The Darkrooms Of Edith Tudor-Hart

On The Trail Of My Cousin, The Spy

What was Edith Tudor-Hart really like? What are my ties to her besides that we are relatives? She was 17 when she first left her parents’ house to take a course with Maria Montessori in London, intending to be a kindergarten teacher. How did she choose to do that? Why did she leave Vienna at such a young age? By the time she was 18, Edith was already a member of the Communist Youth Movement. What motivated her? Who influenced her? Whom did she serve? And whom did she oppose?

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A year and a half after the break-up of the Soviet Union, an article in the London Daily Express identified Edith as “the 1930s photographer with open left-wing sympathies” and as one of the most important “talent hunters” who ever worked for the KGB. A photo of Edith from the Thirties that I had never seen before was captioned “Woman agent who sparked spy story of century.” Large eyes and an uncommonly intense gaze. The article surprised, fascinated, and frightened me; nobody in my family could tell me anything about it. Edith’s brother dismissed the story as a prank. My mother considered it a typical lie of the British tabloids. I tried to encounter Edith in my dreams, get to know her better and ask her endless questions from this side of the divide. But she never showed up in my nocturnal visions. She remained an enigma. I wanted, I needed to follow the trail of her secrets, wrest them from her – I had no other choice. And so I began to research her life story, hesitantly at first, but then more and more tenaciously. For years, I wandered in the maze of secondary literature and historical archives and almost lost my way more than once. Beyond that, the results of my quest are the product of stories told by my mother and my two uncles, the extensive reminiscences of Wolf Suschitzky, and my encounters with a great number of Edith’s contemporaries. In very few instances, my imagination had to fill in where some gaps still remain.

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