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Home | Russians in Britain | Colonel Rudolf Abel (1903 - 1971)

Colonel Rudolf Abel (1903 - 1971)

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Probably the most important Soviet master-spy of all was born William August Fisher at 140 Clara Street, Benwell, in Newcastle, the son of Genrikh Fischer (q.v.).

Willie grew up in Whitley Bay where the family moved, going to school, larking on the beach, playing football and rolling his father's cigarette ends in paper to smoke them out in the yard. One day, as he reached into his 'secret' hoard of ends, he found a packet of cigarettes put there for him by his father! Willie was still telling this story 25 years later. To his father's skills as a handyman Willie added a talent for painting and playing the guitar. He attended the Whitley Bay and Monkseaton Grammar school. The family loved the place and lived at several addresses, mostly in Lish Avenue. Their last residence was at No. 18.

Willlie became an apprentice draughtsman at Swan Hunter in 1918, but attended evening classes at Rutherford College and matriculated for London University in 1920.

The Fisher family left Whitley Bay, however, for the newly-established Soviet Union in 1921, where Genrikh died in 1935. By then, Willie was launched on his career in espionage, specialising in radio work. He spoke educated English as well as Geordie and had a genuine British passport too. He used it when living in London 1935-36; he also worked in Norway during the '30s. He had a close escape from the Stalin purges, but played an important role in Russia during WWII.

In New York, after the war, Willie passed himself off as Emil Goldfus, a pleasant, inoffensive photographer, something of an artist and musician, as well as being skilled in metalwork and radio construction. His North East schooldays and his father's instruction had not been wasted! In 1957, however, he was betrayed and arrested; transmitters and espionage material were found on his premises.

R.I. AbelR.I. AbelHe was put on trial under the name of Rudolf Ivanovich Abel, the name he had adopted from a close friend who had died in 1955, the year Willie had been made a colonel in the KGB. The Americans claimed he was the highest-ranking spy ever captured in the USA and in March 1960 he received a sentence of thirty years. On 10 February 1962, however, he was exchanged for the U2 spy-plane pilot Gary Powers.
Willie Fisher died of cancer in 1971 and is buried next to his father in the Donskoi monastery in Moscow. The tombstone has a picture on it, Russian fashion, and is carved with the name he bore in the North East, as well as his famous pseudonym, Rudolf Abel, in smaller letters below. Willie is commemorated by a Russian postage stamp of 1990, one of a series including Kim Philby, whom Willie hated, and called 'Traitor'. His birth centenary was celebrated by a group of KGB veterans in the Donskoi cemetery in 2003.

Towards the end of his life, Willie mused that if a man knew what was going to happen to him in life, he would buy a rope and hang himself. He would have preferred to be an artist: 'A member of the Academy of Arts. I ha' me doots', he laughed. A pleasant sketch exists entitled ' In The North of England'. Until now, no English book has dealt with Willie's early years, or covered his espionage career in any detail. In early 2005, however, St Ermine's Press published Vin Arthey's work: Like Father Like Son, which does justice to both.