Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Vilyam Genrikovich Fisher
("Willie") Vilyam Genrikovich (August) Fisher (or Fischer), (July 11, 1903–November 15, 1971), was a noted Soviet spy. He is generally better known by the alias, Rudolf Abel, which he adopted on his arrest.
He was born at 140 Clara Street, Benwell, in Newcastle-on-Tyne in 1903 of German-Russian parents. His parents had been active in the revolutionary movement in Russia, and had fled to England in 1901. His father Genrikh was a keen Bolshevik and took part in clandestine operations shipping arms and literature from the North East coast and he published a book 'V Rossii i v Anglii' in 1922 detailing his life in Newcastle.
After the family's return to the Soviet Union in 1921 Fisher worked as a translator for Comintern. During his military service in 1925-1926 he was trained as a radio operator. He worked briefly in Soviet Military Intelligence and was then recruited by the OGPU, a predecessor of the KGB in 1927. He worked for them as a radio operator in Norway, Turkey, Britain, and France then returned to Russia in 1936 as head of a school which trained radio operators destined for duty in illegal residences .
He narrowly escaped the Great Purges. Besides being from England, a close relative had been accused of being a Trotskyite. He escaped prosecution but was dismissed from the NKVD in 1938. During the Second World War he again trained radio operators for clandestine work behind German lines.
In 1946 he again entered secret service and was trained as an illegal for entry into the United States. He traveled to Canada under a false passport, then entered the United States on November 17, 1947. He adopted the name of Emil Robert Goldfus (the real Goldfus had died at the age of 14 months). The Soviets had constructed an elaborate legend for Goldfus, a fictitious biography of his life from 1902 to 1947.
As cover for his illegal residence he opened an artist's studio in the Orvington Studios in Brooklyn, although he had only minimal artistic talent. To the other artists he came into contact with he represented himself as a retired photofinisher. He made friends with a small group of younger men, mostly artists who shared his preferences for realistic art. He made no attempt to sell paintings, but continued working on his technique. His friends found him intelligent and knowledgeable, but somewhat secretive, for example, he never disclosed where he lived. He expressed admiration for the Russian artist Isaak Levitan . He is said to have been able to finish the New York Times crossword puzzle. A smoker, he suffered from sinus infections, and eventually died later of lung cancer after his return to Russia.
His job as resident was to recruit and supervise agents who gathered intelligence information. He was given control of a pre-existing group of agents which included Lona and Morris Cohen who are believed to have been the couriers for the Rosenberg, Greenglass, Fuchs nuclear spy ring, and later operated in Britain as Peter and Helen Kroger.
Fisher is not known to ever had any contact with the Communist Party USA. As a part of his legend he sometimes talked about earlier days as a lumberjack in the Pacific Northwest during the time of the Wobblies, but that was made up.
Fisher was captured by the FBI in 1957, partially as the result of the defection of his assistant Reino Hayhanen , in what became known as the "Hollow Nickel Case". He was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment for espionage, but on February 10, 1962 he was "exchanged" for U2 pilot Gary Powers and American student Frederic Pryor at the Glienicke Bridge in Potsdam, Germany. After his return to Moscow he continued to work as a trainer for the KGB. Fisher is said to have despised Kim Philby in Moscow.
Rudolf Abel was the alias Fisher adopted on his arrest which signaled his capture to the Soviet Government. The alias was also the real name of another, less well known NKVD agent, who had once shared a flat with Fisher. The real Abel was born in Latvia in 1900 and died in 1955 but not much seems to be publicly known about his career.
Willie Fisher died of cancer in 1971 and is buried next to his father in the Donskoy monastery in Moscow. His gravestone (with photograph) displays both his names. A group of KGB veterans celebrated his centenary at the graveside in 2003.
- Louise Bernikow, Abel, Hodder and Stoughton, 1970, hardcover, ISBN 0340125934; trade paperback, Ballantine Books, 1982, ISBN 0345302125
- Nigel West (Rupert Allason), Games of Intelligence: The Classified Conflict of International Espionage., Crown, 1990, hardcover, ISBN 0517578115
- Pavel Sudoplatov, Anatoli Sudoplatov, Jerrold L. Schecter, Leona Schecter, Anatolii Pavlovich Sudopl, Special tasks :the memoirs of an unwanted witness, a Soviet spymaster, Little Brown, 1994, hardcover, ISBN 0316773522; trade paperback, Lightning Source, 1995, 527 pages, ISBN 0316821152
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