On Holocaust Memorial Day

They are all our mothers and sisters, you would not be able to learn or play in freedom today, you may not have been born, if such women had not stood their slender bodies before you and your future, throughout the Fascist terror” – Odette Hallowes (pictured) on the female spies of the Special Operations Executive.

On Holocaust Memorial Day, where the horrors of NAZI Germany are rightly taught throughout institutions across Great Britain, I would like to encourage people to pay attention to the role of the brave women who served with the Special Operations Executive and through whose bravery and commitment, paved the way for the liberation of Europe.

Unlike conventional soldiers, the Special Operations Executive were charged with the task of “setting Europe ablaze”, on the instruction of Winston Churchill, and being parachuted behind enemy lines to assist the war effort, also proved to be an essential life line to the European resistance movements.

As agents for an “unconventional outfit”, these ordinary women were not treated to the same rules of engagement or even categorised as Prisoners of War. If captured by NAZI officers and alongside every person who was fighting Fascism behind enemy lines, they ran the ultimate risk of facing torture by the Gestapo and then execution, alongside other prisoners in concentration camps.

While millions of people experienced one fight against the NAZI’s, these women braved the streets of Europe every single day, the constant fear of informants, making sure that communications with the allies was maintained, infiltration, organising landing sites and often using methods of sabotage, that for many would seem unusual, for a woman in 1940’s Britain.

There are names, which on Holocaust Memorial Day we have a duty to remember, like Noor Inyat Khan, who as codename “Madeleine”, was the first British female radio operator to be parachuted into NAZI controlled France and was later executed in the Dachau Concentration Camp.

Women such as Violette Szabo, who was executed at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, along with many other women, who also served for the Special Operations Executive.

When the German officers sentenced SOE agent Odette Hallowes to death in 1943, I wonder if they ever contemplated, that after the war, this British woman would stand in a military uniform and in front of a court of law, would testify to having directly experienced the same treatment and brutality as every other prisoner of the Concentration Camps, whilst giving a voice to the millions who perished.

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