Real Spies: The Champagne Spy Documentary

We all love the thrill of James Bond, but if your fascination for the world of espionage extends beyond the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, you’ll want to check out the Israeli Academy Award winning documentary – The Champagne Spy. It was released in Israel in 2007, but it was just screened in Montreal for the first time.

Director Nadav Schirman is also a Bond enthusiast, but in The Champagne Spy – his first film – he gives viewers a glimpse into the real life of an undercover intelligence operative who also got a taste of the high life, but in a very different way. Schirman also delves deeper, showing us how his spy subject’s double life had a huge impact on the lives of his family.

Nadav SchirmanEven though the story of undercover operative Ze’ev Gur-Arie begins in the mid-20th century, Schirman first heard of his exploits from his son Oded. Oded had never breathed a word of his father’s involvement in the Mossad (he was sworn to secrecy by his dad in 1960) until Ze’ev passed away. He then took the story to Schirman, who was able to unearth excellent archival footage to complement the rather unbelievable tale of the spy’s career.

Ze’ev Gur-Arie’s real life was based in Paris with his wife and son. His career forced him to spend large chunks of his time in Cairo, however, where he rolled with the city’s high flyers. His unlikely cover? An ex-Nazi millionaire and horse breeder whose job was to get tight with his ‘fellow’ German expats – especially the Nazi scientists who the Israelis suspected of creating weapons whose express purpose was the obliteration of Israel.

Ze’ev Gur-Arie’s assignment in Cairo was no short-term mission. He was in it for long-term espionage and not only adopted, but effectively became Wolfgang Lotz. His moniker – the Champagne Spy – came from the perks of his cover. A convincing multimillionaire needs to lead a life fit for well, a multimillionaire. He even married a German socialite, Waltraud, and his Aryan looks combined with his skill as a spy allowed him to keep his cover and hinder the Germans’ nuclear pursuits for many years.

The Champagne Spy PosterOded and his mother didn’t know about Wife #2 until Ze’ev was busted – not by German and Egyptian officials funnily enough, but by his servant, who reported a transmitter he found in the house to the authorities. The Egyptians arrested the Lotzes as German spies working for Israel, never discovering that Gur-Arie was actually an Israeli. Their oversight got him a lifetime prison sentence instead of immediate execution. Waltraud – wholly oblivious to his true identity – was sentenced to three years in prison.

More than just a cover, Ze’ev/Wolfgang was very much devoted to his second wife, and it was this fact that made Oded and his mother’s discovery of Waltraud’s existence all the worse. After the Six Day War, Israel arranged to exchange Egyptian prisoners for Wolfgang and Waltraud’s release.

Wolfgang’s champagne-dappled days were over, and the complexities that his spying life had led to left neither him nor his family footloose and fancy free upon his return. It is this murkier side of espionage that Schirman does not fail to address in his award-winning documentary.

images courtesy of www.spywise.net and www.jewcy.com


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