This Revolutionary Israeli Woman Married a Spy – Only to Learn That Her Father Is One, Too

Sylvia Klingberg, whose father, Marcus Klingberg, revealed secrets to the Russians, and whose husband, Udi Adiv, revealed secrets to Syrians, died this month in France

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Sylvia Klingberg
Sylvia KlingbergCredit: From the Facebook page of Ian Brossat
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

The life of Sylvia Klingberg, who died this month in France, revolved around two spies. One of them was her father, Marcus Klingberg, who has been described as Israel’s greatest traitor after he revealed state secrets to the KGB. The second, Ehud “Udi” Adiv, her lover and for a brief period her husband, was a prominent member of a Jewish-Arab espionage and terrorism network.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 45

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To her friends, she was a “revolutionary beauty.” But her enemies called her by derogatory names that are unpublishable.

Her father Marcus, or Marek in Polish, was born in Warsaw. He served as a doctor in the Russian army during World War II. His parents, siblings and grandparents were murdered at Treblinka during the war. Sylvia’s mother, Wanda, was a Holocaust survivor from Poland who escaped death by assuming a false Christian identity in Warsaw. Her parents and siblings also died in the Holocaust.

Sylvia’s parents met after the war and immigrated to Sweden, where she was born in 1947. About a year later, they immigrated to Israel.

“My mother wasn’t happy with the decision,” she said in the past. “She was exhausted from the war and the dislocation, but my father wanted to immigrate. He was very Jewish, and wanted to participate in the War of Independence.”

Her father enlisted in the Israeli army as a doctor and later worked at the newly established Institute for Biological Research in Nes Tziona, south of Tel Aviv. Her mother worked in the academic world as a microbiologist.

In 1965, Sylvia graduated from Tichon Hadash High School in Tel Aviv and began working for the left-wing newspaper Haolam Hazeh under Uri Avnery. There, on Tel Aviv’s Glickson Street, she met leading radical-left figures of the time and herself became a familiar figure in left-wing circles in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Acquaintances described Sylvia Klingberg as opinionated and determined. In her father’s memoirs, “The Last Spy,” which he wrote with lawyer Michael Sfard, he related: “She couldn’t accept the idea of the Jewish state and realized that Zionism necessarily creates a racist and undemocratic regime.” Later she joined the anti-Zionist left-wing organization Matzpen, “which made a lot of noise without any relation to its numbers, and became a major social attraction in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem,” Marcus Klingberg wrote.

“Sylvia singled out the Israeli establishment as an enemy, as absolute evil,” he wrote. “This is the establishment that ridicules the principles of socialism. This is the establishment that is occupying another people and carrying out the terrible colonization of territories that don’t belong to it. This is the establishment that has created a racist regime that discriminates against its Arab citizens.”

Hatred toward her father

Her hatred of the establishment was soon directed at her father, whom she saw as part of the establishment due to his work at the biological institute, which was a government agency. “Sylvia attended and left Matzpen meetings, and friends came home with her and secluded themselves in her room or in our living room,” he wrote. “The repertory of books and articles she read was increasingly slanted in the direction of the revolutionary left, and I suddenly found myself in the very uncomfortable position of a representative of the Israeli establishment. I suddenly realized that in her eyes and those of her friends I was the average establishment Maipanik [the forerunner of the Labor Party]. Even worse, I was a defense establishment man, part of the system engaged in occupation, disinheritance and exploitation.”

At the time Sylvia was unaware of the secret her father was hiding: He was a spy for the Soviet Union. “I remember how Sylvia, who had matured and become a very beautiful woman, who radiated tremendous ideological power, looked at me, and how I was raging inside: How dare she? What does she know? Me? A Mapainik? After all, she didn’t know what I had done for the sake of those values in whose name she spoke,” he wrote.

Marcus Klingberg, 80, leaves Ashkelon prison 18 September after serving 15 years of his 20-year sentence for spying for the former Soviet Union, December 1, 2015.
Marcus Klingberg, 80, leaves Ashkelon prison 18 September after serving 15 years of his 20-year sentence for spying for the former Soviet Union, December 1, 2015.Credit: AFP

His small revenge was something he used to say on occasion when he came home after a day at the institute to discover young people in the living room who were “full of self importance, who argued with pathos about the leaders of the workers,” as he put it. “You’re only talking, instead of arguing you should act,” he told them.

