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  • Abstract: English

This paper outlines the life and work of the Austrian Communist Peter Smolka (later Smollett) in British exile and examines in particular his exceptional career at the Ministry of Information in wartime London at which from June 1941 he was put in charge of the Anglo-Soviet Liaison Section. It considers the claims made from the 1980s onwards that Smollett  acted as a Soviet mole while at the MoI, working in conjunction with Guy Burgess and Kim Philby;  and it adds to the existing literature on the subject by reference to the four-volume MI5 file on Smolka, that has recently been released in the National Archives (as part of a larger release of papers on Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean). The paper then follows Smollett’s life and career in post-war Vienna (where he assumed the name Smolka again). Yet MI5 and MI6 continued their surveillance of him there and managed to interview him at length in London in 1961 on his politics, his wartime work in Britain and his links with Burgess. It was decided that despite the existence of confidential documents among Burgess’s papers that had clearly originated from Smollett, there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him under the Official Secrets Act. Smolka lived out the rest of his life in Vienna increasingly handicapped by multiple sclerosis, and died in 1980, just before the accusations of espionage against him were made public.

  • About the speaker – Short biography and research interests

Charmian Brinson is  Emeritus Professor of German Studies at Imperial College, having previously been Director of Languages and, for four years, Head of Department. She is also a founder member of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies in the School of Advanced Studies, University of London. Her research focuses on German-speaking exiles from Hitler, mostly in Britain, and she has published extensively in this field, her particular interests being political exile and women in exile. In 2014, together with Richard Dove, she published A Matter of Intelligence: MI5 and the Surveillance of Anti-Nazi Refugees, 1933-1950 (Manchester University Press) which is thematically related to the current  research seminar.