New book explores the amazing and contradictory wartime life of a Jewish female agent who worked for the Germans and the Poles
Her story could inspire Hollywood filmmakers. She lived for only 22 years but in that short life she used several names, created dozen of identities and suffered traumatic experiences. She even broke the law to save the life of her Jewish family.
She was born Wanda Kronenberg but when she turned 19 she has never used this name again. It was 1941 and by then Polish Jews often assumed a new identity in order to survive.
After giving up her real identity, the young Polish Jew from a wealthy family started her fascinating and dangerous existence as Lida, Wera, Edith Müller, Wanda Reszke or Jegoroff, depending on which secret service she happened to be working for. According to some sources, she worked for the intelligence services of at least four countries.
“This woman lived life walking a tightrope,” Michał Wójcik, the author of Wanda's biography ‘Baroness. On the trail of Wanda Kronenberg’, which has just been published, told TFN. “A tightrope that might have been cut anytime by both the Poles and the Germans.”
Before the outbreak of war the life of the young Wanda was an idyll. She was born into a very wealthy family of a Polish Jew and Italian woman, which led a prosperous life. Wanda's grandfather was Leopold “the Great" Kronenberg. Called the “the king of the railway" in Warsaw, he was the president of banks and credit societies, and he also built and owned various factories.
When the war began, Wanda decided to protect her family at all costs. Attractive, intelligent, open to male acquaintances she quickly caught the eye of agents from the Abwehr, the German counter-intelligence service. Probably blackmailed by the Germans, she was first recruited by the Abwehr, then by the Gestapo.
She was an unscrupulous agent, seducing the men she worked with to gain valuable information or, at least, their financial support. And when they started to become a problem she did not hesitate to wish them a final goodbye by killing them.
“This is how she was perceived by the Polish underground. As almost a vampire. A woman who was killing brave Home Army or communist guerrillas in bulk, helped by the devils, the black-clad Gestapo men,” Wójcik told TFN. “Wanda was elusive, as if she was staying in several places at once. She managed to survive three or four assassination attempts.”
But her “talent” had not gone unnoticed by other intelligence agencies. She was recruited by Poles from the Home Army. But she could not remain faithful to neither her lovers nor the agencies. During the three years of her activity she worked for the Russian NKVD, the Nazi SiPo (the Sicherheitspolizei or security police) and, probably the British Intelligence Service.
It is for certain that she worked with an agent called John Ward, the only British man in Warsaw, who informed the British about the situation in the occupied capital. Wanda spoke several languages, but in the end, despite her talents and abilities she was gradually getting lost in the world of denunciations, assumed identities and the cruelty of war.
“For a long time, actually until the beginning of 1944, she carried out the orders of the Polish intelligence service, saved members of the Underground or provided valuable information from inside the German security services,” says Wójcik.
Although she worked for the Poles, Wanda always justified her cooperation with the Nazis by her eagerness to harm communists. But perhaps, above all, her activities in the war were driven by the desire to save her family from extinction.
Wanda died in mysterious circumstances, aged just 22, when she was shot dead on Warsaw street. Who pulled the trigger and why remains a mystery.
The war was also the end of the great Kronenberg empire. Leopold, Wanda's father, survived the war, but lost all his loved ones and all of his possessions. After the war he came to Poland only to move the corpse of his murdered daughter from a courtyard on Krucza Street to the family grave in the Powązki cemetery.
He also burned all the photos of his daughter from the war.