Scrapbookpages Blog

April 11, 2016

The trial of Werner Röhde and 8 others

The Trial of Werner Röhde and 8 others in a British Military Court at Wuppertal, Germany began on May 29, 1946 and ended on June 1, 1946. The nine men were charged with the murder of four British SOE agents on July 6, 1944 at the Natzweiler concentration camp in Alsace.

Werner Röhde was a medical doctor who had allegedly murdered the four SOE agents by giving them a lethal injection. It was the custom of the Allies to strip the title of Doctor from the accused in war crimes proceedings.

The 8 others in the dock were Fritz Hartjenstein, the Commandant at Natzweiler, Max Wochner and Wolfgang Zeuss from the Political Department at Natzweiler, Peter Straub who was the man in charge of executions, Franz Berg who was a prisoner in the camp, Emil Brüttel, Emil Meier and Kurt aus dem Bruch. Dr. Heinrich Plaza, who had also allegedly participated in the lethal injection of the women, was not on trial because he had not been captured.

In all of the Allied Military Tribunals, the concept of a “common plan” or co-responsibility for war crimes was used. This meant that anyone, who was present when a war crime was committed, was equally guilty because the accused should have acted to prevent the crime from taking place.

The evidence for the prosecution had been gathered by Major Bill Barkworth of the SAS War Crimes Investigation team and Vera Atkins, a Squadron Officer of the British SOE, who had interrogated the Natzweiler staff and some of the Natzweiler prisoners, who were also captured SOE agents.

The four SOE agents, who were allegedly murdered at Natzweiler, had been captured by the German Gestapo and had not returned after the war ended. The key prosecution witnesses, Albert Guérisse, Brian Stonehouse and Dr. Georges Boogaerts, who were all members of the SOE, had a motive for wanting these 4 women SOE agents to go down in history as heroines, not as missing persons.

The first witness for the prosecution was Vera Atkins, who testified on May 29, 1944 that Andrée Borrel, Vera Leigh, Diana Rowden and Noor Inayat Khan had been murdered at Natzweiler. It was not known until much later that Noor Inayat Khan was allegedly executed at Dachau and that Sonia Olschanezky was the fourth victim at Natzweiler. However, before her testimony, Vera Atkins had made sure that the Court would not allow the names of the victims to be published. Atkins herself was referred to in the press as a “WAAF officer” and her name was withheld.

According to Sarah Helm, who wrote a biography of Vera Atkins, entitled “A Life in Secrets,” Atkins did not want the SOE to be “exposed to any close scrutiny as a result of the case.” The SOE was a secret organization, also known as Churchill’s Secret Army, and it was engaged in espionage and sabotage behind enemy lines. The four women agents had been in the F section which operated as illegal insurgents in France after that country had signed an Armistice with Germany in 1940.

The attorney for the defense, Dr. Grobel, argued in court that “international law allowed for the execution of irregular combatants” and that the court should “consider this case from the point of view that it was a normal and simple execution of spies.” Vera Atkins was quoted by the press as saying that “the women were not spies.”

One thing the Allied Military Tribunals would not tolerate was any mention by the defense that the Allies had committed similar acts. During World War II, the British executed 15 German spies. The last person to be executed at the famous Tower of London was Josef Jacobs who was captured after he broke his leg during a parachute jump. He was shot on August 15, 1941.

In America, 8 captured German saboteurs were sentenced to death and 6 of them were executed in the electric chair. The other two sentences were reduced because the men had turned against their countrymen and cooperated with the Americans. Although the 8 Germans were caught before they had the opportunity to commit any acts of sabotage, 6 of them were executed because they had violated the Laws of War by going behind enemy lines to commit hostile acts without being in uniform.

According to Rita Kramer, who wrote a book entitled “Flames in the Field,” the proceedings of the British Military Court were widely publicized by the press, but the names of the women who had been allegedly executed at Natzweiler were not published until two years later, and even then it was not revealed that they had been the subject of a British Military Court where nine men had been prosecuted for their alleged execution.

In 1958, a series of articles in a British newspaper, which was a condensed version of a book entitled “Death be not Proud” by Elizabeth Nichols, accused the authorities of keeping the names of the dead women secret as a “War Office cover-up of official blunders,” according to Rita Kramer. The alleged “cover-up” was for the purpose of keeping secret the accusation that the British SOE had deliberately sent radio operators to France to be caught so that the British could transmit false information to their radios after the agents were captured by the Germans.

The senior counter intelligence officer with RSHA, the Reich Security Head Office in Berlin, was Horst Kopkow; he was responsible for all orders pertaining to the SOE agents captured in France. If any order was given for the execution of four SOE agents at Natzweiler, he would have been the man who signed it. He had not yet been captured when the trial of Dr. Röhde and 8 others began.

By the end of 1946, Kopkow was in British custody, but he denied any responsibility for the murder of any female F section SOE agents, saying that it was Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler who had personally decided their fate, according to Sarah Helm’s book “A Life in Secrets.” Himmler was the head of the SS and all the concentration camps. All punishments in all the camps had to be approved by the head office in Oranienburg and all punishments of female prisoners had to be personally approved by Himmler, including executions.

Sarah Helm wrote that Kopkow was taken to England for interrogation in 1948, but when he arrived, he was found to be running a temperature, and two days later he died from bronchial pneumonia before any information could be obtained from him. A death certificate was issued for him and information was released that he had been buried in the POW section of a Military Cemetery.

By 1948, the Allies had realized that the real enemy was the Communist Soviet Union. Kopkow had not died; he had been “released from custody to work for British and American intelligence,” according to the book “A Life in Secrets,” by Sarah Helm. Kopkow’s death had been faked so that he could help the Allies in fighting the Cold War against the Soviets.

If Kopkow had authorized the execution of the 8 women SOE agents, he would have given the order to Herman Rösner of the Karlsruhe Gestapo to carry out. Rösner would then have instructed Max Wassmer and Christian Ott to take the women to Natzweiler and Dachau. Under the “common plan” concept used by the Allies in all their war crimes trials, Rösner would have been guilty of murder, but he was never prosecuted. In the 1960ies, he was hired by the British to provide intelligence for NATO, according to Sarah Helm’s book.

The men who were brought before the Allied military tribunals were called the accused, not the defendants, because they were considered guilty until they were proven innocent. They were guilty from the moment that they had allegedly committed a war crime. As war criminals, rather than POWs, they were not entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention. It could be argued that the execution of the British spies was not legal under international law because they had not been given a trial, as required by the Hague Convention of 1907. However, using the standards of the Allied war crimes trials, spies were not entitled to a trial because they lost their protection the moment they parachuted behind enemy lines with the intent to commit war crimes.

The procedure was to interrogate the accused before the proceedings began and to obtain depositions which the accused would then repeat before the Court. However, in the British and American proceedings, the accused were allowed to have an attorney to represent them. Their attorneys were allowed to use any means to defend them, including the accusation that their clients had been unduly persuaded to give incriminating information in their depositions which they now wanted to recant on the witness stand.

