Forgotten History: Three Electrifying WWII Stories of Phenomenal Characters You've Never Heard Of
“Most of us have only one story to tell. I don’t mean that only one thing happens to us in our lives: there are countless events, which we turn into countless stories. But there’s only one that matters, only one finally worth telling.”
― Julian Barnes
From the years 1939 to 1945, Earth witnessed the most atrocious military conflict in the history of mankind. The Second World War was a new paragraph in the chronicle of the planet; it hosted the worst of beasts and the greatest and most abominable creations as it demonstrated humanity's monstrous and immeasurable talent for cruelty.
This was a particularly crucial event in our existence, for the human species played haphazardly with its very own future. So many lives born and lost, so many stories, so many incidents and affairs, is inevitable that various Homeric anecdotes die with their protagonists. This way most of us are unaware of some of the most incredible and macabre secrets inside the six, quite strange and very dark, years of War. Today I bring three remarkable names up from the chamber of the nearly lost and the breathtaking, Noor, August and Lyudmila.
Noor Inayat Khan
The Muslim British/Indian Heroine
What does it take to be on the top of the Nazis’ “Most Wanted” List for longer than barely anyone else?
It takes Noor's spirit, ideals and bravery. Descendant of Tipu Sultan (noble Indian Muslim who fervently wrestled against British colonialism) Noor had fierce blood running through her veins. She was born in Moscow from an Indian father and a United Stater mother, living all over Europe before landing in Britain, country she called home. Noor was extraordinarily talented, mastering every skill she was challenged to, publishing books, studying music... Until peace flickered and war erupted.
Khan immediately joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and due to her brilliance, skills in radio operation and multilinguality, Noor was recruited by the Special Operations Executive and straightaway sent to Paris behind the fake identity of a nurse named Jeanne-Marie Regnier, being the first female operative assigned to Nazi-occupied France.
By July 1943, over one month following Noor’s arrival, all and each of her fellow unit members had been either murdered or arrested by the Nazi militia, each and all but her. SOE radio operatives' survival expectancy after being sent to the field was invariably under six weeks. Notwithstanding Noor had outrun this fate for four long months at the head of the most critical radio operation in Paris. Until one day double agent and SOE officer, Henri Déricourt, sold the information of Khan's location for 100,000 Francs.
She underwent interrogation along with it's grotesque cruelty without vocalizing a single word. Her fervor was such that the Hitler's officers assigned to torture her reported her terrifying. She managed to escape the highly secured Nazi prison in November 1943. Lamentably, Noor was found and sent to Dachau concentration camp, where she was executed at the age of thirty while she pronounced the french word “Liberté.”
The Nazi Soldier Who Refused to Salute Hitler
There is a certain dignity in the idea of anonymous heroism. However there is undeniably also frustration as result of not giving someone with an incredible story the merit and space that corresponds him.
This iconic photograph remained a mystery for several decades. It was shot in 1936, during the launching of a colossal Nazi battleship in Hamburg, shipyard where our protagonist worked. At first glance the story might be underestimated as simple lack of sympathy for the Nazi party. Yet after years of research, the truth behind his aversive gesture emerged.
The man in the picture was called August Landmesser, in the thirties he joined the Nazis and rose several levels. Everything here was normal until August fell madly in love with a woman named Irma Eckler, a jewish.
They had an incredibly devoted and loving clandestine relationship, the few intimate people recalled them as faithful, committed and passionately lovesick for each other. But the day came when their secret was discovered and August, in a desperate attempt to protect her and knowing that it was impossible, tried to legally marry her. The right was denied and August was ordered to banish his lover. He refused and, to show his repudiation, declined to make the Nazi salute in the highly important event of the aforementioned battleship. Pregnant with their third child, the SS took Irma to a concentration camp, August opposed with fierce resistance but was unable to save her from her fatal faith. He eventually disappeared to be almost, almost erased from history.
Lyudmila Pavlichenko AKA Lady Death
History's Deadliest Female Sniper
She was 25 when The Eastern front Nazis already feared her above anyone else.
She dreamed of being a historian but life had another plan for her. Her journey began when her beloved university got bombed, inspiring her to join the troops as a sniper. She was almost immediately sent to the war field.
The blood, the death, the merciless… Her first battle changed her deeply but her ground was sturdy and firm. To the surprise of everybody, she became the best. Inventor of new tactics of distraction and master of patience and endurance. She was invisible and lethal.
Her heart was starting to bitter when something happened, a drop of bliss in a life scarce of it; she fell in love. And although little is known of her marriage with Sergeant-Major Leonid Kitsenko, it was a well known fact that they were the happiest when they where together.
Her growing reputation as ‘’Lady Death’’ brought with it deadlier and more bloodthirsty enemies. Anyhow she won every single time, killing a total of 36 other snipers. At the peak of her career she was so famous even nazis new her by name (still they would usually address her as the Russian bitch from hell)
The war continued, heavier and more sadistic with each passing day. Lyudmila was slowly deprived of her youth, her health and, one day, of her husband. The sudden death of her love caused her to lose herself in despair, as consequence her killing skills grew sharper, crueler and darker.
When the army realized she was way too valuable to be lost in battle they gave Pavlichenko A new mission: to build international support in the USA under the wing of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. A world strange for her since it lacked of war, hunger and fear, yet a world in which she was given a voice and bloomed in ways she never could in her homeland. Shortly after the war ended. Nothing was heard of her for one and a half decades, until the former first lady traveled to Russia seeking for her. Eleanor found Lyudmila; unhappy in a small apartment with a stale new husband.
Roosevelt gave her courage to escape. Lady Death finished her education at Kiev University and finally became a historian, living a life of joy until her death in 1974 at age of 58.
Oh how many stories yet to be discovered. To imagine how many have been forgotten gives me cold shivers that grow from my heels to my nape. Things we will never know, minds and lives to explore and to mourn. At the very least we can cherish the certainty that, today, these three are remembered, and perhaps, beyond that, honored.