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February 21, 2011

Update on the execution of Noor Inayat Khan at Dachau

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, World War II — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 9:53 am

It has come to my attention that there is a misconception that Germans were put on trial for the alleged execution at Dachau of British SOE agent Noor Inayat Khan and that one of the defendants said during the trial that Noor had not given them any information when she was tortured.  This morning, I learned that this information comes from the book written about Noor by Shrabani Basu.  You can read the story here.  At the top of the page, you will read this:

“In the war crimes trial, they [the Germans] said that they had not been able to get anything out of Noor Inayat Khan.” Author Shrabani Basu

At which war crimes trial did the Germans say that?  There were two secret war crimes trials, involving the alleged executions of British SOE women, which were conducted by the British, but nothing was said by the defendants at these trials about whether or not they “got anything out” of Noor.  That remark was allegedly made to SOE staff member Vera Atkins by Hans Kieffer, the man who had ordered Noor to be sent to Pforzheim prison in Germany after she had made two escape attempts in Paris.  He said this in an interview in which he was told by Vera Atkins that Noor had been executed. Kieffer cried when he learned that Noor had been executed; he claimed that he knew nothing about her execution.

This quote is from the news story that you can read here:

I believe as she was killed, she shouted out, “Liberte!”

“That’s right. Her spirit just remained with her, she was so defiant that eyewitnesses say that though she was beaten to pulp, she was half-dead, she was almost kicked to death. They couldn’t break her spirit, and that was what even the Germans admired about her. In the war crimes trial afterwards, they said that they had not been able to get anything out of Noor Inayat Khan. In fact, they did not even know her name they knew her only as Nora Baker, which is the name she gave them.

Here is another misleading quote from the news article:

Then, finally, the orders came and she was sent to Dachau concentration camp with two other women agents and they were executed. But Noor was singled out that whole night, she was singled out and tortured even more, even on the last day she was shot.

If there were orders to send Noor to Dachau from the Pforzheim prison, why were 9 men at the Natzweiler camp put on trial for her execution at Natzweiler?

On May 29, 1946, Dr. Werner Röhde and 8 others at Natzweiler were brought before a British Military Court in Wuppertal, Germany. According to Rita Kramer, who wrote a book entitled Flames in the Field about the four women, who were allegedly executed at Natzweiler, “The evidence for the prosecution had been gathered by Squadron Officer Vera Atkins and Major Bill Barkworth of the SAS War Crimes investigation team, well after the organizations to which they and the missing men and women had belonged had officially ceased to exist. It was a kind of personal vendetta of principle.”

In fact, the nine staff members at the Natzweiler camp who were tried by the British were CONVICTED of executing Noor Inayat Khan at the Natzweiler camp.  It was not until 1947 that Vera Atkins came to the conclusion that Yolande Beekman and Noor Inayat Kahn had been executed at Dachau, not at Natzweiler.

Obviously, the testimony that Noor had been executed at Natzweiler was wrong. So how did all this happen?

After the war, the British SOE had been disbanded, but Vera Atkins had taken it upon herself to do an independent investigation to determine the fate of the agents who were missing. She interviewed surviving SOE agents, Gestapo agents and concentration camp staff members who had been captured by the Allies, including Rudolf Hoess, the infamous Commandant of Auschwitz.

Among those that she interviewed were Albert Guérisse and Brian Stonehouse, two British SOE agents who were prisoners at Natzweiler at the time of the alleged execution of Noor Inayat Khan. Based on information that Atkins got from them, she interrogated staff members from the Natzweiler camp, starting with a prisoner named Franz Berg.

Atkins selected Berg as the first person to be interrogated because he had previously told American investigators about some “elegant” women in the French resistance group known as the Alliance Réseau, who were brought to Natzweiler to be executed, after they were captured near the camp. Berg was a common criminal who was a prisoner in the camp; he was a KAPO in charge of stoking the fire in the crematory oven at Natzweiler. He was the first person to tell Vera Atkins that women had been brought to Natzweiler to be executed and then burned in the one oven in the crematorium.  From this, Atkins deduced, with no evidence at all, that four SOE women had been executed at Natzweiler, including Noor Inayat Khan.

Franz Berg was one of the main witnesses at the trial; he was a German criminal with a long rap sheet that included 22 crimes. A group photograph, taken in the courtroom when Berg was prosecuted by a British Military Court, shows him to be more than a foot shorter than the rest of the accused men.

The first time that he was interrogated by Vera Atkins, Franz Berg said that he had, at first, thought when he saw the women walking down the Lagerstrasse, that it was a party inspecting the camp. He said that the women were carrying suitcases and coats over their arms, and he thought that one woman had a traveling rug.

In a deposition that Berg gave to Vera Atkins before the trial, he stated that four women had been killed by injection at Natzweiler and burned in the oven which he had fired up. He identified two of the women in photographs shown to him as Vera Leigh and Noor Inayat Khan.

