The story of Noor Inayat Khan

Intro

This is Noor Inayat Khan. She was a British spy during World War II who was captured by the Nazis and executed at the Dachau concentration camp.

Noor Inayat Khan portrait, 1943
Noor Inayat Khan, 1943

Biography

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1914 to an Indian father and an American mother, Noor grew up learning much from her father, a teacher of Sufi tradition, particularly of pacificism and tolerance of all people. Compassionate from her learnings and gentle by nature, Noor was shy as a child, quiet, and sensitive. But even in her youth, she stood out as school peers nominated Noor for prizes. And when her father passed away when Noor was twelve, she took over many parenting responsibilities while her mother struggled to cope with the loss.

As Noor entered adult years, she studied child psychology and by her early twenties, was a poet and writer of children’s stories. But then World War II broke out. And while deeply a pacifist, she wanted to help end Nazi brutality and, more close to home, help bridge the gap between Indian people and the British.

She said, “I wish some Indians would win high military distinction in this war. If one or two could do something in the Allied service which was very brave and which everybody admired it would help to make a bridge between the English people and the Indians.”

Noor took on the codename Madeline and became a spy in the Special Operation Executive for the British in France. Her superiors expressed some worry about Noor. One wrote that she is “very feminine in character, very eager to please, very ready to adapt herself to the mood of the company; the one of the conversation, capable of strong attachments, kind hearted, emotional, imaginative.” But even with these worries, Noor took on essential organizational responsibilities. She became the first woman wireless operator in Occupied France from the UK.

Her role was important and dangerous. The operator sent and received messages about operations and other essential communications for resistance fighters. They were a critical communication link for resistance coordination. But they were also at exceptionally high risk of being detected, and many were.

After five months, Noor, too, was captured after being betrayed. In captivity, she told her captors lies. Then she escaped. But soon after, she was captured once more. Kept in shackles and in solitary confinement for nearly a year, the Gestapo eventually brought her to Dachau, a concentration camp, where Noor was executed the following morning.

Her last word when the German firing squad raised their weapons was, “Liberte.”

Notes:

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Click here to read a snapshot biography of another World War 2 hero, Irena Sendler.

“The story of Noor Inayat Khan” sources:

Wikipedia / “Noor Inayat Khan: The Indian princess who spied for Britain.” By Samantha Dalton. BBC News / Portrait taken in 1943 – Wikimedia Commons. / Visram, Rozina (1986). Ayahs, Lascars and Princes: The Story of Indians in Britain 1700–1947. London: Pluto Press. ISBN 978-0745300740. / Helm, Sarah (2005). A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII. New York: Anchor Books. ISBN 978-1-4000-3140-5. Documents Atkins’ post-war search for missing SOE agents including Borrel.

To cite:

“The story of Noor Inayat Khan.” Historical Snapshots.