Israel’s cultural warfare – an encounter with ‘The Champagne Spy’

Wolfgang Lotz with his third wife, Naomi, in Israel (photo credit: ISRAEL SUN/JERUSALEM POST ARCHIVES)
Wolfgang Lotz with his third wife, Naomi, in Israel
Not long ago, we celebrated the State of Israel’s 70th  birthday.  I was born 15 months after the fledgling state was declared and was fortunate enough  to witness the almost miraculous events that have led up to this momentous milestone in Jewish history. While many Jews acknowledge and recognize the divine intervention aspects of these happenings in our own times, as a nation, we must take nothing for granted. We have learned to survive by exploiting the consequences of our history. In this regard I refer to the phenomenon of what is known as “cultural warfare.” Our dispersion among the nations of the world has been both a curse and a blessing. It has afforded us certain advantages including our exposure to other cultures, the acquisition of knowledge, foreign languages and, above all, insights into how our enemies think and behave. This has been honed and perfected over the years by Israel’s intelligence agencies and especially by the Mossad. 
I first became aware of these matters during an encounter I had when I was in my early 20s and living in London.  As a South African I could not get a work permit in the UK and ended up taking a job with the British UJA as a public relations officer. In those days, the organization was known as the Joint Palestine Appeal, or JPA, harking back to the days of the British Mandate. Despite the humiliatingly low salary and not great working conditions, the job afforded me the opportunity of meeting some fascinating people. Every week I would attend executive committee meetings at Michael House, the head office of Marks & Spencer on Baker Street. The committee was chaired by the late Michael Sacher, a scion of the famous M&S dynasty.
There I was, a 22-year-old South African émigré with my pronounced South African accent trying to keep up with the great and the good. They were mostly millionaires, the crème de la crème of the British Jewish aristocracy. Their track record for raising money for Israel was legendary and each year they ran fund-raising campaigns with the precision of a military maneuver. The high point of each year was the JPA Dinner at London’s most prestigious venue, the Dorchester Hotel. Ironically, today the hotel is owned and managed by the Sultan of Brunei’s people.
Each year, the JPA invited several keynotes speaker from Israel and the Jewish World. My job at Rex House (JPA headquarters) was to write press releases, research the VIP candidates and then spend some time with them in London.  I met quite a few people, but one stands out sharply in my memory. He was Wolfgang Lotz, otherwise known by the title of his book The Champagne Spy. All in all I spent about three days with Mr. Lotz and his wife, Waltraud. The rendezvous left an indelible impression on me.
At that time, James Bond books and movies were all the rage and I was fascinated by the world of spying. In my first few months in Israel back in 1971 before I moved to London, I received a letter in the mail to attend an interview in Tel Aviv. The envelope was from the Foreign Ministry. It turned out to be part of a recruitment drive by the Mossad who were looking to recruit new agents. I showed the letter to one of my closest friends who warned me not to go the interview. Her boyfriend had been recruited by the Mossad and then disappeared for five years. Curiosity got the better of me and I attended not one but two interviews. I soon decided that I was not cut out to be a spy!
I vividly remember riding in the back of a black cab with Mr. Lotz and his wife. After dropping off Mrs. Lotz at Selfridges Department store, I managed to engage the rather laconic Mr. Lotz in conversation. I was trying to put a press release together but I was also incredibly curious to find out more about him. I did not mention my dalliance with the failed Mossad recruitment drive.
“So what qualities does an aspiring Mossadnik need to become a successful spy for Israel?” I asked naively and somewhat sycophantically.
“Do you really want to know?” He answered.
“Yes I do Mr. Lotz,” I replied.
“Well young man. There is nothing glamorous about being a spy. Quite the contrary. You have to be totally ruthless. You have to know how to lie, to cheat, deceive and betray those with whom you have built the closest of relationships, even those who you love…..” His voice trailed off as he stared wistfully out of the window.  “You have to be able to suppress your feelings and emotions even knowing that you may be sending someone to their death,”  he continued as he lit the fifth cigarette of the morning.  After a short while we arrived at his hotel and made our way to the lobby where he carried on telling me his story.
