June 28, 2007
LA film fest: the price of champagne
Ze’ev Gur Arie, aka “The Champagne Spy,” was an Israeli Mossad agent in the 1960’s who was eventually caught by Egyptian authorities. The price he paid for living a lavish double life as a wealthy ex-Nazi horse breeder was nothing compared to the price everyone around him had to pay.Wolfgang and Waltraud Lotz
Far from depicting the glamorous life of an international man of intrigue, Nadav Schirman’s documentary, “The Champagne Spy,” chronicles the pain and dangers of that world in a fittingly rough and unpolished style, featuring interviews with ex-Mossad agents, news footage, photographs and the powerful, heart-wrenching testimony of Oded Gur Arie, Ze’ev’s only son.
Speaking publicly for the first time about his notorious father, Oded was visibly scarred by the uncertainty, fear, anguish and silence he had to endure as the son of an international spy.
He was 12 when his father was sent to Egypt to spy on ex-Nazi scientists and the activities of the Egyptians for Israel. At one point, he discovered his father’s secret and he bore it for years, never knowing what his father was doing, when he would be home and what danger he was in.
Meanwhile, the elder Gur Arie, under the pseudonym Wolfgang Lotz, was frolicking around Egypt ala James Bond, puffing on hookahs, being entertained by belly dancers, throwing garden soirees for elite ex-Nazi socialites and riding horses with the creme of Cairo. Lotz went as far as marrying a German woman he met on the train and fell in love with. He was so enamored with his second life, that it stopped being a farce and started becoming his real identity.
Lotz visited Paris less and less frequently, said Oded in the documentary. To his son and wife, he was a complete stranger. But that wasn’t the worst of it.
One day, Oded read in the newspaper that six Germans were arrested in Egypt on suspicion of spying. Wolfgang Lotz was one of them. His wife, Waltraud, was another. Oded and his mother were terrified for Ze’ev’s life, but beneath that fear was the shock and hurt of the betrayal.
Ze’ev spent three years in jail until Israel negotiated his release in exchange for Arab prisoners captured in the Six Day war. When he returned to Israel, he came with Waltraud.
Oded and his mother were crushed. She never remarried and Oded never forgave his father for the heartache he caused her. “He hurt everyone around him,” said Oded on camera, his lips quivering.
Waltraud herself paid a dear price for loving Lotz. A close friend tells of the torture she endured when she was arrested with her husband by the Egyptians. She too spent three years in jail, then moved to a hostile and unfriendly country to be with Lotz. She died in Israel of a brain hemorrhage.
Ze’ev lived out the rest of his life in misery: no money, no power, no privilege. The expensive champagne bottles he used to send to “friends” in high places were a faded memory by the time he died, alone, in a German hospital.