The ability to speak multiple languages is a very valuable talent in the Intelligence Community. During World War II especially, interpreters were very important. Twenty-three-year-old Maria Gulovich was recruited to join the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) — the predecessor of today’s CIA — because she could speak five languages fluently.
Gulovich was a brave guide and interpreter working for the OSS who led a group of two OSS agents and two British agents out of the clutches of the Germans and to safety over the Russian lines during a blizzard in the Slovak mountains. Gulovich and her group were part of Team DAWES, which involved a mission assisting with the Slovak uprising against the Germans and rescuing downed U.S. airmen.
Gulovich was born on October 19, 1921, in Jakubany, Slovakia. Her father was a Greek Orthodox Catholic priest and her mother was an elementary school teacher.
When Slovakia fell under German control in 1939, Gulovich was attending the Greek Catholic Institute for Teachers in Prešov. In 1940, she became a teacher and taught in Jarabina and later in Hriňová.
In 1944, Gulovich’s uneventful life as a school teacher changed forever.
Assisting the Resistance
One day, Gulovich’s sister, Marta, and a Jewish family friend named Julius Goldberger paid her a visit at the school in Hriňová. Goldberger operated a nearby lumber mill, and because the Germans considered him and his mill useful, he was not sent to a concentration camp. He had been hiding his sister and nephew from the Germans for some time until he came under suspicion. Marta and Goldberger pleaded with Gulovich to hide his relatives.
Gulovich reluctantly agreed, realizing that if she were caught, it could mean imprisonment or worse.
It wasn’t long before the Slovakian authorities began to suspect Gulovich of harboring Jews. A Slovak Army captain showed up at the school to question Gulovich. Fortunately for her, the captain was part of the anti-fascist resistance. The captain offered to hide the Jewish woman and her son if Gulovich would join the resistance as a courier.
Gulovich agreed and was ordered to move to Banská Bystrica where she would work as a dressmaker for an underground sympathizer. On her first mission, Gulovich was sent to a town 65 miles away to retrieve a suitcase. Gulovich didn’t find out until 1989 that the suitcase contained a radio. If she had been caught, the consequences would have been severe. She had a few close calls with the Gestapo on the return trip, but quick thinking and a little flirting got her out of trouble.
In addition to her talents as a courier, Gulovich was fluent in five languages — Russian, Slovak, Hungarian, German, and English. Once this was discovered, Gulovich was assigned to translate messages from Slovak into Russian for a Russian military intelligence group.
During her time working for the Russians, Gulovich met some American OSS agents who were to assist with the resistance and rescue some downed American airmen. By October 1944, the Germans crushed the uprising and Gulovich and the Russians fled to the mountains to escape. There, Gulovich ran into her American friends again. They, too, had headed to the mountains to evade the Germans.
Gulovich and the Americans became friendly, and it wasn’t long before they asked her to join their group as a guide and interpreter. She wasn’t completely comfortable working for the Russians, so she eagerly accepted.
Working with the OSS
Gulovich’s work for the OSS agents included scouting for food and intelligence and scoping out their surroundings. She would pose as a peasant girl and go down into the towns to talk to the villagers. Often times, Gulovich’s job led her right into danger in the form of German soldiers patrolling the roads. Her quick wit and skill with the German language got her out of many a scrape.
One of the greatest dangers in the Slovak mountains was the weather, and the elements struck mercilessly during a blizzard in November 1944. The wind blew so hard that it knocked people off their feet. The weary group didn’t dare sit down to rest. They passed 83 souls who tried to rest and froze to death.
The group finally reached the mountain resort where they were to meet other British and American members of the team. It was almost Christmas and the group was waiting for provisions and supplies to be air dropped. The day after Christmas, Gulovich, two OSS agents, and two British airmen set out on a reconnaissance and food-gathering mission. After the small group left, the Germans attacked the mountain resort and burned it to the ground.
Gulovich and her companions escaped into the mountains toward the Russian front in Romania as quickly as they could. It took them several weeks of hiking through the bitter cold to reach safety. Once Gulovich reached Bucharest, Romania, in early March, she was transferred to the OSS branch in Italy so she could continue to be paid for her work.
Years after their escape, Gulovich’s companions remember her with fondness. During an interview, an Army sergeant who escaped with Gulovich called her “our little sweetheart … for whom I am and will be grateful forever. To her, it is no doubt that I owe my safety and perhaps my life.”
After the war, Gulovich met Allen Dulles who was the OSS chief in Switzerland and later became the Director of Central Intelligence. Dulles informed OSS head Gen. William Donovan of Maria’s courageous feats, and Donovan arranged for Gulovich to migrate to the United States with a scholarship to Vassar College.
In May 1946 Donovan presented Gulovich with the Bronze Star for her service with the OSS during World War II. She was the first woman to receive a medal on the Plain of West Point in front of the Corps of Cadets.
In 1952 Gulovich became a U.S. citizen and settled in Oxnard, California. She established an excellent reputation as a real estate agent in Ventura County, California.
Maria Gulovich died on September 25, 2009 at the age of 87.
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