Richard Sorge is one of those names that many students of World War II read, see that he was a Soviet spy who snooped on secret German communications and then moved on to more exciting topics. That is how he goes down in the history books: one of Stalin's sources of Japanese intentions before Pearl Harbour.
|Sorge in 1933.|
The youngest of nine children, Sorge was born in 1895 in the settlement of Sabunchi, a suburb of Baku, Baku Governorate of the Russian Empire (modern Azerbaijan). His father was Wilhelm Richard Sorge, who passed away in 1907, a German mining engineer employed by the Caucasian Oil Company. Wilhelm had married a local Russian girl, Nina Semionovna Kobieleva. Wilhelm kept his family in Russia for only a few years, then the family moved back to Germany.
According to Sorge:
The one thing that made my life a little different from the average was a strong awareness of the fact that I had been born in the southern Caucasus and that we had moved to Berlin when I was very small.Having lived in such a remote area made the Sorge household "very different from the average bourgeois home in Berlin."
|Sorge (German Federal Archive).|
|Ursula Ruth Kuczynski.|
Sorge was a bon vivant who organized huge parties of 80-100 people, at which there was extensive use of drugs, drinking (which he participated in heartily), prostitutes and associated shenanigans. Being isolate, the European community developed strong ties in Japan, and this provided a valuable source of information. Sorge himself did not drink, the better to gather intelligence and not betray his own position. Sorge told Hede Massing, an Austrian actress turned Soviet agent who later defected and moved to America, about his abstemious nature in the German beer halls:
That was the bravest thing I ever did. Never will I be able to drink enough to make up for this time.
Physically, Sorge was a big man, tall and handsome, brown hair. His brow was creased and furrowed and his face lined. From a glance at his face you could tell that he had lived a hard and rough life. There was no arrogance or cruelty to the set of his eyes and the lines of his mouth.
Reportedly, Sorge was having an affair with the wife of the German ambassador, almost certainly with the latter's knowledge. This gave him the free reign of the embassy's most secure areas. Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant-Colonel) Erwin Scholl, the deputy military attaché at the German embassy, ultimately spilled the beans to Sorge about Operation Barbarossa, and Sorge forwarded the information on to Moscow. Supposedly, Stalin said at the time:
There's this [guy] who's set up factories and brothels in Japan and even deigned to report the date of the German attack as 22 June. Are you suggesting I should believe him too?It is unclear if Sorge ever got the exact date right, but he sure was spot on about the invasion. Once again, he had burnished his reliability.
|A memorial to Sorge (Eva Bruggman, Federal Archives).|
|A memorial to Sorge. The holes are meant to represent his being shot as a spy.|
In the careful judgment of all of us here…the possibility of [Japan] launching an attack [on the U.S.S.R.], which existed until recently, has disappeared.
|Richard Sorge Strasse.|
In the next two months, 15 infantry divisions, 3 cavalry divisions, 1,700 tanks, and 1,500 aircraft moved from the Soviet Far East to the European front," wrote historian Stuart Goldman. "It was these powerful reinforcements that turned the tide in the Battle of Moscow in the first week of December 1941, at the same time Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.
|Sorge as a young man.|
It was around this time that the Japanese caught on to Sorge. The Japanese version of the Gestapo, the Kempeitai, began arresting others in his spy ring, and then Sorge himself on 18 October 1941. He spent the next two years in jail. A Japanese attempt in 1943 or 1944 to exchange him for captured Japanese generals failed when Stalin, informed of the request, replied, "Sorge? I do not know of this Sorge." Richard Sorge was executed on 7 November 1944.
Richard Sorge was perhaps the most effective spy of World War II. He provided better information on the most important issues than the British Ultra project that had broken the German codes. He is now considered a hero in both Germany and Russia, with streets named in his honor and statues and monuments dedicated to his memory.
The Ribbentrop Birthday Card
|The Ribbentrop birthday card.|