Maria Krystyna Skarbek was born in Warsaw in 1908, the daughter of a polish count and the daughter of a wealthy Jewish banker. Her family had a long and distinguished history of service to Poland. This was deeply instilled in Krystyna-and during the war she was able to carry on in the tradition of her aristocratic ancestors.
Krystyna and her husband were living in Africa at the outbreak of war. They swiftly decamped to Britain in an attempt to join the war effort. Krystyna was accepted as a spy for the British and sent back to Poland via neutral Hungary. This involved her crossing the freezing Tatra Mountains.
Once in Poland, Krystyna contacted important agents and resistance movements to lay the ground work for her reconnaissance work for the British. She also smuggled polish airmen to neutral Yugoslavia.
In 1941, she was captured. Quick thinking Krystyna bit her tongue to make it bleed, before coughing and pretending to bring up blood. She told her captors she had TB. They x rayed her. Scars on her lungs, the result of emissions in an auto shop she had once worked above, backed up her claim. Convinced she was too seriously ill to take part in resistance activities, Krystyna was freed. She escaped to England-but returned to southern France in 1944.
Such was Krystyna’s fame, she was apparently the inspiration for the character of Vesper Lynd in Casino Royal. Yet after the war, she sank into deliberate obscurity. Granted British Citizenship, she drifted through a series of mundane jobs- until she made the headlines again when a colleague on the cruise ship she was working on stabbed her to death in 1952.