hospital in handcuffs after a stroke, the good doctor, an immigrant woman from the Soviet Union, realized he was Prisoner X and, in tears, sent him on his way. He had spied out of faith, for the benefit of the country that had taught her all about making people disappear.

The security services assumed that he would die during his 20-year prison sentence, but he survived the awful Ashkelon Prison. While he was still there the great power that he had served collapsed, a historic monster to which he had given secrets about Israel’s monstrous biological warfare capabilities. Anyone who accuses post-modernists of moral relativism, of denying absolute good and evil, doesn’t understand that this relativism is dictated by the world in which we live.

Are Klingberg’s colleagues in the Nes Tziona institute heroes? And what makes Jonathan Pollard a hero and Klingberg a villain? Scales of values. In one of them money is very important. And nationalism. And on another scale this nationalism, which in any case has become morally bankrupt, now rules among us by means of the law, but in the form of the brutal, oppressive soldier in the occupied territories. Klingberg betrayed his colleagues and his community. He was loyal to the Soviet Union, in whose ranks he fought against the Nazis.

In prison he read also my writing. When he left prison for house arrest after 18 years, he asked to meet with me. I hurried. Afterwards we met again, in Paris. Those hours were wonderful; one of the most impressive people I have ever met. He had a phenomenal memory, was an amusing raconteur. His stories from prison were amazing, about communicating with Vanunu (by shouting through the walls) and about a conversation with the killer Shmaya Angel; about his daily, isolated walk in the yard; about conversations with the prison doctor, who was happy to learn from this very learned man; and perhaps, something that will anger his enemies most of all: When he was brought to Ashkelon Prison, and despite all the secrecy and the false identity, the Palestinian prisoners from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine were able, in honor of November 7, the anniversary of the Russian Revolution, to send him, from cell to cell, a cake with a red flag in it.

He was an officer in the Red Army. Larger than life. A Polish Jew, grandson of a rabbi, who parted from his parents and his brother after the Nazi occupation of Poland and never saw them again. They were incinerated in Treblinka. In a Parisian café he told me, “I actually wanted to be a writer. Do you know to whom I gave a notebook with my first stories?” I didn’t know, and he brought up that distant memory. “To Janusz Korczak, in Warsaw, in 1939.” Klingberg stood at the major crossroads of Jewish history on the “wrong” side, and did so with courage and genius. With pride.

His wife, Wanda, who survived the war in the “Aryan” part of Warsaw, at first didn’t want for them to come here from Sweden. Nor did she want to live in a Palestinian house in Jaffa, of the kind that were given to IDF officers. She was rescued from here and died in Paris, while he was still in Ashkelon Prison. On Friday his ashes were interred next to hers in the Pere Lachaise cemetery. He was 97 at his death, and it’s permissible to say “of blessed memory,” a loving son of tragic Jewish history.

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