August 14th 2004

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Foreign Minister launches Paul Gray's new book on Islam

EDITORIAL: Australia and the Timor Gap Treaty

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Latham loses lustre as poll looms


RURAL POLICY: Facing up to the farm income crisis

UNITED STATES: Transsexual case and marriage law

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Pakistan and the Islamic N-bomb

POPULATION: 'Gender equality' partly to blame for fertility decline, says UN official

DOCUMENTARY: 'My Foetus' prompts abortion re-think

OPINION: US law professor blasts US court on gay marriage

OPINION: Distributism and capitalism

STRAWS IN THE WIND : Part-timers: pros and cons / Family Law changes / Timor's Labor pain

Latham, Iraq and free trade deal (letter)

Fishermen protest in marginal seats (letter)

Ethanol stand challenged (letter)

BOOKS: The Red Millionaire: Willi Münzenberg, by Sean McMeekin

BOOKS: GETTING ON TRACK: A Business Plan for Australia

BOOKS: Just War Against Terror, by Jean Bethke Elshtain

BOOKS: The Mystery of Olga Chekhova, by Anthony Beevor

Books promotion page

The Mystery of Olga Chekhova, by Anthony Beevor

by Michael Daniel (reviewer)

News Weekly, August 14, 2004
A favourite with Hitler

by Anthony Beevor

Viking (Penguin), RRP: $35.00

The life of Olga Knipper-Chekhova - niece, by marriage, of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov - spans one of the most turbulent periods of Russian history.

Born into a middle-class family at the end of the 19th century, she married Misha Chekhov while still a teenager.

Like most middle-class families, the Knippers in the years following the Bolshevik revolution suffered deprivation and constant fear of being rounded up and killed by Bolsheviks.

She left her husband, largely on account of his alcoholism, taking her daughter with her. The family survived as Olga's father was deemed indispensable by the Bolsheviks. He was a railway engineer.

Realising that her best chance of survival lay in leaving Russia, Olga obtained a six-week departure visa and arrived penniless in Germany in 1921.

Using her Chekhov name and with some film acting experience, Olga was able to obtain roles in the German film industry and eventually became a successful film star.

Indeed, she was one of Hitler's favourite actresses and, from time to time, was entertained by leading members of the Nazi regime.

Beevor also examines in detail Olga's brother, Lev Knipper. Although he served with the Whites in the Civil War, Lev returned to Russia and was recruited by the Soviet security forces.

He undertook various missions, including initiating a plot to kill Hitler - an operation that was to involve his sister, Olga.

Beevor raises the interesting question as to whether Olga was a Soviet agent and the extent of her involvement in Soviet intelligence.

That there was some involvement seems likely given her treatment by Soviet authorities in 1945: at a time when Stalin ruthlessly rounded up and shot or sent to the Gulag most anti-communist Russians.

Olga, by contrast, was flown back to Moscow and feted by the Soviet regime, before returning to Germany later in 1945. However, as Beevor acknowledges, given the lack of access to the relevant archives, it is difficult to make a more definitive assessment of her involvement.

This problem of interpretation is only further compounded by Olga's first-hand accounts, much of which have been demonstrated to be untrue.

The Mystery of Olga Chekhova is an interesting account of an extraordinary woman.

While the sections dealing with the Russian revolution, the inter-war years and World War II make for interesting reading, the work is somewhat loquacious.

A family tree as an appendix would also have assisted the reader in placing various Chekhov family members mentioned in the narrative.

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