Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
The greatest number of Dutch-Paris agents to be arrested were arrested because the Abwehr, a Wehrmacht counter-espionage unit, was very successful at eliminating escape lines. They got their hands on a Dutch-Paris courier because collaborationist French police suspected her of black marketeering. They tortured a long list of names and addresses out of the courier and systematically arrested them all. They tortured those resisters to find more of their colleagues.
But a fair number of Dutch-Paris agents were arrested because of bad luck. Pierre from the previous two posts, for example, just happened to walk past a couple of German policemen who were looking for any excuse to arrest able bodied men to deport as laborers on a day when he had a faulty false ID.
A Dutch pastor in Brussels who belonged to Dutch-Paris was arrested because the wrong person overheard Read the rest of this entry »
In the spring of 1944, not too many weeks before the Allies landed in Normandy, a Dutch secret agent and a Dutch priest left the Netherlands. The priest played a leading role in the Dutch social resistance that supported people hiding from the occupation authorities. The secret agent had parachuted into the country on a mission from the Dutch government-in-exile in London. The duo intended to make their way through Belgium and France to Switzerland and then get to London from there.
It hardly needs to be said that they were not traveling legally or under their true identities. But it is a little surprising that two individuals with such strong connections to the underground didn’t have a better plan of how to get across occupied Belgium and France. They effectively made it up as they went until they made contact with Dutch-Paris in Switzerland.
Dutch-Paris provided all necessary false documents for its travelers. The secret agent and the priest, however, had to find their own false papers every time they crossed a border between countries or even between different occupation zones within the same country. This was an expensive way to get false documents, not to mention a risky one. They themselves had no way of knowing whether the false documents the man in the café sold them would stand up under scrutiny or not. For all they knew, the false documents could have been Read the rest of this entry »
Every arrest of a Dutch-Paris resister or a person whom they helped posed a threat to the entire line. Everyone knew that the Gestapo and their colleagues tortured arrested resisters. No one expected anyone to hold out forever. So it was vitally important for Dutch-Paris to know exactly why someone had been arrested. If the German police suspected someone of being a resister, the situation was bad. Everyone else needed to take precautions. But if the local police suspected someone of being a black market smuggler, for example, things were not nearly as dire. Arrested black marketeers were treated differently than resisters and could even sometimes be bought out of jail.
The arrest of Pierre from the previous post caused his colleagues in Dutch-Paris some anxiety. Plain clothes German policemen arrested him because the numbers on his false ID were wrong, but let his companion, another Dutch-Paris courier, go free. Pierre’s companion could not identify what unit the policemen belonged to. If they were Gestapo looking for resisters Read the rest of this entry »
Almost 70 years ago today, Dutch-Paris lost a courier through one of the common accidents of the Second World War. He was not arrested for his substantial resistance activities, or even suspected of them. But he was a young man on the streets of Brussels in the summer of 1944, which was enough to put anyone in danger.
It was June 1944, a few weeks after the Normandy Landings. Our man, whom we’ll call Pierre, and another Dutch-Paris courier were looking for a way to get to Paris. They had been told that all train traffic had been stopped at one station and were walking to another station to inquire about a train to Paris. On the big plaza outside the station two German agents in plain clothes stopped the young men and demanded to see their identification papers. The other courier still had his legitimate ID from the University of Leuven. The Germans accepted it. Pierre, however, had false documents prepared for him in Switzerland. One of the numbers Read the rest of this entry »
During the Second World War the Dutch colony in Geneva grew substantially with the influx of refugees who arrived from the Netherlands through various routes, including Dutch-Paris. After the Swiss authorities allowed them into the country, the Dutch embassy in Bern took responsibility for them. It organized refugee camps in hotels for families, for example, and made regular loans so that Dutch citizens would meet the Swiss requirements for financial independence. Although this has been a subject of controversy in recent years, during the war the embassy received a number of complaints that Dutch refugees had better accommodations and more spending money than refugees from other nations.
Dutch refugees in and around Geneva had a lot of time on their hands because the Swiss did not allow refugees to hold any job that might be taken away from a Swiss citizen. This didn’t stop a number of them from finding jobs under the table, Read the rest of this entry »
Dutch-Paris is known as an escape line, but as a matter of fact they helped many more people to hide from the Nazis than to escape from Nazi held territory. Neither task was easy, but you could make a good argument that hiding someone indefinitely was more difficult than smuggling that same person into Switzerland or Spain.
Hiding people Anne Frank style in a confined space for an indefinite period was certainly possible, but it was dangerous for everyone. And it was also almost unbearable for the people trapped in the attic or basement or false room. It was better to find a place where a fugitive could blend in and live a somewhat normal life. In the case of children, that meant hiding in a boarding school among other children. In the case of young women, Dutch-Paris resisters in Brussels tried to find jobs as domestic servants. Such a job would give the woman room and board, gainful employment and the possibility of moving about the neighborhood without attracting undue notice. Young men were harder to hide because Read the rest of this entry »
During the Second World War, as always, there were people who were looking out only for themselves. They didn’t have any particular political ideals, but they intended to be where the money and the winners were.
