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Obituary: Helen Kroger

Leontina Cohen (Helen Kroger), spy, born 1913, married Maurice Cohen (Peter Kroger), died Moscow c30 December 1992.

WHEN Peter and Helen Kroger were arrested at the end of a lengthy surveillance operation in January 1961, the Security Service watchers, who had kept them under observation for the past four months at their house in Ruislip, Middlesex, had not the slightest idea of their true identity. They claimed to be New Zealanders, and their passports, issued by the New Zealand consulate in Paris to an accommodation address in Vienna, proved to be genuine. It was only after their fingerprints had been circulated to the FBI in Washington DC that 'Peter and Helen Kroger' were revealed to be Morris and Leontina Cohen, two suspected Soviet agents who had been implicated in the Rosenberg atomic spy ring in the United States.

After Julius Rosenberg had been arrested in July 1950, the Cohens had promptly disappeared. The FBI became convinced that they had operated as a husband-and-wife team when their passport photographs, attached to a large quantity of dollar bills, had been found in an envelope recovered from the home of Rudolf Abel, the KGB masterspy who was arrested in New York seven years later, in June 1957. Compromised by their links to the Rosenbergs, and apparently fearing they might suffer the same fate, the Cohens had fled the United States, leaving the FBI to research their backgrounds. Both were the children of poor Polish Jewish immigrants, and both had become active Communists. Morris Cohen had fought with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, and had later been a trade-union organiser. Lena had worked in a munitions factory during the Second World War, and was also a well-known agitator.

The Cohens adopted their new identities before coming to England. The Krogers' house in Cranley Drive, Ruislip, was ostensibly a modest bungalow where Peter had run ran a small antiquarian book business, but upon closer examination the building was revealed to be a sophisticated radio station replete with the paraphernalia of espionage. The Krogers consistently denied their true identities and were sentenced at the Old Bailey in March 1961 to 20 years' imprisonment. However, after serving just eight years they were swapped in 1969 for the British university lecturer Gerald Brooke who had been imprisoned in Moscow.

After their release the Krogers lived as honoured guests of the KGB at a dacha outside Moscow, refusing to learn Russian and declining all outside contact with their families in the US or the Western media. When an award- winning play was written about MI5's surveillance of them - A Pack of Lies (1983), by Hugh Whitemore - they expressed no interest in it and dismissed it merely as a bourgeois entertainment that had belittled their life's work.

While Helen Kroger's ideological commitment to the cause remained undimmed, Peter was evidently dismayed by the harsh austerity of life under a totalitarian regime and was especially critical of Leonid Brezhnev. In 1991 they broke their silence and consented to be interviewed for a Soviet television programme in which neither Helen Kroger's strong Brooklyn accent, nor her domination of her husband, seemed changed by the years.

(Photograph omitted)