Although the German army did its best to lock down Occupied Europe and control the movements of the population, there was a surprising amount of room for maneuver for those with the character to find it. Take, for instance, the story of a young Dutchman we’ll call Bob.

When the Germans started rounding up Jews like himself in June 1942, the eighteen-year-old Bob left the Netherlands with a friend. The two of them made their own way across the border into Belgium, across Belgium and into France, across the Demarcation Line and to Lyon. There the Dutch consulate helped them with identification documents, ration coupons and the like while they waited for three more friends.

When the three friends, who were almost old enough to be their parents, arrived, they all negotiated clandestine passage to Switzerland with a professional passeur. The man charged an outrageous sum, but he had successfully taken the younger brother of one of the party into Switzerland a few weeks earlier. So the five set out with their paid guide.  They did indeed make it to Switzerland, but a Swiss border guard caught them all while they were waiting for the tram to Geneva. He gave them each a cigarette and waited while they crawled back under the barbed wire into France.

Like many Jewish refugees at the time, they ended up in the prison in Annecy, France, with the regulation sentence of one month for trying to cross the border illegally plus a 1,200 franc fine for succeeding.  John Weidner visited them there and sent them food.   After being released, the five refugees returned to Lyon to wait while Weidner arranged for a safe, and permanent, journey to Switzerland for them. While they were there, Bob heard through the grapevine that his parents had gotten into trouble further south in the Mediterranean port of Marseilles. He immediately went to get them, presumably using false identity documents. Somehow or other he got his father out of prison, collected his mother, and took them both back to Lyon.

It was now early September 1942 and the party of refugees had grown to seven. The French had recently made it illegal for any Jews to travel in the department of Haute-Savoie, which abuts Switzerland. Weidner, however, found a loophole. He intended to take them over the Swiss border in three separate groups on consecutive nights. Bob’s mother, however, had to make the trip from Lyon to Geneva by herself. Her friends found her at the Dutch consulate there crying inconsolably because her husband and son had been arrested in Lyon at a document inspection. Two nights later, however, they showed up on the safe side of the border  courtesy of Weidner and his group.

That’s quite an extraordinary journey for someone who hadn’t quite finished lycée [high school] yet. You may say that he didn’t do it all on his own: he had companions along the way, some of whom were older, and from Lyon he had the help of John Weidner and his escape line. All that is true, but finding people to help you and knowing whom to trust was definitely one of the skills that you needed to survive the Second World War.  The audacity to think that you could travel across France and get your father out of prison was another one.