The Geheime Staatspolizei, or Gestapo, was Nazi Germany’s and German-occupied Europe’s official secret police. Hermann Göring established the force in 1933 by uniting Prussia’s multiple political police units into one organization. But did you know about the Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent that the Gestapo captured during World War II?
Odette Sansom Hallowes was an SOE operative during World War II, she was apprehended by the Gestapo, interrogated, tortured, and condemned to death twice. She survived the war and was the first woman to receive the UK’s George Cross. Her GC was taken in 1951 but was returned with an apology note.
Who is Odette Sansom Hallowes?
Odette Sansom was a French/British spy who worked for the SOE in occupied France. She was apprehended by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Ravensbruck, but she survived the war.
Odette Sansom was born in France but migrated to England as a child. In 1941, she responded to a War Office plea for individuals to send images of France. These images prompted the war office to hire Odette for the Special Operations Executive SOE, which was in charge of training agents who would be dropped into France.
In October 1942, she was sent by boat to France after basic training in England. Odette, who went by the alias Lise, operated as a radio operator for group leader Peter Churchill for almost a year. Radio Operators were among the most difficult jobs, as the Gestapo was constantly on the hunt for radio signals. Her ability to go undetected for almost a year is a testament to her care and professionalism. (Source: Biography Online)
In April 1943, she was betrayed by a double agent named Colonel Henri. Colonel Henri, a German commander, said he wanted to cooperate with the Allies. Despite Odette’s reservations, his involvement resulted in her incarceration.
She was brought to Fresnes Prison in Paris, where she was repeatedly interrogated and tortured. Torture included beatings, having her toes pulled out, and having her spine branded with a hot iron. Despite the torture and intimidation, she maintained her tale. She insisted that she was the leader, not Peter Churchill, and refused to reveal any information about the other members. She was eventually convicted to death and transferred to Ravensbruck concentration camp for execution.
However, her execution was never carried out. The Gestapo believes her husband, Peter Churchill, is related to Winston Churchill. The SS intended to keep her as a bargaining chip. During her detention, she was subjected to cruel treatment, including long periods of solitary confinement in the dark. But finally, the camp was invaded, and she was rescued when the camp commander sought to use her as a hostage. (Source: Biography Online)
Odette Sansom Hallows’ Life After the War
Despite her brutal treatment, she was not overwhelmed by resentment. Instead, after the war, she worked for several organizations that sought to alleviate the suffering caused by conflict. She was awarded the George Cross for her service. Because of her modesty, she was hesitant to receive the honor, but she did it on behalf of all agents who suffered throughout the war. She temporarily married Peter Churchill before marrying Geoffrey Hallowes, her third spouse. She died in 1995 at the age of 83. (Source: Biography Online)
Image from Time