Wednesday 16 October 2019

Obituary: Marita Lorenz

Survivor of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp who became Fidel Castro's lover

LOVERS: Marita Lorenz with Fidel Castro in 1959
LOVERS: Marita Lorenz with Fidel Castro in 1959

Marita Lorenz, who died recently, aged 80, led an extraordinary life which inspired a television film, My Little Assassin (1999), and Marita, which is still in production, starring Jennifer Lawrence in the title role.

Marita tells the story of a concentration camp survivor who, as a teenager, becomes the lover of the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, before helping in a CIA plot to kill him. Later she has an affair with the Venezuelan strongman Marcos Perez Jimenez, with whom she has a daughter.

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That much is almost certainly true, but the details of her life, which Marita Lorenz fleshed out in two books, Marita: One Woman's Extraordinary Tale of Love and Espionage From Castro to Kennedy (1993), written with Ted Schwartz; and The Spy Who Loved Castro (2017), had a tendency to change and grow in the telling.

Claims that Castro had forced her to have an abortion when she was seven months' pregnant (sometimes she claimed the child had survived) and that she had been involved in a plot to assassinate President John F Kennedy, were treated with scepticism.

Ilona Marita Lorenz was born in Bremen, Germany, on August 18, 1939 to an American mother and German father. Her mother, Alice Lofland, an actress and dancer, had given up her career in the early 1930s after falling in love with Heinrich Lorenz, a German navy captain whom she had met while filming in France. They married and had four children.

In the early years of World War II, Heinrich became a U-boat commander while Alice Lorenz, according to her daughter, became involved with the French resistance. Certainly the Germans suspected her of being a spy, and in 1944 she was interned in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Her other children had been sent to live with other families, but five-year-old Marita was placed in the children's detention facility at the camp. Wilfried Huismann, a German documentary film-maker who researched her background while making the 2000 film, Lieber Fidel, confirmed that Red Cross records placed her there.

In 1950, her parents having divorced, Marita, her siblings and their mother left on military transport for New York, where her mother worked for US intelligence. After a brief and chaotic period of schooling in Florida and Washington DC, Marita went to stay with her father in Germany, where he had become captain of a luxury cruise ship.

In 1959, aged 19, she was on board when the ship docked in Havana and Castro, triumphant after ousting Cuba's President Batista, came on board with 25 armed men. Marita, whose father was sleeping, greeted them on the gangway. "I will never forget the first time I beheld that penetrating stare, that beautiful face, that wicked and seductive smile," she told an interviewer. "I offered to show him around the ship. Fidel touched my hand and an electric charge ran through me.

"I showed him where my cabin was. I opened the door and he took me by the arm and pushed me inside. Without ceremony, he ­embraced me and kissed me. I had fallen hopelessly in love." Within a few days, she was installed in Castro's penthouse on the 74th floor of the Havana Hilton. Although she had to share the notoriously womanising Cuban dictator with others, she was happy, and delighted when, after two months, she discovered she was pregnant.

From that point on, her story becomes murky. According to later accounts, she was in her seventh month of pregnancy when somebody slipped a drug into her milk: "Everything was a blur; I remember extreme pain. I was in a dark room and I was haemorrhaging."

When she came round, a comrade of Castro's told her that she had been through an induced labour. The baby was alive, he said, but she would have to go back to the US. She claimed to have met her child during a visit to Cuba in 1981, when she was introduced to a medical student.

Earlier, however, she had told The New York Post that she had been told the baby was dead, which was also what the FBI claimed she told them in 1959. Wilfried Huismann concluded, on the basis of hospital records of procedures she underwent on her return from Cuba, that the foetus could not have survived. He believed that Castro had ordered a late abortion, though Vanity Fair, which investigated her story in 1993, concluded that it was unclear whether she had an abortion or a miscarriage.

At the time it seems Marita did not know anything for sure, and she subsequently claimed that the CIA had exploited her confused state to make her believe her baby had been killed on the orders of Castro in order to persuade her to take part in an attempt to assassinate him.

In 1969 she had a son, whom she claimed was the offspring of a former New York police chief. Marita was also married, briefly, to Louis Yurasits, whom she also sometimes identified as the child's father.

Sunday Independent

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