Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Born in Młodzieszyn, Poland, about thirty miles from Warsaw, into the family of wealthy banker Count Jerzy Skarbek and Stephanie Goldfelder, Krystyna Skarbek grew up in a life of luxury. Strikingly beautiful, she won a teenage beauty contest. She married Jerzy Gizycki on the November 2, 1938, at Warsaw's Evangelical Reform Church after which her husband accepted a government posting to Ethiopia where he served as his country's Consul until September of 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. Skarbek and her husband fled to London where she contacted British Intelligence to offer her services to conduct subversive activities in Poland. Before anything further materialized, her marriage failed and she joined a group of Polish resistance workers, ending up in Budapest, Hungary. There, she fell in love with her co-worker and fellow Pole, Andrzej Kowerski.
During the years Krystyna Skarbek spent working in Hungary, she was involved in many very hazardous missions. In Poland, her Jewish mother was sent to a concentration camp and was executed by the Germans. Krystyna made several sabotage expeditions into Poland where she was also able to record German troop movements, information that she sent back to British Intelligence. She was arrested twice, but on both occasions she managed to get away. After her second escape from enemy hands she fled to England where she joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Fluent in the French language, she was assigned to SOE's F Section and given the name Christine Granville under which she became most commonly known. Vera Atkins, assistant to the head of F Section, knew Krystyna Skarbek well. She referred to Skarbek as a very brave woman with tremendous guts but a law unto herself who, despite her good looks, was actually a loner.
Chosen to replace SOE agent Cecily Lefort who had been captured and brutally tortured (and later executed) by the Gestapo, Skarbek was parachuted into France on July 6, 1944. She became part of the "Jockey" network under the direction of Francis Cammaerts whose job was to organize members of the Maquis. It immediately became clear to everyone that Krystyna Skarbek was a gifted and dedicated agent whose personality made her friends wherever she went. Men, of course, were drawn to her beauty but quickly learned that she was a profoundly capable operator with razor-sharp instincts who quietly faced danger with an iron resolve.
In the month following her arrival, just a few days before the Allied armies began landing in the south of France, Cammaerts and agent Xan Fielding were captured by the Gestapo. Knowing that the two men would be put to death before the arrival of liberation forces, Krystyna Skarbek used all her abilities, approaching a police officer asking if it would be possible for her to bring some necessities to her husband who was being held in prison. As a result of her convincing story, she was put in touch with the liaison officer for the French prefecture who communicated for her with the Gestapo. Her bold efforts to obtain their release, undertaken at great personal risk, were successful in getting three SOE agents freed.
Krystyna Skarbek's heroics won her the French Croix de Guerre as well as the British George Cross, and she was appointed an OBE. However, after the war was over she found it difficult to adapt to the routine of everyday life. She was said by SOE's Vera Atkins to have had a great appetite for love and laughter but, restless by nature, she missed the excitement of her wartime life. Left penniless by the loss of her family’s wealth in Poland, she had to work at a variety of menial jobs just to survive. While employed as a hostess on an ocean liner she met a steward by the name of George Muldowney. Although involved at the time with Andrzej Kowerski who was then living in London, she rejected Muldowney's advances, but on June 15, 1952, in London, the obsessed Muldowney stabbed her to death. Convicted of the crime, he was executed.
Since her death, it has been speculated by some that because author Ian Fleming used the beautiful Krystyna as the basis for the double agent, "Vesper Lynd" in his first James Bond novel, that Krystyna herself may have actually been a double agent. However, no such claim has ever been suggested by any legitimate authority and SOE's Vera Atkins, who had access to all files and knew her well, stated that Krystyna Skarbek was "utterly loyal and dedicated to the Allies, and nothing would have made her betray her trust."
A number of books have been written about the courageous women of the SOE and two were about Krystyna Skarbek.
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