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'Champagne Spy,' Caviar Capers

March 13, 2008 By:
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The real "Champagne Spy" in Egypt
Oy-Oy Seven? "In a way," claims Oded Gur-Arie, "this is what James Bond would have been like if he had had a family.

"And he were Jewish."

The spy who loved me? Gur-Arie agrees. His father, Ze'ev, was a Mossad operative who loved his family, but, perhaps, his home-away-from-home high-jinks even more.

Ensconced in Egypt as a high-flying horse-breeder with Champagne dreams and caviar wishes -- had time machines been available then, Robin Leach would have had the time of his life asking questions, trading ascots with him -- Ze'ev was more cipher than society icon.

Establishing his espionage creds in the Mideast en mufti, while his real family muddled on without him in Paris, Ze'ev was a zephyr of insight for Israel, uncovering Nasser's nefarious plans to build weapons of mass destruction with their missile noses inches away from the face of Israel.

Intoxicatingly involving, "The Champagne Spy" -- the next entry in the Israel Film Festival of Greater Philadelphia, set for Saturday night, March 15, at Gratz College Auditorium in Melrose Park -- is a docu-rocker, an unsettling truth-based account of the spy who came in from the cold and warmed up, unconscionably, to his incognito albeit incandescent undercover role as an ex-Nazi exchanging secrets in Egypt.

Aryan-appealing and aridly archetypical, the German-born Gur-Arie looked the part, seguing from Israeli citizen to the seig-helling role of a lifetime without pause.

An Israeli major when recruited by Mossad, he had a major affinity, too, for the new luxe Luxor lifestyle he lapped up in 1960s Egypt. So much so that this sheep in wolf's clothing attired nattily as Wolfgang Lotz had a newfound lust for life that had him taking on another wife in his newfound home -- all under the unnerved eyes of the Mossad.

"He had to think of himself as an ex-Nazi to pull it off," says his son of the royal ruse. And he did just that; the bizarre bond was established.

Which breached that of the bond Ze'ev had forged with Oded. "He realized he had deprived me" of a childhood, says his son, now 57. "But, ironically, what he himself was deprived of in his own childhood was his own father."

Oded knew and understood the back story which came back to bend and break his family. "It made for a different kind of relationship."

But Ze'ev related his forged fable early on to his son, the agency and father figuring "it would be safer for me to know if he swore me to secrecy." About to be Bar Mitzvah when his father revealed he was more about checkpoints than checks at that point in his life, "he thought it was less risky."

He was right. "I never talked."

Until now, when Oded was approached recently by Mossad, which had been contacted by director Nadav Schirman, interested in making his documentary directorial debut with this tale of "the Champagne spy" whose bubble was to burst in later years.

Read all about it -- which is what Oded did as a kid, taking a newspaper story he had just read about a Wolfgang Lotz being arrested as a German spy in Egypt in 1965 to his mother. Suddenly, echad and echad added up to a two-timing story.

"Initially, it wasn't unusual for my father to be away for months at a time," recalls Oded. "We were living in a community in Paris where a lot of kids' fathers were diplomats traveling; there was one whole group of Mossad agents chasing Nazis in South America."

No one was doing the tango over this entanglement. "I cannot begin to describe the double whammy I felt when I saw it in the paper," he says of the International Herald Tribune account that heralded the end of an enigma and era for the family. "I somehow knew it was him; immediately, I knew it was my father who was caught."

Lots had happened to Lotz, and it didn't help "that he was caught with another woman. It couldn't have been easy for my mother."

Easy-does-it and espionage do not go hand-in-hand, indeed. It is also not easy to understand why Mossad would be willing to file this case under declassified, classily allowing it to be told publicly.

"Once they realized Nadav was making a quality project, a movie about the human aspect of being a Mossad agent, they cooperated," he said.

More than that, after they saw the finished film, they considered "Champagne Spy" vintage vindication for perceived mismanagement of a spy whose actions even spooked them for his larger-than-life style. "Mossad adopted the movie," relates Oded.

And his father had adopted a different family after being released from three years of Egyptian prison, his mission as Israeli interloper secret even then to his captors.

Captivating stuff for a spy movie. But for a father-son relationship, more of an odd job. After imprisonment, Lotz/Gur-Arie arrived with his new wife -- "My mother divorced him when she found out about the other woman" -- in Israel, the erstwhile Mossad agent later moving to Germany, adopted homeland for the ersatz horse-breeder of an imposter. But in Eretz Israel, notes his son, "he is still very much a celebrity," his undercover work having thwarted Nasser from nabbing nuclear technology.

That's not exactly a nuclear family Oded grew up in; more nuked than well-done. But when Oded visited his dad in later years, he "was the same person he had always been to me: Abba," an endearment for father.

No secret why this secret agent story should be coming to light now. "I had been approached several times to tell it, but had no interest," he says.

But it wad Oded as dad that made the decision to ultimately unmask the past. "One day my son -- he was about 7 at the time -- came back from school and told me he saw this picture in a book of The World's Greatest Spies."

What he uncovered was his undercover heritage. "He looked at the picture and said, 'That's my grandfather!' "

Zayda Ze'ev as Mossad zealot? The truth lies at the reason that Oded identified with his son's needs. "People think of spies as liars; they really aren't. They're like actors," he reasons.

But suddenly this stage had the world's attention, and the lights were white hot. "Regrets? Yes, of course," says Oded. "As a kid, it was no fun with your father being away so much. And his jail time ... it was very hard."

As was the film difficult to watch when its 200 hours of footage were distilled into 92 minutes. "But I had faith in Nadav," and that faith, avers Oded, paid off.

No cover-up about the undercover operation though: "The movie shows the good, the bad and the ugly."

And has Hollywood on the phone. Schirman is working on a script for a feature film with a projected release date of 2010.

Can Oded project how his father would feel about his undercover life being uncovered for the Tinseltown treatment?

"I'm sure had he been alive and been approached to make this documentary about him, he would have approved, but would not have wanted his family to be shown," he replies.

As showtime approaches for the local premiere of this award-winning Israeli film, acclaimed with that nation's version of the Oscar, would the spy who loved him been able to cope with the klieg lights and fame he once courted only as part of a subterfuge subsistence?

Oded ponders the question. "I'm not sure this would have been easy for him," says the son of the Champagne spy and caviar capers. 

 

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