Interview: Alex Kronemer, Executive Producer Of 'Enemy Of The Reich' A new docudrama tells the story of Noor Inayat Khan. The daughter of an Indian Sufi leader and an American woman, she was a radio operator who became essential to operations in Nazi-occupied Paris.
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One Woman, Many Surprises: Pacifist Muslim, British Spy, WWII Hero

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One Woman, Many Surprises: Pacifist Muslim, British Spy, WWII Hero

One Woman, Many Surprises: Pacifist Muslim, British Spy, WWII Hero

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

One of the remarkable women featured on the Rejected Princesses blog is Noor Inayat Khan. She worked as a British spy - a radio operator in Nazi occupied Paris.

ALEX KRONEMER: Noor Inayat Khan was a very unlikely British agent.

RATH: Alex Kronemer is the executive producer of a new documentary called, "Enemy Of The Reich," which tells her story.

KRONEMER: She was a radio operator working for the British secret intelligence in Paris, linking French Resistance fighters with the U.K. in very dangerous circumstances.

RATH: Born in 1914 Inayat Khan was the daughter of an American mother and an Indian father. She grew up in Paris before the Nazi invasion. Her father was a Sufi Muslim. Sufism is a mystical branch of Islam, adherents can be Shia or Sunni. Inayat Khan's father preached tolerance and believed all religions were one. He raised his daughter as a pacifist.

KRONEMER: She was sort of in this cocoon you might say of interfaith understanding and a celebration of an interfaith approach to life, while Europe around her was getting darker and darker. When the Nazis invaded France and she was forced to leave she had a choice.

RATH: Either stay with her family, which had fled to Britain or leave her new home in the U.K. and join the war effort.

KRONEMER: She could've really spent the rest of the war in relative safety if she had chosen too. But, you know, she was really impelled in in part by her background and her spiritual heritage to go back and risk her life.

RATH: Inayat Khan joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force and was trained as a wireless operator. She was recruited to join the special operations executive or SOE. 108 people were trained to go to France to set up networks that would connect the early French Resistance with Great Britain.

KRONEMER: A woman who grew up raised not to lie, raised to be a pacifist and yet here she was doing really one of the most dangerous missions available in the war and doing it when many other people backed away.

RATH: Inayat Khan's job was to transmit radio messages back and forth from France to the U.K.. She was flown behind enemy lines in June 1943. Almost as soon as she arrived everything fell apart.

KRONEMER: Within a week and a half when all these agents arrived, most of them are arrested and she barely escaped. The U.K. immediately called for everyone to come back and everyone did except for her. She remained and for four months was the only link between England and the early French Resistance movement that was being formed then.

RATH: And you have some historians in the film saying that being a radio operator in occupied France in this way was, was just about the most dangerous thing you could do. What made it so dangerous?

KRONEMER: Well, it wasn't just being any radio operator it was also being her, because as I said for a while she was really the only person there. They knew about her and the Gestapo were trying to hunt her down and we document this in one sequence in the film. She had a number of close calls in one case she was stringing out her radio wire, because in order to get the signal it was like a 40-foot wire that had to be strung out, many times outside. And she was stringing up this wire when a Nazi solider saw her and confronted her. And it seemed like you know the jig was up.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ENEMY OF THE REICH")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Nazi soilder) What have we here. Radio?

GRACE SRINIVASAN: (As Inayat Khan) Oh, you surprise me major. I confess I am running a wire for my radio to listen to jazz on the BBC. It's forbidden I know but I must have my Jazz

KRONEMER: And he was sort of smitten by her and not only did he let her go, he helped her string the wire up and then after he rode off she then made her transmission. So, it was a very heroing time for her and she had many close calls like that. Eventually the offer of reward money finally did her in. Someone turned her in for the money.

RATH: And once she was captured - after she was turned in, she didn't really react to her capture like you might expect a pacifist to react.

KRONEMER: Well, here's one of the amazing, this whole entire network was captured. Of course under brutal interrogation and a great deal of fear many of the men ultimately gave up some information to the Nazis. She's just a woman who's barely over 100 pounds. The Gestapo tried everything to get her to give them anything and she refused in every circumstance. And I think it really goes back to her upbringing. It goes back to the faith that she had within herself.

RATH: Alex you know I was surprised that I'd only heard of Inayat Khan very recently. How did you come across this story?

KRONEMER: My partner, Michael Wolfe and I were screening and earlier film of ours a few years ago. At separate sides of the coast we both were approached after a screening by somebody who wanted to share a story. And the story was in both cases about relatives of theirs who were Jews living in Paris during the Nazi occupation who were saved by Muslims. So, we started to do some research and what we learned were there were many stories. There was the Paris Mosque that saved and sheltered Jews during the war. There was the Franco-Muslim hospital that hid shot down U.S. and British airmen and received a medal of honor from Eisenhower. And of course the Algerian - many Algerian immigrants - Muslims who fought with the French Resistance and hundreds of them dying. We were amazed to find how many stories there really were and how little attention has been given to any of them. And in that research we came across this woman's story and it really just, you know, it just grabbed us. This was the most unlikely of heroes.

RATH: Alex Kronemer is the executive producer of the documentary, "Enemy Of The Reich." Which premieres on PBS on Tuesday. This unlikely war hero, he pacifist Noor Inayat Khan violently resisted her arrest, tried to escape twice and was declared highly dangerous by the Nazis. In September 1944 she was sent to the concentration camp at Dachau and was executed 2 days later. She was 30-years-old. And for Saturday that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I Arun Rath.

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