A silent night could be a night of peace or it could be a night of complicity. It could be the silence of not speaking out to help someone in need or the silence of not telling the police where the fugitive is hiding.

You had both types of silence during the war, of course. There were those who shut their own doors tight when others were being hurt. But there were also those who kept silent to protect others, even under torture. That second silence of goodwill is harder to keep, of course, than the narrow silence of self-interest.

But there were those who did keep it, some heroically and others more simply. The heroes could not have survived without the silent complicity of neighbors and by-standers who knew more than they told.

Take, for example, a small town outside Paris that was home to an evasion line for Allied airmen. The group gathered aviators from northwestern France, equipped them and then passed them to other lines for their onward journey to Spain. From December 1943 to March 1944, Dutch-Paris took many of their aviators from Paris to Toulouse.

The local grocer ran the group and found hosts for the Allied airmen. The mayor and a few civil servants from the town hall furnished ration tickets for the aviators. The police commissioner signed their false identity documents. The local tax man himself provided tobacco rations, and the wine wholesaler contributed food and drink. The postmaster arranged for the chief to have a private, unlisted phone line that couldn’t be tapped like everyone else’s.

Surprisingly, although the grocer and his wife and father-in-law were arrested, no one else in the town was. That is a testament to the fortitude of the prisoners under interrogation, but also to the willing complicity of the rest of the community. Because it is impossible that that many people were involved without a great many other people knowing about it.

The aviators and their helpers came and went through that town cloaked by the silence of goodwill.