In 1977, Johanna van Haarlem set out to find her long-lost son more than 30 years after giving him up for adoption.
Johanna had just been a teenager when she was raped by a Nazi at a party in Holland in 1943. When she welcomed her son, Erwin, in 1944, she was forced to abandon him.
33 years later, Johanna finally decided to track down her son and quickly discovered that he was alive and well in London.
The pair reunited in London that same year, and all was well. But, as Jeff Maysh writes for BBC News, the story was far from over.
For more than a decade, Johanna and Erwin made up for lost time and visited one another. They soon developed a typical mother-son relationship.
Erwin doted on his mother, showering her in pricey presents as he became a successful art dealer—at least, that’s what Johanna thought.
It wasn’t until 1988, when a van full of trained detectives showed up outside of Erwin’s apartment, that Johanna finally learned the dark truth.
Erwin wasn’t an art dealer. He was a Soviet spy—and he wasn’t her son.
In 2016, Erwin spoke with Jeff Maysh about how the shocking events unfolded on his end.
Born Vaclav Jelinek, Erwin only changed his identity when he was recruited as a Soviet spy, asked to keep an eye on the Royals in England.
But not long into his assignment, Erwin received a disturbing message from his superiors in Prague: "YOUR MOTHER IS TRYING TO FIND YOU IN CZECHOSLOVAKIA WITH THE HELP OF THE RED CROSS. SHOULD THE RED CROSS FIND YOU, A MEETING IS TO BE AGREED WITH."
While Erwin did meet and build a relationship with Johanna, he explained to Maysh, he hated her. In fact, he couldn’t wait to sever ties with her one day.
After being revealed as a Soviet spy, Erwin was sent to prison, where his spent five years before being deported to the Czech Republic.
Now, nearly three decades after he was caught, Erwin has revealed that his prison stay got him thinking about Johanna in a new light.
"Without being asked," he told Maysh, "she [Johanna] said only on her own, from her own will, she started the whole action, trying to find me."
Erwin immediately thought “from her own will” was a strange thing to say. He also began wondering why Johanna had suddenly started searching for her long-lost son mere months after he assumed the stolen identity and applied for a Dutch passport.
Although Johanna died in 2004, Erwin had no problem telling Maysh that he thought she may have been a spy herself.
"We thought she was under the guidance of MI5 or the Dutch security service," he said.