IWM Staff
Wednesday 10 January 2018

Violette Szabo (1921-1945) worked for 'F' Section in Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the Second World War. During a mission in France she was captured and imprisoned by the Nazi's. She was executed in Ravensbrück concentration camp and posthumously awarded the George Cross, the highest honour given to civilians.

Violette initially joined the Women’s Land Army when war broke out and then the Auxiliary Territorial Services (ATS) in 1941.

photographs

Violette Szabo

photographs

Violette Szabo

Violette Szabo was an agent of 'F' Section in the SOE during the war. Her mother was French and she spoke French fluently having spent a lot of time there as a child. This was an important quality for 'F' Section recruits

In July 1940, she had met Etienne Szabo, an officer in the French Foreign Legion. They were married after just five weeks and Violette gave birth to their daughter Tania on 8 June 1942. Four months later Etienne was killed in action in North Africa.

Shortly after Etienne’s death, Violette was recruited to ‘F’ Section in SOE, whose agents went to occupied France to work against German forces.

On her first mission to France in April 1944, she acted as courier to Philippe Liewer, whose resistance network in the Rouen area of France had been uncovered by the Gestapo. Violette’s job was to try to and re-establish contact with members of the network and gather vital intelligence.

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George Cross

photographs

George Cross

Violette Szabo was awarded the George Cross for bravery January 28 1947. In this photograph her daughter Tania is presented with the medals on her mother's behalf.

Her second mission began on 7 June 1944, the day after D-Day. She, Liewer and another agent parachuted into south-west France, near Limoges, to set up a new network with local resistance groups.

Three days later Violette was on a courier trip with a resistance leader known as ‘Anastasie’ when they encountered German forces. Their car was stopped at a road block and a gun battle took place. Violette was captured but helped ensure that Anastasie was able to escape.

After capture, Violette was brutally interrogated in Fresnes prison in Paris before being deported by train to Germany. During the journey the train was attacked by British aircraft and Violette and another female prisoner took the opportunity - at great personal risk - to take water to the male prisoners.

Violette was executed at Ravensbrück concentration camp in early 1945. 

Her George Cross medal will be on display in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery at IWM London.

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