Enemy of the Reich: The Noor Inayat Khan Story

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The Noor Inayat Khan Story

Enemy of the Reich: The Noor Inayat Khan Story

I am pretty sure most of the readers have never heard of this story and this remarkable woman. Just by random, I stumbled over this most interesting WWII drama, which is also new to me.

Noor Inayat Khan

Noor Inayat Khan was the daughter of a spiritual teacher from India, Hazrat Inayat Khan, and his American wife, Ora Ray Baker. After Noor’s birth in Moscow in 1914, the family moved first to England and then to Paris, where she was raised.

In 1940, the Nazis invaded France, and twenty-five-year-old Noor fled with her family to England. There she joined Britain’s Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and trained as a wireless operator. In early 1943, she began her assignment as a covert agent, joining Winston Churchill’s Special Operations Executive (SOE). The SOE worked with the French resistance fighters to sabotage industry and railroads in preparation for the D-Day invasions, after which they would coordinate attacks on the German army behind enemy lines, tying down troops and diverting the Germans from the invading Allied forces. From Paris, Noor Inayat Khan secretly transmitted critical information back to Britain.

She was often the only link between the U.K. and the French Resistance in the next four months. She was pursued by the Gestapo and finally betrayed by French collaborators. The Nazis arrested her and imprisoned her in Paris, where she fought back against her captors and escaped twice.

On 11 September 1944, Inayat Khan and three other SOE agents from Karlsruhe prison, Yolande Beekman, Eliane Plewman, and Madeleine Damerment, were moved to the Dachau Concentration Camp. In the early morning hours of 13 September 1944, the four women were executed by a shot to the back of the head. Their bodies were immediately burned in the crematorium. An anonymous Dutch prisoner, who emerged in 1958, contended that Inayat Khan was cruelly beaten by a high-ranking SS officer named Wilhelm Ruppert before being shot from behind; the beating may have been the actual cause of her death. She may also have been sexually assaulted while in custody. Her last word has been recorded as, “Liberté.” The British and French subsequently awarded her their highest civilian honors. There are books and a movie about her life.

Enemy of the Reich: A Muslim Woman Defies the Nazis In WW II Paris
(© 2013–2015 Unity Productions Foundation)

FAQ Passport History
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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...