For those of you who don’t like to carry your driver’s license around on the odd chance that you’ll get in a car accident, consider this. If one of the various German police surrounded the street you were walking down in Occupied Europe and caught you without your identity documents, or didn’t trust those documents, you could be, if things had turned really nasty there, shot or hung on the street. If things retained their civilized veneer, you might have been thrown in prison, which may well have led to deportation to a concentration camp. But the unexpected did happen, and you might have walked away with a small fine. It depended on when and where you were, as did so many things.

One of Dutch-Paris’s top couriers, a young man we’ll call André, went back and forth from Switzerland to France and Belgium. In Switzerland a certain Dutchman renewed his false papers on a regular basis. For France he needed the following:

1 – a French identity card, which would have his (false) name, date of birth, place of birth, photo, signature and various official stamps
2 – a work certificate [certificate de travail], essentially to explain what important war work kept a man his age out of the military or forced labor
3 – demobilization papers, to explain why he wasn’t in a POW camp
4 – an authorization to cross the borders of the department of Haute-Savoie that would allow him to approach the Swiss border

On his last trip through France, André carried:

1 – a French identity card
2 – an identity card [ausweis] from the air civil defense authority [Sécrétariat general à la défense aérienne]
3 – orders from the civil defense authority, of which he had many blank copies that he filled out himself
4 – a train pass for the French railways

The Belgians, who had had a very bad experience under German occupation in the First World War, required fewer and simpler documents. That made it easier to forge them, of course, as everyone knew. So in Belgium our man carried:

1 – a Belgian identity card, with name, address, birth date etc in an easy to forge format
2 – a pass from the Belgian Chamber of Commerce stating that he needed to travel to France for his business.

For 14 months in 1943 and 1944 all of these documents continually stood up to German, French and Belgian inspection on trains, at train stations, at borders and during random street checks.  Until one day, inevitably, they didn’t.

At the end of June 1944, André was approaching the Gare de Luxembourg in Brussels to inquire about possible trains to France, when three men in civilian clothes stopped him.  They compared André’s Belgian identity card to a list of official Belgian ID numbers written down in a notebook.  The number on André’s card was too high.  They took him to the German labor office and then to the Gestapo.  He spun a pretty story [mooi verhaal] as the Dutch say, in which he managed to hide both that he was a resister and a Jew.  But it wasn’t pretty enough to earn his release.  The Gestapo threw him in prison and then deported him to Germany, although he went as a forced laborer rather than a political or racial prisoner, which improved his odds of survival.  It wasn’t an easy year until the Americans liberated him, but he did survive.