This year marks the 60th anniversary of the death of Noor Inayat Khan, a Muslim woman and British war hero largely missing from American history books.
Khan was the daughter of an American mother and an Indian father as well as a direct descendant of Indian Muslim royalty. Born in Moscow in 1914, Khan and her family lived in various places around Europe, including Paris, where she studied at the Sorbonne and contributed as a writer to children's magazines. After the fall of France, Khan's family escaped to England, where she joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force in 1940. In 1942 she was recruited the join the Special Operations Executive, a British covert operation that aided resistance groups in Axis-occupied countries and was sometimes called "Churchill's Secret Army."
Having been trained as a wireless operator, Khan put her skills to use for the SOE relaying messages back and forth between London and her contacts in France. Unfortunately, many of her colleagues in France were arrested or killed by the Gestapo until she became the only remaining wireless operator in Paris and highly sought after by German intelligence. She evaded capture for just over four months, which was entirely unheard of for a wireless operator due to the risk involved with the job.
Khan was eventually betrayed by her contacts in France and arrested by the Gestapo. She was taken to a prison where she was tortured and interrogated for information and then sent to the Dachau concentration camp for refusing to cooperate with authorities. Only 30 years old, Khan died after being shot in the head along with three other SOE agents on September 13, 1944. She was posthumously awarded the George Cross, the highest civilian honor in Britain, and the French Croix de Guerre for bravery.
Sounds like a life worthy of a movie treatment, right? Despite her heroism and accolades, Khan's story has been relatively unknown in the U.S. However, several filmmakers have set out to right that wrong this year, which marks the 100th anniversary of her birth and the 60th anniversary of her death.
Unity Productions Foundation, a non-profit media company, produced a documentary about Khan called Enemy of the Reich: The Noor Inayat Khan Story. With the help of funds from a successful Kickstarter campaign, the film has been presented in select cities around the U.S. and is due to be televised nationally on PBS later this year.
Michael Wolfe, one of the movie's producers, said he wanted to tell Khan's story because,
"There seems to be a tendency to forget that hundreds of thousands of volunteers from India joined the British forces. Many of them were Muslim, and were decorated and died in great numbers. There also seems to be a tendency to leave out of the narrative, the Algerians and the North Africans, all of [whom] were Muslims and fought on the French side in the tens of thousands. In both cases, these were citizens of countries who were under colonial pressure from the very countries that they decided to serve in this instance, because of what the Nazi propaganda stood for, was so appalling. It was a moral and ethical choice [for them] to look past their agony to serve a higher purpose. It's just a one small part of a very larger story but it should be a part of that story."
The trailer for Enemy of the Reich can be seen here:
Top image via wikipedia.org.