Scrapbookpages Blog

September 6, 2010

Albert Guérisse and Noor Inayat Khan

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, World War II — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 10:11 am

Today the Ahmadiyya Times, a newspaper in India, has an article about the execution of Noor Inayat Khan, a British SOE agent, on September 13, 1944 at Dachau. The article includes this quote:

On 11 September 1944 Noor Inayat Khan and three other SOE agents from Karlsruhe prison, Yolande Beekman, Eliane Plewman and Madeleine Damerment, were moved to the Dachau Concentration Camp. In the early hours of the morning, 13 September 1944, the four women were executed by a shot to the head. Their bodies were immediately burned in the crematorium. An anonymous Dutch prisoner emerging in 1958 contended that Noor Inayat Khan was cruelly beaten by a high-ranking SS officer named Wilhelm Ruppert before being shot from behind. Her last word was “Liberté”. She was 30 years old.

As a British SOE agent, Noor Inayat Khan was working with the French Resistance, which was operating in violation of the Geneva Convention of 1929, so the execution of Noor Inayat Khan was legal under the terms of the Geneva Convention of 1929 which did not protect illegal combatants.

The SOE was the Special Operations Executive, a British spy organization, which carried on espionage and sabotage operations in France and elsewhere during World War II.

Albert Guérisse, a medical doctor and a resistance fighter from Belgium, was also a British SOE agent; he was a prisoner at Dachau in September 1944.  So why wasn’t Guérisse executed at Dachau?

Guérisse is the second person from the left

During World War II, Guérisse was in charge of an escape route for downed Allied pilots, called the PAT line. He used the code name Patrick O’Leary, the name of a Canadian friend. In March 1943, Guérisse was arrested in Toulouse after the escape line was infiltrated and betrayed by French collaborator Roger Le Neveu.

Guérisse was first sent to the Neue Bremm prison camp in the German city of Saarbrücken, then to the infamous Class III camp at Mauthausen in Austria; in the summer of 1944 he was an inmate at the Natzweiler labor camp, along with SOE agents Brian Stonehouse, Robert Sheppard and Ian Kenneth Hopper, who went by the name Johnny Hopper. Along with one other SOE agent, they formed a group called the “English Officers.”

When the Natzweiler camp was evacuated on September 6, 1944, Guérisse, Stonehouse, Sheppard and Hopper were sent on a train to Dachau, along with the other Natzweiler inmates. At Dachau, Guérisse became the leader of a group of Communist prisoners who formed the International Committee of Dachau inside the camp.

When the American liberators arrived at Dachau on April 29, 1945, they found that the acting Commandant, Martin Weiss, and most of the regular guards had left the night before, after turning the camp over to Guérisse’s Committee.

Guérisse and the other “English Officers” had managed to survive Mauthausen, Natzweiler and Dachau, three of the worst camps in the Nazi concentration camp system. All three of these camps had gas chambers.  In fact, it was Guérisse who greeted Lt. William P. Walsh and 1st Lt. Jack Bushyhead of the 45th Infantry Division, on the day that Dachau was liberated, and took them to see the gas chamber and the ovens in the crematorium.

The work done for the French Resistance, by Albert Guérisse, and the other English officers, was far more important than anything that the women SOE agents ever did. Yet, Madeleine Damerment was executed, after being captured on the day that she landed in France, while Guérisse and his fellow English officers were allowed to live, and Martin Weiss, the acting Commandant of Dachau, even turned the camp over to Guérisse and his Committee before it was surrendered to the Americans.

There were no male British SOE agents executed at Dachau; on the contrary, the male SOE prisoners were treated exceptionally well in the camps. The male agents did not have to work in the factories, nor on the farm at Dachau, nor in the quarry at Mauthausen. Instead, the male agents were given easy jobs inside the camps.

Albert Guérisse worked in the infirmary at Dachau, just as he had at Natzweiler. This gave him the opportunity to conspire with other Communist prisoners, who worked in the infirmary, in organizing the International Committee of Dachau, which still exists to this day.

Brian Stonehouse was also a British SOE agent at Dachau.  After World War II, he became an illustrator for Vogue magazine.  Stonehouse attributed his survival to the fact that the Nazis had kept him alive for four and a half years in order to make use of his ability as an artist.  But what about Noor Inayat Khan?  She wrote children’s books — why wasn’t she saved?

By some remarkable coincidence, Guérisse and Stonehouse had been sent to the Natzweiler camp shortly before four other female SOE agents were executed there.  Guérisse and Stonehouse were then transferred to Dachau a week before four more female SOE agents were brought to Dachau to be executed.

Arthur Haulot, a former Belgian prisoner at Dachau, and one of the prominent members of the International Committee of Dachau, told Sarah Helm, the author of a biography of SOE officer Vera Atkins, entitled A Life in Secrets, that he had never heard any mention of these women while he was at Dachau. Haulot was having an affair with a German nurse in the camp, according to his Diary, and he was in a unique position to know what was going on.

According to Sarah Helm’s book, “No witnesses had been interrogated who had seen anything at all of these women inside Dachau concentration camp.”

Belgian prisoners at Dachau pose for a photo after they were liberated

Political prisoners at Dachau after they were liberated

Notice that the Belgians and the political prisoners at Dachau appear to be in good health.  The male prisoners at Dachau were treated well, but for some reason, four female British SOE agents were executed at Dachau, including one woman who was captured on the day she landed in France, before she had a chance to do anything to help the French resistance.

What’s going on here?  Did the Nazis just like to execute women?  Before you say that Hitler had no respect for women, what about Leni Riefenstahl who directed the famous documentary Triumph of the Will?