Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
The last post described how the Germans found more than they expected when they arrested a woman involved in Dutch-Paris. At least in the case of Dutch-Paris, however, it happened more often that the Germans never realized that they had arrested someone important.
In March and June 1944, for example, German police arrested two young Dutch-Paris couriers on the streets of Brussels, locked them up and deported them to the Third Reich as forced laborers with trainloads of other men whose identity cards had appeared suspicious. Neither of these men was ever questioned. The only thing that mattered was that they looked healthy enough to work in a factory, even though one had a pronounced limp. The Germans never discovered that the men were Jewish, let alone Read the rest of this entry »
Following on the last two posts about resisters belonging to more than one network, here’s another story from Dutch-Paris. This one did not turn out so well.
There was a middle-aged widow in Paris, we’ll call her Anne, who opened her apartment to downed Allied aviators as part of Dutch-Paris. Some of these men stayed there for a few hours but others lived with her for weeks while she nursed them over an ailment so that they could continue their clandestine journey to Spain.
She was arrested in the big Dutch-Paris round up in late February 1944 and, like her colleagues, interrogated roughly. There was no Read the rest of this entry »
In the last post I mentioned that different resistance groups sometimes crossed in a single person. This was especially true among what is sometimes called the humanitarian resistance, ie resisters who offered aid to fugitives and prisoners. The nature of that illegal work meant that a lot of people had to be involved to provide money, false documents, shelter, food, medical care etc etc. It also meant that the word got out that so-and-so was willing to help.
John Weidner certainly had such a reputation in Annecy, near the Swiss border, in late 1942. In fact, he got to be so well known that the French and German police had several talks with him about it. Finally, in September 1943, he was too well known and Read the rest of this entry »
Commonsense tells us that resisters worked in isolation. After all, they were up against the Gestapo. All too easily, the opposite of secrecy in the resister’s world became the torture chamber.
So resisters used false names and safe houses. Many of them worked on a cell system in which they knew only the people most closely involved in their own efforts. Only one person in that cell knew only one person in the next cell. That limited the damage that could be done if someone was captured and tortured into revealing information.
This compartmentalization was so important that two young Dutch women who were friends and students together at the Sorbonne in Paris did not know that they both worked for Dutch-Paris in 1943-1944 until Read the rest of this entry »
In early March 1944, Weidner asked one of his lieutenants, whom we’ll call Jacques, to take his sister from Paris to Switzerland. Because most of their Dutch-Paris colleagues in Paris had been arrested in the previous few days Jacques had to assume that the police had his description and that every address along the usual route was compromised. So he disguised himself and took the young woman along a more difficult route, known only to him, Weidner and one other colleague.
The news of the arrests that he had to report in Switzerland was so monumental, that Jacques did not bother to describe his own flight from Paris. But he did record his expenses.
Spectacles – 330 French francs
Shower and haircu – 120 French francs
Dry cleaning for his suit – 90 French francs
Timbres fiscaux (official stamps) – 150 French francs
Train tickets to a village on the Swiss border – 1,500 French francs, plus 10 French francs surtax
Tip - 100 French francs
“Gift” - 5,000 French francs
From this we can deduce Read the rest of this entry »
Rumors play a vital part in the life of any trapped community whether they are in the trenches of World War I or the resistance of World War II. My last post gave examples of rumors that explained the sweeping arrests in Dutch-Paris in the late winter of 1944. Rumors, however, played a role in the line throughout its existence.
Here’s another example. In October 1943 John Henry Weidner traveled to Paris to create an escape line between the Netherlands and Switzerland. He intended to link up with other Dutch expatriate resisters in Paris. But when he met with a couple of Dutchmen who had been recommended to him as likely colleagues for the illegal undertaking, he found them to be timid and unwilling.
He found out a few days later that the men thought he was a German agent provocateur. They were Read the rest of this entry »
As I said in my last post, resisters needed to know why their colleagues were arrested in order to know if they themselves were in danger. If the resisters knew that their colleague had been arrested for the illegal work they were all doing together, then they wanted to know how the police found their colleague.
With that information they would have a better idea of the extent of the danger and what they could do about it. It was hard, though, to know, and speculation abounded. In the case of the sweeping arrests of Dutch-Paris agents in February, 1944, no one knew for sure how the police found them, but many people had theories.
The Dutch intelligence services in Madrid, for example, suggested that Weidner’s sister had been arrested because Read the rest of this entry »
The arrest of one member of a resistance group obviously caused a great deal of concern for everyone else in the group. They worried about the welfare of their arrested colleague, of course, but they also worried about what that person might be “persuaded” to reveal about the rest of them.
The anxiety was magnified by the fact that you did not necessarily know why a person was arrested. The resisters knew that they had been breaking the law, but the police did not always know it. If someone had been arrested as a suspected resister, then you had reason to fear that he or she would be tortured, but only if the police suspected his or her resistance work.
The German authorities and local police arrested people for so many reasons Read the rest of this entry »
Although Dutch-Paris had dependable routes between Brussels, Paris, Lyon, Toulouse and Geneva, Weidner and his top lieutenants did not travel on them. Instead they had their own ways of getting from one place to another. Weidner travelled on the false papers of a businessman, allowing him to take the fastest trains between one city and another. His courier Moen, on the other hand, tacked across France on local trains and climbed along the outside of a bridge stuffed with barbed wire to cross from France to Belgium.
Nor did they stay with other Dutch-Paris resisters in any of the cities they visited. Instead they had their own safe houses, the addresses of which they did not share with anyone.
The leaders made appointments with their colleagues and showed up when Read the rest of this entry »
Almost 70 years ago, on 5 February 1945, Russian soldiers liberated John Weidner’s younger sister Gabrielle from a sub-camp of the notorious women’s concentration camp of Ravensbrück.
On that day, Gabrielle was in what passed as the infirmary, although there was no medicine, no heat, barely any blankets. The only thing that made it an infirmary was that all the prisoners crammed into the building were deathly ill. German guards had already marched the healthier prisoners away toward the west in shoeless, coatless journeys that few would survive. Some of the stronger women in the infirmary crept out to find food despite their well founded fears that the remaining German guards would shoot them on sight.
The prisoners woke up on 5 February to see Russians outside the windows. The Russians did the best they could for the women by making them warm and feeding them. The fighting moved passed them. Gabrielle and some of the other women held a prayer service of thanksgiving. Gabrielle died ten days after her liberation on 15 February 1945 from Read the rest of this entry »