TEL AVIV (May. 16)
Maj. Ze’ev Gur-Arye, a German Jew who as Israel’s so-called “champagne spy” worked undercover for years in Egypt, died last week in Munich at the age of 72, following a long illness.
Gur-Arye, who assumed the name of Wolfgang Lutz during his years as an Israeli spy in Egypt, earned the sobriquets of the “champagne spy” and “the spy on the horse” because of the opulent lifestyle he led in Egypt, where he owned a ranch and riding school.
Posing as a rich German businessmen in Cairo in the early 1960s, Gur-Arye earned the confidence of high-level friends who unwittingly fed him with information about the activities of German rocket and missile scientists working for the Egyptian authorities.
Gur-Arye was born in Hamburg to the non-Jewish manager of the Hamburg Theater and his Jewish actress-wife. His fluent knowledge of German and his Hamburg accent, coupled with the fact that he had not been circumcised, enabled him later to pass as a German non-Jew.
When caught and charged with espionage in Egypt, he was thought to be a German citizen and therefore received a relatively short sentence.
If the Egyptian authorities had known he was an Israeli Jew and a major in the Israeli army, he would certainly have been sentenced to death.
Gur-Arye came to Palestine at the age of 12 and, while serving as a career officer in the army, was picked and trained for spy duties in Egypt.
His popular ranch in Egypt was frequented by both German scientists and senior Egyptian officers and government officials.
He was well-supplied with money and quickly became a social star. Frequently acting against standing orders by his spy masters in Israel, Gur-Arye married a German woman named Waltrude and recruited her to help him in his espionage duties without informing his supervisors.
After the couple’s release from jail in Egypt, they came to Israel via Europe.
The master spy tried to make a go at business, but having failed, he moved back to Germany, where his wife died some years ago.
For the past 12 years, Gur-Arye had lived with a West German journalist who cared for him when his health deteriorated seriously in the past few years.
According to Werner Meir, a German journalist who interviewed him shortly before his death last week, Gur-Arye kept his charm until the end. But the last words of the man generally regarded as one of the bravest of intelligence agents were “I’m scared.”