Noor Inayat Khan was born a princess but died living the life of a spy while fighting the Nazis.
She was born in Moscow in 1914 to an American mother and an aristocratic Indian father, which made her a princess. Khan and her family soon moved to London and then Paris where she went to school. After completing her education, she began writing children’s stories and may have gone on to lead the quiet life of a writer. But this was not her path.
When World War II broke out in Europe, Khan’s life took an unexpected turn. France fell to German forces in 1940. Khan fled to London with her family. Her life was forever changed. She was a gentle woman. She was raised as a pacifist by her father, a famous Sufi teacher. She did not believe in war but decided that she had to take a stand against the Nazis. She joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force later that year. And in 1942, she was recruited to become a spy and radio operator.
Though some of her spy trainers were unsure whether Khan was up to the job, she was given a dangerous mission. She flew and parachuted into France to join the resistance network in Paris. Her code name was “Madeleine”. Her mission was so dangerous that her spy trainers didn’t expect her to live more than six weeks. One by one the other spies on her team were captured. Her bosses told her to return to England, but Khan refused. She continued her mission of sending messages to London while doing her best to avoid the German secret police.
Khan was eventually betrayed by a French fellow spy and arrested. Even worse, the secret police found copies of her secret radio signals and were able to trick Allied forces into sending new spies into their hands.
Khan didn’t sit back and wait for the war to end. She escaped prison, but was caught. She was punished with solitary confinement and tortured for ten months. To her credit, she did not reveal any information to her captors the entire time she was there.
Eventually, Khan and three other agents were sent to Dachau concentration camp. She was killed there on September 13, 1944, less than a year before the end of the war. Her last word before being shot was ‘liberty’.