Submitted by Fazalunissa Carole Harmon 29 September 2007
Pirzadi Noor-un-nisa Inayat-Khan
GC, CG & MBE
Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan was born on New Years Day 1914 in Moscow, Russia, on the eve of WW I and the Russian Revolution. She was the first child of Hazrat Inayat Khan, an Indian mystic, musician, and Sufi teacher, and Ora Ray Baker, a young American woman who met her husband in 1910 at his first concert in North America, performed in the Hindu Temple in San Francisco.
Inayat Khan, who was descended from an illustrious musical family in India and was himself a renowned Indian musician, was the first to introduce classical Indian music to the west, performing with his brothers and cousin as The Royal Musicians of Hyderabad in the USA, Europe and Britain. Inayat Khan inspired and taught both Scriabin and Debussy, who inherited his vina after his death. Inayat Khan is also remembered for his legacy of Sufi teachings centred around the ideals of love, harmony and beauty and the unity of religious ideals.
At the time of her birth Noor’s family was living in Moscow at the invitation of the Czar who was consulting with her father on music and Sufi philosophy in his search for non violent solutions to the looming political catastrophe in Russia and Europe.
On the eve of the Revolution the family fled to London, eventually settling in Suresnes, a suburb of Paris. Noor was raised in the atmosphere of the mystical Sufi philosophy of her father, learning music from him, and was an accomplished player of harp and vina. She studied music and composition at the Ecole Normale de Musique and child psychology at the Sorbonne.
When her father died unexpectedly in 1927 while on a trip to India, Noor, who was 17 at the time, became like a young mother to the three younger children as their Mother was ill for some time following the death of her husband. Noor remained an inspiration and beloved being in the hearts of her family and all who knew her.
By the outbreak of World War II Noor had established her career as a musician, freelance writer, and composer. Her articles had been published in special children’s newspapers and in Le Figaro. In 1939 her first book, a retelling of Twenty Jataka Tales, was published in England. This book is still in print and is beautifully described by Inner Traditions, it’s present publisher:
These twenty tales have been drawn from famous legends concerning the former lives of the Buddha... Presented in a simplified narrative, the tales maintain the magical and timeless beauty of their Far Eastern origins. The stories are ideal for reading to children, as they tell of highly dramatic adventures that are resolved by non-violent and compassionate means. Challenging circumstances bring forth courage and the capacity to love, opening the way to solutions against seemingly impossible odds.
Ironically, this description could apply to Noor’s own life. At the outbreak of WW II the family, except for Hidayat who remained in France, fled to Britain. Noor was challenged to reconcile her pacifist beliefs with the oppression of Nazi Germany, but felt called to take part in the liberation of Europe. Noor enlisted, first in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force as a nurse, then as a wireless operator, and finally she was transferred to the SOE (Special Operations Executive) as a FANY agent and received special training as a wireless operator in occupied territory.
An account on the website of The Sufi Order, one of the spiritual organizations inspired by her father’s teachings, summarizes her activities as an undercover agent of the Resistance in occupied France:
Her unique qualities touched the hearts of the cynical British spymasters who trained her. Even while they disparaged her father for filling her head with “mystical rubbish,” they were deeply touched by her gentleness and compassion. In fact they were loath to send such a refined being into such deadly risk, but Noor persisted, and her perseverance eventually overcame all objections. She returned to France as “Madeleine,” agent of the resistance.
The German forces in Europe had the technology to trace the origin of radio transmissions, so the task of radio operators was hazardous in the extreme. There was also the constant danger of betrayal by Nazi sympathizers or collaborators out for their own private gain. By the time of the countdown to the Normandy invasion Noor was the last radio operator active in France. She declined the option of returning to England, choosing instead to continue to provide the last link between the French underground and the Allied headquarters. The Gestapo, who had her description and knew her code name, made massive efforts to find her and sever the last link between the resistance and London.
In the end, she was betrayed, sold for money to the Nazis by the sister of a friend. She was subjected to continual interrogation, and since her own principles would not allow her to lie, she refused to give any information at all. She was subjected to torture, starvation, repeated beatings, and humiliation for nearly a year, until finally she was taken to the concentration camp at Dachau, where she was shot and consigned to the crematorium. Her last word: “Liberté”. A mere days later, Dachau was in the hands of the Allied forces.
Assistant Section Officer “Nora” Inayat-Khan was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre with gold star in 1946, the George Cross in 1949 and the MBE (Member of the British Empire, a British award of chivalry) for her heroism.
Her gentle and yet fiercely passionate soul lives on and her life story continues to inspire others. Several biographies of her life have been published, the most recent being Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan by Shrabani Basu (Sutton Publishing, 2006) which will be released as a motion picture in 2008. A novel based on her life, The Tigers Claw by Shauna Singh Baldwin, Knopf Canada, 2004 was runner up for the prestigious Giller Prize for literature.
