The first attempt to catch Noor failed.
One of several Gestapo agents watching the apartment described how he saw her leave and walk into the bakery below. As she left she seemed to spot him, and moments later she quickly disappeared round a corner and vanished. It should have made her think twice about returning, and when she re-entered the apartment that afternoon she found an agent waiting for her. Unarmed (she had chosen to leave her gun behind in England) she bit and clawed at him ferociously until he could draw his gun and phone for backup. Minutes later several men in civilian clothes bundled her downstairs and into a waiting car.
The arrest caused delight and probably great relief, after all the SD had been fruitlessly tracking her wireless signal for months. After being driven the few hundred yards to their headquarters at 84 Avenue Foch, Noor made the strange request to take a bath. As soon as the door was locked she attempted to climb out of the window, but she was quickly spotted and coaxed back inside
. SOE agents were told to try and hold out for 48 hours, to give others in their network time to disappear, but no-one could ever be sure how they would react to the shock of capture. When grilled by her SOE's trainers Noor had crumbled, yet when facing the real thing she proved her critics wrong and performed magnificently. In spite of the best efforts of her interrogator Ernst Vogt, Noor showed complete contempt for her captors and refused to tell them anything during her time at Avenue Foch. Their wireless expert Josef Goetz later admitted that "Madeleine refused to give us any assistance whatsoever", and in a post-war statement, Hans Kieffer, the SD commandant, confirmed that they "could never rely on anything she said".
But they did have her wireless set, her codebook and all her past messages, all neatly set out in clear text in her exercise book. Several agents had despaired at her decision to carry around such a dangerous document, but she stubbornly insisted that it was necessary. This might have been the result of her misinterpreting her original mission briefing, which had stated that she must "be extremely careful with your filing of your messages". During her training one instructor had noted that she "takes everything very literally", so perhaps she didn’t understand that “filing” only meant “submitting”, not "keeping
In any case, this enabled Goetz to launch another "radio game", codenamed DIANA, against SOE, using their own operator in place of Noor to send bogus messages. It succeeded in duping Buckmaster and in luring seven agents, including Antelme and Marcel Defence, to parachute straight into the waiting arms of the Gestapo in February 1944. All of them would later be executed.
Noor was held in the former servants’ quarters on the fifth floor of Avenue Foch. In the cell opposite was a long-time resident, SOE agent John Starr, a former poster artist who had entered into a strange alliance with Kieffer. Having been tortured after his arrest that summer, Starr now led a relatively comfortable life, drawing diagrams of F Section networks and portraits of the Avenue Foch staff. In return Kieffer could demoralise newly captured agents by showing them how cooperative Starr was being, in the hope that it would encourage them to talk. Starr recalled how Noor would distract herself by writing children's stories in her cell, and he often heard her sobbing through the night. But when morning came she would bury her emotions and resumed her defiant attitude, betraying nothing to Vogt or Kieffer
. In November she formed an escape party with Starr and Léon Faye, the former head of MI6’s ALLIANCE intelligence network. Stealing a screwdriver, Starr passed it to Faye and Noor via a hiding place in the bathroom, in order to loosen the bars over the skylights in their cells. One night Starr climbed out of his window and onto the roof where he met Faye: they planned to haul Noor up through the skylight of her cell, but she hadn’t been able to remove the bars, causing a fatal delay. Around 3am an RAF air raid suddenly alerted the guards, who then checked on the prisoners’ cells. Within minutes the breakout had been discovered. Using a rope made from sheets and blankets, the three of them managed to climb down and break into a second-floor apartment next door, but within minutes Kieffer had the whole area secured. Faye was shot and wounded when he made a desperate dash for liberty, leaving Noor and Starr to savour their few remaining moments of freedom before the guards appeared
. Kieffer was furious. He threatened to shoot all of them on the spot, then relented and instead demanded their word not to make another escape attempt. Starr agreed, but Noor and Faye would not
. Their punishment was deportation, and it was swiftly applied. Within hours Kieffer had Noor put on a train bound for Germany as a “Night and Fog” case, a special category of prisoner whose identity would vanish within the system of Nazi prisons and concentration camps. Faye was also deported and died in January 1945.
On 27 November she arrived at Pforzheim prison, and according to the prison governor Wilhelm Krauss the local Gestapo were particular about her treatment: she was to be kept in strict solitary confinement, chained hand and foot and put on the lowest rations. Krauss claimed that he had felt sorry for her and attempted to remove the chains, but that the Gestapo had insisted he replace them. In January a minor member of Faye’s intelligence network, Yolande Lagrave, was placed in a nearby cell and was able to communicate with Noor by etching messages on mess tins. Lagrave later wrote how she "could hear the blows she received" in her cell, and described Noor as "very unhappy". She would endure this treatment for another eight months, but still refused to talk.
Early on 11 September there were signs that Noor was about to be moved. Before leaving, Lagrave received from Noor a note giving her mother’s address in Taviton Street, London, signed “Nora Baker”, her old alias during training. At the train station at Karlsruhe she joined three other women agents: her training partner Yolande Beekman, Eliane Plewman and Madeleine Damerment, a victim of Goetz’s radio game using Noor’s wireless set and codes. With no idea where they were going, they were put aboard a carriage for Munich. After travelling all day, they were ordered to walk and eventually passed through the gate at Dachau concentration camp. No official record of what happened next was kept, but according to an anonymous witness later interviewed by a Canadian Intelligence officer, Beekman, Plewman and Damerment were that night taken to the crematorium and shot.
Noor, perhaps singled out because of her “Creole” skin and reputation as a “dangerous prisoner”, was chained, kicked and almost beaten to death by SS officer Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert, before he finally shot her with a pistol the next day.
As the war came to an end, the job of searching for missing agents was taken up by F Section’s Intelligence officer, Vera Atkins. At first she mistakenly concluded that Noor must have been one of four women executed at Natzeiler concentration camp in July 1944: in fact this agent was another wireless operator, Sonia Olschanesky, whose physical description had been similar. But in 1946 testimony from Yolande Lagrave revealed that Noor had been at Pforzheim prison, and further evidence from the prison records and two SS guards who escorted Noor's party to Dachau finally solved the puzzle. Atkins also conducted interviews with Kieffer and Goetz, which filled in some of the gaps about her time in Paris. Later tried for war crimes, Noor’s executioner Ruppert was hanged in May 1946. Renée Garry was acquitted by a French court of denouncing Noor to the SD. Caught a few days after Noor, Emile Garry was deported and executed at Buchenwald concentration camp in September 1944.
Noor was mentioned in despatches in October 1946 for her secret work in France and awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French, but a posthumous George Cross wasn’t awarded until 1949
In 1952 Jean Overton Fuller, a close friend of Noor’s who lived three doors away from her mother in Taviton Street, published Madeleine (later revised and reprinted under the titles Born For Sacrifice and Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan), the first of Fuller’s many investigations into SOE agents and their wartime captors, among them John Starr, double agent Henri Déricourt and SS interrogator Ernst Vogt. The most recent biography of Noor Inayat Khan is Shrabani Basu's Princess Spy, published in 2006.
Noor Inayat Khan is commemorated by an SOE memorial plaque at Dachau, and by the FANY memorial at St Paul's Church, Knightsbridge; the Air Forces Memorial, Runnymede; and the F Section memorial at Valençay in central France. A new memorial dedicated to Noor and funded by the Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust was unveiled on 8 November 2012, outside her former home in Gordon Square, Bloomsbury.