Testimony or confessions about prior bad acts could be admitted, even though it had nothing to do with the crime that was being prosecuted. For example, one of the accused, Peter Straub, who had worked for a number of years in Auschwitz before being transferred to Natzweiler, had supposedly told Walter Schultz, a prisoner at Natzweiler, that he had “put four million people up the chimney.” What kind of a person voluntarily confesses to such barbarity, knowing that he would surely be executed, and uses the terminology of Auschwitz survivors to describe his crime?

According to Rita Kramer, all of the accused would “later deny their complicity,” after giving depositions beforehand in which they stated that they had been involved in the execution of the four SOE agents at Natzweiler. The fact that all of the accused wanted to change their previous testimony, given in their depositions, indicates that they had somehow been induced to incriminate themselves before the proceedings began.

Peter Straub, the executioner at Natzweiler, denied everything, claiming that he was not present when the executions took place. Straub was the hangman; executions at Natzweiler were normally carried out by hanging and all the prisoners were required to watch.

The photo below shows the hangman’s noose at the Memorial site of the former Natzweiler camp.

Prisoners were normally executed by hanging on a gallows, as shown in the photo above.

The following quote is from “Flames in the Field,” by Rita Kramer:

During the period of their detention together at Recklinghausen awaiting trial, several of the defendants had second thoughts about the statements that they had made to Barkworth and sworn to earlier. At the trial they expressed the wish to revise some of the evidence they had given in their affidavits implicating each other. Some lost their memories, others refreshed theirs. This led to some retractions having to do with just exactly who was present in the crematorium that night. But it didn’t matter. There was ample evidence to convince the court of the guilt of those in the dock.

Ms. Kramer used the expression “ample evidence,” when what she obviously meant was “ample testimony.” There were four women SOE agents missing and presumed dead. There was no hard evidence whatsoever that these four women had been executed at Natzweiler: no death records, no execution order, no autopsy report, no bodies, not even the correct name of one of the alleged victims. Vera Atkins had to prevail upon Dr. Röhde to sign death certificates for the four women because there were no official records of their deaths.

Emil Brüttel was a medical orderly in the dispensary at Natzweiler. Under interrogation by British investigators before the trail, Brüttel said that, on the evening that the women were executed, he had received a phone call from Dr. Heinrich Plaza, who was having dinner in the officer’s mess outside the camp. Dr. Plaza inquired about how many capsules of Evipan were available, then called again and asked how much phenol was on hand. When Dr. Plaza called a third time, he instructed Brüttel and Eugen Foster to be ready for duty and to bring the phenol and a 10cc syringe and one or two larger-gauge needles. Dr. Plaza escaped justice because he was never captured after the war.

One of the accused at the proceedings of the British Military Court was Franz Berg, who was a Kapo or one of the prisoners who assisted the guards in the camp; it was his job to stoke the crematorium furnace.

During the proceedings, Berg told the incredible story that he had been ordered by Peter Straub, who was in charge of executions, to heat up the oven in the crematorium and then to disappear. At 9:30 p.m. Berg was still stoking the oven when Dr. Werner Röhde and the camp Commandant, SS-Obersturmbanführer Friedrich “Fritz” Hartjenstein, came into the crematorium. Both Dr. Röhde and Hartjenstein had previously worked at the Auschwitz II camp, also known as Birkenau, before being transferred to Natzweiler. Dr. Röhde had just arrived at Natzweiler; he was replacing Dr. Heinrich Plaza, who was already wearing civilian clothes in preparation for his departure.

Accompanying them were Obersturmführer Johannes Otto, the adjutant to the Commandant, and Wolfgang Zeuss, who worked in the Political Department. A medical orderly named Emil Brüttel and Robert Nietsch were also in the group.

Berg was ordered by Dr. Röhde to go to his quarters in a dormitory room in the crematorium. He pretended to be asleep when Commandant Hartjenstein and his adjutant, Johannes Otto, came to check on him a few minutes later. They locked the door from the outside to keep Berg from witnessing the secret execution of the four women. However, Georg Fuhrmann, a prisoner in the top bunk of the dorm room, was able to see through the transom over the door into the corridor.

The dormitory room in the crematorium is shown in the photo below.

Dormitory room in Natzweiler crematorium

Berg testified that Fuhrmann whispered to him, giving him a running commentary on what was happening in the corridor. There was the noise of bodies being dragged across the floor and the sounds of heavy breathing and low groaning combined. The fourth woman resisted and Dr. Röhde told her that she was being given an injection for typhus, according to Berg’s account.

Part of Berg’s deposition was quoted by Rita Kramer in “Flames in the Field”:

From the noise of the crematorium oven doors which I heard, I can state definitely that in each case the groaning women were placed immediately in the crematorium oven. When [the officials] had gone, we went to the crematorium oven, opened the door and saw that there were four blackened bodies within. Next morning in the course of my duties I had to clear the ashes out of the crematorium oven. I found a pink woman’s stocking garter on the floor near the oven.

Oven where bodies were burned at Natzweiler-Struthof

As the above photo of the oven at Natzweiler shows, the bodies were put inside by means of a stretcher. Berg testified that afterwards, he had seen four blackened bodies inside, apparently not completely burned. The bodies had been undressed before they were cremated, and Berg had found a tell-tale piece of feminine clothing right beside the oven.

Berg referred to the women as “Jewish” in his testimony, according to Rita Kramer, but only one of the four women, Sonia Olschanezky, was Jewish. There were 29 Jewish women who had been brought to Natzweiler from Auschwitz in the Summer of 1943 to be gassed, but their bodies had not been cremated.

There were medical experiments being done at Natzweiler, including experiments done on Gypsy women. One of the experiments was an attempt to find a vaccine for typhus, which the Germans had not yet successfully developed. The four women SOE agents were allegedly told that they were being given an injection for typhus, but were instead given phenol injections.

The following quote is from “Flames in the Field,” by Rita Kramer:

The most dramatic testimony came from Walter Schultz, who had been an interpreter in the camp’s Political Department. It was here the orders came regarding prisoners transferred to the camp by the Gestapo for ‘special treatment,’ a euphemism the meaning of which was clearly understood by all. It was not necessary for files to be made for new arrivals accompanied, like the four women, by requests for special treatment.

Hearsay testimony, which would not be allowed in a normal trial, was acceptable at the Allied Military Tribunals. Schultz claimed that Peter Straub was very drunk on the day of the secret execution of the four women and that Straub had told him all about the women being killed by phenol injection. One of the women had regained consciousness after the injection and had scratched his face, as she fought being put into the oven alive. According to Rita Kramer, the author of “Flames in the Field,” when Straub was interrogated by Vera Atkins, he still had scars on his face from the scratches inflicted by Andrée Borrel.

