Israeli actor Chaim Topol lived double life as Mossad spy, his family says

‘What is clear is that Dad was involved in secret missions on behalf of the Mossad’

Tara Cobham
Saturday 15 April 2023 14:18 BST
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<p>The Israeli star Chaim Topol, who died last month aged 87, worked for the Mossad branch in London, says his family </p>

The Israeli star Chaim Topol, who died last month aged 87, worked for the Mossad branch in London, says his family

Fiddler on the Roof star Chaim Topol lived a double life as a spy, his family have revealed. The Israeli actor, who died last month aged 87, was involved in “secret missions” for the Mossad spy agency in London, his family told the newspaper Haaretz.

The Oscar-nominated actor was best known for his role in the 1971 musical Fiddler on the Roof, in which he played impoverished Jewish milkman Tevye. He also had parts in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only and in Flash Gordon.

Haaretz reported that one of Topol’s daughters, Adi, was apprehensive about opening boxes in her father’s London apartment, saying: “Who knows what I’ll find there? Maybe secret listening devices and hidden cameras.”

His son, Omer, said: “I don’t know exactly what the appropriate definition is for the missions and duties he performed. But what is clear is that Dad was involved in secret missions on behalf of the Mossad.”

Topol’s children and his widow Galia, whom he married in 1965, told the newspaper that they remembered seeing him take a small Minox camera and a tiny spool tape-recorder on secretive trips abroad.

Galia said: “What always motivated Chaimkeh [Topol] were ants in his pants, adventure and courage. Therefore, no one was more suitable than him to be involved even in issues that are not discussed.”

Topol’s acting career began to gain momentum after he was cast as the titular character in Israeli comedy Sallah Shabati, which earnt him the Golden Globe award for most promising male newcomer.

Chaim Topol is pictured here in 1966, a year after he married his wife Galia

He went on to star in a number of films, both in Israel and the US, including the 1975 adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s Galileo and the 1980 sci-fi film Flash Gordon.

Topol scooped a second Golden Globe in 1971, this time for Best Actor for his part in Fiddler on the Roof. A 1991 Broadway revival of the musical saw Topol nominated for a Tony Award for best actor.

Topol often visited the Israeli embassy, according to his son, with his main contact for missions being his close friend, the Mossad officer Peter Zvi Malkin. Malkin was one of the four agents who kidnapped the Nazi Adolf Eichmann from Argentina.

Topol “was a kind of cover for Tzvika’s [Malkin’s] operations,” said Galia. Malkin would “come to London and live with us when he needed to”, said Adi, adding that her father would “help Zvika with all kinds of things he wanted to check – such as an access point, recording programs, and security arrangements”.

The Oscar-nominated actor was reportedly diagnosed with dementia last year

Topol was born in 1935 in the Florentine district on the border of Jaffa and Tel Aviv. This was in British-mandated Palestine at the time. He spent his childhood in a poor household without electricity or running water.

In addition to acting, Topol also dedicated his time to charitable causes and founded Variety Israel – an organisation that provides support for children living with disabilities and their families. He also served as the president of Jordan River Village, a free overnight camp for Israeli children living with chronic or life-threatening illnesses.

In 2015, Topol was awarded the Israel Prize – the country’s most prestigious award – for lifetime achievement and special contribution to society and the state.

The Oscar-nominated actor was reportedly diagnosed with dementia last year.

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