Perhaps the most enduring tribute to Noor-un-nissa is the symphony composed in her memory by her younger brother Hidayat, La Monotonia, Suite Symphonique op. 7, which moves the hearts of all who hear it, and will continue to do so.
click an image to enlarge
Noorunnisa, hand coloured photo and poem to Saida
Noorunnisa and her Mother playing the vina in the garden
from family portrait
playing the vina
Translation of Article in Zud Deusche Zeitung news magazine By Sebastian Jannasch
Indian nobles and British Agent
The Commemoration of Noor Inayat Khan In the Dachau Concentration Camp 23 November 2015
It is the night of 16 June 1943, when a 29-year-old British-American-Indian ascends a small plane of the Royal Air Force. In her luggage, the young agent has a false passport, a radio and a firm resolve to take action against Hitler's Germany. Once the Lysander aircraft from Tangmere airfield has flown to the south of London, she heads for the Nazi-occupied France. At dawn, the British have landed on a secret mission on a field near Angers in the Loir Valley. Khan's order is clear: as part of a special unit of the British military intelligence, the fluent French speaking spy is to get behind the enemy line and to Paris to aid the Resistance and to send information to London. At first the plan goes well, but after about four months, the Indian princess is betrayed to the Gestapo, arrested and later shot in the Dachau concentration camp.
Only a few meters from the place where 71 years ago his sister was tortured and finally shot sits Hidayat Inayat-Khan, The 98-year-old composer has traveled together with his wife Aziza from Holland to commemorate the memory of his sister in the Carmel Holy Blood monastic church at the edge of the Dachau. At the invitation of the Evangelical Church of Reconciliation and the Catholic chaplaincy at the Dachau concentration camp, Hidayat Inayat-Khan wants to honour his sister and the thousands who sacrificed their lives for the great ideal of freedom. He calls for a better world.
From the pointed wooden ceiling of the dimly lit chapel hang a few lights that cast conical light on the audience. In front of him is a bouquet of yellow roses, the favourite flowers of Noor-un-nisa Inayat-Khan. I knew that it would be difficult for Hidayat Inayat-Khan to come to Dachau. I am happy that he has followed this gesture of reconciliation. Angelika Eisenmann had the idea for the meeting and the memorial-speaker knows the family well.
Noor-un-nisa Inayat-Khan’s biography reads like the result of a wild night with Hollywood writers. In 1914 she was born in Moscow; the daughter of an American mother and an Indian Sufi master. The father instructed the daughter in a religious universal doctrine which is mainly characterized by its tolerant and peace-loving worldview. Noor is a descendant of Tipu Sultan, the head of the former Indian princely state of Mysore. In the 18th century Tipu Sultan fought against the British colonial power; in whose Ideal of freedom, Noor Khan selflessly follows later. This lineage gives Noor-un-nisa the title of princess.
Following the Russian Revolution, the Inayat Khan family initially traveled to live some years in London, then to Paris, where Noor experienced her youth. At the age of 13, the father dies. The mother falls into a depression and Noor is now responsible for the household . "She was our second mother. She took care of everything, and even taught us good manners," says her brother Hidayat who speaks fluent German because his wife is originally from Berlin.
Despite her family commitments, Noor-un-nisa develops her musical talent for the harp at the Paris conservatoire and at the same time she studies child psychology at the Sorbonne. She writes children's stories for the newspaper Le Figaro and her stories are broadcast on Paris Radio. But her career as a children's author ends when the Germans invade France in 1940. Deeply influenced by the pacifist philosophy of her father, it is not easy for Noor-un-nisa to actively struggle against Hitler's nazi Germany. Later, her eldest brother felt the duty to take action: "Given the extermination of the Jews, how could one preach spiritual morality without participating actively in prevention measures?"
The family fled to London, but the youngest brother Hidayat goes to southern France.
In England, Noor-un-nisa was trained as a radio operator in the Royal Air Force. Until the end, she refused to carry a weapon. Her skills as a trained radio operator and her French language fluency made her of special interest for the British secret service. Only her openly critical attitude to the British colonial policy in India gives concern her supervisors.
In autumn of 1942, Noorunnisa was recruited in the Sonderkommando Special Operations Executive (SOE) . This clandestine unit, as the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said of it in secret, was to put Europe on fire.
In the shadow of the great battles, this special group was to lead the "ungentlemanly war": commit acts of sabotage, strengthen resistance groups, paralyze power plants and derail trains. In short, to do everything to weaken the Nazis.
In June 1943, using the code name "Madeleine”, Noor is secretly sent to support an active agent in a Paris spy ring. But in the first days after her arrival, the ring is exposed. Noor takes it over and holds the only radio contact from the occupied city with London. She is now invaluable to the British but in a highly vulnerable situation. She must constantly reckon with possible discovery. For four months she manages to keep the wireless connection alive. But in October 1943 it is discovered. The exotic beauty of the agent attracts attention, but it attracts envy as well. Out of jealousy, Renée Garry, the sister of another agent, is said to have betrayed Noor-un-nisa and gave her up to the Nazis. The Gestapo arrested Noor-un-nisa and kept her for a month for questioning in Paris. But the princess stubbornly refused to divulge information. Therefore, at the end of November she is considered as a "particularly dangerous prisoner" to Germany. In Dachau Noor-un-nisa and three other British agents are ordered to be shot in the early hours of September 13, 1944 in the vicinity of the crematorium.
After Noor-un-nisa's brother had completed his speech on Sunday evening in the monastery church, the Würzburg String Orchestra Harmonia Unitatis playing his composition "La Monotonia" that Hidayat had dedicated to his sister. The music can be described as a description of Noor-un-nisa's sufferings: swelling and abating, sounds that are always imbued with the exotic and finally reach decisively to a powerful climax. Hidayat declared "I am deeply touched that so many people today come to remember my sister”.
He ended his speech about his sister with the same words that Noor-un-nisa had on her wounded lips before the SS officer in charge (Wilhelm Ruppert) shot her in the neck: