At noon on Thursday Sept 30, Emil Draitser will be discussing his latest book, Stalin’s Romeo Spy, at the International Spy Museum. The discussion and book signing is free.
In the 1930s, Dmitri Bystrolyotov was handsome, fluent in several languages, a sailor, doctor, lawyer, and artist. He was also a spy for Josef Stalin and the Soviet Union. A charmer, he seduced many women in Europe – including a French diplomat, the wife of a British official, and a Gestapo officer – to discover their countries’ secrets for the Soviets. Caught up in Stalin’s purges in 1938, he then spent twenty years in the Gulag and came face-to-face with the true regime for which he had once spied.
Author Emil Draitser was a former journalist in the Soviet Union and now a professor at Hunter College in New York. He shared a little about Bystrolyotov and some of the more fascinating facts of Stalin’s “Romeo Spy.”
Stalin’s Romeo Spy was more formally known as Dmitri Bystrolyotov. What was a ‘Romeo Spy’ and what qualities made him such a great one?
Draitser: ‘Romeo spy’ is a term for a spy who uses his male charms to seduce and recruit a foreign woman to become either an agent or an accomplice in getting security-sensitive information. As Bystrolyotov told me when we met, at the time of his operation in the West, he was “young, good-looking and knew how to treat a lady.” He was brought up in an aristocratic family, and that provided him with skills of highly respectful, thus very seductive, skills of relating to women. Among those who succumbed to his charms were a French Embassy employee in Prague, a wife of a British Foreign Office functioner, and an SS-Hauptscharfuhrer. His seduction of the last one was especially done masterfully, for the woman was disfigured from childhood, and pretending to fall for her looks was impossible without raising suspicion.
What kind of information was Bystrolyotov able to provide to his handlers over the years?
Draitser: Several key bits of information –
1) Czechoslovakian cutting-edge technology, armament potential, and foreign policy,
2) Diplomatic secrets, codes and ciphers of Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and other countries,
3) A list of French Nazi sympathizers recruited by German military intelligence (Abwehr) around 1935,
4) French intelligence data on German war preparation and intelligence network in the mid-30s,
5) A special delivery correspondence between Hitler and Count Costanzo Ciano Sr., the secret designee to replace Mussolini in case of his sudden demise, in 1934,
6) Samples of Italian weaponry and gas protection gear for examination by Soviet military experts in 1935,
7) Hitler’s four-year plan of rearmament of Germany in 1935, and
8) Military and industrial capabilities of French African territories from 1935-36.
Besides being a great spy, Bystrolyotov was also quite a Renaissance man. What were some of his more impressive accomplishments?
Draitser: He wrote two novels, two screenplays, and 12 volumes of memoirs. He also produced a number of painting and drawings, samples of which could be found on the book website.
At the height of Stalin’s purges, Bystrolyotov was arrested and tortured. What effect did this have on him both physically and mentally?
Draitser: They crushed his teeth and permanently injured his ribs, two of which had to be removed later on surgically. He had scars of beating on his stomach. He suffered from high blood pressure and periodic heart failure. But he was a man of tremendous will power and high spirit. His camp experienced made him realize the true nature of Stalinism which he equalized with Nazism.
You had the opportunity to meet Bystrolyotov in the years before his death. Which of the many his faces was one you had the pleasure of meeting?
Draitser: During our meeting, he was charming and cultivated me as a possible depositor of his life story, which he couldn’t make public in his time and in his country. Three decades later, his calculations that some day the world will know about his life proved to be right.