Monday, May 30, 2011

Virginia Hall: The Most Dangerous Allied Agent



Virginia Hall, courtesy of Lorna Catling.

Once, just after reporting to the OSS officer on her radio, Virginia heard a car drive up to the cottage. She thought it was probably an agent coming to see her, but out of practiced caution she hid her radio and went downstairs. When she opened the cottage door, she was shocked to find a group of German officers.

The commanding officer asked her why she was there. In her best "old woman" voice, she explained that she worked for the farmer and his mother. Apparently not satisfied with her answer, the officer sent three of his men into the cottage, and upstairs to her room. Virginia could hear them knocking things over. If they found her radio, she would certainly be arrested. Her heart was beating so wildly, she was sure the soldiers could see it. Would they find the radio? Should she run? How far could she get before she was shot? Wild questions passed through her mind but she remained outside with the soldiers as seconds passed into minutes.

Finally, one of the men came down and handed something to his commanding officer. Virginia couldn't see what it was. The officer looked at the item, then back at Virginia. He walked up to her. Virginia almost stopped breathing.

Excerpt from "Virginia Hall: The Most Dangerous Allied Agent" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Diet Eman: Gestapo on the Phone



Diet Eman, 1940. Courtesy of Diet Eman.

Soon Hein and Diet were both busy with Resistance work, usually apart from each other. Diet would deliver false identification papers and extra ration cards to whoever needed them, whether it was on a farm or in the city. There was one very small apartment in The Hague, rented by a middle-aged woman named Mies, which was being used to hide 27 Jews, an incredibly dangerous number. Even in the country where it was much safer than in the bustling, populous city, there were never that many Jews hidden in one place. Diet regularly delivered the ration cards to Mies but she warned her repeatedly that it was just a matter of time before they were all discovered. Mies allowed Diet to move some of the Jews out of the apartment and into safer locations, but the next time Diet visited, Mies had taken in more Jews.

For her own safety, Diet decided to always phone the apartment before knocking, just to avoid being arrested herself. One day, when Diet called, a strange man’s voice answered the phone. Diet hung up and tried again. Again, the man answered. After calling a third time and hearing the same voice answer, Diet went over to the grocery store across the street from the apartment. Surely, if the Gestapo had raided the apartment, people in the store would be talking about it.

They were.

Excerpts from "Diet Eman: Courier for the Dutch Resistance" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Diet Eman: Invasion of the Netherlands



Diet Eman, 1940. Courtesy of Diet Eman.

On May 10, 1940, 20 year-old Diet Eman woke to what sounded like someone beating a rug with a mattenklopper (rug beater). But she suddenly realized that it was the middle of the night and that the “pop-pop-pop” sound was coming much too fast to be a Dutch housewife doing her chores.

Diet ran to join her father and mother, who were already standing outside in the front of their house. There, up in the night sky, they could see an airplane battle. They all ran back into the house and turned on the radio. It was true: Hitler had invaded the Netherlands, only a few hours after promising over the Dutch radio that he wouldn’t. They were at war with Nazi Germany.

In spite of the danger, the next day Diet decided to bicycle to work at the bank as usual. She was surprised when she was stopped on the street by a Dutch policeman who ordered her to slowly speak the words schveningen and schapenscheerder. The Dutch police were trying to weed out Germans posing as Dutch who would most likely not be able to pronounce those Dutch words.

But no matter how many phony Dutchmen the police were able to find, the Germans kept coming. After five days of defensive fighting, and after the city of Rotterdam was bombed to the ground, the Netherlands surrendered to Germany.

