Blogs > HNN > Part Five: Prague Autumn

Oct 21, 2010 1:13 pm

Part Five: Prague Autumn

In March 1938, Cynthia was alone in Warsaw, enjoying an affair with an aide who worked in the Polish foreign office, Edward Kulikowski. Her husband, Arthur Pack, had suffered a stroke that Christmas and was recovering in London. Illness added to the growing distance between the couple. It was during this spring idyll with Kulikowski that Cynthia came to understand just how much ambitious men were vulnerable to accessible women. The powerful had their courting dance, men of accomplishment displaying their knowledge, or elaborating on their achievements. They would expand on the burdens of high office with examples. These were men who spoke more easily with women, or simply liked the exchange of ideas. Some men of accomplishment were like young boys bursting with the latest news. Within weeks of Hitler's invasion of Austria, Kulikowski told Cynthia that Hitler would next move on Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland. Though speculation about Nazi aims was rife, Kulikowski supplied a significant and appalling detail, which lent his information credibility. He said that a deal was in the offing. That Poland and Germany were negotiating over the much coveted Teschen region, a chunk of Czech real estate long claimed by the Poles, rich in coal and rail lines, textile and ironworks. In return, the Poles would not align themselves with the Great Powers (Hyde 100-101) when Hitler pushed for lebensraum.

Cynthia gained her taste for political intrigue in Spain, and she put it to quick use. That spring, as Warsaw's weather grew more inviting, Cynthia enjoyed a game of golf with John Patrick “Jack” Shelly, a family friend who worked in the embassy's passport office. The office was often used at British embassies as cover for the Secret Intelligence Service, and Shelly was an agent. He knew that Cynthia led an active social life in Warsaw. Along the fairways, Cynthia told Shelly about her discussions with Kulikowski, who recognized its value, the unseen clue, the secret of what Poland would do if Hitler swelled Germany’s domain. He passed on the news to his Broadway headquarters in London. With her husband in London, information about her exploits in Valencia, and her social life in high gear, Broadway encouraged the idea of using Cynthia’s access more systematically. Instructions were sent to Shelly to offer Cynthia a small stipend, which put her in the pay of the service.

This marked a turning point for the 28-year-old. At no time in her life had she earned an income. It was the rare woman in her social set who did. Until now, she had a role as “embassy wife,” one she chaffed at. She led the life of a tourist, traveling from one dalliances to another. But now, she had been given a calling. She had responsibilities, her affairs had become world affairs. She had always appeared to be more than she actually was, which was a privileged school girl on the monkey bars of society. Now, her grace and intelligence, her facility with language, her personal charm matched her actual station. She was in the employ of the foreign office, even more, the Secret Intelligence Service. She had become a "secret agent."

Broadway was right. Cynthia's connections in Warsaw extended to the U.S. Ambassador, Anthony J. Drexel "Tony" Biddle, Jr. A "crack" shot (71) and a collector of jade cigarette cases, who spoke perfect French and German, according to his niece, writing in her memoir My Philadelphia Father. “His chef was said to be the finest in Europe, and he was famous for his parties.” (56) It was at one of these parties that Cynthia met and began an affair with Count Michal Lubienski, Poland’s elegant and politic powerbroker. Lubienski was the chef de cabinet to Poland's foreign minister, the wily dealmaker Josef Beck. If anyone could take a pulse on Poland's connections to Berlin, it was Beck's chief of staff, the Count.

Part Five: The Unmaking of a Spy

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