Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Vera Atkins: WWII Spy Boss

The Sly and Slippery Hans Kieffer


The George Cross <em>(Wikimedia Commons)</em>
The George Cross (Wikimedia Commons)
SS Officer Hans Kieffer was someone Vera had long wished to interview. Kieffer had run a special German prison at Avenue Foch in Paris, France. At the Avenue Foch prison, suspected spies were kept in relatively comfortable circumstances in the hope that they could be persuaded to cooperate. Some SOE agents had spoken fondly of Kieffer. However, Vera had no illusions about his true character. She knew that he also oversaw a "house prison" at Place des Etats-Unis, also in Paris, in which his subordinates tried to convince agents to talk through brutal methods such as being submerged in ice-cold water or viciously whipped.

Kieffer perpetrated a special atrocity a few weeks after D-Day and just before Paris was liberated. A group of Special Air Service soldiers parachuted into France where they were immediately apprehended by SS officers who expected them because of intercepted radio communications. Four SAS men were killed in a shoot-out but the others, including three wounded, were taken prisoner. Place des Etats-Unis was extremely overcrowded so Kieffer did not believe he could hold them there. He radioed SS superiors in Berlin. They ordered him to shoot the men.

Seven SAS men were driven to a forest to be shot. Two escaped. The remaining five were murdered.

While Kieffer was at large, Vera interrogated a colleague of his who told her Kieffer was working as a caretaker in a hotel in Garmisch, a resort town in Germany. The tip checked out when the Kieffer was apprehended there.

When Vera interrogated Kieffer, he recognized her name since he was familiar with SOE officers of the French Section.

Vera displayed a photograph of Noor. Kieffer instantly recognized it as that of a prisoner he knew as Madeleine. Kieffer seemed annoyed as he recalled, "She told us nothing. We could not rely on anything she said. I cannot remember her real name but I am sure in this she also lied to us."

Vera was pleased at Kieffer's annoyance as it indicated that Noor had seen through the Nazi's ingratiating manner. He told of an incident in which Noor and two men had broken through cell bars and climbed onto the building's roof. Using blankets and sheets they had torn and knotted together, the three shimmied down to the third-story balcony of the next-door building. There they broke a window and entered an apartment.

However, guards caught the group before they could get far. Infuriated, Kieffer ordered that they be stood against a wall in Avenue Foch to be shot. However, he did not give the order for the actual shooting and instead commanded they be taken back to their cells. Later, Kieffer demanded each give a "word of honor" that there would be no more escape attempts. Noor refused. One of the men refused and the other complied.

Kieffer ordered Noor and the man who would not promise to try to escape to be taken to Germany. He stated, "She went to Karlsruhe and later I heard she had been sent to Pforzheim because the prison in Karlsruhe was overfull." When he sent Noor to Germany, he asked that she be kept in restraints to prevent another escape attempt. He later sent another group of female British agents to Karlsruhe.

Vera informed Kieffer that Noor and the others he sent to Karlsruhe had been taken to concentration camps and killed.

Startled, Kieffer burst into tears.

"Kieffer, if one of us is going to cry, it is going to be me," Vera said. "You will please stop this comedy."

Kieffer's recollections confirmed what Vera had learned from other sources of Noor's courage. Noor had resolutely refused to divulge information to the enemy and dared to escape. Vera wanted Noor to receive the highest award Britain offered for bravery: the George Cross.

The George Cross was posthumously awarded to Noor Inayat Khan in 1949.

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