Georges Kopp

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Georges Kopp (1902, in St Petersburg, Russia – 15 July 1951, in Marseilles, France) was an engineer who had lived in Belgium for about 25 years and volunteered to fight for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, rising to become commander of the 3rd Regiment, Lenin Division, a militia unit belonging to the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (POUM) which saw active service on the Aragon front, and was later incorporated into the regular army as the 29th Division of the Republican government's Popular Army. Kopp rose to become captain in the general staff of the 45th Mixed Brigade of the Spanish Republican Army.[1]

He is mentioned in George Orwell's autobiographical account of the Civil War, Homage to Catalonia (1938), and towards the end of the book, when Orwell describes the Barcelona May Days. In his account, Orwell testifies to Kopp's personal bravery in the Barcelona episode in single-handedly preventing further bloodshed. The subsequent outlawing of the POUM (16 June 1937) resulted in its members being arrested and thrown into jail, and Orwell refers to his last-minute, and ineffectual, attempts to get Kopp released from prison.[2] Kopp was finally released after 18 months, after having been interrogated by NKVD agents, and in 1939 managed to reach England, where he was nursed by Lawrence O' Shaughnessy, a thoracic surgeon and Orwell's brother-in-law (Eileen O'Shaughnessy's brother), and his wife, Gwen.[3]

At the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, he joined the French Foreign Legion and fought in the Battle of France in May–June 1940. He was severely wounded and made prisoner, but escaped from a military hospital. Thereafter he joined the Foreign Legion headquarters in Algeria. But because of his frail health, he was allowed to leave the Legion. He set out to work as an engineer in Marseilles, in Vichy France. He used his work as a cover to work for British Naval Intelligence. When his spy-ring was discovered, he was flown out of France by the British.

MI5 recognized the value of his work and helped him settle in England. His case officer was Anthony Blunt.[4] Previously married to Germaine Warnotte, in 1944 he married Gwen O'Shaughnessy's sister, Doreen Hunton, and farmed in Scotland.[5]

Kopp kept corresponding with Orwell for quite a while. He even sent him letters from France during the war. The friendship cooled in the late 1940s. When MI5 asked Orwell what kind of man Kopp was,[6] he told them he was an "unpolitical" man. A loyal person, driven by honest anti-Nazi-feelings, but also an adventurer. After his adventurous military career, he became an inventor of a buggy, a washing machine and a sand-sieving machine. His biggest success was the Tinto heater, an oil heater. His designs were far ahead of his time but he lacked commercial instinct and his financial troubles almost ruined him. He went to France to take up a consulting job in the petrochemical industry.[7][8] Georges Kopp died in 1951 in Les Pennes-Mirabeau near Marseilles from complications caused by his war wounds.

Orwell's description of Kopp's background has been questioned.[9] According to this source, Kopp had invented most of his own past. For example, he claimed to have been a Belgian and to have served in the Belgian army. Although personal records show that Kopp understood what was at stake in Spain, he privately also admitted simply being on the run from a broken marriage. He had an ex-wife Germaine Warnotte and five young children when he went to Spain.

One of Orwell's biographers, Jeffrey Meyers, suggested in his Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation (2000), that Georges Kopp was Orwell's main inspiration when he created the character of O'Brien in 1984.


  1. ^ Salas Larrazábal, Ramón. Historia del Ejército popular de la República, Madrid, Editora Nacional, 1973, page 3440
  2. ^ Orwell, G. Homage to Catalonia (Penguin)
  3. ^ Orwell, Sonia and Angus, Ian (eds.) Orwell: The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Volume 1 – An Age Like This, p.297 (Penguin)
  4. ^ National Archives Kew, HS9/858/8, Kopp's personal SOE-file
  5. ^ Facing Unpleasant Facts, Orwell CW p.9
  6. ^ National Archives Kew, HS9/858/8, Kopp's personal SOE-file
  7. ^ Marc Wildemeersch, De man die Belg wilde worden. Georges Kopp, commandant van George Orwell. Haarlem, In de Knipscheer, 2010
  8. ^ Marc Wildemeersch, George Orwell's Commander in Spain: The Enigma of Georges Kopp. London, Thames River Press, 2013
  9. ^ The Lost Orwell by Peter Davison (Timewell Press, 2006) and Bert Govaerts: 'Comandante Georges Kopp' In: 'Brood en Rozen', 2007/1 (Amsab-Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis [nl], Ghent)