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The Secrets of the Cold War Female Spies from Slovakia

Updated: Apr 29, 2021

There are many espionage and spy thrillers, but until recently, the contribution of women in this intelligence field was overlooked and under reported.

In reality, women have made astonishing and noteworthy contributions in this field, dating as far back as the Purim story from Megillat Esther. The Megillah tells us of Esther's contributions towards saving her people, when Mordechai warns Esther not to reveal her identity or the secret messages carried between them.

More recently, during the Second World War and into the Cold War, many Jewish Slovak women similarly contributed significantly to the espionage field. In fact, several worked closely with my Saba (grandpa) Zalman in Czechoslovakia.

Tracing the names of operatives mentioned in Zalman’s secret StB Czech Police file, I learned of Gabriela Hermel-ova, an overlooked clerk in the Israeli Legation, or Foreign Ministry diplomatic team, Hermel spoke multiple languages, had numerous social networks and a skill for blending in with her surroundings. Most would not suspect her connection to the likes of Rudolf Slánský. Unlike the named operative "Dr. Felix" mentioned during the actual "show-trials". Slánský was a Jewish Czech Communist leader, the central victim in the November 1952 "Slánský trial.” Hermel shared the most common operative names with Zalman in their secret case files, and I learned that they had both a working and personal relationship.

“There is a sentence in Gabriela’s file that hints at a much larger file for the whole missing "generation" of the operatives that worked with Zalman in Czechoslovakia.”

I don’t know if we’ll ever learn about the true details of Zalman’s connections with his former work colleague and friend, but Hermel's remarkable courage and her husband’s possible involvement shouldn’t be forgotten.

Enclosed are funny Purim photos and additional details gathered about the deep connection between Hermel family and my grandfather. From their son Gabriele attending Jewish day school with my father and aunt, to their personal visits at each other’s houses in Israel after their diplomatic mission ended.

In the piece published by Martin Smok, “Every Jew is a Zionist, and every Zionist is a spy!” The story of Jewish social assistance networks in Communist Czechoslovakia, we learn in more detail about the impact of women operatives on both sides.

Namely, Dana Wojciechowska or sometimes called “IO” or Nadezda, who brought down the Israeli network finally in 1953. Zalman was the initial contact of Dana the “informer” that brought the demise of the operation delivering humanitarian aid to Czechoslovak Holocaust survivors and war refugees.

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