Dr. Heinrich Plaza was leaving the Natzweiler camp on the day of the alleged execution of the women, and there was a party for him that night. This could explain why Peter Straub was drunk, as Schultz testified at the trial. Could the four “well-dressed” women who arrived in the camp at 3 p.m. that day have been the wives of the SS men, or perhaps prostitutes, who were brought to the camp for the party? According to several witnesses who saw the women when they arrived, each of them was carrying a box or a small suitcase. Who brings a suitcase to an execution?

It was not until 1956 that the public learned the fate of the men who were brought before the British Military Court at Wuppertal on May 29, 1946. The British had kept the sentences and the execution of the accused secret.

The commandant at Natzweiler, SS-Obersturmbanführer Friedrich “Fritz” Hartjenstein, was convicted, and on June 1, 1946 he was sentenced to life in prison. He was tried again for complicity in the hanging of an RAF pilot at Natzweiler; he was convicted again, and was sentenced on June 5, 1946 to death by firing squad. Then he was extradited to France for another trial by a French Military Tribunal for the mass murder of prisoners at Natzweiler. He was convicted and sentenced to death once again, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison. He died of a heart attack in a French prison at Metz on October 20, 1954.

Dr. Werner Röhde was sentenced to death by hanging and was executed on October 11, 1946. The date of his sentence was June 5, 1946 although the proceedings in the case of the four SOE women ended on June 1, 1946. This indicates that he might have been charged with more crimes in a subsequent trial, along with Commandant Fritz Hartjenstein, who was sentenced on June 1, 1946 and then sentenced a second time on June 5, 1946.

Peter Straub, the SS officer in charge of executions, was convicted and was subsequently sentenced to 13 years in prison on June 1, 1946. This was a remarkably short sentence, considering that Straub had told a prisoner named Walter Schultz that he was responsible for killing 4 million people at Auschwitz and that he had shoved a woman into a crematory oven alive and had the scars to prove it.

Straub was tried again by another British Military Court at Wuppertal for complicity in the hanging of an RAF pilot who was a prisoner at Natzweiler in the Summer of 1944. He was convicted of this crime and on June 5, 1946 he was sentenced to death. He was hanged on October 11, 1946.

Magnus Wochner was sentenced to 10 years in prison for carrying out the alleged order from RSHA to execute the four SOE women. He was then turned over to the French for prosecution but was released.

Emil Brüttel was sentenced to prison but was released by the French after he was turned over to them.

Wolfgang Zeuss and two others were acquitted.

Johannes Otto was never prosecuted because he committed suicide after the war ended.

According to Sarah Helm’s book “A Life in Secrets,” Franz Berg was sentenced to 5 years in prison. Other sources say that Berg was sentenced to death and hanged on October 11, 1946. He may have been tried again on other charges for which he received the death penalty.

Max Wassmer and Christian Ott, the two Gestapo men from Karlsruhe, who allegedly accompanied the four women SOE agents to Natzweiler and also accompanied four other women SOE agents to Dachau, were never charged with a crime for their part in the alleged murders of the eight women. They were rewarded for giving information to their interrogators by being released from custody. Both were in their late fifties and were highly experienced in Gestapo work; they knew how to tell investigators what they wanted to hear.

November 29, 2012

Noor Inayat Khan was brought “in chains” to Dachau where she was executed in “late Summer 1944”

Filed under: Dachau, World War II — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 11:03 am

A bronze statue, sculpted by London-based artist Karen Newman, was unveiled by Britain’s Princess Anne on November 8, 2012.  You can see a photo of the unveiling below.  Personally, I don’t care for this sculpture.  I think that Noor should not be shown with her head bowed.  She should have her head lifted with a defiant expression on her face, as she shouts Liberté, her last dying word, before she was shot in the head at Dachau, as witnessed by a prisoner who came forward years later.  (Lies about Noor Inayat Khan have been told so often that they are now true lies.)

A reader of my blog make a comment on a previous post that I wrote about Noor Inayat Khan, the famous “Spy Princess” in the British SOE. He mentioned that there was a witness to the arrival of Noor at Dachau.  I found this hard to believe until I saw a YouTube video in which someone said that Noor had arrived at Dachau “in chains.”  That would have been quite a sight; every prisoner in the camp would have pushed forward to see this spectacale.

Many survivors of Dachau are still alive, and I am not surprised that someone has finally come forward to tell about witnessing the arrival of Noor at Dachau.  The words “in chains” are at 2:10 in the YouTube video which has been copyrighted, and cannot be shown here.

My photo below shows the gatehouse at Dachau, as it looked in 2007

Gatehouse entrance to Dachau concentration camp

As my photos of the Dachau gatehouse show, everyone inside the camp would have been able to see Noor hobbling through the gate with her feet in chains.  With so many prisoners to witness the coming and going of people into the camp, there was no need for the men in the gatehouse to keep records of arrivals and departures.  A bar over the pedestrian door on the gate could be removed to allow entry into the camp without opening the entire gate which was operated by remote control in the gatehouse.  So it would have been easy to sneak Noor Inayat Khan into Dachau with no one in the gatehouse knowing about it.  (There are no records of her entry into Dachau.)

Gatehouse and Arbeit Macht Frei gate at Dachau

Unfortunately, I have been unable to find any information on the name of the witness who saw Noor arrive in chains.  I have also not been able to find any photos of prisoners arriving at Dachau in chains.  The old photo below, which is on my own website, shows German war criminals marching out of  Dachau.

The photo above shows German “war criminals” leaving Dachau, which had been converted into War Crimes Enclosure No. 1 after the Dachau concentration camp was liberated and Germany surrendered to the Allies.  Note that they are not “in chains.”

March 6, 2012

The fate of British SOE agent Madeleine Damerment, as told in a documentary on the Military Channel

Filed under: Germany, World War II — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 12:28 pm

This morning, I tuned in to the TV Military Channel and watched a documentary that was already in progress.  I perked up when I heard the name Vera Atkins mentioned and saw Sarah Helm as one of the commentators.  At that point in the documentary, the narrator was talking about the 5 women in the Prosper Network of the British SOE, which was infiltrated by the Nazis. (Sarah Helm is the author of a book about Vera Atkins.)

The narrator of the documentary said that SOE agent Gilbert Norman had sent a message back to the British on July 7, 1943, but did not include deliberate spelling mistakes which would have been proof that it was really him sending the message, and not a German who was in possession of his captured radio. Maurice Buckmaster ignored the lack of spelling mistakes and just told the sender to be more careful next time.

Then the narrator added that Vera Atkins, who had a “junior rank” in the SOE, “goes along” with Buckmaster and “fails to take action.”  Why?  Because “SHE IS NOT VERA ATKINS.”  She is leading a “double life.”

The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was a secret British organization started by Winston Churchill and Hugh Dalton in July 1940, shortly after France signed an Armistice with Germany. Its purpose was to aid partisans and resistance fighters in France and other conquered countries that were occupied by Germany during World War II. Also called Churchill’s Secret Army, its directive was to “set Europe ablaze.”

