A Jewish hero of the wartime Special Operations Executive (SOE) is to be honoured in Brighton next month.
Captain Edward Zeff, MBE, Croix de Guerre – to give him his full title – is one of three men and a woman, born in the town who are to be honoured on 12 November with plaques at the Corn Exchange, recording their Second World War bravery.
Born in 1904, Zeff was the son of Simon and Hannah Zeff. Simon, a second generation immigrant tailor, became chairman of the Brighton and Hove Jewish Board of Guardians, the precursor of the local branch of Jewish Care.
After leaving school, Zeff went to Paris, where his brother Abraham had set up a successful overseas branch of the family tailoring firm.
In 1930, Zeff married a French Jewish woman, Reine Sevilla. When France fell to the Nazis in 1940, Zeff returned to Britain and joined the Royal Corps of Signals (RCS) the following year, but was soon headhunted by the French section of SOE.
Given the name Eugene Zoltan to protect his family in France, he trained at the various SOE “schools” in stately homes around Britain.
In April 1942, Zeff arrived by submarine in Antibes, in Vichy France, to work as a wireless operator. He sent and received messages to and from England, helped escapers, and received arms and agents by parachute, narrowly avoiding capture several times. When it was clear he had become known to the Nazis, plans were made to bring him back to the UK via the Pyrenees, but his group were betrayed by a local mountain guide and he was arrested.
From March 1943, Zeff was tortured in Nazi jails, but never revealed any information about his work. In December 1943, he was deported to Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, singled out for particularly brutal treatment as both a Jew and a British agent.
In the winter of 1944-45, he was sent to Melk labour camp, digging tunnels for making V2 rockets. With help from fellow prisoners, Zeff avoided execution. In the last days of the war, he was briefly sent back to Mauthausen, liberated by US troops in May 1945.
He was awarded the military MBE and Croix de Guerre (with Silver Star). He died in June 1973 in Paris.
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