Eric Meyer Mark (1935 -40)


It is with deep sadness that we have to inform you of the loss of Eric who died 6th November 2020, aged 98 years.

I place here The Times' obituary to Eric; dated  Saturday November 21 2020:-

Last of the ‘secret listeners’ who eavesdropped on captured Nazi generals in English country houses

 Mark’s work led to the identification and destruction of most of the launch sites for V2 ballistic rockets Locked up in a camp on the Isle of Man to hold enemy aliens, Eric Mark, a German-born Jew and a refugee from Nazi tyranny, was eager to contribute to the war against his homeland. After two years an opportunity materialised.
British intelligence routinely interrogated enemy prisoners of war for tactical and technical information, and when the first German general was captured in 1942 a seam of strategic information was opened. Intelligence officers knew that a general, despite the humiliation of capture, would be too proud to demean himself by aiding his country’s enemy, but if caught off-guard in a private moment he might carelessly reveal a crucial secret.

More generals were captured and elaborate arrangements for their accommodation began. The estate of Trent Park in north London was requisitioned and each room bugged with microphones that were linked to listening points in the cellar. Trees and bushes in the grounds were also bugged. The idea was to create “special gilded quarters” for the “guests” to put them at ease and encourage loose talk. A Savile Row tailor even visited to make uniforms for them. Similar provisions were made at Latimer House and Wilton Park, both in Buckinghamshire, for U-boat commanders and Luftwaffe aircrew. Meanwhile, teams of German speakers were assembled.

After demobilisation, Mark obtained an economics degree from the London School of Economics and began working for Shell International Mark had enlisted in the non-combative Pioneer Corps and become a lance corporal. Called to the company office, he was informed he was now a sergeant in the Intelligence Corps and transferred to the Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre, where he was joined by other previously detained enemy aliens. Assigned to Trent Park, he became part of a team of secret listeners monitoring the German generals’ conversation in two daily shifts in the so-called M (for miked) Rooms: one shift from 8am to 4pm and the second from 4pm until the generals fell asleep.

“Listening to them talk was one of the most difficult times I ever had, but I could not show any emotion,” recalled Mark, who would sit in the cellar recording conversations on to a disc, which was then taken away for translation. “Most of them liked to boast about how many Jews they had killed, saying things like ‘I knocked off about 1,500’, which was tough for me to take, being Jewish.” Occasionally he and the other listeners would walk around the grounds and speak to the generals “who had no idea what we were doing”.
It quickly became clear that the generals fell into two camps: those who philosophically accepted the inevitable defeat of Nazi Germany, especially after the reverses at El Alamein in October 1942 and the surrender of their 6th Army at Stalingrad in February 1943, and those who had faith in the rumoured Vergeltungswaffen [retaliation weapons] that would change the whole course of the war. Discussions about the latter led to the secret listeners’ most significant breakthrough. Generals Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma and Ludwig Crüwell, both taken prisoner in the Western Desert campaign in 1942, were overheard discussing a German secret rocket programme. This was swiftly linked to a conversation at one of the other listening sites between two officers about concrete ramps they had seen in the Peenemünde area close to the Baltic coast. Air intelligence pounced on this information to help to identify the purpose of the site, believed to be a factory, in a cleared part of forest adjacent to the ramps. Here was the rocket factory and the launch pads ready for the missiles.

The night of August 17-18, 1943, marked the first of a series of RAF Bomber Command attacks on the Peenemünde factory and facilities. Mark and his fellow listeners at Trent Park had unlocked the secret of the Vergeltungswaffen, the V1 “flying bombs” that were to be launched on to southeast England the following year. Their discovery also led to the identification and destruction of most of the launch sites for V2 ballistic rockets. “As soon as I heard something interesting I put the needle down on the record . . . My job was to pass it on quickly for others to analyse,” Mark said.
Eric Meyer Mark was born in 1922 in Magdeburg, the son of Otto Mark, an importer of shop fittings, and his wife, Erna. He attended the local “Gymnasium” until his parents sent him to England, aged 12, to escape Nazi persecution. He attended Regent’s Park and Holloway schools and was planning to go to university when he was arrested as an enemy alien in 1940. His parents were sent to Treblinka concentration camp and did not survive.

In 1947 he met Miriam Majerfeld, a Polish refugee, at a party in London to mark the Jewish festival of Purim. They were married in 1951 and had three children: Anne is a Blue Badge tourist guide, David manages a photography gallery, and Sandra is a genealogist.
After demobilisation, Mark obtained an economics degree from the London School of Economics and began working for Shell International. From 1973 to 1987 he was head of the European Commission’s directorate of transport.

In 2012 he became the poster boy for Helen Fry’s book The M Room, later republished as The Walls Have Ears (2019), and a television documentary on the secret listeners. At the launch of Fry’s book, Mark received a standing ovation after a short speech in which he apologised that he was a little deaf — “ironically for a listener”.

Eric Mark, listener at the wartime CSDIC, was born on July 18, 1922. He died on November 6, 2020, aged 98

Dr Raymond Rowe