SPIES, SPYING AND RESISTANCE
WOMEN OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR
Andrée Borrel was a French heroine of the Second World War who served in the French Resistance and Britain’s SOE. Having joined the Red Cross at the beginning of the Second World War she enrolled in a crash course in nursing. She was qualified to serve as a nurse in the Association des Dames Francais on the 20th January 1940. After fifteen days working at Hospital Complimétaire at Nimes in February 1940 she was rejected as she was not 21 until July 1940 and nurses were not allowed to work in hospitals until they were 21. This decree was revoked soon after and she was sent to the Hospital de Beaucaire. When the hospital was closed she and one of her co-workers, Lieutenant Maurice Dufour, were sent to Hospital Complimétaire. The hospital was closed at the end of July 1940. She resigned from the military based hospitals system and as Dufour was involved in the underground organisation she went to work with him. In the beginning of August 1944 Andrée and Dufour established a villa which was a safe house on the Mediterranean coast near the Spanish border. This formed part of an escape network whereby shot down British airmen and others avoided capture through German controlled France. Finding this venue too small they acquired larger premises in October 1941 and by the end of December 1941 the escape network had been compromised and closed down. Andrée and Dufour escaped to Britain through the Pyrenees to Spain and Portugal and flew into England in early 1942. Andrée was approached by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and joined in May 1942. After training she was sent to France as a field agent. She was captured by the Gestapo and executed on the 6th July 1944 aged 24 years old.
Charlotte Delbo was a French writer who sent to Auschwitz for her activities as a member of the French resistance. She was born near Paris on the 10th August 1913, and in her youth she became involved in theatre and politics and joined the French Young Communist Women’s League in 1932. She met and married George Dudach two years later. In the late 1930s she was working in Buenos Aires for theatrical producer Louis Jouvet and when Nazi-Germany invaded and occupied France in 1940 she returned home. Her husband had been a courier in Paris for the resistance movement and the couple spent the winter of 1940 printing and disturbing anti-Nazi Germany leaflets. They became part of a group who took an active role in publishing the underground journal Lettres Francaises. They were arrested in March 1942 by police who had followed a courier to their apartment. George Dudach was executed in May 1942 and Charlotte was held in transit camps near Paris until January 1943. She was put on a train to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp along with 229 Frenchwomen who had been imprisoned for their resistance activities. They entered the gates of Auschwitz by singing the “La Marsellaise”. Right from the beginning the women worked as a team, one example being when standing for hours in freezing conditions they would huddle together and rotate their positions every 15 minutes so that no one person was on the outside for too long. Of the 240 women who entered Auschwitz only 49 survived. One of whom was Charlotte who later wrote about her experience in Auschwitz. Charlotte never remarried and died in 1985 of lung cancer.
Christine Granville OBE, whose real name was Maria Krystyna Janina Skarbek, was born in Poland in May 1908. Christine was the daughter of an impoverished Count and Jewish mother who grew up on a country estate. She enjoyed the active sporting outdoor life of a tomboy until the 1920s when the family moved to Warsaw caused by financial problems. In April 1930 she married a young business man but the marriage ended in divorce. Christine met her second husband at a ski resort in Poland and after they married in 1938 they set off for Kenya in Africa. Her new husband was a globetrotter and diplomat who had been offered a post of consul in Kenya, but before they actually arrived the Second World War began. Upon arrival at Cape Town they boarded another ship and headed for England. She volunteered to help the British secret services by proposing an occupied-Polish/Hungarian escape route for Polish volunteers to fight in the west together with any other available information. She was then recruited into Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) and given instructions to pass on any information to SOE. In February 1940 she made her first trip over the border and by early 1941 her contact in the resistance group had been infiltrated and she was ordered to leave for Belgrade. The British provided her a new passport naming her as Christine Granville enabling her to escape. The Polish resistance distrusted her because of the circumstances of her escape from the Gestapo. She transferred to Cairo but prevented from getting involved in any of SOE’s further major missions. She spent nearly three years taking part in second-rate missions until 1943 when she was officially introduced into SOE. As she had experience operating in enemy territory she only needed a refresher course before being dropped into Southern France in July 1944.
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch is a surviving member ‘Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz and was born on the 25th July 1925 to a Jewish family from Breslau in Germany. Her father was a lawyer, her mother a violinist and Anita was an accomplished cello player. Her father had fought for Germany in the Great War and gained an Iron Cross therefore he received some degree of immunity from Nazi persecution. They were aware of the Jewish persecution and her eldest sister Marianne fled to England in 1941. In 1942 her parents were taken away by the Nazis and Anita never saw them again. Anita and her other sister Renate were not deported, and their work in a paper factory enabled them to start forging papers enabling the French forced labourers to cross back into France. She is reported to have said that she would give the Germans a reason to kill her rather than being killed for just being Jewish. In September 1942, whilst attempting to escape Germany, they were arrested by the Gestapo for forgery at Breslau station. Anita and Renata were sent to Auschwitz in December 1943 and Anita was selected to play the cello in the ’Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz’. The orchestra played marches for the slave labourers as the left and returned to the camp after each day’s work. They also gave concerts to the S.S. In October 1944 the Russian Red Army was approaching Auschwitz and the inmates were evacuated to Bergen-Belsen. At the end of the war they were liberated by the British Army and Renata was employed as an interpreter as she could speak English. Anita was transferred to a ‘displaced person’s camp’. In 1946 the sisters moved to Britain where Anita married Peter Wallfisch and they had two children. She joined the English Chamber Orchestra (ECO) and toured internationally both as a member of the orchestra and solo artist. She returned with the ECO on tour to Germany in 1994 and has been back since to give talks about her experiences in the camps.
SPIES, SPYING AND RESISTANCE