Opening paragraphs of "Diet Eman: Courier for the Dutch Resistance" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Hannie Schaft: A Gun in Her Bag

Hannie Schaft, courtesy of the Hannie Schaft Memorial Foundation

The winter of 1944-45 was a particularly cold one that would become known in the Netherlands as the hunger winter. Certain areas of hte Netherlands had already been liberated by the Allies, but the western sections were still in the control of the Germans when, on March 21, 1945, a dark-haired, bespectacled young woman on a bicycle was stopped at a checkpoint -- a concrete wall with a narrow opening built over a street -- in the northwestern city of Haarlem. The guards searched the girl's bag and found a bundle of illegal newspapers. She was obviously part of the local Dutch Resistance. This didn't surprise them; they had discovered many women working for the Resistance during the occupation. But they found something else in the bag that did surprise them: a pistol. Most female resisters in the area didn't use weapons. If this woman's hair hadn't been so dark, the soldiers might have thought she was "the girl with the red hair" who had been spotted during several assassinations but who had thus far evaded capture. They arrested the woman and took her away for questioning.


Opening paragraph of "Hannie Schaft: the Symbol of the Resistance" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Diet Eman: Her Resistance Work Begins

Diet Eman and her fiance, Hein Sietsma, 1939.

When Diet first saws the German soldiers goose-stepping into her city, The Hague, she vowed not to speak a word of German as long as the Germans remained, even though she could speak it fluently. She also stopped socializing with Dutch friends whose families were eager to entertain German soldiers in their homes, homes that were now decorated with portraits of Hitler.

But Diet wanted to do more than avoid the German language and Nazi sympathizers. She and her fiance, Hein Sietsma, formed a Resistance group with some friends. At first, they just listened to the forbidden BBC broadcasts together and spread what they heard to as many people as they could. But when the Nazis began to enact laws against Dutch Jews, Diet's Resistance work began in earnest.

Excerpt from "Diet Eman: Courier for the Dutch Resistance" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Who were the members of the White Rose?

The following is a sidebar contained within the chapter "Sophie Scholl and the White Rose" from "Women Heroes of World War II."

"Who Were the Members of the White Rose?"

"The White Rose was not a membership club in the usual sense. It began casually with a group of university friends who often met to discuss art, music, literature, and philosophy. Soon they realized that they had the same political opinions. They were all decidedly anti-Nazi and, inspired by the successful duplication of Bishop von Galen's sermon, decided to write their own "sermons" of protest. The core group, the ones most responsible for the creation and distribution of the leaflets, were Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl, Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf, and Traute Lafrenz. But numerous others were involved, such as fellow student and friend Jurgen Wittenstein, who edited several of the leaflets, and Kurt Huber, a university professor, who wrote the sixth leaflet."

Taken from "Sophie Scholl and the White Rose" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Sophie Scholl and the White Rose

Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans

"One associate of the White Rose said later that Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell were the minds of the White Rose (because they were the principal authors) but that Sophie was its heart. She helped to copy, distribute, and mail the leaflets and was also in charge of the group's finances, which included buying paper and stamps from many different post offices so as not to create suspicion.

For suspicion there certainly was. The Gestapo was desperate but unable to discover the pamphlets' authors. They called on anyone who received a leaflet to turn it in or face immediate arrest. The Gestapo thought the perpetrators must be a large group. Little did they know that the most active members of the White Rose totaled a mere six people!"

Excerpt from "Sophie Scholl and the White Rose" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Josephine Baker: Spy Singer

In 1917, Josephine lived through an experience that was to shape the rest of her life. Increasing racial tensions in East St. Louis, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, caused by the rising black population after World War I, whites' anxiety over losing jobs, irresponsible newspaper stories, and, above all, racism, combined to create violent and destructive race riots. Black homes were destroyed, and white mobs attacked and killed black people while the police watched and did nothing. Some blacks tried to fight back, but most of them -- about 1,500 in total -- fled to St. Louis. Josephine stood by the foot of the bridge, watching them come. She would never forget their panicked and terrified expressions as they rushed desperately across the bridge away from the violent racism that had chased them out . . .

It was in North Africa that Josephine was reminded of the racism that was still rampant in the United States. Before her shows began, she noticed that the white soldiers were always seated in the front and the black soldiers in the back. She refused to perform until the seating was desegregated. It usually was.

Excerpts from "Josephine Baker: Spy Singer" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Andree de Jongh: Founder of the Comet Line

Andree de Jongh, courtesy of Sherri Greene Ottis.

