George Behar was born in Rotterdam on November 11, 1922. His mother was a Dutch Protestant. His father, Albert, was a Spanish Jew born in Turkey who fought the Ottoman Empire in World War I, was wounded, courageously martyred, and acquired British citizenship. Settled in Holland as a businessman.
When his father died in 1934, George went to Cairo to live with relatives, including his cousin, Henry Curiel, who had become an Egyptian communist leader. He was visiting the Netherlands when World War II broke out in 1939. His mother and two sisters fled to England, but he joined the Dutch resistance, sending messages and gathering intelligence for two years.
After withdrawing to Britain, he changed his surname to Blake, enlisted in the Royal Navy, trained in submarines, and was recruited by British wartime intelligence as a junior agent. He is fluent in Dutch, German, Arabic, Hebrew as well as English, he translated German documents and interrogated German prisoners.
After the war, he studied Russian in Cambridge – by that time Philby, Burgess, and Maclean had graduated in the espionage trade – and inspired his professor, a native of St. Petersburg before the revolution, with his love for Russian language and culture, a step in his transformation. Then he was sent to Germany to build a network of British spies in Berlin and Hamburg. Using the cover of a marine attaché, he recruited dozens of agents.
Before the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, Mr. Blake was sent to Seoul, the capital of South Korea, under diplomatic cover to organize another espionage network. But he was captured by the invading North Korean forces. He was held for three years in North Korea, and subjected to communist indoctrination.
He later denied that this affected his transformation, and insisted that the US bombing of North Korea was the main factor. “The continuous bombing of small Korean villages by the formidable American flying forts” has killed “women, children and the elderly,” he said. “It made me feel ashamed,” he added. “I felt committed to the wrong side.”
Mr. Blake said he met the KGB officer in North Korea, agreed to become a Soviet agent and immediately began divulging secrets. He did not want payment and, to avoid suspicion, insisted that he not be granted any privileges and be released with other prisoner diplomats. With the end of the Korean War in 1953, he was returned to Britain and claimed the title of National Hero.