18. A Teenaged Russian Exile’s Convoluted Path to British Intelligence
When he was a young man, Zigmund Rozenblum got involved with a revolutionary group known as the Friends of the Enlightenment, and acted as one of its couriers. Enlightenment was the last thing the oppressive Russian government wanted, and such politics got him in hot water with the Tsarist secret police, the Okhrana. So he fled Odessa at age nineteen, and stowed away in a ship bound for Brazil. It was the start of years of international travel in which he claimed to have worked as a dockworker, a dishwasher, a brothel doorkeeper, a railway engineer in India, and a spy for the Japanese government.
While in Brazil, Rozeblum was hired by some British explorers as a cook on an expedition to the Amazon. He reportedly saved them from hostile cannibals when he grabbed a revolver and shot several attackers dead. The grateful explorers invited their cook to return with them to England, saw his potential as a spy, and steered him towards British intelligence. It is possible that such a dramatic story was bunk, invented by the future master spy to hide how he got to London – which was also dramatic, although less heroic. Other accounts indicate that Rozebnblum had ambushed and killed two anarchists in Paris, robbed them of revolutionary funds, then fled France.