The largest group of spies in the SOE was the F section which operated in France; it was headed by Major Maurice Buckmaster. The majority of the women agents were in the French section, including  Madeleine Damerment.

Madeleine Damerment was sent to France to be a courier for the Bricklayer Network. She parachuted into France on the night of February 28, 1944 and was arrested by the Gestapo as soon as she landed.  How did the Germans know that she was an SOE agent the moment that she arrived?  It was because “Gilbert Norman was no longer operating his radio.”  The narrator of the documentary then says:  “Vera knows (that Gilbert’s radio has been captured) but keeps quiet.”  He adds that “Madeleine was not warned that the F section of the SOE had been infiltrated and radios had been captured.”

Long story, short:  Vera Atkins did not “take action” because Maurice Buckmaster “knows her true identify” and he “supports her application for British citizenship.”  According to the documentary, “Vera had personal motives” for keeping quiet.  It was revealed that Vera’s name was really Vera Rosenberg and she was Jewish. She was originally from Romania, which was an ally of Germany in World War II.

The documentary revealed that Vera Atkins had gone to Holland to save some of her Jewish relatives from being sent to a concentration camp.  This was before she joined the SOE.  Vera had “paid money to the Germans to save one of her cousins.”  But according to the documentary, “the Nazis demanded more than money.”  The Nazis stipulated that she could not reveal that she had bribed them to let her cousin go. For this reason, she could not challenge Buckmaster and demand that he confront Gilbert Norman, since Buckmaster was her only supporter in her quest for British citizenship.  Everyone else in the SOE believes that Vera Atkins is British, and no one except Buckmaster knows that she is a Romanian Jew.

So what happened to Madeleine Damerment who was captured the moment that she landed in France?   According to the documentary, “Vera went to Germany in December 1945.”  She went on a mission to track down “her girls” who had “never been on the official list of SOE agents.”

Vera “traced Madeleine to Karlsruhe (prison) and then to Dachau.”  At that point in the documentary, a color photo of the infamous “death train” at Dachau is shown.  The photo actually showed German soldiers who had been taken to the train and shot by the American liberators of Dachau.

Then the narrator says:  “On September 13, 1944, the Nazis dragged Madeleine into the yard of the (Dachau) camp, forced her to kneel and then shot her in the back of the neck.” Nothing was mentioned about any other SOE agents being shot at Dachau on the same day.  No proof was given that Madeleine was shot at Dachau.  You can read here about the SOE agents who were allegedly shot at Dachau.

Just before the show was interrupted for a commercial, the narrator said “Nothing could prepare Vera for what she uncovered next: Natzweiler.”  You can read about the execution of British SOE agents at Natzweiler here on my website.

The narrator of the documentary said that Vera “tracks down evidence” that her agents were killed at Natzweiler.  According to this documentary: “On July 6, 1944, four of her SOE agents were told that they were going to be given an injection to prevent typhus, but were instead given an injection of carbolic acid.  Then their bodies were dragged to the crematorium and burned.  Franz Berg witnessed the burning.”  I wrote about Franz Berg here on my website.

Andrée Borrel, one of the SOE agents, “scratched the face of one of the Nazis and screamed as she was put into the oven.”  According to the documentary, “one or maybe all of the women had been burned alive.”

The documentary goes on to say that Vera Atkins was a witness at two trials.  At this point, a photo of Rudolf Hoess is shown, but he is not identified, as the narrator says “her evidence leads to the conviction” of German war criminals. You can read about Vera Atkins at the trial of the Natzweiler war criminals on my website here.

At the end of the documentary, we learn from Sarah Helm that Vera Atkins never acknowledged that anything had gone wrong (the Gilbert Norman fiasco) and she remained secretive all her life.

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.

November 27, 2010

the fate of Andrée Borrel, a French woman in the British SOE

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, World War II — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 6:04 am

My blog post today is in answer to a comment made, by a German reader of my blog, about his search for the fate of Andrée Borrel, who was a British SOE agent during World War II.  His comment mentioned that Borrel “joined the (French) Resistance, was betrayed and fled to England via Portugal.”  He also mentioned that Borrel was “sent back to France” (by the British SOE) and was then caught by the Gestapo.

Andrée Borrel was one of the first two woman SOE agents to parachute into France. She was tall and athletic, courageous and very beautiful.

What really caught my attention in the comment was these words:  “she was working and stayed with the Bielmeier Bakery but was taken away and apparently executed, but where?”

The Bielmeier bakery was in the town of Dachau during World War II, and it was a work Kommando where prisoners from the Dachau concentration camp were sent to work.  Dachau was basically a men’s camp; women and teen-aged prisoners at Dachau lived and worked outside the camp in places like the Bielmeier bakery.

Before I began doing extensive research on the fate of the women in the British SOE, I thought that the most logical explanation for the disappearance of the women in the SOE, after they were betrayed by the British, was that they had escaped for fear that they would be killed to cover up the fact that they had been used and betrayed.   I dismissed this idea because none of the SOE women who disappeared had ever contacted their families.  The story told by the British was that 12 SOE women had been executed at these three concentration camps:  Dachau, Natzweiler and Ravensbrück.  However, there is no proof that any British SOE women were ever executed by the Germans.

Now this reader’s information, that Andrée Borrel worked in a bakery in the town of Dachau, sheds new light on the story.

Several of the women SOE agents were sent to the civilian prison in Karlsruhe, Germany after they were captured.  On July 6, 1944, four of these women (Andrée Borrel, Vera Leigh, Diane Rowden and Sonia Olschanezky) were released and allegedly executed that evening at the Natzweiler concentration camp in Alsace, which is now in France.  These women had been sent to France by the British SOE to be caught so that the Germans could be given false information about the D-day invasion.   The official story given by the SOE is that four of the women were executed at Natzweiler exactly one month after the Normandy invasion.

The problem is that the Karlsruhe prison has no record of the name of the concentration camp where these four women were sent when they were released. The alleged execution of the women was top secret. So secret that there was no written execution order and no records kept of their deaths.

Why such secrecy?  The British SOE was an illegal organization and the women were illegal combatants who had no protection under the Geneva Convention of 1929.  If caught, they could be legally executed.  There were several male SOE agents who were executed, but there was no secrecy about their executions.

A biography of Vera Atkins, entitled A Life in Secrets, by Sarah Helm gives the following account of what happened when the SOE women were brought to the offices of Magnus Wochner and Wolfgang Zeuss in the Political Department, a branch of the Gestapo, in the Natzweiler camp.

The following is a quote from A Life in Secrets:

Then a man from the Karlsruhe Gestapo, who had accompanied the women, walked into Wochner’s office and explained that there were orders from Berlin to execute the women immediately. Wochner disputed this “unorthodox” procedure, saying that such orders usually arrived in Zeuss’s office by secret teleprint, or by letter direct from Berlin to the commandant of the camp. A carbon copy was always immediately made of such an order and sent to the commandant. But the Karlsruhe Gestapo man said the women’s names should not be entered in any records at all. Other witnesses, however, suggested he was simply lying and that the camp executioner, Peter Straub, would never have been authorized to kill a prisoner without Wochner’s order.

