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Andrée Peel: The Heroine of the French Resistance Who Rescued 102 Allied Pilots

"Agent Rose" rescued over 100 British and American pilots shot down during WWII.

As Europe was consumed by war, a young woman running a beauty salon would become a major figure in the French Resistance of World War II. Andrée Peel, who was known as "Agent Rose," was one of the most highly decorated woman to survive the war and helped save countless lives, including over 100 British and American pilots shot down over France. "At that time we were all putting our lives in danger but we did it because we were fighting for freedom," she later recalled. "It was a terrible time but looking back I am so proud of what I did and I'm glad to have helped defend the freedom of our future generations."

When France was occupied in 1940, Andrée Virot, as she was known then, was in her 30s and running a beauty salon in the port city of Brest. Her first act of resistance came even as the German soldiers marched into her city; she hid a group of fleeing French soldiers and found civilian clothes for them so that they would not be captured. When she heard General de Gaulle declare on the radio that "France has lost a battle, but she has not lost the war," she set her sights on joining the Resistance. She began circulating an underground newspaper, and within weeks, she was appointed head of an under-section of the Resistance, whose responsibilities included passing on information about German shipping and troop movements to the Allies and guiding Allied planes to secret nighttime landing strips by torchlight.

During her three years with the Resistance, Peel became known as Agent Rose. She and her team rescued many downed Allied pilots during this period — 102 by her count —  ferrying them through a series of safe houses to isolated Brest beaches for transport to England. The work was dangerous, and Peel was forced to flee to Paris when a comrade, whose family had been tortured, gave the Gestapo her name. She was arrested there shortly after D-Day. The Gestapo tortured her, using methods that included simulated drowning and beating her throat; the damage she suffered from their interrogation would cause her pain for the rest of her life. However, she prided herself on refusing to answer their questions, despite it all: "I was born with courage," she later said. "I did not allow cruel people to find in me a person they could torture."

After the Gestapo were done with her, she was transported with other prisoners to the Ravensbrück women's concentration camp. Upon arrival, they were marched into what she later learned was a gas chamber, but for some reason, they were released instead of being killed. She was lucky twice more during her time at Ravensbrück: first when she fell ill with meningitis but miraculously recovered, and then when she was selected for the gas chamber on a daily roll call, but a fellow prisoner managed to snatch and hide the piece of paper with her number on it. In a famous portrait of Peel, she holds her camp uniform, with a red triangle emblem signifying an enemy spy or POW.

Eventually, she was transferred to Buchenwald concentration camp. At first, life there was easier, but as liberating troops approached, it became obvious that the Nazis intended to eradicate the evidence of their crimes — including the people in the camps. In her most harrowing moment, she narrowly escaped death when American troops arrived to liberate Buchenwald just as Peel was being lined up to be executed by a Nazi firing squad.

Following the war, Peel received many commendations including the Croix de Guerre (with palm), the Croix de Guerre (silver star), the Cross of the Voluntary Fighter, the Medal of the Resistance, the Liberation Cross — all French awards, as well as the Medal of Freedom by the United States and the King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct by Britain. At age 99, she was made a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur, France's highest honor. She eventually married Englishman John Peel, and settled in Bristol, England. In 2010, the heroic "Agent Rose" passed away at the age of 105.

Peel told her wartime story several times, including in a memoir called Miracles Do Happen! She took tremendous pride in her work for the Resistance, and never regretted it, despite the toll it took on her for the rest of her life. "I saved 102 pilots before being arrested, interrogated and tortured. I suffer still from that. I still have the pain," she said. "You don't know what freedom is if you have never lost it.... The only fear we had was of being tortured and of speaking under torture. I rarely thought of my personal safety. I just acted and did what I believed was the right thing."

Books About Women of the Resistance and Female Spies of World War II

The Butterfly

The Butterfly

Written by: Patricia Polacco
Illustrated by: Patricia Polacco
Recommended Age: 5 - 8

Monique’s small French village has been occupied by Nazis for some time when she wakes up to see another little girl at the foot of her bed. Sevrine is Jewish, and Monique’s mother has been concealing her and her family in a hidden room in the basement. When a neighbor discovers them, though, both families will have to flee. Based on the real experiences of author Patricia Polacco’s great-aunt, this poignant story shows the power of friendship and quiet heroism, and the courage shown by people who stood up for others in desperate need.

