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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.

12 Comments

  1. I have read these pages with some interest for some now, I am just curious that the author states ‘allegedly’ a lot on many of their pages, not just this one. I assume by this you (the author) are not convinced that the women died at Natzweiler and Dachau, if this is the case, what do you think happened to them?

    Comment by Kate — November 11, 2015 @ 4:41 am

    • I don’t know what really happened to Noor Inayat and the other women. I have written several blog posts under the tag Noor Inayat Khan: https://furtherglory.wordpress.com/tag/noor-inayat-khan/

      In one of my blog posts, I might have speculated about what really happened to these women; you will have to read all my blog posts about her to find out.

      Comment by furtherglory — November 11, 2015 @ 6:43 am

  2. It has come to light now that Noor was most likely set up. She was extraordinarily careful, or could not have kept the Prosper network going as long as she did , a;ways in hiding, changing places every other day. She would not have written the codes unless she was told to. She had implicit faith in London orders.

    Comment by Tolere — June 23, 2013 @ 10:39 pm

  3. […] that three of my previous posts about Noor Inayat Khan were getting lots of hits.  (here, here and here) This tipped me off that there must be some news about her.  I did a search and found a news […]

    Pingback by Sculpture of Noor Inayat Khan unveiled by the British « Scrapbookpages Blog — November 8, 2012 @ 10:23 am

  4. and further glory stop calling her foolish i dont even think u have half the guts or courage to say such things about her………..

    Comment by mishti — June 5, 2012 @ 11:29 pm

  5. Did you explain to your son that the Germans were fighting legally on the battlefield to save Germany from being destroyed by the Allies while this Muslim woman was fighting illegally to destroy Germany which was in Europe the last time I looked it up on a map?

    I doubt it since this statement is untrue.

    Comment by halliburton — January 7, 2012 @ 8:38 am

  6. […] I have blogged about the tragic story of Noor Inayat Khan several times, including my posts here and here. […]

    Pingback by Noor Inayat Khan subjected to torture as other prisoners watched « Scrapbookpages Blog — August 9, 2011 @ 8:03 am

  7. Today,7 May, the eve ov VE-Day anniversary, I took my 7 year old grandson to the RAF Memorial at Runnymede, At one of the Tablets listing the fallen was a small photo of Noor Khan and a poppy. I tried to explain how a young Muslim woman felt European life was so important that she took such a dangerous role in fighting those who wished to destroy not only Jews but any who opposed them, but with all the news lately about 9/11, 7/7 and Bin Laden, he struggled to balance the idea of a Muslim fighting to help Europe and those who wish to destroy it.
    A sad comment on our times.

    Comment by Robert — May 7, 2011 @ 12:33 pm

    • I was not familiar with the Memorial at Runnymeade, so I had to look it up on the Internet. I found this web site:
      http://www.cwgc.org/search/cemetery_details.aspx?cemetery=109600&mode=1

      This quote is from the web site:

      “The Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede commemorates by name over 20,000 airmen who were lost in the Second World War during operations from bases in the United Kingdom and North and Western Europe, and who have no known graves. They served in Bomber, Fighter, Coastal, Transport, Flying Training and Maintenance Commands, and came from all parts of the Commonwealth. Some were from countries in continental Europe which had been overrun but whose airmen continued to fight in the ranks of the Royal Air Force.”

      Noor has no known grave, so that qualifies her for the Memorial. But was she in the RAF? I don’t think so.

      Noor was flown into France on an RAF Lysander plane on the night of June 16, 1943. Does this connection to the RAF qualify her?

      The web site about the Memorial says that “Some were from countries in continental Europe which had been overrun but whose airmen continued to fight in the ranks of the Royal Air Force.” This a nice way of saying that these countries had been defeated and that the “airmen who continued to fight” were illegal combatants.

