Zarubina, Elizaveta Julievna (1900-1987)

Elizaveta Zarubina

Elizaveta Zarubina

An officer of the Soviet OGPU and NKGB foreign intelligence who served as an “illegal“operative in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s and in the United States from 1942 to 1944. She became a Lieutenant Colonel in 1943. She was also known as Lisa Rosenzweig, Elizaveta Julievna Gorskaya and Elizaveta Julievna Zubilina (during her U.S. posting).

Zarubina was born Lisa Rosenzweig on January 1, 1900 in the village of Rzhaventsy in the Bessarabskaya Gubernia of the Russian Empire, where her father was the manager of a forestry enterprise. The family soon moved to the town of Khotin (known in the early 1900s as a center of Yiddish literary tradition), where she began her study at a gymnasium, as some secondary schools were then called. When Bessarabia was integrated into Rumania after the end of World War I, the family moved again, this time to Chernovtsy, where Lisa graduated from a Rumanian gymnasium in 1920 and was admitted to the Historical and Philological department of the local university. In 1921 she continued her education at the University of Paris and then, from 1922 on, at the University of Vienna, Austria, from which she graduated in 1924. Besides Yiddish and Russian, she was fluent in Rumanian, German, French and English.

At a young age, Lisa Rosenzweig joined the revolutionary movement in her native Bessarabia. In 1919, she joined the underground youth arm of the Communist Party of Bessarabia, and in 1923, she joined the Communist Party of Austria (her party name was “Anna Deutsch”) and reportedly worked as a courier between the Comintern Department for International Liaison (commonly known as the OMS) and the Austrian Communist Party. In 1924 and 1925 she worked as a translator at the Soviet Embassy and trade mission in Vienna, and in 1925 she took Soviet citizenship. That same year, she began working for OGPU foreign intelligence – without having been formally recruited into the intelligence service – and worked until early 1928 at the OGPU Vienna residency as a translator and courier.

In early 1928, she was sent to Moscow, where she was officially recruited for intelligence service and went through intelligence training. In Moscow she assumed a new name, Elizaveta Julievna Gorskaya. She was soon dispatched to Istanbul, Turkey on a sensitive mission; shortly after being recalled to Moscow (the dating varies in different accounts), she was sent to Denmark, this time as an “illegal” operative and assistant to the OGPU resident, Vassili Zarubin. According to one account (which seems the most credible), she married Zarubin while in Denmark and was known henceforth under the name of Zarubina. However, another account says that the two married while still in Moscow and were sent to Denmark together.

In Denmark, the Zarubins posed as Czech citizens and organized a small textile export company as their cover. In 1929, however, Moscow Center decided to relocate them to France. In time, they settled in a suburb of Paris, posing as a Czech couple, and Vassili became a partner in an advertising firm. The agent group Vassili Zarubin organized in France managed to obtain documentation not only from French but also from German sources, and even succeeded in penetrating the secret communications of the German Embassy in Paris. In 1932 Elizaveta Zarubina gave birth to a son, Peter, in Paris. In late 1933, she returned to Moscow with her husband and son.

In 1934, Vassili Zarubin was posted in Germany as an “illegal” resident, and Elizaveta as an “illegal” operative. Among the sources run by the Zarubins was Gestapo officer Willie Leman, cover name “Breitenbach,” and another agent at the Nazi Foreign Office, “Wienterfeld,” who reportedly continued working as an agent after World War II. In mid-1937, Elizaveta was sent to the United States with her husband to renew their American passports they used in Germany and to find candidates for future work as couriers in Germany. Following the defection in France of a long-time Soviet operative named Poretsky – known in the West as Ignacii Reiss – Vassili and Elizaveta Zarubin were recalled to Moscow.

In late 1937, Elizaveta Zarubina began working at the Centre, as the Moscow foreign intelligence headquarters was commonly called, and in 1938 she made short trips to Tallinn, Paris and London. On March 1, 1939 she was suddenly discharged from the foreign intelligence service, but was reinstated in April 1940. In April 1941 she was dispatched to Berlin to resume contact with the wife of a prominent Nazi diplomat, a woman who had been recruited while living in Moscow. Zarubina also reportedly resumed contact with an agent at the Nazi Foreign Office. She left Berlin and returned to Moscow immediately after the Nazi attack against the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.

In late 1941, Zarubina was sent to the United States as an operative on the “political line” – along with her husband, who was appointed NKGB “legal” resident in the States. While there, Elizaveta lived under an assumed name, Zubilina. Beginning in early 1942, she managed to resume contact with a number of sources the service had lost touch with between late 1939 and early 1941 – and to acquire new sources as well. According to her official biography, she maintained secret contact in the States with around two dozen agents of the NKGB foreign intelligence, including some important information sources. In Soviet intelligence cables of 1942 to 1944 which were decrypted in the course of the Venona operation, Elizaveta Zubilina (Zarubina) appears under the code name of “Vardo.”

In August 1944 Elizaveta Zarubina was recalled to Moscow with her husband. In the fall of 1944, she was awarded the Red Star Order. That year, she went back to work at the Centre, and in 1946 she became the head of an informational unit on the so-called “American line.” However, in September 1946, she was suddenly discharged from the service and sent to the reserve corps. Elizaveta Zarubina died in a traffic accident in Moscow on May 14, 1987. 1

  1. Elizaveta Zarubina bio on the website of SVR RF (; Elizaveta Zarubina bio in Wikipedia, Russia (; “V.M. Zarubin: stupeni masterstva”- Ocherki istorii rossiiskoi vneshnei razvedki, tom 4, 1941-1945. Moskva: “Mezhdunarodnye otnoshenija”, 2003, ss. 203-215 (“V.M. Zarubin: “Climbing the Tradecraft Ladder,” in Essays on the History of Russian Foreign Intelligence, vol. 4, 1941-1945. Moscow: International Relations, 2003, pp. 203-215); Ervin Stavinskii. Zarubiny: semeinaja rezidentura. Moskva: Olma-Press, 2003. (The Zarubins: A Family Residency, by Erwin Stavinsky. Moscow: Olma Press, 2003.) Some confusing details in all of the above-mentioned accounts were ascertained from notes on Zarubina’s personnel form (filled out in her handwriting) in her Soviet Communist Party file at RGASPI, which were made in the 1990s by Russian espionage writer Alexander Kolpakidi. Currently, this collection is stored at a remote depository.