Yolande Beekman (nee Unternahrer) SOE Wireless Operator: French Section

Yolande Beekman

Yolande Unternahrer was born in Paris to a Swiss family in 1911 and moved to London as a child.

After the declaration of war in 1939 she enlisted into the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAFFs) where she trained as a wireless operator. Due to her language skills, she spoke fluent English, French, German and Italian, Yolande came to the attention of the Special Operations Executive and whilst attending the wireless and security school to become a wireless trained agent that required skills not found in other branches of the military she met a trainee wireless operator named Jaap Beekman who was serving with the Dutch Section of SOE. Shortly after they married, on the night of 17/18 September 1943 Yolande Beekman parachuted into France to join the Musician circuit in Saint-Quentin in the department of Aisne as their wireless operator.  

It is known Yolande Beekman was in regular contact with London and arranged the delivery of over 20 parachute drops of weapons, ammunition, and explosives before breaking wireless security procedures: it was later said Beekman transmitted from the same location, on the same frequency and on the same three days of the week and was eventually located by German direction finders. Beekman along with her circuit organiser Gustave Biéler were arrested at the Café Moulin, Saint-Quentin on 13 January 1944.

At Gestapo Headquarters in Saint-Quentin both were tortured but refused to provide useful information. Beekman was then taken to Gestapo Headquarters at Avenue Foch in Paris and was later sent to Frésnes Prison near Paris and shared a cell with a nurse called Hedwig Muller who had been arrested by the Gestapo and after the war said Beekman seldom left her cell because her legs were weak and her leg injuries are thought to have been caused through torture.

At Frésnes there were three other SOE agents: Madeleine Damerment, a courier with Bricklayer circuit; Elaine Plewman who worked as a courier with Monk circuit and Noor Inayat Khan a wireless operator assigned to the ill-fated Prosper/Physician circuit.

Elaine Plewman, Yolande Beekman, Madeleine Damerment, Noor Inayat Khan

At 01:30 hrs on the morning of 10 September 1944 the women were handcuffed and taken to a railway station and eventually arrived at Dachau Concentration Camp. On 13 September Obersturmbannfuhrer Fredrich Wilhelm Ruppert executed the three women and after the war a member of the Gestapo named Christian Ott gave the following statement to American investigators:

“The four prisoners had come from the barrack in the camp where they had spent the night, into the yard where the shooting was to be done… The death sentence was announced to them…. The German speaking English woman {Beekman} had told her companions of the death sentence. All four had grown very pale and wept… Beekman {he called her the major!} asked whether they could protest against the sentence. The Kommandant declared that no protest could be made against the sentence. The major (Beekman) had then asked to see a priest. The camp Kommandant refused on the grounds that there was no priest in the camp.

The four prisoners now had to kneel with their heads towards a small mound of earth and were killed by two SS, one after another shot through the back of the neck. During the shooting the two English women held hands and the two French women likewise. For three of the prisoners the first shot caused death, but the German speaking English woman (Beekman) a second shot had to be fired as she still showed signs of life after the first shot.

After the shooting of these prisoners the Lagerkommandant said to the SS men that he took a personal interest in the jewellery of the women and that this should be taken to his office.”

It was also later stated the four women had been badly beaten before their executions.

SS Officer Wilhelm Ruppert. Image taken after being arrested by American forces.

After the war SS Officer Wilhelm Ruppert who was in charge of executions at Dachau was convicted of war crimes and executed by hanging.