      To the British, Noor Inayat Khan and the other SOE agents were heroes who fought by means of espionage and sabotage instead of fighting honorably on the battlefield. The Germans referred to the SOE agents as “terrorists,” because they were operating illegally to help the French resistance to destroy factories, blow up troop trains and worst of all, to delay German Panzer divisions from reaching Normandy until it was too late to stop the Allied invasion of Europe. The SOE supplied arms, money and food for the “terrorists.” The SOE was a secret organization because it was against international law to provide military aid to countries that had laid down their arms and signed an Armistice, as the French did after only 5 weeks. When Germany surrendered in two World Wars, the Germans did not continue to fight as terrorists.

      Women were not recruited as SOE agents until April 1942. This was because the statutes of the British Army, Navy and Royal Air Force barred women from armed combat which included guerrilla warfare.

      As insurgents, operating behind enemy lines in civilian clothing, the SOE agents did not have the same protection as POWs under international law. If caught, they could be legally executed as spies. Women were especially vulnerable because the 1929 Geneva Convention and the 1907 Hague Convention on Land Warfare made no provision at all for protecting women, as women were never envisioned as ever being combatants, either legal combatants or illegal combatants.

      To get around the rules, the women SOE agents were commissioned in a civilian organization called the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) during the time they were operating as guerrilla fighters. So Noor was a FANY. Does this qualify her for the RAF Memorial?

      The plaque on the wall at Dachau where Noor was allegedly executed says this:

      Here in Dachau on the 12th of September,
      1944, four young woman officers of the
      British forces attached to Special Operations
      Branch were brutally murdered and their bodies
      cremated. They died as gallantly as they had
      served the Resistance in France during the
      common struggle for freedom from tyranny.

      Note that the plaque acknowledges that Noor was fighting with the “Resistance in France” so that makes her an illegal combatant who could have been legally executed.

      Did you explain to your son that the Germans were fighting legally on the battlefield to save Germany from being destroyed by the Allies while this Muslim woman was fighting illegally to destroy Germany which was in Europe the last time I looked it up on a map?

      Comment by furtherglory — May 7, 2011 @ 4:03 pm

  8. Dear Sir or Madam,

    On the 24th. September 2011 memorial seat will be dedicated to Vera Atkins and the women of SOE French Section who lost their lives during WW2.

    This will be held in the Allied Special Forces Grove situated within the National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas, Staffordshire.

    More details are available via our website.

    Hope that this is of interest.

    Yours faithfully,

    Mike Colton
    Secretary
    Allied Special Forces Association
    P.O. Box 32, Hereford HR1 9DF

    Comment by Mike Colton — May 1, 2011 @ 8:32 pm

  9. I have no real opinion regarding the glamourous and tragic Noor Inayat Khan, devotee of the Islamic Sufi tradition and descendant of a long line of Muslim princes.

    I can’t help noticing some echos between these two stories: “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.”

    And if you read the Journal of Intelligence History, Vol 6, Nr. 2 (fortunately on google books) page 36 on the Natzweiler trial.
    “The case in point concerned the murder of four women, Denise Borrel, Diana Rowden, Vera Leigh, and a fourth Sonia Olschanezky, whose identity was not known at the time and was initially thought to be Noor Inayat-Khan, all bar Sonia members of the SOE. Their deaths occured at Natzweiler-Struthof on 6 July 1944”
    Sonia Olschanezky was a Russian Jewish emigre.

    Just a parallel story I thought might interest you.

    Comment by littlegreyrabbit — February 24, 2011 @ 4:52 pm

    • Just a comment about Inayat Khan possibly being sent ‘to get a radio into the hands of the Germans’. There is simply no evidence for the notion that she or any other SOE agent was used in this way. Unfortunately all kinds of conspiracy theories have circulated for decades, but without any foundation.

      She may have endured more maltreatment because of her refusal to cooperate, and perhaps her skin color attracted attention; however, many agents were subjected to equally unpleasant things, and died equally unpleasant deaths regardless of what they divulged.

      Perhaps you can contact Ms Basu directly about her quote, via the Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust?

      Comment by Voiceofreason — February 27, 2011 @ 4:25 pm


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