The Whispering Town

The Whispering Town

Written by: Jennifer Elvgren
Illustrated by: Fabio Santomauro
Recommended Age: 6 - 9

In Denmark, the Resistance successfully saved nearly the entire Jewish population across the sea to safety in Sweden, and this picture book captures the suspense and heroism of this incredibly brave act. Anett's family lives in a small Danish fishing village, and they're concealing Carl and his aging mama, the last pair they need to get aboard a fishing boat and to safety. But with the occupying soldiers getting suspicious, and a cloudy sky that will prevent Carl from seeing which way is safe from patrols, it takes Anett's clever idea of a chain of whispers to smuggle them safely to the harbor.

Irena's Jars of Secrets

Irena's Jars of Secrets

Written by: Marcia Vaughan
Illustrated by: Ron Mazellan
Recommended Age: 6 - 10

In Poland's Warsaw Ghetto during WWII, a young nurse and social worker went about her daily work, caring for the sick — and smuggling Jewish children out to safety. Irena Sendler knew what she was risking, but she couldn't bear to watch children suffer and do nothing. And after every child was safe — over 2,500 children in total — she meticulously recorded their name in hopes that, someday, they could be reunited with their families. This emotional picture book captures Sendler's remarkable heroism in the face of unthinkable consequences.

Number the Stars

Number the Stars

Written by: Lois Lowry
Recommended Age: 9 and up

It’s Denmark in 1943, and word is leaking out that the Nazis intend to detain the Danish Jews before shipping them to concentration camps. 10-year-old Annemarie doesn’t know why anyone would want to hurt her neighbors, including her best friend, Ellen Rosen, who Annemarie’s family conceals as one of their own. With the efforts of the Danish Resistance — and the entire community — Annemarie looks on as the Jewish population of Denmark, nearly seven thousand people, is seen to safety on Sweden’s shores. This beautiful story of the heroism of ordinary people is sure to be thought-provoking.

Irena's Children: A True Story of Courage - Young Readers Edition

Irena's Children: A True Story of Courage - Young Readers Edition

Recommended Age: 10 - 14

In Irena's Children: The Extraordinary Story of the Woman Who Saved 2,500 Children from the Warsaw Ghetto, Tilar J. Mazzeo told Irena Sendler's incredible story of smuggling children out of the Jewish ghetto to foster families in order to keep them safe; this edition makes that story accessible to younger readers. Tweens and teens will be fascinated to read about the many ways Sendler helped children escape — from hiding them under her overcoat to slipping them through secret passages — and about her incredible determination not to reveal their names and locations, even under torture and risk of losing her life.

We Will Not Be Silent

The White Rose Student Resistance Movement that Defied Adolf Hitler

We Will Not Be Silent

The White Rose Student Resistance Movement that Defied Adolf Hitler

Written by: Russell Freedman
Recommended Age: 10 and up

In this powerful middle grade book about the White Rose resistance, author Russell Freedman captures the power of a determined group of young people to make a difference in the world. Although aspects of the story are sobering — including the arrest, interrogation, and execution of Sophie Scholl and her brother — Freedman handles them with care, not shying away from the realities but conveying an overall tone of defiant, triumphant resistance. With eloquent prose, and accented by archival photographs and prints, this book will inspire young readers to stand up for what they believe in.

Women Heroes of World War II

26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue

Women Heroes of World War II

26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue

Written by: Kathryn J. Atwood
Recommended Age: 12 and up

During World War II, women around the world stood up to protect those they could. Kathryn J. Atwood tells some of their stories in this book, showing how these women, from many nations and backgrounds, each took tremendous risks to fight the battles that they were not permitted to fight on the front. Andrée Peel is one of the women that Atwood profiles, capturing the courage and defiance that drove her to work against the Nazis despite the personal risk. A companion book, Women Heroes of World War II: The Pacific Theater, tells the stories of women's contributions in China, Japan, Malaya, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, and the Philippines.

