because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Lilian Rolfe

Even though Lilian Rolfe's father was an accountant, she grew up in Paris and London and finished her education in Brazil, so maybe she developed a taste for excitement early in life. In any case, when Nazi Germany took over France, she parachuted into the French countryside and began working with the French Resistance.

Her official capacity as a member of the British Women's Auxiliary Air Force Special Operations Executive was as a wireless operator, sending back intelligence on German troop deployment, weaponry and so forth. But that left plenty of time for Rolfe to transport members of the resistance from place to place, as well as join them for an occasional shoot out.

Even after her superior officer was identified and captured, she kept transmitting until she, too, was arrested July 31, 1944. Rolfe was brutally tortured, sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp and ultimately executed (along with Denise Bloch and Violette Szabo) in February of 1945 -- just three months before Europe was liberated. One of the German SS officers who witnessed the execution remembered that, despite the fact that Bloch and Rolfe had to be carried to the point of execution because of their physical condition, "All three were very brave and I was very moved...[W]e were impressed by the bearing of these women."

Rolfe's contribution to the war effort as an in-your-face woman has been memorialized in multiple locations in Great Britain and France, including a street in Montargis (where she was particularly active) that has been named for her French resistance alias: Rue Claudie Rolfe. Looking back, the senior recruiting officer for the Special Operations Executive said, "Women were very much better than men for [undercover] work. Women have a far greater capacity for cool and lonely courage than men." He oughta know.

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