by Dan Gibson
A quality double-header of documentaries on KUAT tonight, starting with a tribute to Robin Williams at 8 p.m. and followed - on an entirely different note - the story of World War II hero Noor Inayat Khan.
In August of 1943, the last surviving clandestine radio operator in Paris desperately signaled London for additional weapons and supplies for the French underground. The Gestapo was closing in and she knew her time was limited. Everything depended on her. How did a Sorbonne educated musician, a student of child psychology, and an author of a book of fairy tales became a daring spy who died fighting the Nazis?
With an American mother and Indian Muslim father, Noor Inayat Khan was an extremely unusual British agent, and her life spent growing up in a Sufi center of learning in Paris seemed an unlikely preparation for the dangerous work to come. Yet, it was in this place of universal peace and contemplation that her remarkable courage was forged.
When the Nazi’s invaded France in 1940, she fled to England with her widowed mother and three younger siblings and could have waited out the war in relative safety. But, she felt compelled by the lessons of tolerance and inclusiveness of her upbringing to take an active role in opposing the Nazis. She joined Britain’s Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, and was recruited as a wireless operator into Winston Churchill’s Special Operations Executive (SOE), secretly returning to Paris to support the French Underground as England prepared for the D-Day invasions.
After the penetration and arrest of her entire network by the Gestapo, Noor became the only surviving radio operator in Paris during four crucial months of the war, coordinating the air-drop of weapons, supplies and agents, and supporting the rescue of downed allied fliers. She was ultimately betrayed by a French collaborator and interrogated for months by the Gestapo. She never gave up any information, not even her real name, and she organized two breakouts from Gestapo headquarters. For this and the damage she did to the Nazi’s war efforts, she was executed in Dachau. 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of her birth.
Khan was also recently memorialized on the Rejected Princesses blog. Her story really is incredible, so set the DVR now.