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‘Soviet & Russian Espionage in Britain, 1891-1991: The Rothstein and Kuczynski Family Networks’
Speaker: David Burke
The Isokon building, Lawn Road Flats, in Belsize Park on Hapstead’s lower slopes, is a remarkable building. The first modernist building in Britain to use reinforced concrete and architecture, its construction demanded new building techniques. But the building was as remarkable for those who took up residence there as for the application of revolutionary building techniques.
There were thirty-two flats in all, and they became a haunt of some of the most prominent Soviet agents working against Britain in the 1930s and 40s, among them Arnold Deutsch, the controller of the group of Cambridge spies who came to be known as the ‘Magnificent Five’.
The Kuczynski family were the first Soviet agents to arrive in Lawn Road, brought there in 1934 by another long-serving family of spies, Gertrude Sirnis and her daughters Gerty and Melita – later to become infamous as Melita Norwood – the ‘Spy who came in from the Co-op’, who betrayed Britain for forty years.
Gertrude Sirnis’s career as an opponent of the establishment in Britain could be traced back to her activities as a suffragette, and as an opponent of the imperialist policies of the Great Powers in the years leading up to the First World War.
Following the Russian Revolution, Rothstein offered his services as an unofficial go-between for Lenin, and the then Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. At the time, Rothstein was working on the Labour Party’s Advisory Committee on International Questions with the then junior Foreign Office civil servant, Rex Leeper, and Virginia Woolf’s husband, Leonard.
David Burke will trace how this complex web of spies and subversive elements met or passed by each other like ships in the night and how the British Government reacted and tried to deal with them all.
David Burke is a historian of intelligence and international relations and author of The Spy Who Came In From the Co-op and The Lawn Road Flats: Spies, Writers and Artists.