Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sidney Reilly

I mentioned this man, the Ace of Spies in my last post, but one thing about him has always stayed in my mind.

Of course, nothing can be said with any certainty about Reilly. But one biography I read, years ago, had an exquisite and lingering interest. He was, it suggested, born in Odessa, now in the Ukraine, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and imbibed his White Russian zeal and his anti-semiticism with his mother's milk.

He became a spy for the British, and in the First World War carried out such daring coups as waylaying a German staff car, killing the occupants, dressing as the senior officer and carrying on to a vital secret meeting, carrying it off perfectly. It was said he was a model for James Bond.

But the bit that stuck in my mind was that, as a virulent anti-semite, he discovered as a young man that his father was in fact a travelling Jewish doctor. This didn't make him Jewish, since Jewish descent is traced down the maternal line, but it did give him Jewish blood. And it deepened his anti-semitism.

How did that mind twist upon itself?

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