Two months later, four more British SOE women agents were allegedly taken to Dachau by Max Wassmer, the same man who allegedly brought the women to Natzweiler. (The Archives of the Dachau concentration camp has no record of Max Wassmer ever being checked in at the gate into Dachau, as would have been the required procedure.) For the SOE women allegedly sent to Dachau, there was no proper order from Berlin, authorizing the execution of the women, and no records of the execution were kept.

Even after the war, at the proceedings against nine staff members of the Natzweiler camp before a British Military Court from May 29, 1946 to June 1, 1946, the names of the women were kept secret from the public, allegedly to spare the feelings of the relatives. However, according to Sarah Helm’s book, the relatives didn’t mind the public knowing the names of the women and had given written permission to reveal their names.

The records of the British Military Court were sealed and the transcripts of the trial were not published until 1949. The fate of the men, who were put on trial by the British, was not publicly known until 1956 when a journalist named Anthony Terry persuaded the legal department of the British Embassy to release the information to him.

According to Rita Kramer’s book, Flames in the Field, Terry also publicly identified the fourth woman who was allegedly executed at Natzweiler after he discovered that Sonia Olschanezky had been taken to the Karlsruhe prison on the same day as Borrel, Leigh and Rowden, and that she was released on July 6, 1944, the same day as the other three. In the published trial transcripts, the fourth woman was not identified.

On September 12, 1944, four more women SOE agents were allegedly executed secretly at Dachau. There are no records of the execution of the four women at Dachau and all of their names were not even known until 1947 when the name Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan was added to the list of the Dachau victims. Until Sonia Olschanezky was finally identified as the fourth Natzweiler victim, it had been assumed that Noor Inayat Khan was executed at Natzweiler.

According to Rita Kramer’s book, the Karlsruhe records only show that the women were taken to an unnamed concentration camp. The logical place to send the women would have been Ravensbrück, the women’s concentration camp near Berlin, where they could have been executed and their bodies disposed of in the crematorium.

The Ravensbrück camp was liberated by the Soviet Union and the records that were confiscated by the Soviets have never been released, even to this day.  The Soviets did finally release the records that were confiscated from Auschwitz and Majdanek, but curiously, the records from Ravensbrück are still being kept secret. I wonder why?

The Natzweiler camp is in a remote area in the Vosges mountains in Alsace; it would have been a great place for a secret execution, except that there were at least 6 British SOE agents there who were potential witnesses to the arrival of the women.  (Maybe that’s why Natzweiler was chosen by the British for their official story — the six SOE men at Natzweiler could corroborate their false story of  the execution.)

Natzweiler had only one crematory oven and prisoners were not normally brought there by the Gestapo for execution since the closest railroad station was 5 miles from the camp.

In spite of the strict secrecy surrounding the alleged execution of the four women at Natzweiler, the Gestapo was remarkably careless in handling this important mission. For one thing, the prisoners at the Natzweiler camp had not seen a woman in quite a while, so their arrival in the camp was bound to attract attention.

Four women arrived in the Natzweiler camp around 3 o’clock in the afternoon and were paraded through the entire camp in full view of all the prisoners who did not work outside the camp.  Who were these women?  Could they have been the wives or girl friends of the SS men who were there to attend a party that took place that evening?  Maybe prostitutes that had been hired for the party?

According to British SOE agent Albert Guérisse, the Commandant of the Natzweiler camp had gone down to the station to meet them and had brought the women back in his car; he then drove around the camp and gave the women a tour.  Is that the way the Nazis treated condemned women?

Brian Stonehouse, an SOE agent who testified that he had witnessed the arrival of the four women, was a prisoner in the “Nacht und Nebel” category. The N.N. prisoners were not allowed to work outside the camp, but by some remarkable coincidence, Stonehouse was doing manual labor that day near the gate and he was able to get a good look at the women so that he could identify them later.

Stonehouse noted that one woman had “very fair heavy hair,” but her dark roots were showing; she was wearing a black coat and carrying a fur coat over her arm, although this was in July. Another woman was wearing a tweed coat, while a third woman had a tartan plaid ribbon in her hair. He remembered that the fourth woman was wearing clothes that “looked very English.”

As British spies in France, it was important for these women to pass for French women, especially because they were with the Prosper Network that was based in Paris, but curiously, three out of the four had on something that could be easily identified as British, according to Brian Stonehouse. His descriptions were used to identify the women at the proceedings of the British Military Court held in 1946 at Wuppertal, Germany.

The four women were allegedly taken to the Political Department at Natzweiler, where Walter Schultz, a prisoner who was an interpreter, was a witness to their arrival.

After the stop at the Political Department, the four women were allegedly  taken to the Zellenbau, the camp prison, which was at the far end of the camp. The windows on one side of the Zellenbau faced the infirmary where Albert Guérisse and Dr. Georges Boogaerts, two SOE agents from Belgium, were assigned to work. The infirmary, or the camp hospital, was about 10 meters from the prison cells.

According to the book A Life in Secrets, by Sarah Helm, a Kapo named Franz Berg, who worked in the crematorium, had witnessed the arrival of the women and “It was he who passed the word right down to the barracks on the lower terraces that there were British women among the group.”  British SOE agent Albert Guérisse, lived in barrack number 7, which was 25 meters from the hospital block.

On page 114 of her book entitled Flames in the Field, Rita Kramer wrote the following:

At the Natzweiler trial, Berg testified as to what had happened on the evening of 6 July 1944. His testimony neatly complemented, like an adjacent piece of a jigsaw puzzle, what Vera Atkins had heard from Dr. Guérisse, who had recognized Andrée Borrel and had managed to exchange a few words with another one of of the women before she disappeared. She had told him that she was English. That was all there had been time for.

Boogaerts and Guérisse told Vera Atkins that they had gotten the word from Berg about the British women. However, during the trial of nine Natzweiler staff members, Franz Berg referred to the women who were executed as “Jewish.” Not being a fashion expert like Brian Stonehouse, Berg had no way of knowing that these women were British.

Boogaerts got the attention of the women by whistling and whispering as loudly as he could through a window in his barrack building. Two of the women opened the window of their prison cell and Boogaerts threw them some cigarettes through the window. One of the women, who told Boogaerts that her code name was Denise, then gave Boogaerts a small tobacco pouch, which Franz Berg delivered to him. Denise was the code name for Andrée Borrel.

Guérisse’s account of what happened was quoted by Sarah Helm in her book:

Boogaerts came to see me after he had first made contact with the women, saying he had managed to get them some cigarettes and he suggested that I should come to his block (barracks) at 7 p.m. in order to talk to them and find out who they were, from the window of his block, which was within speaking distance. And I went to his block and by looking through the window and whistling I could see the head and shoulders of a woman appear in the window of the cell opposite in the prison block, and I noticed that she had dark hair but it was quite impossible to observe more.

