Secret baby may have saved Nazi spy from gallows

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The Independent Online

A woman sent to Britain as a Nazi spy may have escaped execution because she was the mistress of a British VIP and had borne him a child.

A woman sent to Britain as a Nazi spy may have escaped execution because she was the mistress of a British VIP and had borne him a child.

Recently discovered government records have thrown fresh light on the 60-year-old mystery of why Russian-born Vera Erikson was not sent to the gallows along with her two male companions but was simply sent back to Germany.

The files reveal that Ms Erikson, whose brief was to infiltrate high society, had a son shortly before the war who was sent to an orphanage in Essex.

Historians are now speculating that under her cover story as the long-lost niece of an Italian countess, Ms Erikson might have had an affair with a well-known establishment figure who intervened to save her.

Peter Reid, a historian who lives in the former police station in Portgordon, the remote Scottish fishing village where Erikson was arrested, said: "It is entirely speculation, but her brief was to infiltrate prominent society. It's quite plausible that she did take her liaison to its natural conclusion, although I don't think we will ever know the identity of the father.

"Being the mother of a British subject with perhaps an important father, may have played a major part in the decision not to put her on trial."

Ms Erikson, who was said to have been Siberian and possibly half-Jewish, landed by seaplane with two other spies in the Moray Firth, north-east Scotland, in September 1940 .

After rowing ashore in a rubber dinghy, Ms Erikson and a Frenchman, François de Deeker, walked into Portgordon to catch a train. But the presence of strangers in such a close-knit community aroused suspicion and they were arrested.

Their claim to be refugees was quickly discounted when a half-eaten German sausage was discovered in their luggage, with a Mauser pistol and a list of Royal Air Force bases. The third spy, Werner Walti, was arrested in Edinburgh shortly afterwards.

The two men stood trial at the Old Bailey, were convicted of spying and hanged at Wandsworth jail. Ms Erikson, then 28, was merely interned for the duration of the war. She disappeared after arriving back in Germany.

Files released by the Public Records Office show Ms Erikson was using the Italian countess cover story in Paris and London during the Thirties and could then have met the man who would be father of her son.

The decision not to put her on trial was always thought to be in return for co-operating with MI5 after her capture or to avoid the propaganda backlash of hanging a woman. But recently discovered dossiers dealing with alien interned women show that Erikson asked to see her son while she was detained.

Dr Reid said records showed the child, who would have been about four, appeared to have visited his mother. "Although I suspect there are more documents dealing with this matter in official files, they may never be released and I am not convinced we will ever definitely know what happened," he said.

"She would be 88 now, or she may have died, but the child, who is thought to have been adopted, would be about 61 and could still be alive."