Andree de Jongh was a native of Belgium, a 23 year-old artist and nurse-in-training when the Germans overran Belgium in the spring of 1940. She had been inspired to study nursing by Edith Cavell, the heroic British nurse who was executed in Brussels by a firing squad during World War I because she had helped British servicemen escape from German-occupied Belgium.

Andree's father, Frederic, who had lived through that previous war, broke down in tears of rage and despair when he saw the Germans march into Brussels, Belgium's capital city. Andree, who had never seen her father cry before, comforted him by saying "You'll see what we'll do to them. You'll see, they are going to lose this war. They started it, but they are going to lose it."

When Andree realized there were Allied servicemen trapped inside Belgium because they had attempted to assist the Belgian army against the Nazi invasion, she organized a series of safe houses in and around Brussels where the servicemen could hide, receive civilian clothing, and secure false identity papers. They couldn't stay there forever, though; they had to get back to England somehow. The path back to England was through France, over the Pyrenees Mountains, into neutral Spain, then home to Great Britain.

Excerpt from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Noor Inayat Khan: Royal Agent


Noor Inayat Khan
Courtesy of Shrabani Basu


Noor Inayat Khan, the daughter of an Indian-born father and an American mother, was born in Moscow, the capital city of Imperial Russia, on New Year's Day, 1914. It was fitting that Noor should have been born within steps of the Kremlin, a building that had been built for the royal tsars of Russia. Her great-great-great-grandfather was the royal Tipu Sultan, called the Tiger of Mysore, a Muslim ruler who had fought bravely for his lands and people.

Noor grew up in France, just a few miles from Paris, where she lived in a house called Fazal Manzil, or the House of Blessings. There she learned music, art and poetry. She also learned a great deal about Sufism, the religious and meditative philosophy that her father and his friends followed.

After graduating from the University of Sorbonne, Noor began to write and illustrate children's stories. She was planning to create an illustrated children's newspaper, which would be called "Bel Age" -- "The Beautiful Age" -- when Hitler's tanks rolled into Poland on September 1, 1939, and the whole world changed.

Excerpt from "Noor Inayat Khan: Royal Agent" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Noor Inayat Khan: Gestapo at the Door


Noor Inayat Khan
Courtesy of Shrabani Basu


The Gestapo knew there was a radio operator in Paris, but for months Noor successfully eluded them. They failed to track her down because Noor was careful to transmit from many different locations and because she was a very fast radio operator. She also possessed a keen intuition that alerted her to the dangers of being followed or the overtures of too-friendly strangers. The SOE knew that the Gestapo was closing in on Noor and continued to urge her return to London. But she still refused to leave until they could send a replacement. Once she was assured that this would happen, she would make plans to return to London.

One day when Noor opened her apartment door, a French man named Pierre Cartaud, who was working for the Gestapo, was there to meet her . . .

Pearl Witherington: SOE Courier

Pearl Witherington and Henri Cornioley, courtesy of Herve Larroque.

Courier work was often dangerous, sometimes in surprising ways. Once Pearl was sent to collect money from a certain maquis leader but she had been given no password with which to identify herself. She was greeted coldly. She tried to give code names of the other agents. This did nothing. The leader became more hostile. Pearl sensed she was in serious danger. Finallly, she mentioned the name of the farmer on whose property she had landed the night she parachuted into France.

Suddenly, several large men came into the room . . .

Excerpt from "Pearl Witherington: The Courier Who Became a Leader" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Great Britain's Princess Anne at the 20th Anniversary of the F Section SOE Memorial in Valencay, France, May 6th, 2011











The memorial to the agents of the SOE F (French) Section was dedicated in May of 1991 in Valencay, France. The 20th anniversary of the memorial marks the 70th anniversary of the first SOE agent dropped into Nazi-occupied France, May 6, 1941.

