Andree Borrel was always a rebel. Born in the working-class Paris suburbs in 1919, she had enjoyed boisterous, outdoor activities. But after the German invasion of France, her courage really came into its own.
Andree initially trained as a nurse’s aid. But she used her work as a cover for transporting allied airmen, agents and escaping Jews along an underground railway to Spain. When the network was discovered in 1940, Andree fled to Portugal and then onto England where she volunteered for the SOE.
In 1942, she was one of the first female agents parachuted into France to spy. After making her way to Paris, Andree joined the local resistance network where she was tasked to deliver messages and train and organize members. So impressive was she that by March 1943, 24-year-old Andree was its second in command. In the following month, the group committed 63 acts of sabotage, derailing trains and killing 43 Germans.
Andree was caught on the June 23, 1943 when she and 3 other members were found attacking a power station. Interrogation did not break her. So, one month before D-day, Andree and three other female spies were shipped off to the Natzeiler-Struthof concentration camp.
Natzeiler-Struthof was an all male camp and the only concentration camp on French soil. Andree and her companions were sent there so they would disappear without a trace- part of the ‘Nacht und Nabel” (night and fog) directive. But some of the male prisoners witnessed their arrival. One Brian Townhouse, an artist, knew Andree personally and recognized her at once.
Andree and the other female agents were immediately given a lethal injection of carbolic acid. Andree was pronounced dead and her body stripped for cremation.
But the injection had not killed her. Just before she was placed in the oven, she regained consciousness and attempted to fight off the doctors. They eventually overpowered her-and cremated her alive.