Memorial to Beekman and fellow agents in Dachau
7 November 1911|
|Died||13 September 1944
Dachau concentration camp
|Allegiance||United Kingdom, France|
|Service/branch||Special Operations Executive, French Resistance|
|Years of service||1943-1944|
|Awards||Mentioned in Dispatches|
Yolande Beekman (7 November 1911 – 13 September 1944) was a World War II SOE agent.
Born as Yolande Elsa Maria Unternährer to a Swiss father and an English mother in Paris. As a child, Beekman moved to London and grew up fluent in English, German, and French. After schooling in England she was sent to a Swiss finishing school.
Wartime service and special operations executive
When World War II broke out, she joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force where she trained as a wireless operator. Because of her language skills and wireless expertise, she was recruited by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) for work in occupied France, officially joining the SOE on 15 February 1943. She trained with Noor Inayat Khan and Yvonne Cormeau.
In 1943, Yolande Unternährer married Sergeant Jaap Beekman of the Dutch army, whom she had met on the wireless operator course but a short time after her marriage she said goodbye to her husband and was flown behind enemy lines in France. Beekman was landed in France on the night of 17–18 September 1943, flown in a Lysander aircraft of 161 (Special Duties) Squadron, Royal Air Force.
In France, Yolande Beekman operated the wireless for Gustave Biéler, the Canadian in charge of the "Musician" Network at Saint-Quentin in the département of Aisne, using the codename "Mariette" and the alias "Yvonne". She became an efficient and valued agent who, in addition to her all-important radio transmissions to London, took charge of the distribution of materials dropped by Allied planes. Her transmissions were intercepted by a radio van and on 13 January 1944, she and Gustave Biéler were arrested by the Gestapo while meeting at the Café Moulin Brulé. At the Gestapo headquarters in Saint-Quentin the two were tortured repeatedly but never broke.
Separated from Biéler (he was later executed), she was transported to Fresnes prison in Paris. Again she was interrogated and brutalized repeatedly. In May 1944 she was moved with several other captured SOE agents to the civilian prison for women at Karlsruhe in Germany, where she encountered a prisoner named Hedwig Müller (a nurse arrested by the Gestapo in 1944). Müller said after the war that Beekman "... didn't leave her cell much as she suffered badly with her legs..."  She was confined there until September 1944, sharing a cell with Elise Johe (a Jehovah's Witness), Anie Hagen (arrested for working as a black marketeer) and Clara Frank (jailed for slaughtering a cow on her family farm without permission). While imprisoned, Beekman drew and embroidered. She would take a needle and prick her finger to use the blood as ink and draw on toilet paper as there was no paper and pencils.
She was abruptly transferred to Dachau concentration camp with fellow agents Madeleine Damerment, Noor Inayat Khan, and Eliane Plewman on 11 September 1944. At dawn on 13 September, the day after their arrival in Dachau, the four young women were taken to a small courtyard next to the crematorium and forced to kneel on the ground. They were then executed by a shot through the back of the head and their bodies cremated.
Awards and honours
Beekman's heroic actions were recognized by the government of France with the posthumous awarding of the Croix de Guerre. In addition, she is recorded on the Runnymede Memorial in Surrey, England and as one of the SOE agents who died for the liberation of France, she is listed on the "Roll of Honour" on the Valençay SOE Memorial in the town of Valençay, in the Indre département of France.
- We Landed by Moonlight (2000), Verity, Hugh.
- Helm, 227
- Helm, 228-230
- Helm, 286-287
Helm, Sarah (May 2005). A Life in Secrets: The Story of Vera Atkins and the Lost Agents of SOE. New York: Nan A. Talese. ISBN 978-0-385-50845-2.
- Biography of Yolande Beekman at Nigel Perrin's site