Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
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 the wrong color or the man in the café an agent provocateur.
But these two had a great deal of luck. At one point in their self-guided tour of occupied Belgium and northern France, German police were not entirely convinced of their documents’ authenticity. The police officer decided to verify the papers by calling the town hall which had issued them to ask if the names on the documents appeared in the town’s registers. This was why forgers preferred to make documents stamped by the town hall of a town that had suffered severe war damage or bombing. One phone call, and your cover was blown.
In the case of the secret agent and the priest, however, the documents came from a town that had so far been spared much damage. The duo passed a nerve wracking ten, then twenty, then thirty minutes while the policeman made his call.
To everyone’s surprise the clerk on the end of the line told the German officer that the names he wanted to know about were indeed in the legal registers of the town. The two resisters were released to continue on their way.
There are two possibilities to explain what happened. First, the fugitives may have purchased top quality false documents, what were known as “true false” documents because they were false but would stand up to verification as true. To achieve this, the forger either borrowed the identity of someone who had died or disappeared or inserted a name into the official registers.
The second possibility, of course, is that the names were not on the legal registers at all but the clerk who answered the telephone lied to the police officer. That would make the clerk a resister. The clerk may have belonged to a resistance group. Or the clerk might have been working alone, taking what opportunities came his or her way to defy the occupier by protecting whomever it was the policeman had arrested. The Resistance would have been lost without that kind of help.