During most of the Occupation, that meant being where the Germans were. This didn’t require anything extreme like joining a Collaborationist political party, although it could. It could simply mean doing business with the Germans. I am not talking about the honest businessmen who kept their family factories running with German orders so they could protect their workers from being sent to work in factories in Germany. I mean the sort of business that brings in big profits and gets you invited to fancy parties with lots of food. I mean economic profiteering. It may well have meant being a middleman in the black market on behalf of the Germans. There was always the chance that the Germans would tire of you and ship you off to a concentration camp, but if you avoided that, there was lots of money to be made and good times to be had.
There was also the chance that Read the rest of this entry »
A word of caution to family historians and student researchers who are looking for resisters in the archives (see my posts of 23 December 2013, 18 February 2014 and 4 March 2014). Not all the documents in the archives are the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
In the first place, very few individuals involved in the Resistance knew the whole truth. People’s lives depended on everyone involved knowing as little as possible. You couldn’t give information under torture if you didn’t have it to begin with.
In the second place, every document was written for a purpose but that purpose was very rarely to solicit the whole unvarnished story. The reports written for the American intelligence unit MIS-X that looked for helpers after the Liberation, for example, deal only with the help given to Allied aviators. So you may find a thorough report on how a family helped one American who bailed out over France but it won’t say a thing about the dozens of Jews they also helped because the people asking the questions didn’t ask about Jews.
In the third place, not all resisters wanted to write the whole truth. Survivors Read the rest of this entry »
One of the most dangerous and most exposed jobs in the Resistance was that of courier. Because the German and collaborationist authorities were not as immediately suspicious of women as they were of men, the job of carrying incriminating documents or escorting incriminating fugitives was often given to young women. Just about anything could go wrong on a mission.
Here’s the story of one trip taken by a young Corsican woman living in Paris during the war. She gave up a good secretarial job to work for Dutch-Paris full time. On this particular day in early 1944, Marie-France as she called herself, took the light rail from the center of Paris to a farm owned by a Dutch farmer about 30km southwest of the city. She took the 1:30 train back to Paris with eight Allied aviators. The air raid claxon rang when they got to the Gare Montparnasse, so they had to wait to take the metro. As soon as the all clear sounded, she led her group through the underground tunnels of the metro to the platform they needed.
Standing on the metro platform, she counted her flock. There were only seven aviators. Perhaps she had Read the rest of this entry »
In honor of the 70th anniversary of the “Great Escape” on March 24, I’ll tell you Dutch-Paris’s part of the story. If you’ve seen the old movie, you know that the “Great Escape” happened when several dozen Allied POW’s tunneled out of a maximum security fortress in Sagan. Only three of those men made it to freedom.
One of the three was a Dutchman named Bram van der Stok who had been shot down on an RAF mission in April 1942. After he got through the tunnel, he made straight for home in the Netherlands. Not long after, he headed south towards Spain and eventually England.
Like so many evading aviators, van der Stok crossed into Belgium by Maastricht and came into the care of Dutch-Paris in Brussels. The line had been devastated by arrests in late February and early March, but was still functioning in a much reduced capacity. One of the leaders, whom we’ll call Moen, escorted van der Stok to Paris on his own personal winding route that involved various trams and climbing along the outside of a pedestrian fence between Belgium and France. In Paris, Moen passed the aviator to an unidentified woman. She took him to Toulouse on the night train and passed him back to Moen.
Van der Stok spent about a couple of weeks in Moen’s personal safe house in Toulouse while Moen arranged passage for him over the Pyrenees. He travelled with two other Dutchmen, a priest who played an important role in the Dutch social Resistance and a Dutch secret agent from the Bureau Inlichtingdienst. The priest and the secret agent had made their own way to Switzerland, where they came into the care of Dutch-Paris.
Moen paid for these three to cross into Spain with a very reliable French line that was nonetheless having difficulties of its own. The Dutchmen took a train to a small town south of Toulouse to stay in a hotel that was mostly full of Germans. The next day French partisans armed with sten guns drove them into the foothills. They settled into a rat infested farm house with a number of other evaders including several Jews, a Russian officer and more airmen. A couple days later the convoy started out on their trek across the Pyrenees, guarded by more armed partisans. Unlike so many other evaders, they enjoyed beautiful weather in the mountains and made the trip without incident in only three days.
Van der Stok arrived in Spain on June 19, 1944, almost three months after the “Great Escape” and just over two years after being shot down. Once in Spain, the British authorities claimed van der Stok and whisked him off to England, or in what counted for whisking during the war, which meant a few days.