Resistance

Resistance

Written by: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Recommended Age: 12 and up

In 1942 Nazi-occupied Poland, Jewish teenager Chaya Lindner is determined to fight the evil destroying her life... even in the face of overwhelming odds. She escapes the Kraków Ghetto where her family is imprisoned and joins the Jewish resistance as a courier. She learns about a planned uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto to fight Nazis' efforts to transport the remaining survivors of the ghetto to death camps. Like her fellow resisters, Chaya knows that there is no possibility that they will 'win' this fight, but they hope to save as many lives as possible, and to live — or die — on their own terms. This powerful historical fiction novel by the author of A Night Divided about the largest single revolt by Jews during WWII explores the Holocaust from the rarely-discussed perspective of Jewish resistance fighters through the story of one heroic young woman.

Code Name Pauline

Code Name Pauline

Recommended Age: 12 and up

On September 22, 1943, a British Special Operations Executive agent — renowned as "cool and resourceful and extremely determined" and "the best shot, male or female, we have yet had," parachuted into France to assist the French Resistance. This is the real story of Pearl Witherington, and the 29-year-old spy would become one of World War II's most celebrated women resistance fighters. In her own voice, Witherington tells readers about her recruitment and training; her work as a Resistance courier, posing as a cosmetics sales woman; and stepping in as the leader of her network, eventually commanding a 3,500-strong band of French Resistance fighters. As thrilling as any spy novel, this book will keep young adult readers on the edge of their seats.

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity

Written by: Elizabeth Wein
Recommended Age: 13 and up

In World War II England, two young women become unlikely friends. One is a pilot, a new member of Britain's Air Transport Auxiliary; one is a spy, destined to assist the resistance in France. When one woman has to eject from their malfunctioning plane and is captured by the Gestapo, she steels herself for the brutality of an interrogation. But do they have the pilot, or the spy? And will Verity manage to keep Britain's secrets, or does her capture risk everything? Teens will devour this suspenseful and richly detailed book... and then go back to the beginning to look for the hints and clues they missed on the first read. Fans of this book will want to check out the companion, Rose Under Fire, and the prequel, The Pearl Thief.

In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer

In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer

Written by: Irene Opdyke
Recommended Age: 14 and up

When World War II began, 17-year-old Irene Gut was a Polish nursing student, a typical teenager preparing for a future career. Then she was separated from her family, assaulted by Russian soldiers, and forced to serve German officers. But she was determined to help who she could, smuggling food into the ghetto and hiding several Jewish friends at the villa where she worked. And when she was discovered, she even agreed to become mistress to a German major in exchange for protection for Jewish friends. This memoir by a real-life Holocaust rescuer, full of hard choices, is a powerful read for any teen.

The Nightingale: A Novel

The Nightingale: A Novel

Written by: Kristin Hannah
Recommended Age: Adults

When Vianne’s husband left for the front, she didn’t believe that the Nazis would invade, but when they do, she finds herself billeting a German officer against her will. Meanwhile, her sister, Isabelle, has gone from a wartime love affair to joining the French Resistance, where she risks her life time and again by helping downed Allied pilots escape occupied France by escorting them over the Pyrenees on foot to neutral Spain. Inspired in part by the story of 19-year-old Belgian Resistance heroine Andrée de Jongh, this work of historical fiction provides a powerful look at the strength of women in wartime.

Nancy Wake: SOE's Greatest Heroine

Nancy Wake: SOE's Greatest Heroine

Written by: Russell Braddon
Recommended Age: Adults

From the moment the German army invaded France in World War II, Nancy Wake was part of the resistance movement. By 1943, she was on the Gestapo’s most wanted list, nicknamed the White Mouse for how easily she evaded their traps. And when she was forced to flee France for safety in Britain, she immediately joined the British Special Operations Executive’s elite group of female agents, soon to be parachuted back into France to lead a 7,000 member branch of the Maquis fighting force. This thrilling true story of one of World War II’s most remarkable heroines will top any fictional spy story!

Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany

Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany

Recommended Age: Adults

Marthe Cohn's French Jewish sheltered those who were fleeing the rise of the Nazis, including children sent away by their parents. And then suddenly, they too were at risk: Germany invaded, her sister was arrested and sent to Auschwitz, and the rest of her family was forced to flee. Marthe, however, used her perfect German accent and blonde hair to serve the intelligence service of the French First Army, playing the role of a German nurse looking for her fiance — and funneling what sympathetic soldiers told her back to Allied commanders. This remarkable memoir details her story — which not even her children knew until she was awarded the Médaille Militaire at the age of 80 — and how an ordinary young woman became a hero.

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