Letter from Thessaloniki

On August 1, 1995, Markus «Misha» Wolf, his wife Andrea and son Sasha visited me in Thessaloniki. It was Wolf’s first vacation since he had been acquitted of charges concerning his former life as an East Germany spy whose Cold War activities had earned him the moniker «The Man Without a Face.» I knew him through his brother Konrad Wolf, one of the most renowned film directors of East Germany, and in recent years I had visited him in his apartment in Berlin’s Nikolai quarter. Wolf died peacefully in his sleep a few days ago. He was 83. His family told me that he will be buried on November 25 in Friedrichsfelde near Berlin. Although Wolf denied rumors that he was the model for Karla, le Carre’s fictional Communist spymaster, his whole life was as enthralling as a le Carre thriller. as he headed the successful foreign intelligence arm of the Ministry of State Security for 34 years. «I can’t say I’m proud of what I did; I’m not. But I don’t think I’ve lived for nothing,» he told me once. He was dubbed «The Man Without a Face» because Western intelligence tried desperately for 20 years to find out what he looked like. It was only in 1978 that Swedish counterintelligence photographed him on a mission in Stockholm and subsequently a defector from East Germany put a name to the snapshot. Wolf’s most notorious act was against Willy Brandt, leader of West Germany’s Social Democrats (SDP) and the leading West German statesman of his day. To spy on him, Wolf first recruited a woman («Lydia») who appeared to be sleeping with both Brandt and his main opponent, Franz Josef Strauss. In one of his books Wolf notes that if he went down in espionage history, it should be for perfecting the application of sex in spying. He describes how he sent sexy «Romeos» into the arms of plain-looking secretaries in Bonn, then the capital of West Germany, to extract secrets from the women. In 1969, I was studying in West Berlin and heard the rumors. Willy Brandt had already begun his remarkable career as the first center-left chancellor in nearly 40 years. Always present but rarely noticed was Gunter Guillaume, one of Wolf’s officers, who acted as Brandt’s devoted personal assistant, chief aide and confidant. He was no less devoted in his other role, which was spying on Brandt for Marcus Wolf. Brandt was a political idealist, a «good German» who fought against Hitler, and a compulsive womanizer. He firmly believed in the policy of reconciliation, his celebrated Ostpolitik. His goal was to heal West Germany’s relationship with its former enemies in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, including East Germany. Arguments against Guillaume’s loyalty were dismissed by politicians suspicious of their own intelligence agencies, which they regarded as hostile to the SPD. However it was an open secret that within Brandt’s own party there were efforts to undermine Brandt’s status and authority. Brandt eventually had to resign. In his autobiography «Man Without a Face,» published by Random House in 1997, Wolf notes: «I view the Guillaume case as the greatest defeat we suffered up to that time. Our role in bringing down Brandt was equivalent to kicking a football into our own goal. We never desired, planned, nor welcomed his political demise.» Last year, I wrote a column from New York, where I watched Michael Frayn’s play «Democracy,» a fictional account of Brandt’s rise and fall. In that column, I quoted Wolf as saying that «the discovery that one of my agents had infiltrated Chancellor Brandt’s private office abruptly ended Brandt’s career at the helm of Germany. That is a responsibility that I bear and that troubles me after his death. The question of why I did it, accompanied by the reproach. Brandt, of all people, is one with which I will always be faced.» Frayn believes democracy is not a political system, but a chaotic swirl of competing egos, in which every citizen is his or her own nation. As he wrote: «Three political parties, in and out of bed with each other like drunken intellectuals, 15 warring cabinet ministers, and 60 million separate egos. All making deals with each other and breaking them. All looking round at every moment to see the expression on everyone else’s face. All trying to guess which way everyone else will jump. All out for themselves and all totally dependent on everyone else. Not one Germany. Sixty million separate Germanys. The tower of Babel!»

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