Skarbek, Krystyna Janina, born 01-05-1908 into a family of Polish nobles in Warsaw. Her Catholic father had caused something of a scandal in the country’s aristocratic –circles when he married the rich, but Jewish, Stefania Goldfeder, heiress to a banking fortune. Although their daughter was initially brought up according to noble tradition (young Krystyna Skarbek learned how to ride, shoot, and ski), the family’s fortunes took a turn for the worse during the global depression and they were forced to assume a more humble lifestyle and move into a simple apartment in the city.
After a first marriage to Karol Getlich when she was young Skarbek, however, found she could not so easily abandon her taste for glamour; she fully embraced the wild lifestyle of the 1920s, frequenting bars and nightclubs unchaperoned, and even entering one of Poland’s first beauty contests. She was travelling out of the country with her second husband Jerzy Gizycki when the Nazis invaded her homeland; rather than wait out the war in safety abroad, she immediately offered her services to British intelligence, who quickly recognized how valuable of an asset she could be and gave her the alias “Christina Granville.” In no time at all, the new spy was making a daring re-entry into Poland. In Gizycki, she found a husband whose taste for adventure matched her own; he had come to the United States earlier in life and panned for gold in the West. Later he became a diplomat, and after the marriage the couple departed for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, so that Gizycki could take up the post of Polish consul there. They were in Ethiopia when German forces invaded Poland in September of 1939. Although the battle between Polish troops and the numerically superior Germans was short, underground resistance began along with the official campaign. Skarbek and her husband went to London, where Skarbek volunteered to work as a spy.
Krystyna Skarbek’s forte was approaching sticky situations with the boldness she had learned from her independent youth; in compromising situations she would openly approach the enemy, rather than raise their suspicions by trying to quickly stash away intelligence documents. Once, when she was stopped by German border patrol holding a silk map of the area that would have immediately blown her cover, she cheerily rolled it up into a headscarf and greeted the soldiers as though she were a local strolling by.
Another time, when she was stopped by a German patrol (this time on the Italian border), she willingly complied with their demand to raise her hands above her head, revealing the grenades she had hidden under each arm. Skarbek’s threats to pull the pins must have been convincing, since the soldiers who had cornered her quickly fled. Stories of her exploits and creative escapades endeared her to British intelligence; it is even said that she was a personal favorite of Winston Churchill himself..
Krystyna Skarbek emerged from the world’s deadliest conflict unscathed and with a sterling reputation in the British intelligence community. Unfortunately, due to the official shroud of secrecy over the country’s more covert war efforts, her numerous daring exploits would remain unknown to the public for decades. Astonishingly, the woman dubbed “Churchill’s favorite spy” was completely abandoned by those she had served once the war had ended.
By the 1950s the former aristocrat, spy, and Bond-woman inspiration was working as a stewardess on a cruise ship after a stint as a waitress in London. Still in full possession of the charm that had gotten her out of countless scrapes during the war, Krystyna Skarbek became involved with fellow crew-member Dennis Muldowney on one of her voyages.
Death and burial ground of Skarbek, Maria Krystyna Janina.
Fleming finally married another woman, however, and for Skarbek things went from bad to worse. She suffered from depression and from injuries sustained when she was hit by a car. In desperation, she took a job in 1951 as a stewardess on the ocean liner Rauhine . The ship’s captain ordered the crew to wear their wartime decorations, and Skarbek’s splendid George Medal inspired resentment from her English-born crew mates. A bathroom attendant named George Muldowney took her side but misinterpreted Skarbek’s gratefulness as a sign of romantic interest. Back in London he became obsessed with her and began to monitor her movements and communications. Skarbek prepared to leave her small hotel room on 15-06-1952, for a trip with Kowerski, their first contact in some years. Muldowney confronted her as she loaded a trunk and demanded to know how long she would be away. When she answered that it would be at least two years, he stabbed her in the chest and killed her. He pleaded guilty, telling an Old Bailey courtroom that to kill was the final possession. Kowerski lived on until 1988, never marrying, and his ashes were buried next to Skarbek’s at London’s St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cemetery.