The book also describes how one day Sylvia came home upset, slammed the door behind her and accused her parents: “Are you involved in developing biological weapons?” Her father, who was both the institute’s deputy director and a Soviet spy, reported that to his superiors, or in his words, “informed the security services of the State of Israel” on his daughter and her friends, who discussed what was happening out of sight at the institute.

In response the institute gave him a declaration of secrecy that he was supposed to have his daughter sign. As expected, she laughed in his face and continued with her anti-establishment activities. In 1968 she even went to Paris to participate in the massive student demonstrations there.

During that period she met Udi Adiv, a handsome paratrooper from Kibbutz Gan Shmuel who was a prominent activist for Matzpen and later resigned from it to start a more extreme organization called Red Front. “I met her at Tel Aviv meetings of Matzpen in an attic on Mapu Street,” he said this week. “She immediately caught my attention as a beautiful, attractive young woman full of self-confidence.”

The couple later separated due to personal and ideological differences. “I was an unsophisticated kibbutznik, and she was a Tel Avivian,” said Adiv. He added that there was also a political angle to their dispute: “I was a Maoist and she was a Trotskyite.” Sylvia, who had become interested in philosophy, went to study in London and they broke up.

In 1972 the Shin Bet security service arrested Adiv for being a member of an Arab-Jewish underground organization connected to Syria and being involved in planning terror attacks and espionage against Israel. He was convicted of treason and sentenced to 17 years in prison.

This turn of events led to a renewal of the relationship with Sylvia. “To my great surprise she dropped everything and came to my trial, out of identifying with me,” he said. In 1975 they married. The press covered the wedding, which was held in Ramle Prison. “The young couple united forever and separated immediately for a prolonged period,” reported the daily Maariv. “There was a thread of sadness throughout the short ceremony, because the moment when the young couple united forever was also a moment of prolonged separation.”

Some saw the wedding as the wayward daughter’s revolt against her establishment father. But beneath the surface, both her husband and her father were spies. “It’s possible that with her acute senses, she was actually trying to reconcile with her father with this wedding. Whatever the case, it was a strange sight: Klingberg, a senior member of the Israeli secret establishment, entered prison with a crate of drinks in order to participate in the wedding of his rebellious daughter to the spy from Gan Shmuel,” said Adiv.

“It was symbolic and instrumental,” said Adiv this week. “Sylvia saw it as an opportunity to demonstrate whom she identified with and her support, and to help in various ways.” But the marriage didn’t last and at the end of three years they divorced. Even now Adiv claims that their connection was based on ideology. “I identified with the Palestinian national struggle, with the Palestine Liberation Organization and the idea of a Palestinian state. She supported the National Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and refused any compromise with Israel,” he said.

Later she left for Paris to pursue a master’s degree in sociology and philosophy. At the university she met lecturer Alain Brossat, a non-Jewish intellectual. Sylvia worked as an English to French translator at a scientific research institute in France. Their son Ian is now the deputy mayor of Paris representing the Communist Party.

And then, in 1983, she received a phone call that changed her life beyond recognition: Her parents had been arrested under unclear circumstances. In the end, her mother was released while her father was accused of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment. She wasn’t angry at her father, but admired the fact that he had spied for ideological reasons rather than for money.

“He was part of a group of scientists who were opposed to the idea that the nuclear monopoly in particular and the scientific monopoly in general would be on one side, the American one. The ideology was that if there wasn’t a balance of powers no peace could prevail in the world,” she explained to herself and to the media. “My feeling is that after World War II he developed a sense of gratitude toward the Soviet Union, because by giving him refuge it not only saved his life and enabled him to study, but also enabled him to fight the Nazis,” said Sylvia later.

She devoted the following years to worldwide efforts to ease her father’s prison conditions and to get him released. In 1998 her father was released and left for Paris, where she tended to him in his final years. After his death in 2015 at the age of 97, she fell ill with cancer. “She coped with the illness alone, although she was surrounded by people who would have wanted to be in her company,” said Adiv.