It was only later, in another interview with Vera Atkins, that Guérisse remembered that he had recognized the woman with the dark hair as Andrée Borrel. Brian Stonehouse told Vera Atkins that he had identified Borrel as the bleach blonde with dark roots showing, who walked into the camp carrying a fur coat.

According to Rita Kramer’s book, the tobacco pouch that Andrée gave to Boogaerts contained some money. Inside the pouch was a slip of paper with her name on it; after the war he gave the pouch to Leone Borrel Arend, Andrée’s sister.

So we have proof that Andrée Borrel was executed at Nazweiler; she had the foresight to write down her name and give it to another British SOE agent who was a prisoner at Natzweiler.

By another remarkable coincidence, the British SOE men at Natzweiler were then transferred to Dachau where four more SOE women were sent and allegedly executed.  Strangely, the Gestapo always arranged for male SOE agents to be kept alive as witnesses to the execution of female SOE agents and they even moved them around from one camp to another for that purpose.

A couple of years ago, I contacted the staff at Dachau and I was told that there are no records at Dachau of any SOE women being brought there.  In light of this new information from a reader who was at Dachau after the war, I will have to do some more investigation about Andrée Borrel being a prisoner at Dachau who worked in the Bielmerier bakery.

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?

April 6, 2010

Noor Inayat Khan executed at Dachau — fact or fiction?

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, World War II — Tags: , , , , , — furtherglory @ 1:21 pm

I would like to believe the story of Noor Inayat Khan, the brave “Spy Princess” from India who became a British SOE agent during World War II and was captured by the Gestapo in Paris.  I truly want to believe the story that Noor was tortured all night and beaten into a “bloody mess” by a high ranking SS officer at the Dachau concentration camp before he personally shot her in the head the next morning.  I want to believe it as much as the next person.  The problem is that there is no evidence whatsoever to support this story. It is pure fiction.

Noor Inayat Khan wearing British WAAF uniform

This quote about the death of Noor Inayat Khan is from Wikipedia:

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 down from behind.[9] Her last word was “Liberté”. She was 30 years old.[10][11]

9.  Basu, Shrabani. Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan”, Sutton Publishing, 2006, pg xx-xxi.
10.  a b Hamilton, Alan “Exotic British spy who defied Gestapo brutality to the end” in The Times, 13 May 2006, page 26

The Archives at the Dachau Memorial Site has no documentation whatsoever about the alleged execution of Noor Inayat Khan and three other British SOE women at Dachau.  Nor is there any record of these women even arriving at Dachau in September 1944. Everyone who entered the Dachau concentration camp had to stop at the gate and check in, but there is no record of any Gestapo men bringing these women into the Dachau camp in the middle of the night.

In spite of the complete lack of proof that any women were executed at Dachau, there is a plaque on the wall in the Dachau crematorium, where the bodies of the Noor Inayat Khan, Yolanda Beekman, Elaine Plewman, and Madeleine Damerment were allegedly burned.

Plaque on wall of crematorium at Dachau

The words on the plaque are:

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.

Notice the date, September 12, 1944.  Other sources, including the British Public Records Office, say that the date of execution was September 13, 1944.  The exact date is unknown because there are no records of the execution of these four women at Dachau or anywhere else.

Note the words “brutally murdered.”  If the four women were, in fact, executed at Dachau, it was perfectly legal under the Geneva Convention of 1929, which allowed the execution of illegal combatants.

The British SOE was a secret organization that was set up to aid and finance the French Resistance movement.  The French had signed an Armistice and promised to stop fighting.  They did stop fighting on the battlefield, but continued to fight throughout the war as illegal combatants.  That means that the British SOE, which was set up to help illegal combatants, was an illegal operation according to the rules of warfare. That’s why all the records of the SOE were kept secret for over 50 years.

The French resistance guerrilla fighters blew up bridges, derailed trains, directed the British in the bombing of German troop trains, kidnapped and killed German army officers, and ambushed German troops. They took no prisoners, but rather killed any German soldiers who surrendered to them, sometimes mutilating their bodies for good measure. The Nazis referred to them as “terrorists.” American school children are taught that the French resistance fighters, who fought illegally, were heroes.

Altogether, there were 470 agents in the French section of the British SOE, and 39 of them were women or 8% of the total. One third of the women died while in captivity or were executed. The male agents made up 92% of the total; 81 male agents, or 18% of the men, died while in prison or were executed. So why were the Nazis so mean to the women?  Why did they treat the women much worse than they treated the men?  Because that’s just the way Nazis are; they’re bad people, for no reason at all.

Twelve of the women SOE agents were allegedly executed secretly, but there were no records of these executions found after the war. All of the information about their deaths is based on hearsay testimony, or the biased testimony of male SOE agents who wanted these women to go down in history as heroines, and/or the confessions of SS men whose depositions, taken by British SOE officer Vera Atkins, were repeated in the courtroom. There is no documentation for these 12 executions whatsoever.

Altogether, there were 39 female British SOE agents who were sent to France and 13 of them never returned. Of the 13 female SOE agents who never returned, there were allegedly 4 that were executed at Natzweiler, 4 at Dachau and 4 at Ravensbrück, the women’s camp. The 13th was Muriel Byck, a Jewish agent, who died of meningitis on 23 May 1944, six weeks after she arrived in France.

The 12 SOE women who were allegedly executed had first been held in the Gestapo prison on Avenue Foch in Paris. Then all except Sonia Olschanezky and Noor Inayat Khan were sent to Fresnes, another Gestapo prison. Noor was sent to Pforzheim prison on November 27, 1943 after she attempted to escape for the second time.

Eight of the women SOE agents were gathered together at Avenue Foch and sent on May 13, 1944 to the civilian prison at Karlsruhe, including Odette Sansom who was later transferred on July 18, 1944 to Ravensbrück, where she survived; she was one of the eight SOE agents who were sent to Ravensbrück.

Four of the 8 female SOE agents, who were sent to Ravensbrück, were allegedly executed there, according to eye-witness testimony. Their names are Denise Bloch, Lilian Rolfe, Violette Szabo and Cecily Lefort.  Three of the women were allegedly shot, but Lefort was allegedly killed in the gas chamber at Ravensbrück, according to the court testimony of one of the prisoners.

Cover of book entitled “Spy Princess”

Before it became known that Noor Inayat Khan was allegedly executed at Dachau, the staff members of the Natzweiler concentration camp were put on trial by the British and charged with her murder.  When it was learned that Noor was allegedly executed at Dachau, the court transcript was changed so that one of the four women who were allegedly executed at Natzweiler was listed as “unknown.”  It was not publicly revealed that the transcript had been changed until many years later.

