Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Vera Atkins: WWII Spy Boss

The Family Reunites in Romania


After World War I ended in 1918, Max, Hilda and their children, as well as Arthur and Siegfried, returned to Romania.

Max and his brothers rebuilt their businesses. Max also rebuilt his closeness to his lovely, brainy, blond-haired daughter.

King Carol II <em>(Public Domain Image)</em>
King Carol II (Public Domain Image)
He again spoke to his children often of their Jewish heritage, instilling pride in Jewish accomplishments and sensitivity to the discriminations Jews faced. Romania's King Carol II took investment advice from Max who told his family, "If a Jew makes money for a king, he is welcome at court. If he makes a mistake, he no longer exists."

Max's strong Jewish identity contrasted with the stance of his brother Arthur who converted to Roman Catholicism, was baptized in that faith, and changed his middle name to Francis. Indeed, both Arthur and Siegfried Rosenberg appeared so thoroughly "Germanized" to that, in the late 1930s, their employees believed they were related to Nazi theoretician Alfred Rosenberg.

At 15, Vera left home for a Swiss boarding school. From there she was sent to a finishing school in Paris, France.

Max visited Vera before she took her finishing exams. Like the proverbial genie, he promised his daughter she could have three wishes granted if she passed. Pass she did and received a puppy, a trip to England and permission to have her long hair cut into a 1920s flapper-style bob. The last infuriated Hilda who hated seeing her daughter lose her braids.

In 1931, Vera went to London to take a secretarial course. When she returned to Romania, a small American-owned company called Vacuum Oil hired her.

In the early 1930s, Max suffered both financial and health problems, leading him to sell the Crasna home in 1932. He died in October that same year of a pulmonary embolism due to arteriosclerosis.

The next year, Wilfred took steps to minimize his German identity and solidify his English one. He changed his name to Guy Atkins, acquired British naturalization and entered Oxford University.

Shortly after Max's death, Hilda and Vera began living in an apartment in Bucharest. In her free time, Vera read spy novels. She was captivated by the world of derring-do and espionage. She rode around in cars but was not at the wheel for, despite her daring, she never in her life learned to drive.

Vera was concerned about events on the political stage. In 1935 her relatives in Germany became subject to the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws that limited German citizenship only to nationals "of German or kindred blood." Vera's uncles Arthur and Siegfried, still in Romania, could not export to their own company in Cologne.

Vera was also troubled by the demonstrations in Bucharest supporting the Iron Guard, an anti-Semitic Romanian political party.

Vera probably discussed her fears with many social acquaintances. Some of those discussions may have been pivotal to her future. Vera often socialized with people who worked in a wide variety of fields -- some of whom were also spies. Helm observes that Vera "was evidently at ease with such shadowy figures." According to Stevenson, one of those spies was Canadian businessman William "Billy" Stephenson who served with the Industrial Intelligence Centre, an agency within Britain's Committee of Imperial Defense. He was also called "Intrepid" for his espionage activities.

It is possible that Vera's contacts with spies were already more than friendly. In 1934, at the age of 26, Vera began work as a foreign correspondent with the Pallas Oil Company. The multi-lingual Vera was an interpreter and intermediary with foreign clients. This job gave Vera access to information about the oil industry and required her to travel widely, putting her in a perfect position to pass sensitive information to friends in the espionage world.

Helm writes that it is likely "that providing intelligence to the British was already a Rosenberg and Atkins family tradition." The British built up networks of informants during the Boer War and Henry Atkins may have been one of them. Max may also have communicated with British intelligence during that conflict. It is even more likely that he did during the 1920s in Romania when he became friends with known British spy Thomas Kendrick.

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