Katherine Mansfield Book Inspired Legendary British Agent in German Concentration Camp
Passages from a book of Katherine Mansfield’s letters published in 1918 helped a condemned British operative survive her death watch in the German concentration camp Ravensbrück.
Odette Sansom, the most highly decorated spy of the Second World War, was tasked to deliver messages to resistance cells and sought out remote areas for aerial drops from the UK and landing zones for British troops.
After her capture in 1943, writes UK Express journalist James Murray, she was ¬tortured by the Gestapo. “A red-hot poker was held against her back and all her toenails were pulled out. Nazi interrogators desperately wanted to know the identity and where-abouts of her radio operator, codenamed Arnaud, but she refused to betray her ¬comrades. Condemned to death by a kan¬garoo court on two counts, one of being a British spy and the other of working with the resistance networks, she told her ¬persecutors: “Gentlemen, you must take your pick of the counts. I can only die once.”
Murray recounts that a female SS guard gave a small book to her to her. “It had no cover, so Odette hand-sewed one from scraps. Called The Letters Of Katherine Mansfield, it featured correspondence from the New Zealand-born poet and writer, who came to London and befriended DH Lawrence at the turn of the 20th century.
“Odette fashioned a small piece of lead into a pencil to write out quotes which held ¬special meaning for her. She copied out passages from the Mansfield book onto any space she could find to boost her morale. Odette wrote: “I feel that my love and longing for the external world, I mean the world of nature, has ¬suddenly increased a million times.
“When I think of the little flowers that grow in grass, and little streams and places where we can lie and look up at the clouds… oh, I simply ache for them.”
The Mansfield book is one of three – plus a treasured leaf that was for Sansom “a green sign of life in a landscape of death and despair” – that Sansom’s family is loaning to Imperial War Museum for display, along with her George Cross medal.
Odette Sansom was rescued when the German camp was ¬liberated in April 1945. Her story is told in a new book Code Name: Lise by U.S. author and lawyer Larry Loftis.