Van Pacifist Tot Spion: De Verrassende Geheim Agent Van De Tweede Wereldoorlog

In mei 1940, terwijl het Duitse leger op het punt staat om Parijs te bezetten, stond Noor Inayat Khan voor een moeilijke keuze: zich afzijdig houden of zich aansluiten bij de geallieerde strijdkrachten die tegen de nazi's vochten. Nadat ze de verwoestingen door heel Europa had gezien, reisde ze naar Engeland om de kunst van het spioneren te leren. Shrabani Basu vertelt hoe een pacifist die spion werd, het verzet kon helpen om een fascistisch regime ten val te brengen.

Noor Inayat Khan was in the midst of a desperate escape. She had been imprisoned for her activities as an Allied spy, but with the help of a screwdriver and two other prisoners, she was back under the Parisian stars. As she began to run, her thoughts leapt to the whirlwind of events that had brought her here…

Born in Moscow in 1914 to an Indian Muslim father and an American mother, Noor was raised in a profoundly peaceful home. Her parents were Sufi pacifists, who put their faith in the power of music and compassion. They moved to Paris, where Noor studied child psychology and published children’s books. But all this changed with the advent of the Second World War. In May 1940, with the German army ready to occupy Paris, Noor and her brother were faced with a difficult choice. As pacifists, they believed that all disputes should be settled non-violently. But witnessing the devastation across Europe, they decided that standing on the sidelines was not an option.

Traveling to England, Noor volunteered for the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and trained as a radio operator. She immersed herself in wireless operations and Morse code– unaware that she was being monitored by a secret organization. The British Special Operations Executive was established to sabotage the Germans in Nazi-occupied countries. As a trained radio operator who knew Paris well and spoke fluent French, Noor was an attractive recruit. In her interview, she was warned that wireless operation was some of the most dangerous work in the intelligence field. Operators had to lug a conspicuous transmitter through enemy territory, and the clandestine agency couldn’t protect her if she was caught. Noor accepted her assignment immediately.

While she was determined to take her pacifist principles as far as possible, Noor had to learn the art of espionage. She learned how to contact intelligence networks, pick a lock, resist interrogation and fire a gun. In June 1943 she landed in Angers, south of Paris, and made her way to the city armed with a false passport, a pistol and a few French francs. But her network was compromised. Within a week of her deployment, all her fellow agents were arrested, and Noor was called home.

She convinced her supervisors to let her stay– which meant doing the work of six radio operators singlehandedly. Over the following months, she tracked and transported supplies to the French resistance, sent reports of Nazi activity back to London and arranged safe passage for allied soldiers. This work was essential to building the French resistance and Allied intelligence networks– and, ultimately, ending the war.

Protected only by her quick thinking and charisma, she frequently talked her way out of questioning. When the Gestapo searched her on the train, she gave them a casual tour of her “film projector.” When an officer spotted her hanging her aerial, she chatted about her passion for listening to music on the radio– and charmed him into helping her set up the cable. In her entire four month tenure, her sharp wits and stealth never failed her. But her charm had inspired lethal jealousy. In October 1943, the sister of a colleague, in love with an agent that loved Noor, sold her address to the Gestapo.

Noor refused to give away any information, focusing instead on her escape. Secreting a screwdriver away from the guards, they were able to loosen a skylight and slip out into the night. But just as the prisoners began to run for their lives, an air raid siren alerted her captors. Noor was caught once again and sent to a German prison. Then, on to Dachau concentration camp.

Despite being tortured, deprived and isolated, Noor gave nothing away. In the moments before her execution she is thought to have shouted “Liberté!” Since her heroic sacrifice, Noor has been honoured as a hero who waged secret battles behind enemy lines– paving the way for freedom without ever taking a life.


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