Feb. 4th, 2005

wonderlanded: (Cecilia in field)
On or around this day 60 years ago, three women were led to the execution ground at Ravensbrück concentration camp, where each of them was shot in the back of the neck and immediately cremated. Their names were Denise Bloch, Lilian Rolfe, and Violette Szabo.

They were, all three, young women. Denise was 29, Lilian was 30, and Violette just 23. They had spent many months in the hands of their tormentors. They had endured imprisonment, starvation, and torture in some of the most infamous places in Nazi Europe before being sent to Ravensbrück and, ultimately, to their deaths as the Nazis tried to obliterate any who might speak out against them.

Their fates were not unique, but their mission was unusual. They were among the thirty-nine women of the French Section of the Special Operations Executive sent to France during the war to fulfil Churchill’s order to “set Europe ablaze”. Of those thirty-nine, fourteen did not return.

Just after D-Day, Andrée Borrel, Diana Rowden, Vera Leigh and Sonia Olschanesky were given phenol injections at Natzweiler concentration camp and then cremated. It is known that at Andrée, at least, went into the furnaces alive.

On the eleventh of September, 1944, Noor Inayat Khan, Yolande Beekman, Madeleine Damerment and Eliane Plewman walked together to the execution grounds at Dachau. They knelt down and held hands as they were executed.

Muriel Byck was fatally injured during a raid on an ammunition dump at Michenon. She died a fortnight after the raid, on 23 May, 1944.

Cecily Lefort was imprisoned in Fresnes for six months, and then spent a year in Ravensbrück. In January 1945, she was transferred to the nearby Jugendlager and gassed.

Yvonne Rudellat spent over a year in Fresnes prison before being transferred to Ravensbrück in April 1944. She was later transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where she contracted typhus and died on or around 23 April, 1945.

The women of SOE were shining examples of courage, determination, and integrity, who helped to pave the way for women in active combat throughout Britain and the world.

Those among them, like Odette Hallowes, who did come home, have tried to teach us not to hate; that to do so is only to perpetuate hatred and intolerance. Odette believed, and for the rest of her life tried to tell others, that repressive regimes like Nazi Germany can only exist when a society supports hatred and bigotry.

She said: "I am a very ordinary woman to whom a chance was given to see human beings at their best and at their worst. I knew kindness as well as cruelty, understanding as well as brutality. I completely believe in the potential nobility of the human spirit."

To the memories of the fourteen who represent so many more. They exemplify all the women who came before us who literally gave their lives rather than live under oppression and tyranny, and who fought for their right to do so on the same terms as men.

Their shoulders held the skies suspended. We owe each one of them a great debt.

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