In January 1947, nine months after the file on Noor had been closed, British SOE officer Vera Atkins was given a letter written by Yolande Lagrave, a former French political prisoner at Pforzheim. Lagrave had been sent to Pforzheim prison in early 1944, two months after Noor had arrived; she claimed that she was the only woman prisoner to survive Pforzheim. According to Lagrave’s story, all the other women were taken out, raped and then shot; their bodies were buried on the prison grounds in a mass grave. For some unknown reason, Lagrave was kept alive and she was released when the Allies liberated the prison on May 1, 1945.

Lagrave began writing letters to Noor’s brother and others, in which she revealed that Noor Inayat Khan had left Pforzheim some time in September 1944, although the exact date was unknown.

Noor had been kept in solitary confinement at Pforzheim, far apart from the other prisoners, but they had managed to communicate with her by scratching messages on the bottom of their mess tins with knitting needles, according to Yolande Lagrave’s story. Each day, the women would look on the bottom of their mess tin at meal time to see if Noor had scratched a message when she had previously used the same mess tin.

In September 1944, Noor had scratched a message, with no date, which said that she was leaving. With this new information provided by Yolande Lagrave, it was then assumed by British SOE officer Vera Atkins that Noor had been taken from Pforzheim to Karlsruhe on September 11, where she joined three other women who were released on that date and sent to an unnamed concentration camp.   Note that the Karlsruhe records do not show where the women were sent.  They were most likely sent to the women’s camp at Ravensbrück.

On May 19, 2006 a documentary entitled The Princess Spy was shown on the BBC2 Timewatch program. In this documentary, about the life of Noor Inayat Khan, alias Nora Baker, records in the Pforzheim archives were shown with the name Nora Baker, her address in London, her birthplace in London, and the date of her transfer — September 11, 1944. Noor was actually born in Moscow, of an Indian father and an American mother. Were these alleged records faked by the British for their documentary? The mistakes on the records seem to indicate that they were fake.

The records shown in the documentary contradict the statement of Marcel Schubert, a prisoner at Pforzheim who worked as an interpreter. Schubert claimed that “the British woman’s name was never written in the prison register.” This makes sense since Noor had been classified as a Nacht und Nebel prisoner after she attempted to escape twice. The families of Nacht und Nebel prisoners were not told of their whereabouts; the purpose of this was to discourage resistance fighting.

Noor had revealed her name, and also two of her addresses, only to the other women prisoners by scratching this information on the bottom of a mess tin, according to Yolande Lagrave, who said that she had written down the addresses and sewn the paper inside the hem of her skirt. After the war, Yolande had attempted to contact Noor, but her letters were returned.

According to Sarah Helm’s book A Life in Secrets, Hans Kieffer, the man who had ordered Noor to be sent to Pforzheim prison, told Vera Atkins that he had no knowledge of her execution.  He broke down and cried when he was told that Noor had been executed at Dachau.

Here is a quote from the book entitled Spy Princess by Shrabani Basu:

The Pforzheim prison register shows that Noor was discharged from the prison at 6:15 p.m. on 11 September and driven 20 miles to Karlsruhe.  Orders had come directly from Berlin to move Noor.  She was now summoned to the office of Josef Gmeiner, head of the Karlsruhe Gestapo.

Just after 2 a.m. in Gmeiner’s office Noor met three other SOE agents, Eliane Plewman, Madeleine Damerment and Yolande Beekman.  She had known Yolande from her training days at Wanborough Manor.  All four agents were given their orders to leave for Dachau.  They were escorted by Gestapo officer Christian Ott and driven to the station in Gmeiner’s car.  At Bruchsal Junction they were joined by their second German escort Max Wassmer, and together they caught the express train for Stuttgart.  At Stuttgart they had to wait on the platform for about an hour for the train to Munich.

Josef Gmeiner said later that the orders to move Noor and her colleagues had come by teleprinter from Berlin.  One was addressed to his office at Karlsruhe and the other to the Commandant of the concentration camp.  Gmeiner’s instructions were to transfer the prisoners to the camp at Dachau.  The instruction to the Camp Commandant of Dachau ordered the execution itself.

It was midnight when they reached Dachau and they walked up to the concentration camp, where they were locked in separate cells.

The end came in the early hours of the morning.  Madeleine, Eliane and Yolande were dragged out of their cells, marched past the barracks and shot near the crematorium.

For Noor it would be a long, tortuous night.  According to two letters received by Jean Overton Fuller’s publishers after her book appeared in 1952, Noor was stripped, abused and kicked all night by her German captors. One of the letter writers was a Lieutenant Colonel Wickey, who worked for Canadian intelligence during the war and was Military Governor in Wuppertal in the British zone after the war.  Here he met a German officer who had spent time in Dachau.  This officer had been told by some camp officials that four women had been brought to Dachau from Karlsruhe.  He described the women as French but added that one had a darker complexion and “looked much like a Creole.”  The officers told the German officer that she (Noor) was considered to be a very “dangerous person” and to be given the “full treatment.”  Wickey then traced the German camp officer who had given the account and was told by him that Noor was tortured and abused in her cell by the Germans. She was stripped, kicked and finally left lying on the floor battered.

Captain A. Nicholson of the War Crimes Group of North West Europe was given the task of obtaining photocopies of the Pforzheim prison register.  He reported to Major N.G. Mott at the War Office.  From the sworn statement of the prison director, they learnt that Noor was removed from Pforzheim to Dachau in September. Major Mott then reported to Vera Atkins that Noor, along with three other specially employed women were removed to Dachau where they were executed the following morning, 13 September.

Note the date, September 13th.  The plaque on the wall of the crematorium at Dachau gives the date of execution as September 12th. It is hard to keep the dates straight when the story is based on hearsay from unnamed informants.

Noor Inayat Khan most likely died at Pforzheim prison. The other three SOE women were most likely sent to Ravensbrück, the women’s camp.  Ravensbrück was liberated by the Soviet Union and all the records from the camp were confiscated and never released to the public.  There was a typhus epidemic in Germany in the last days of the war, and the SOE women most likely died of typhus.

So why do the British keep promoting this fictional account of Noor Inayat Khan?  Well, it makes a great story.  Noor Inayat Khan was an exotic beauty with an exotic name.  The name  Noor  means “light of womanhood.” Noor’s father was Hazrat Inayat Khan, a leader of the Sufi movement, and her mother was an American.

Noor was a descendent of Tippu Sultan, a prince who had been an enemy of British rule in India. She has been described as “gentle, shy, musical, dreamy, and poetic,” and she “was noted for her kindness to animals.”  Noor attended the Sorbonne and wrote children’s books, including Twenty Jataka Tales, which is still in print.

Noor Inayat Khan

The story is that this beautiful, gentle Indian “Princess” was brutally beaten by a SS officer, who represents the stereotype of SS men as the epitome of cruelty. This is the age old story of good and evil.   The Allies fought the “good war” and defeated the evil Nazis. Noor Inayat Khan was fighting as an illegal combatant, and could have been legally executed, but she is the heroine who was “murdered”  by the evil Nazis.