He was born in Mannheim, Germany  in 1921. His Jewish actress mother Lena, married Hans Lotz a non-Jewish theatre director. They did not have their son circumcised, a fact that would later prove critical as a “weapon” of cultural warfare against the enemy.  When Wolfgang was two years old, his father committed suicide, leaving Lena to raise their son alone. When the Nazis came to power in January 1933, mother and son immigrated to Palestine. Lotz went to school in the Ben Shemen Youth Village, served in the British police force, and in World War II volunteered for service in the British Army. The British took advantage of his fluency in German and assigned him to an intelligence unit in Egypt to interrogate German prisoners of war. This experience would later add to his “weaponry” allowing  Lotz to create a credible cover story for his spy mission.
In 1952, Lotz Hebraized his name to Ze’ev Gur-Arie. He left the army in 1958 with the rank of captain. He then joined Aman (Agaf HaModiin) , the forerunner of the Mossad. His superiors wanted him to gather intelligence about Nasser’s armaments. They knew that his Aryan looks and German background would allow him to penetrate the circle of German scientists, ex-Nazis who had been given shelter by the Egyptians. In 1959 he was sent to Germany to prepare his cover as a German businessman and ex Wehrmacht officer, member of the Nazi party who had served in North Africa. His story included an 11 year stint in Australia where he had established himself as a breeder of racehorses. This enabled him to set up a riding club near Cairo in which he could fraternize with a group of ex Nazis. His cover was so convincing and his stories so well rehearsed that he soon became ensconced in Egyptian high society where he rubbed shoulders with ex-Nazi German officers and their wives and got close to the highest echelons of the Egyptian military as well as the police force. He also recounted how his lavish lifestyle brought him into contact with a bevy of beautiful women who competed with each other for his attentions.
In January 1961, about a year after being sent to Egypt, Lotz travelled to Paris to meet his Mossad handlers. From there he continued to Germany by train where he met a fellow passenger, Waltraud Neumann. He was 41, she was 30. He told her that he was living in Cairo and that he was a millionaire who had made his fortune as a race horse breeder in Australia. Waltraud was the daughter of Jehovah’s Witnesses who were persecuted by the Nazis during the Second World War. In the aftermath of Germany’s defeat she was caught up in the violence of the war and raped by a Soviet soldier. After the war she ended up in Los Angeles where she hoped to start a new life in the hotel industry. While working as a chambermaid she fell in love with a conman who broke her heart and dumped her. Soon after arriving back in Europe she met Lotz and two weeks later they were married.
What Zeev Gur Arie (Lotz) did not tell me was that he had committed bigamy and that he was already married to an Israeli wife. She was Rivka Merkes and she and their son Oded Gur-Arie were living in Paris patiently waiting for their beloved father and husband to complete his mission and return to Israel with them. 
Lotz also lied to Waltraud and kept the information about his double life from her.  He also failed to inform the Mossad about his marriage to Waltraud. The Mossad found out about it by accident.  They immediately summoned him back to Israel to explain himself. By this time Lotz, like Eli Cohen in Damascus had proved himself to be an outstanding spy and they did not want to lose him and so they went along with the ruse and decided not to tell Rivka what he had done.
I distinctly remember Lotz telling me about Waltraud:
“When Waltraud and I got married my Mossad operators found out about it and  would have none of it. They wanted me to end the relationship but I refused. After a great deal of haggling and arguing I convinced them that Waltraud was completely trustworthy and persuaded them to allow me to recruit her. I argued that my cover would be complete if I arrived back in Cairo with a German wife - that the Egyptians and Germans were getting a little suspicious about the “fictitious” wife in Germany who I kept talking about. They finally accepted her and after a rigorous induction and training period she was welcomed into the ranks of the Mossad and we returned to Egypt as a couple with a transponder hidden in our luggage!”