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The Mystery Of Olga Chekhova: Was Hitler's Favorite Actress a Russian Spy? Hardcover – September 9, 2004


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (September 9, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670033405
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670033409
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #132,394 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Hitler admired her for her "cosmopolitan sophistication," but Olga Chekhova, niece of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, was far too pragmatic to lose herself to the charms of a powerful man. Drawing on numerous interviews, articles and books, Beevor (Stalingrad) concludes that the great icon of Nazi cinema never forgot where she came from and worked as a Soviet agent while reaping the rewards of stardom under the Third Reich. Chekhova, a Russian of German descent, could not help but see the benefits of serving the motherland. As an émigrée in Berlin, she was already held suspect by the Soviets and hoped her spying for them would result in favorable treatment of her family in Moscow. Recruited by her brother, Lev, a Soviet composer, Chekhova became a friend and confidante to men like Goebbels, while serving Stalin by gauging Germany’s interest in war against Russia. An accomplished documentarian, Beevor has written an absorbing and expansive story, not just of an actress/spy, but of revolution and of the stark changes in Russian society that occurred between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He places Moscow and Berlin side by side and shows how the divergent trajectories of the regimes could intersect only on the battlefield. Amid the history lesson is the glowing and graceful Olga Knipper-Chekhova, a woman made wiser by a bad marriage and toughened by civil war. As Beevor illustrates, survival was perhaps her most pronounced motivation, and it guided her well, from the day in 1920 when she left the blight of Soviet Russia behind with nothing more than a diamond ring smuggled under her tongue to her death in 1980.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

On Hitler's fiftieth birthday, Goebbels gave him a hundred and twenty movies, and the pair indulged their love of cinema by holding lavish parties for their favorite stars. One of these was Olga Che-khova, a Russian émigrée living in Berlin who was the niece of Anton Chekhov, and whose acting the Führer greatly admired. But her biggest fans were the Soviet secret police, who, seeing her closeness to the Nazi élite, recruited her as a sleeper agent. The closest she ever came to active duty was a 1941 plot to assassinate Hitler, but Stalin decided that keeping him around was a better idea. Beevor soft-pedals the more salacious details of his story and presents a documentary account of the large and complicated Chekhov clan. His painstaking work clears away historical gossip and shows how ingeniously Olga played powerful figures off against each other to survive the revolution, the war, and Stalin's purges.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

More About the Author

A regular in the 11th Hussars, Antony Beevor served in Germany and England. He has had a number of books published and his book Stalingrad was awarded the Samuel Johnson Prize, the Wolfson History Prize and the Hawthornden Prize. Among the many prestigious posts he holds, he is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Customer Reviews

It all seems rather skimpy and vague.
Eero Richmond
I was also disappointed, because after reading it I am still not quite sure if the question of the mystery was ever answered.
Neal Bellet
I found that unlike his history of WWII which is excellent, this book was not too meaty and quite disappointing.
richard bridburg

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Leonard Fleisig TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Anthony Beevor's "Mystery of Olga Chekhova" is a fascinating book. Beevor has taken a little known episode in Soviet (and German) history and managed to create a book that reads more like a novel. As I read "Olga" I was constantly reminded of the noir-like novels of Alan Furst, whose tales of Soviet espionage and counter-espionage center on tales of similar acts of espionage taken on by Russian and other East European émigrés in the 1930's and 1940's.

"Olga" is about the life of one "Olga Chekhova and her family. A niece, by marriage, of the great Anton Chekhov, Olga left the Soviet Union under mysterious circumstances to pursue an acting career in Berlin. Olga's family, mostly actors and musicians stayed behind. Olga went on to become a famous film star in Germany and was highly regarded by Hitler, Goering, Goebels, and the rest of the Nazi leadership. She married a Luftwaffe pilot (later killed in action) and performed for the troops during the war. In the meantime, her family continued to thrive in the USSR. This alone was a remarkable and mysterious achievement when one considers the fact that the families of so-called enemies of the state generally suffered far worse. The question addressed by Beevor is simple: Was Olga a Soviet spy and, if so, what did she do and how did she do it?

Beevor traces Olga's life and her relationship with the Chekov family. His descriptions of Russian and Soviet Theater, particularly his overview of the family's relationship with Stanislavski and the Bohemian and lurid life-style common to the period are particularly interesting. Given the nature of the book and novel-like story line I think it would be inappropriate to reveal much in the way of details.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Tony Thomas on September 18, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is marketed by taking advantage of the association between the Nazi bigwigs and Olga Chekhova, a Russian-born star of German films in the 1930s and 1940s. The cover photo with her seated next to Hitler at a Nazi gala and the blurbs about her being Hitler's favorite actress, suggest we will enter the world of the Nazi bigwigs. Yet, this book, besides denying allegations that Chekhova was sexually involved with Hitler or any of his henchmen, says little about this.

Beevor's real interest here is the Knipper family Chekhova sprang from and the Chekhov family (that of her famous Uncle by marriage the playwright Anton Chekhov) that she and her aunt married into. The core of this book follows these families of Russian intellectuals through the dying days of Tsarism, the Bolshevik Revolution, the onset of the Stalin regime, and the Second World War. Beevor is particularly concerned with the relationship between the Chekhovs and Knippers and the Moscow Art Theater.

In fact, there is as much information about Chekhova's ex-husband and her brother as about the film star. This is good because, at least to me, they were interesting figures in both politics and their respective arts. Chekhova, on the other hand, seems to have been a very attractive woman whose main interest was in keeping her life comfortable whether Hitler, Stalin, or Adenhauer was in power, but not much more.

Beevor's "mystery" is that Chekhova passed information along to Soviet Intelligence during the 30s and 1940s when she served as an ornament to the social life of the Nazi leaders. She was also held in reserve for a plot to kill Hitler. It was planned that her brother, a Soviet military intelligence agent and composer, would defect to the Germans had Moscow fallen.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Franzon on March 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
As other reviewers have pointed out, the book is misnamed. Olga Chekhova was not for certain Hitler's favorite actress. There is perhaps not much of a mystery to her waiting to be solved. The book is not even a biography of Olga Chekhova exclusively. The answer to the journalistically slanted question "Was she a spy?" seems to be either a simple yes or an inconclusive no. Yes, Olga Chekhova was in contact with the Soviet Intelligence Agency. She and her family were protected, even pampered, by Soviet leaders during and after the war. But no, there is no evidence that she did any actual spying of consequence.

The real spy was Olga's brother, Lev Knipper, who is as much the subject of Beevor's book as Olga. He informed on Russian emigrées and was involved in a plot of some sort in Turkey, where he was to pretend to defect. But the plot was never actualized.

The book is not a spy story. The Knipper-Chekhovas did not change, or even influence, the course of history. The real achievement of Beevor's book is the way he is able to use the correspondence between Lev and Olga, their aunt Olga Knipper-Chekhova (Anton's widow) and other members of the Knipper-Chekhova family to paint vivid pictures of the most horrifying and dramatic episodes in 20th century Nazi-Soviet history, from the Russian Revolution to the fall of Berlin. The book is tantalizing, interesting and enlightening in its focus on the family: Olga senior and her niece and nephew Olga junior and Lev - a family of actors and artists who managed to survive the hardest of times by cheating, lying, posing, and pretending. A great drama might possibly be made of the material, much like Herman Wouk's "The Winds of War" or Tolstoy's "War and Peace".
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