John Peet (1915–1988)

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John Scott Peet (1915 - 29 June 1988 in East-Berlin) was a British journalist who defected to East Germany (the German Democratic Republic) in 1950.


Parental family[edit]

John Peet was born on 27 November 1915, the third child of Hubert William Peet and his wife, Edith Mary, born Scott. He had two older sisters and a younger brother, Stephen. John's parents were Quakers, unlike his four grandparents who were Congregationalist. His mother's parents had served as missionaries.

John went to the Quaker boarding schools at Saffron Walden and then Bootham[1]

His father, Hubert Peet (1886 - 1951), was a journalist, who wrote religious news and also edited the weekly Quaker magazine The Friend from 1932 to 1949. He was also an absolutist conscientious objector, who suffered three terms of imprisonment for his refusal to obey military orders.[2][3][4]

Grenadier Guard[edit]

"For complex reasons", after Quaker School, John Peet joined the Grenadier Guards. According to his brother, Stephen, he was bought out after three months [5]

Spanish episode[edit]

John Peet fought in the Spanish Civil War with the International Brigade.[6]


He travelled and worked in various European cities, until 1939, when he joined the British Army, serving in the British Mandate of Palestine. There he ran the news section of Jerusalem Radio, until he was recruited by Reuters News agency in 1945.[7]

International journalist[edit]

He worked for Reuters in Palestine, Vienna and Warsaw and covered the Nuremberg trials after World War II, November 1945 to October 1946.


After three years as a reporter in Berlin, Peet announced, during a Press Conference in East Berlin in 1950, that he was leaving the West because of West German rearmament.[8][9][10]

From 1952 to 1975, Peet produced the Democratic German Report, a fortnightly newsletter targeting the left-of-centre public opinion in the United Kingdom. His positive portrayal of the GDR was among the GDR's most believable and powerful propaganda in Britain.[11]

He spent the last ten years of his life translating Marx and Engels into English.[12] The Times (London) published three of his letters to the Editor during his exile.[13]

Many East Germans saw Peet as the archetypical Englishman, and he played this character in several East German films.[14]

Peet was married three times. In 1952, he married the Bulgarian Ravensbrück survivor Georgia Tanewa (1923-2012) and they had two children.[15][16][17]

He died on 29 June 1988, after a long illness.[18] He was survived by his third wife, Engelgard. An autobiography, The long engagement was published after his death, with an introduction by Len Deighton.[19] In these memoirs, Peet writes about his defection stating he "could no longer serve the Anglo-American warmongers ...". He also writes about his relationship with Soviet intelligence.


  1. ^ Imperial War Museum interview with Stephen Peet on 30 October 1990. Catalogue No. 11736. Recorder: Lyn E Smith. Ten reels of audiotape (available online) with online text summary.
  2. ^ Biography of H. W. Peet, John Peet's father, on London Borough of Lewisham's First Work War website
  3. ^ The Times, 29 August 1917,Pg 3, Issue 41569: "News in Brief" - H W Peet's third prison sentence.
  4. ^ Obituary in The Times 6 January 1951, Pg 8, Issue 51892
  5. ^ Imperial War Museum interview with Stephen Peet on 30 October 1990. Catalogue No. 11736. Recorder: Lyn E Smith. Ten reels of audiotape (available online) with online text summary.
  6. ^ Imperial War Museum interview with John Peet in 1978. Catalogue No. 800. Recorders: PMC and Margaret A Brooks. Nine reels of audiotape (Currently, only available at IWM, London) with online text summary. Only covers his Spanish experience
  7. ^ Old and new questions in physics, cosmology, philosophy and theoretical biology: essays in honour of Wolfgang Yourgrau; edited by Alwyn van der Merwe, New York, Plenum (1983): Introduction pg.17 Wolfgang Yourgrau was employed at Jerusalem Radio, with John Peet, who was a close friend. Footnote on John Peet, pg 17 says "1939-43 served with British Forces in Palestine, 1943-1945 News Editor, Jerusalem Radio, 1945 - 1950 Reuters news agency."
  8. ^ Berger, Stefan; Norman Laporte (2004). "John Peet (1915–1988): An Englishman in the GDR". History: the Journal of the Historical Association. Wiley InterScience. Archived from the original on 2013-01-05. Democratic Germany Report, which he edited between 1952 and 1975, Peet had considerable influence among left-of-centre public opinion in Britain. His positive portrayal of the GDR was among the GDR's most believable and powerful propaganda in Britain. ...
  9. ^ The Times 13 Jun 1950; pg. 3; Issue 51716. "From our own Correspondent: "British Journalist Joins The East"
  10. ^ Walking the Floor blog 27 April 2011 Various accounts of John Peet's defection
  11. ^ Steve Silvers blog, dated 10 June 2011, reproduces a copy of the Democratic Germany Report for 7 August 1953
  12. ^ The Collected Works of Marx and Engels are published in the Uk in 50 volumes by Lawrence & Wishart
  13. ^ Letters to The Times:
    • 29 July 1965: Difficult questions - English food
    • 3 May 1966: Source of Marx's "Opium of the People" quote
    • 26 February 1977: Class representation of Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War.
  14. ^ Internet Movie database lists:
    • Die gefrorenen Blitze [Frozen flashes] (1967)
    • Lotte in Weimar (1975])
  15. ^ Peet, John (1989). The long engagement. Memoirs of a Cold War Legend. Fourth Estate. ISBN 0-947795-64-2.
  16. ^ John Peet's brother, Stephen, dedicated a Yesterday's witness BBC Television programme to Georgia Taneva's story: "Five Years' Nightmare: The extraordinary story of a teenage girl on the run from the Gestapo in war-time Europe. One sunny day in May 1940, 16-year-old Georgia Taneva was out walking with some friends ' when suddenly there were screams of German voices and we found that the street from all &ides was closed. A big lorry drove in front of us and then another and another one. We were panic-stricken. We started to run ... It was the start of a five years' nightmare."
  17. ^ German-language biography of Georgia Taneva: Gerechte der Pflege website
  18. ^ Obituary, credited to Reuters, in the New York Times.
  19. ^ The long engagement: autobiography of John Peet. Fourth Estate, October 1989 ISBN 0947795642 (published in German language as Der Spion der keiner war. Wien, Zürich 1991).

Other sources[edit]

  • Friendly enemies: Britain and the GDR 1949-1990, by Stefan Berger and Norman Lapole; Berghahn Books, New York and London (2010). Text available online (minus index)