Remembering SOE agents in Natzweiler-Struthof

The Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp is the only such camp that is on French soil. It lies in the Vosges mountains in the Alsace region, a region which over centuries has been alternately held by Germany and France. At the beginning of the Second World War it had been French for over 20 years, but it was annexed by the Nazis in 1940.

Natzweiler-Struthof was chosen as a site for a camp because of the local quarries where beautiful rose-pink marble is extracted. The Nazis wanted this for the building of Nuremberg Stadium, so they built the camp, deported several hundred men (mostly from France although other prisoners came later) and worked them to death in the quarries on a starvation diet.

On 6 July 1944, four women SOE agents were brought to the camp, which was such an unusual event that many of the survivors remembered vividly after the war. The women were Andrée Borrel, Diana Rowden, Vera Leigh (all FANYs) and Sonia Olschanezky (who was recruited to the SOE locally in France). They were marched down to the huts at the bottom of the camp, and were executed later that evening by lethal injection. Their bodies were cremated immediately in the camp crematorium. The camp is now a museum and permanent memorial.

On 6 July 2019, three FANYs visited to lay a wreath in memory of these four women. The text on the wreath reads:

“We remember with gratitude and humility the sacrifice of these courageous women who gave their lives in the fight for freedom 75 years ago today.”

We should never forget them.

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