From pacifist to spy: WWII’s surprising secret agent – Shrabani Basu

From pacifist to spy: WWII’s surprising secret agent – Shrabani Basu


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.

100 thoughts on “From pacifist to spy: WWII’s surprising secret agent – Shrabani Basu

  1. glad to hear about her but super mad that she got sold because of jealousy. but then i wonder, if a spy sells one of their own, do they themselves just walk away after that? there has to be more to the story imo and my mind is a little bit happier with that…

  2. One observation at 1:37 you put the modern map of europe but without the czechs,slovaks or Luxemburg but you put Kosovo.

  3. A really good film about WWII about pacifism is Hacksaw ridge
    10/10 would recommend. And it's based on a true story

  4. Everyone: praise her for being a good girl

    Me: (trying to find out how her parents meet and migreated to russia)

    Also me: i dont need sleep i need answer

  5. I want to learn about that colleague and her sister and what happened to her. I want to learn if karma struck her down, or did she get the man she so desperately wanted and lived a happy life. Or is her whereabouts unknown?

  6. She was the grand daughter of SHERE MAYSORE ( Lion of Maysore) who rebelled against the British Invaders. He was the first one to use missiles.

  7. On watching the thumbnail, I was hoping that it should be Noor Inayat Khan… And Ted Ed didn't disappointed me…

  8. Да, лично она никого не убивала, но её разведданные могли привести (и скорее всего привели) к убийству множества людей.

  9. When it comes to intelligence work it (spying) it is not necessary for someone to be a killer. Garbo, who was a Spanish agent who sided with the British while working for the Germans, his job was simply to send false information to the Germans from a fraudulent spy network he created. He never fired a gun in anger. Other spies simply stay in place and send back information without anyone getting the wiser. A desk clerk at a train station might simply send reports of train departures which might inform on troop movements by train.

  10. So basically a girl with sufi-pacifist parents, an indian-muslum father and american mother was born in russia, moved to france, worked as a radio operator turned spy for the british against germans in ww2.

  11. She was interrogated and although she remained silent they discovered a book in her possession where she had recorded the messages she had been sending and receiving. The Gestapowere able to break her code and were able to send false information to the SOE in London and enabled them to capture three more secret agents landed in France.

  12. with out ever taking life it doesn't change she died with out Jesus.dictatorships raise because civilians vote or let them in EDP rioting in streets etc.

  13. Well… well… Angers is as much south of Paris as America is south of Great Britain. Western France would have been more appropriate and would have avoided this feeling of pariscentrism.

    Great video anyway!

  14. You got it all wrong she was a spy for communism.
    The communist told her parents to make their daughter a spy and then world war 2 came so the communist focused on the nazis making her spy for them being a spy for another country so she can spy on the nazis.

  15. Peacefull childhood in Russia during the First world war and the follow up of the October Revoluton, WTF Ted-ed? Have you guys gone completelly into PC for the PC and left out realism behind? No wonder her parents left for France…

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