An Overlooked Heroine and the Bloody Gestapo
Klaus Barbie, a bloody minded Gestapo official known as “The Butcher of Lyon” for the thousands whom he ordered tortured and killed, was hot on Virginia Hall’s trail. He plastered wanted posters all over the place that featured a sketch of her face above the words: “The Enemy’s Most Dangerous Spy – We Must Find and Destroy Her!” Hall, who was so good at disguises that she could be four different women with four different identities in a single afternoon, evaded his clutches. Eventually, things got hot enough that she had to flee France. She made a hazardous escape in 1942 that included a 50-mile trek on foot in heavy snow across the Pyrenees Mountains into neutral Spain. The Spanish arrested her for lack of an entrance visa, and she spent six weeks in jail before she was finally freed and returned to Britain.
Soon as she caught her breath, Hall volunteered to return to France. The SOE decided it was too dangerous. By then, however, the US had joined WWII, and its Office of Strategic Services (OSS), America’s version of the SOE, was glad to have her. Back in France, this time as an OSS agent, Hall called in airdrops for the Resistance, and coordinated their activities with the Allies. Her network eventually numbered 1500 members, including a French-American soldier, Paul Goillot, whom she eventually married. Hall’s extraordinary heroism earned her a Distinguished Service Cross. She was the only woman to receive such an award – America’s second highest distinction – in WWII. After the war, she spent fifteen years in the CIA. Despite her vast hands-on experience, she faced discrimination as a woman, and was restricted to desk duty. She eventually resigned in 1966, and died in relative obscurity in 1982.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading