The Spy Who Inspired Me
As a writer, facing the blank page can feel daunting. Like compost, organic material must mix then decompose until it turns into something new and meaningful. Rooted in this rich soil, ideas germinate word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph until a story is crafted. Some seven years ago, as I tried to figure out the basis for my novel, Dissonance, I came upon the obituary of Victor Grayevsky. Grayevsky, it turned out, became the inspiration for one of my characters, Mikhail Aronovich.
Grayevsky was a Polish journalist who unintentionally became a catalyst for one of the great intelligence coups of the Cold War. In 1956, while visiting his girlfriend at work at the Central Committee Headquarters in Warsaw, Grayevsky spotted a copy of Nikita Khrushchev’s speech on her desk titled “On the Cult of Personality and its Consequences.” Khrushchev had given the speech two months earlier to a closed session of the 20th Party Congress in Moscow. In it, he’d sharply criticized his predecessor, Joseph Stalin, for deceiving the Soviets into thinking he had a god-like persona; Khrushchev also included reference to The Great Purge of 1936-1938 in which Stalin ordered an estimated 4 million prisoners to be executed and millions more sent to the Gulag. Such information, at the time, was hearsay to the rest of the world.
GRAYEVSKY AND KHRUSHCHEV’S SPEECH
Grayevsky asked his girlfriend if he could borrow the speech. Despite the risk, she agreed, and he took it home. After reading it, he showed it to a friend at the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw who worked for the Israeli Shin Bet intelligence service. Photocopies of the document were then sent to Israel and it finally ended up in the hands of Allen Dulles, the CIA chief at the time. From there, the speech was leaked to The New York Times.
But this was only a small part of the intrigue that defined Victor Grayevsky’s life. After visiting his sick father in Israel in 1955, he returned to Poland disheartened about Marxist ideology. Shortly after he smuggled Khrushchev’s damning speech about Stalin to Shin Bet, Grayevsky immigrated to Israel. In 1957, he found work with Kol Israel radio and the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
Here, Grayevsky’s life took an interesting turn; the KGB, impressed that Grayevsky quickly gained employment with Israel’s Foreign Ministry, tried to recruit him. Meetings took place between Grayevsky and the KGB in Israel’s Soviet embassy and at the Russian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem. It was there that Grayevsky met with KGB personnel disguised as monks and passed on misinformation from Israeli Intelligence. His playing double agent went on for years until 1971, when he ended his contact with the KGB and his work for Shin Bet.
REALITY VERSUS FICTION
Without giving away too much of my book, I will say that Mikhail Aronovich’s character is loosely based on Viktor Grayevsky’s life. Both lived during the same time period behind the Iron Curtain, both were journalists and both had a hand in espionage. That is where the similarities end and my work of fiction began. I, like many writers, continue to find the blank page daunting, but I’ve learned through trial and error not to discard the makings of what could fertilize a good story. Had I not read Grayevsky’s obituary, Mikhail Aronovich would not have come to life.