Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Vera Atkins: WWII Spy Boss

Strange Bedfellows


Aerial View of Crasna
Aerial View of Crasna
Max had a craving he could not fulfill in Romania: to be a landowner. In certain eastern parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Jews could own land. In Crasna, a county then part of Austria-Hungary, he bought a sprawling estate.

Soon after that purchase, the Atkins family planned a family gathering in Holland for the summer of 1914. Max stayed home while Hilda took Vera, 6, and Wilfred, 3 for the vacation. The trio took a train heading for Berlin where they met up with Ralph, who was brought over from his English prep school to join them.

Hilda, Vera, and Wilfred arrived in Berlin when war erupted between Europe's major powers. They could not continue to Holland nor could they return home since armies were gathering in that direction. They were trapped in Germany -- a country at war with Britain, which Hilda considered her country.

Hilda and the children traveled to Cologne where Rosenberg family members took them in. Years later, the adult Vera recalled the strained atmosphere in the household where her paternal grandparents cheered Germany and her mother held English sympathies. Vera hung a Union Jack in Ralph's bedroom to remind him whose side his mother was on -- even as her husband, who like his brothers had been drafted into the German army, risked his life for Germany.

Hilda's her tense relations with her in-laws led her to eventually leave the household and find another abode in Cologne.

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