The common practice of using aliases or noms de guerre in the resistance worked very well. In at least two cases of Dutch-Paris resisters, the Germans never cracked the resisters pseudonym, even in the concentration camps. Not that there was anything good about being deported to a concentration camp. But in these cases the men were simply sent there without undergoing the torture that the German police would have used to get more information if they had known who they had arrested. So the alias protected them even after their arrests.

Sometimes, however, the alias could work almost too well. Take the example of a French woman known in the resistance as Madame Vassias. Mme Vassias was the secretary of the Polish officer who ran the escape line between Paris and Spain that also took Dutchmen for the forgotten Dutch escape Line X (see previous post). When the Pole and his Dutch counterpart were arrested in November 1943, Mme Vassias took over leadership of that escape line. She was arrested in February 1944 because a personal friend of hers who belonged to a French resistance group gave away her address under torture.

Several Dutchmen knew Mme Vassias because they either worked with her as resisters or had met her when they went through Paris as Engelandvaarders. After the war, they reported her work using the name Mme Vassias because that’s the only name they had for her. Her Polish comrade also reported her resistance work when he came back from the concentration camps. She herself never submitted any report after the war, strongly suggesting that she did not survive. Historians have read about her in those Liberation-era reports and looked in the archives for a Madame Vassias, but found nothing.

Researchers assumed she was Polish. But recently declassified French archives reveal that she was a French woman, who was born in Paris in 1887 and died in Ravensbrück in 1944 or 1945. She married in 1905 but divorced in 1912, which must have caused a great scandal at the time and may have isolated her from family and friends. Her next of kin was the unrelated friend who broke under torture.

The mystery of this brave woman’s identity might have remained unsolved if a cousin from America had not made an official request for information about her in 1952. That request led to an investigation which created a paper trail that has now found its way to a French archive. Now we know that Madame Vassias, who sheltered and guided between 20 and 25 evading Allied airmen plus French, Dutch and Polish fugitives and who led an escape line from November 1943 to February 1944, was born Eva de Graaff.