Photos by Herve Larroque, publisher of Pearl Witherington Cornioley's 1995 originally French memoir, Pauline, which was translated into English in 2013 as Code Name Pauline.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Josephine Baker, the Spy at the Party


A beautiful, glamorous woman at the Italian embassy party was making quite a stir. No one who noticed Josephine Baker laughing, talking, and flirting with the party guests would have suspected for a moment that she was there on a mission as an Allied spy. After a while, she walked casually toward the ladies' room. She had overheard something that might prove to be valuable information. When she was alone, Josephine quickly wrote what she had heard and pinned the note to her underwear. Then she returned to the party, once again playing the part of a vivacious entertainer. Who would dare even think of searching for evidence of espionage in the undergarments of Josephine Baker, the famous African-American turned Frenchwoman who had taken Paris by storm?

Apparently no one.

Opening from "Josephine Baker: Singer Spy" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Condemned at Ravensbruck

Andree Virot, courtesy of the estate of Andree Peel and Loebertas Publishing.

During a roll call, a Nazi official was moving slowly through the rows of prisoners, looking at each prisoner intently. He stopped and looked at Andree for a long moment.

"Take that woman's number," he shouted, lashing at Andree with his whip, "for the gas chamber."

A guard came up to Andree and violently twisted her arm so that he could see the number tattooed on it. He wrote her number on a piece of paper, then walked away and placed the paper on a table containing a pile of similar papers with the numbers of other doomed prisoners. Andree was filled with a deep sadness. She would never see her family again. She would not live to see France freed from Nazi tyranny.

Excerpt from "Andree Virot: Agent Rose" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Andree Virot: The Invasion of Brest, Brittany

Andree Virot. Courtesy of Estate of Andree Peel and Loebertas Publishing.

The Germans were coming. Everyone in Brest, a French coastal town in the far northwest province of Brittany, had shut themselves inside their homes. Andree Virot was inside her beauty salon, filled with a deep sadness. The street outside was absolutely quiet.

Suddenly, loud running footsteps shattered the silence. Andree ran to the window. French soldiers were trying to escape from the fast-approaching Germans. In their military uniforms, they would certainly be taken prisoner by the Germans. Andree quickly invited them to hide in her beauty salon. Then she ran from house to house, asking neighbors for men's clothing. Everyone was willing to help, and the soldiers were able to go on their way disguised as civilians.

A short time later, a huge number of German troops appeared on the street, making a loud noise with their motorbikes, roughly pushing the people of Brest against the walls so they could parade through. As Andree watched, a German officer approahced her, sneering, and said, in very good French, "This upsets you, does it not? We are the conquerors!"



Sunday, May 1, 2011

Muriel Phillips: U.S. Army Nurse. At the Battle of the Bulge.

Muriel Phillips during the Battle of the Bulge. The blackjack is in her right hand and the switchblade in her left pocket, both gifts from wounded GIs in case the Germans came too close.


Section of the 16 general tent hospital, courtesy of Muriel Phillips Engelman.

"In December 1944, six months after the Normandy invasion, the buzz bombs were still falling all over Liege, but now something even worse was on the horizon. German troops launched a sudden surprise attack that managed to push U.S. troops backward, making a bulge in the troop line, in what was called the Ardennes Offensive, more commonly known as the Battle of the Bulge.

"The tent hospital became more crowded than ever with wounded GIs, and the Germans were coming closer and closer. Muriel had more to worry about than most of the other nurses. Her dog tag -- the metal identification tags that every serviceman or -woman was required to wear at all times -- had an "H" on it, for Hebrew. Muriel was Jewish, and she understood what the Nazis would do to her if they were able to capture her.

"On Christmas Eve, the Germans were only 10 miles from Liege. The sickest patients were evacuated to hospitals in France or England, away from the fighting. The wounded GIs who remained in the tent hospital were concerned for the safety of their nurses and often urged the nurses to take their places in the evacuation vehicles. None of the nurses did so, of course. Muriel received two "presents" from her protective patients that week. One was a blackjack, a type of weapon made out of rubber hosing and lead sinkers, and the other was a switchblade. Muriel had no idea if she would be able to follow the instructions that accompanied her gifts if approached by a German (the blackjack was to be slapped across his eyes and the switchblade plunged into his abdomen), but she was grateful for her patients' concern."