The Christian, the Muslim and the Jew
Despite the fact that they are probably the most described artifacts of 20th century, very little is known about how individuals died in Third Reich's concentration camps. This article tries to follow the fate of British women SOE agents who were executed within the concentration camp system. It's a little surprising to learn that British intelligence never officially bothered to find out. Discovering their fate became the private crusade of Vera Atkins, who was assistant to the head of the French Section of the SOE. And the answer after 60 years is that nobody really knows. One of the reasons perhaps, was that nobody wanted to know. Failure, no less than the dead, were buried after the war. SOE cryptographer Leo Marks, the son of a Jewish bookseller, believed the agency's codes were fundamentally unsafe and tried to convince his superiors to adopt a one-time code pad system. But his warnings were ignored and the SOE continued to drop agents, many of them women, into occupied Europe where too many of them were arrested, sometimes upon landing.
Since the British believed that women could more easily slip unnoticed through the Continental streets, they concentrated on recruiting dark haired women who could pass for French. One of them was Violette Szabo of French and English extraction.
Another was a Sufi Muslim Princess, Noor Inayat Khan. Her father was a mystic and she was one herself. "After studying music and medicine Noor became a writer. Her children stories were published in Figaro and a collection of traditional Indian stories, Twenty Jataka Tales, appeared in 1939."
Szabo's official fate is given in Wikipedia.
She was captured by German soldiers, most likely from the 1st battalion of the Deutschland regiment, around mid-day on the 10th of June, 1944, near Salon-la-Tour, while they were searching for one of their missing officers. In R.J. Minney's biography of her, she is described as putting up fierce resistance with her Sten gun. German documents of the incident record no injuries or casualties to German soldiers. She was transferred to the SD in Limoges. She was interrogated under torture, then sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp where she was forced into hard labour and suffered terribly from malnutrition and exhaustion. Violette Szabo was executed by the Germans on or about February 5, 1945 and her body disposed of in the crematorium. At Ravensbrück, three other female members of the SOE were executed by the Germans: Denise Bloch, Cecily Lefort, and Lilian Rolfe.
Noor Inayat Khan was arrested four months after landing. She was executed at Dachau.
The princess was taken to Germany and imprisoned at Pforzheim in solitary confinement (she was considered dangerous and uncooperative). Inayat Khan continued to refuse to give any information on her work or her fellow operatives. On 11 September 1944, Noor Inayat Khan, along with three other SOE agents, Yolande Beekman, Eliane Plewman and Madeleine Damerment, were moved to Dachau Concentration Camp. The other three women were lined up and forced to kneel, after which each was executed by a single shot to the head. Noor was shackled in chains for months and beaten until she was a bloody mess and then shot. Her last word was "Liberté"
Although it cannot be said for sure, Khan's place of execution is held to be at the pistol range in Dachau. "The traditional method of execution was a shot in the neck at close range, which was the method used by the Nazis to kill traitors, spies, saboteurs and resistance fighters at a pistol range in front of a wall north of the crematorium. ... A ditch was dug about six feet from the execution wall to catch the flow of blood." A picture of the blood ditch is shown below as it appears today.
Leo Marks, as a Jew, felt himself no less an outsider than these dark-haired, expendable women. He tried long, and finally successfully, to get his SOE superiors to discard their amateurish practice of enciphering agent messages using transpositions based on well known ('the easier to memorize, Old Boy') English poems -- systems Marks could break with ease. When the SOE balked at one time pads he insisted that if agents were going to use poem codes, they ought at least to be original. The code-poem he wrote and gave to Violette Szabo on her wartime mission is a memorial to a time when a Muslim, Christian and Jew could find it in their hearts to fight Hitler with one word upon their lips: Liberte.
The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have
The love that I have
Of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours.
A sleep I shall have
A rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause
For the peace of my years
In the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours.