Jona von Ustinov

The journalist, diplomat and intelligence agent, Jona von Ustinov, father of the actor Sir Peter Ustinov, died in Eastleach in 1962. His wife, the artist Nadia Benois also lived in the village. Some of her paintings depict local scenes.

Former home of Jona von Ustinov in Eastleach

Jona Baron von Ustinov (also known as Klop Ustinov (Клоп Устинов)) (Russian: Иона Платонович Устинов; 2 December 1892 – 1 December 1962) was a German journalist and diplomat who worked for MI5 during the time of the Nazi regime. 

Ustinov was born Jonah Freiherr von Ustinow in Jaffa, Palestine, then part of the Ottoman Empire, the son of Plato von Ustinov, a former Russian officer and naturalised citizen of the Kingdom of Württemberg, who had married Magdalena Hall, then living in Jaffa, the daughter of the Ethiopian court-lady Katharina Hall, also known as Welette-Iyesus and her husband Moritz Hall, a Jewish-born convert to Protestantism, cannon-caster of Tewodros II of Ethiopia and missionary of St. Chrischona Pilgrim Mission [de] in Ethiopia, and later in Jaffa Magdalena and Plato von Ustinov had five children, Jonah being the eldest. Jonah von Ustinov disliked his first name and chose the nickname “Klop” (“Bedbug” in Russian), by which he was known to his friends and relatives for the rest of his life.

Ustinov went to school in Jaffa, where – until 1900 – his father hosted the school of the Protestant Immanuel congregation in his Hôtel du Parc, later in Düsseldorf, and Yverdon. He studied at Grenoble University in France and worked at University of Berlin before moving to London. This peripatetic life engendered in Ustinov a cosmopolitan attitude that made him averse to any kind of nationalism.

The young Jona von Ustinov

In World War I, Ustinov was conscripted into the German Army and served in the Army Air Service unit Flieger-Abteilung (Artillerie) 250. He was awarded the Württembergian Military Merit Order for his services. His brother Peter von Ustinow joined the same unit and was killed in action on 13 July 1917.[ After the war Ustinov worked for Wolffs Telegraphisches Bureau, the first German news agency, in Amsterdam.

On 17 July 1920 he married the painter Nadia Benois, daughter of Leon Benois. The Ustinovs returned to London, where Klop became a press officer for the German Embassy. Their son Peter was born on 16 April 1921.

Son of Jona von Ustinov – Peter Ustinov the Actor

Due to his political opinions, Ustinov got into difficulties with the new Nazi government almost immediately. In 1935, the conflict culminated when Ustinov refused to prove that he was not of Jewish descent (“Ariernachweis”). As a result, he lost his job and chose to become a British citizen, thus avoiding internment or deportation later, during the war.

Meanwhile, he had begun working for the British intelligence service MI5 and hosted secret meetings of senior British and German officials at his London home. Notable among these guests were the diplomat Robert Vansittart and Winston Churchill (then out of power). Another was Wolfgang zu Putlitz, a First Secretary of the German Embassy in London who provided detailed information about German rearmament. It was, alleged Peter Wright, “priceless intelligence, possibly the most important human-source intelligence Britain received in the prewar period”.[

He also tried to convince the British government to adopt a more robust attitude towards Nazi Germany. Seven months before the occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939, he was able to acquire the German plans. He later regretted that Prime Minister Neville Chamberlaincould not bring himself to take any action

Ustinov died on 1 December 1962 in Eastleach, Gloucestershire from a massive heart attack, he would have been 70 the following day.

Administration of his estate was given to his wife, Nadia, on 7 May 1963 – his effects were valued at £1,196.[

Peter Wright, author of “Spycatcher,” says that Ustinov was discovered by another member of the British intelligence community a short time before his death, selling books from his library to supplement his income. According to Wright, Ustinov’s pension had been overlooked, and he was almost penniless. Wright states that someone from MI5 did attempt to rectify the situation, but that Ustinov died a short time later and he (Wright) did not know whether or not the problem was corrected.

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