Albert Guérisse and Brian Stonehouse were two British SOE agents who had been transferred from the infamous Mauthausen camp in Austria to the Natzweiler camp in the Summer of 1944, just a few weeks before the women were allegedly executed.

Guérisse was a medical doctor who worked in the Natzweiler camp infirmary; he testified that he had seen the four women SOE agents being escorted, after dark, by the camp doctor to the crematorium. Then he saw flames shoot out of the crematorium chimney four times. He learned later, from Franz Berg, that this meant that the oven door had been opened and then closed four times as the four women were cremated.

Franz Berg said in his deposition, given to Vera Atkins, that all four of the women were cremated at one time in the one oven in the crematorium.

What would have been the best way to burn four bodies at one time in one oven?  Would the bodies have been put in all at once, or would the door have been opened four times?

The one and only cremation oven at Natzweiler

Brian Stonehouse had observed that one of the women was carrying a ratty fur coat, and a few days later, he saw an SS man nicknamed Fernandel “walking up the steps in the middle of the camp, carrying a fur coat.” Fernandel was a French comic actor whom this SS man resembled.

The identification of the Natzweiler victims at the trial had been based purely on speculation by eye witnesses like Guérisse, Stonehouse and Berg. The trial transcript had to be altered in 1947 to show that one of the victims was “unidentified” at the time of the trial; this unidentified victim had previously been identified as Noor Inayat Khan.

Records from Karlsruhe prison showed that another SOE agent, Sonia Olschanezky, had been taken to an UNNAMED concentration camp on July 6, 1944, the same date that three other women left Karlsruhe for an UNKNOWN destination. Vera Atkins assumed that these four women had been taken to Natzweiler to be executed.

Atkins had not recognized the name Sonia Olschenesky because she had been recruited in France to work with the British SOE, not sent over from England. Atkins assumed that Noor Inayat Khan, also known as Nora Baker, had taken this name as a new alias.

It was not until 1947 that Vera Atkins learned that Sonia Olschanezky was a real person. Atkins then assumed that Olschanezky had been murdered at Natzweiler, not Noor Inayat Khan, but this new assumption was not publicly known until 1956 when it was revealed by an investigative reporter.

The man who allegedly tortured and killed Noor Inayat Khan at Dachau was put on trial as a war criminal by an American Military Tribunal in November 1945, but he was not charged with the execution of Noor Inayat Khan at Dachau because this was not yet known.

Ruppert was prosecuted by an American Military Tribunal

In the photograph above, a prosecution witness  identifies Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert in the courtroom of the American Military Tribunal at Dachau. Ruppert is wearing a card with the number 2 around his neck because he was the second most important man on trial, after Martin Gottfried Weiss, the acting Commandant when Dachau was liberated.

Ruppert was accused of being the officer in charge of executing condemned prisoners at Dachau. He was a high-ranking SS officer, who would not have personally tortured nor executed a prisoner.

There were no eye-witnesses to the all night torture of Noor Inayat Khan.  Albert Guérisse and Brian Stonehouse were both prisoners at Dachau when Noor Inayat Khan was allegedly executed there, but they knew nothing about it.  Guérisse was the one who met the American liberators at the Dachau gate and escorted them to the gas chamber, which was outside the concentration camp.  Strangely, Guérisse knew all about the gassing of the prisoners at Dachau, but the story of the execution of one of his fellow SOE agents at Dachau, he didn’t know.

According to the prosecution’s case in the Dachau proceedings, one of the main crimes committed in the Dachau camp was the execution of 90 Russian military officers who were executed at Dachau on Hitler’s orders in September 1944. Before the invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, Hitler had issued an order that all captured Russian soldiers who were Communist Commissars were to be taken to the nearest concentration camp and executed. According to the prosecution, any man among the Dachau accused, who had merely witnessed this execution, was guilty of a violation of the Laws and Usages of War because he should have acted to stop these executions which were a violation of the Geneva Convention, even though the Soviet Union had not signed the Geneva Convention and was not following it.

The alleged execution of Noor Inayat Khan at Dachau was unknown when this trial took place, but even if her alleged execution had been known, this would not have been a war crime because illegal combatants were not protected under the Geneva Convention.

In any case, nothing was said in any trial about how brave Noor had been in not giving any information to the Germans.

Ruppert, the man who allegedly shot Noor Inayat Khan, was the first person who was executed by the Americans after the trial of the staff members at Dachau.  The eye-witness who allegedly saw the execution of Noor by Ruppert at Dachau did not come forward until long after Ruppert had been tried and executed.

What information did Noor have that was so important that this caused the Germans to allegedly torture her for 10 months at the Pforzheim prison and then continue to torture her right up to the moment that she was allegedly shot at Dachau?

Noor was a radio operator.  She had already foolishly written down her secret codes so that the Germans were able to use her radio.  Or had she been instructed to write down the codes because the real purpose of sending her to France was to get a radio into the hands of the Germans?  The British wanted to send fake messages to the Germans and they were able to accomplish this after Noor got caught.