You can read more about the story of Noor Inayat Khan here.

There was an announcement a couple of years ago that a film was being made, based on the book Spy Princess by Shrabani Basu.  The film was to be directed by Shyam Benegal.  I don’t know if the film has ever been released.

March 26, 2010

Noor Inayat Khan — if you tell a lie often enough, does it become the truth?

I was searching the blogs yesterday for anything about Dachau and came across this blog, which has an article about Noor Inayat Khan with the title “A Remarkable True Story for Women’s History Month.”  Noor Inayat Khan was a British SOE  spy who was allegedly executed at Dachau.

Whenever you see the word “allegedly” on my blog, it means that there is no proof whatsoever for whatever else is in that sentence.

Here is a quote from the “True Story” which I copied from the blog:

“In September 1944, Noor and three other female agents – Madeleine Damerment, Eliane Plewman and Yolande Beekman – were taken to the concentration camp at Dachau, just outside Munich.

“The three other agents were shot by the Germans on the day they arrived, but Noor was singled out to be beaten, tortured and possibly raped for hours before she was finally shot by an SS officer.

“As he placed the gun to her head and despite her tortured, weakened state, at least one source states that she summoned up the energy and courage to call out one final word before she died: ‘libertié‘.”

Noor Inayat Khan

After reading the information above, I did a new search on Noor Inayat Khan and found numerous blogs about her, all with essentially the same story about how Noor was beaten before she was executed at Dachau.

Here is a quote from another blog:

“It was a crisp Munich morning on September 13, 1944 when the four shackled women were led to the execution grounds. All were made to kneel. Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert, the SS trooper in charge of executions, gave the orders to shoot. By eyewitness account, one by one the troopers shot Madeleine Damerment, Eliane Plewman, and Yolande Beekman.

“Come the turn of the fourth prisoner, Wilhelm stopped the executioners. He stepped forward and hit the fourth prisoner with his gun butt. When she fell to the ground, he kicked her till she was reduced to a bloody mess. She was raised to her knees forcibly. Wilhelm then shot her in the back of her head thus bringing to an abrupt end the short life of Princess, spy, heroine, martyr Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan, a great great granddaughter of Tipu Sultan, the last Muslim sovereign of South India. One died fighting British imperialism. The other died for Britain fighting Nazi imperialism. Her last word was “Liberté”. She was 30 years old.”

Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert is the man standing on the right

Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert is shown in the photo above; he is the man with a card around his neck with the number 2 on it.  The photo was taken during an American Military Tribunal proceeding at Dachau at which Ruppert was accused of participating in a “common plan” to commit war crimes by virtue of his job as the officer in charge of executions at Dachau.

Ruppert was specifically charged with supervising the execution of 90 Soviet Prisoners of War who had been condemned to death by an order from Adolf Hitler.  If he had refused to carry out an order given by Hitler, Ruppert would have been executed himself, but “superior orders” was not an acceptable defense, according to the American Military Tribunal; Ruppert was convicted and hanged.

Ruppert was not charged with beating Noor Inayat Khan and then personally shooting her. Why? Because nothing about this alleged execution was known at that time. There is no record of any British SOE women being brought to Dachau for execution nor for any other reason. There is no record of an order for the execution of any British SOE women being sent by the Berlin office of the Gestapo to Dachau.  There is no documentation or records of any kind that would prove that any British SOE women were ever executed at Dachau.

One of the witnesses against Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert at the American Military Tribunal was Rudolf Wolf, a 35-year-old German engraver from Frieberg, who was a prisoner at Dachau from September 1942 until the camp was liberated on April 29, 1945. Wolf testified that he had often seen Ruppert personally beat the prisoners. Wolf said that he had seen Ruppert kick the prisoners and also beat them with a whip so hard that the men became unconscious. According to Wolf’s testimony, Ruppert was a man who could beat people without changing expression; he was like a blacksmith striking cold iron.  Rudolf Wolf was a paid prosecution witness, whose testimony was not corroborated.

Ruppert’s sadistic nature was established by this dubious testimony at his trial which might have prompted an anonymous former Dutch prisoner at Dachau to contact author Jean Overton Fuller after reading her biography of British SOE agent Noor Inayat Khan. This anonymous prisoner, known only by his initials A.F., claimed to have witnessed the execution of Noor Inayat Khan on September 12, 1944 at Dachau. According to his story, A.F. had seen Wilhelm Ruppert undress Noor Inayat Khan and then beat her all over her body until she was a “bloody mess” before personally shooting her in the back of the head.

Execution spot where condemned prisoners were shot at Dachau

Condemned prisoners were executed with a shot in the neck at close range (Genickschuss). The execution place was located north of the crematorium; it was surrounded by thick shrubbery and trees. There was no bleacher section where the other prisoners could watch; the whole area was completely separate from the prison enclosure at Dachau.

The fact that the alleged witness said that Noor was “shot in the back of the head,” instead of being killed by a Genickschuss, shows that he knew nothing about the executions at Dachau, and had not seen anything.

Wilhelm Ruppert was an SS officer; it was not his job to personally execute prisoners at Dachau; he was the administrator in charge of the executions.  If he had personally beaten anyone, Ruppert would have received a visit from Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen, the SS judge in charge of prosecuting SS men who committed crimes in the concentration camps.  For example, Amon Göth, the Commandant who allegedly shot prisoners from his balcony at the Plaszow camp in the Schindler’s List story, was arrested by Dr. Morgen and was awaiting trial when World War II ended.  He had been arrested on a charge of stealing from the camp warehouses, but not for shooting prisoners from his balcony because that never happened.

Noor Inayat Khan has been heavily promoted as a great heroine by the British in order to cover up what really happened.  Noor was chosen to be sent to France as a wireless operator because she was the least qualified woman in the SOE; the British wanted an SOE agent to be caught so that the Germans could acquire a British radio. The British wanted to  send messages that would be intercepted.  The messages would consist of incorrect information which the British wanted to give the Germans about the invasion of Sicily.

Noor was chosen for the job because she “was not overly burdened with brains,” in the words of her instructor.  Sure enough, when Noor was captured, the Germans found a notebook in which she had written down all of the codes that they would need in order to use her radio.  The Germans used Noor’s radio to send messages to the British and the British answered by sending misinformation about the invasion of Sicily.

According to Sarah Helm’s book A Life in Secrets, Hans Kieffer, the man who ordered Noor to be sent to Pforzheim prison after she made several escape attempts, said that he had no knowledge of her execution.

Sarah Helm wrote that the SOE was not above fabricating stories about Noor Inayat Khan in order to make her into more of a heroine than she actually was. In the citation for Noor to receive the George Medal, an award given to civilians for gallantry, it was noted that Noor “has also been instrumental in facilitating the escape of 30 Allied airmen shot down in France.” Such an escape never happened, according to Sarah Helm.