Noor Inyat Khan had been an unlikely agent for the Special Operations Executive, many of the staff at her training school believed she was too naive and honest to survive the treacherous world of spying. Yet she was fluent in French and an accomplished radio operator, and she was sent to France to support the French Resistance in preparations for D-Day.
She arrived in Paris at a particularly dangerous time. The Gestapo had begun to unravel the Prosper/Physician network which she had joined, and made mass arrests of men and women in the Resistance movement. She became the only SOE radio operator to remain working in Paris, occupying a vital position. Even though it became obvious that the Gestapo had her description and were actively looking for her, she chose to remain in Paris and continued her work.
She was eventually arrested just four months after arriving in France. She was to demonstrate a stubborn resistance to the Gestapo’s interrogation and was soon recognised as a difficult and dangerous prisoner because of her escape attempts.
Eventually she was taken, with three other SOE agents, Yolande Beekman, Madeleine Damerment and Eliane Plewman, to Dachau concentration camp. All four were executed in the early hours of 13th September 1944, accounts vary as to how they were treated prior to execution.
The George Cross citation:
Assistant Section Officer Nora INAYAT-KHAN was the first woman operator to be infiltrated into enemy occupied France, and was landed by Lysander aircraft on 16th June, 1943. During the weeks immediately following her arrival, the Gestapo made mass arrests in the Paris Resistance groups to which she had been detailed.
She refused however to abandon what had become the principal and most dangerous post in France, although given the opportunity to return to England, because she did not wish to leave her French comrades without communications and she hoped also to rebuild her group. She remained at her post therefore and did the excellent work which earned her a posthumous Mention in Despatches.
The Gestapo had a full description of her, but knew only her code name “Madeleine”. They deployed considerable forces in their effort to catch her and so break the last remaining link with London. After 3 months she was betrayed to the Gestapo and taken to their H.Q. in the Avenue Foch.
The Gestapo had found her codes and messages and were now in a position to work back to London. They asked her to co-operate, but she refused and gave them no information of any kind. She was imprisoned in one of the cells on the 5th floor of the Gestapo H.Q. and remained there for several weeks during which time she made two unsuccessful attempts at escape. She was asked to sign a declaration that she would make no further attempts but she refused and the Chief of the Gestapo obtained permission from Berlin to send her to Germany for “safe custody”. She was the first agent to be sent to Germany.
Assistant Section Officer INAYAT-KHAN was sent to Karlsruhe in November; 1943, and then to Pforzheim where her cell was apart from the main prison. She was considered to be a particularly dangerous and unco-operative prisoner. The Director of the prison has also been interrogated and has confirmed that Assistant Section Officer INAYAT-KHAN, when interrogated by the Karlsruhe Gestapo, refused to give any information whatsoever, either as to her work or her colleagues.
She was taken with three others to Dachau Camp on the 12th September, 1944. On arrival, she was taken to the crematorium and shot.
Assistant Section Officer INAYAT-KHAN displayed the most conspicuous courage, both moral and physical over a period of more than 12 months.
As a woman and a Muslim the Noor Inayat Khan story has found resonance in recent years. The Noor Inyat Khan Memorial Trust promotes peace and understanding in her name. A recently released film Enemy of the Reich tells her story.