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Sorge, Richard


(18951944), Soviet spy.

Richard Sorge was born to a German family in Baku. His father was a petroleum engineer and his grandfather, Friedrich Sorge (18281906), a colleague of Marx. In 1910 the family returned to Germany, where Sorge later studied in Berlin and Hamburg Universities. Drafted into the German army, he was a participant in World War I, and the combat experience converted him to socialism. In 1919 he joined the Communist Party of Germany. He held various positions as teacher and miner before returning to the Soviet Union in 1924, where a year later he joined the Communist Party and worked for various institutions before joining the military intelligence (GRU) in 1929. His duties took him to London and Los Angeles, and in 1930 to China. Returning to Germany, he established contacts with the military intelligence and Gestapo and was sent undercover as a journalist to Tokyo, and eventually as the press attaché in the German embassy. His scandalous life, which included heavy drinking and several affairs, served as a cover for his activities as a Soviet agent. The German military attaché was the source of much information, and through him, Sorge found out the plans for Operation Barbarrossa and duly informed Moscow. This news went counter to Josef Stalin's belief, who did not anticipate war in 1941, and he even thought Sorge was a double agent. Beria also discounted similar reports from his own agents in Germany, which confirmed Sorge's warnings. The end result was the greatest military disaster to befall the Soviet Union, when Hitler attacked as Sorge had reported. In his work, Sorge received help from the Japanese communists and from his radio operator, Max Klausen (18991979). Born in Germany, Klausen immigrated to the Soviet Union in 1927 and a year later joined the military intelligence. After serving in China, he was sent to Japan in September 1935, where he joined up with Sorge. Like Sorge, he was arrested in 1941, but he survived and lived in East Germany.

Sorge's loose life finally brought him to the attention of the Japanese counterintelligence, which arrested him in October 1941. After two years in prison, Sorge was sentenced to death on September 29, 1943, and was hanged. There is no evidence that the Soviet government in any way intervened in his behalf, and in fact, Sorge's long-suffering wife, E. A. Maximova (19091943), was arrested (September 4, 1942) by the NKVD and perished in prison camp. Only during Nikita Khrushchev's Thaw were Sorge's services to the Soviet Union recognized, and on November 11, 1962, he was posthumously awarded the title of hero of the Soviet Union, and his wife was rehabilitated. Sorge's life has been subject of numerous books, but his legacy remains that of one of the greatest intelligence coups of all time gone to waste because those in the position of power failed to heed it.

See also: military intelligentsia; state security, or gans of; world war ii


Johnson, Chalmers. (1990). An Instance of Treason: Ozaki Hotsumi and the Tokyo Spy Ring. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Whymant, Robert. (1996). Stalin's Spy: Richard Sorge and the Tokyo Spy Ring. London: I. B. Tauris.

Michael Parrish

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