A few years ago, I attended a historical documentary filmmaker's conference. With the 70th anniversary of D-Day approaching, many of the documentarians there were already planning for films about World War II. As is expected at such a conference, I kicked around a few ideas of my own and heard from my peers about their plans. Perhaps unsurprisingly, none of these plans discussed the role of Muslims or Islam, my personal topic of interest at my production company, during the War. Frankly, it would have seemed ridiculous to imagine such discussions - who had ever heard of Muslims having anything to do with D-Day or the Nazi rollback from Europe?
With those interactions, I left the conference anticipating many great films and documentaries about World War II to premiere this year, though none concerning Muslims.
Whether it was by fate or chance, within a few weeks of the conference, my Co-Executive Producer Michael Wolfe and I had separate and accidental encounters with people who shared remarkably similar stories about Muslim individuals who worked to save and protect Jews in Nazi-occupied France. The seemingly randomness of both of us having heard these stories prompted us to do some further research.
What we found astounded us. We realized that there were indeed many stories about heroic Muslims who defied the Nazis in Europe. Many of those tales led us to Paris, where we visited the Paris Mosque, which sheltered Jews during the Occupation, and the Franco-Muslim Hospital, which hid American and British airmen that had been shot down and wounded in battle. Then, as now, Paris was full of Algerian Muslim immigrants, many of whom joined the French Resistance, fighting against Nazi rule and dying for their country.
Eventually, we came across and were deeply inspired by the story of Noor Inayat Khan, a remarkable Muslim woman who joined the British network of spies sending coded messages between England and the French Resistance. The daughter of a Sufi Master from India and an American mother, Noor grew up in a Sufi spiritual center in Paris, where she was living when the Nazi invasion occurred. Resisting numerous opportunities to escape to safety, Noor's selfless decision to aid the resistance and save countless lives ultimately cost her own.
The more we learned about Noor's exploits, the clearer it became that we had a responsibility to share the stories of Muslim heroes in Europe. Not only was this an important opportunity to expand the narrative about World War II and Paris under the Nazi regime, but also about the Muslim people and a particularly brave Muslim woman who found her inspiration in a Sufi spiritual center to join the fight against the greatest evil of the Twentieth Century. Noor never wavered in her task, never questioned her resolve to do what she knew to be right. Ultimately, she, like so many others, found herself betrayed to and captured by the Gestapo and sent to the infamous Dachau Concentration Camp where she, along with millions of Jews and other "enemies of the Reich," was brutalized and ultimately murdered.
To us, it is clear that the time is right for Noor's story to be told; which is why Michael and I are so proud to share her story in "Enemy of the Reich: The Noor Inayat Khan Story" airing Tuesday, September 9th on PBS stations nationwide (viewers should check their local listings).
This year marks not only the 70th anniversary of D-Day, but also this tremendous woman's would-be 100th birthday. Britain recently paid tribute to Noor's outstanding bravery and contributions to the war effort with a statue in London and the release of commemorative stamp. Noor Inayat Khan's story serves to broaden the world's view of the Muslim people beyond the headlines currently gripping our attention. Her acts of selflessness and bravery show that, once more, a powerful story has the ability to change the lens through which we view the past, present and future.
Alex Kronemer is the co-founder of Unity Productions Foundation, a nonprofit organization that seeks to "create peace through the media" by producing documentaries on Muslim stories. His latest film, "Enemy of the Reich: The Noor Inayat Khan Story," premieres on PBS stations on Tuesday, September 9th.