Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
Although Allied governments certainly tried to organize and control “The Resistance”, especially the armed Resistance, it was a fundamentally grass-roots movement. You became a resister by taking action where you thought necessary and putting yourself at risk. That holds true for people who started resistance work because a friend or acquaintance asked them for help. As a result “The Resistance” included large scale and even international organizations such as Dutch-Paris as well as individuals working entirely on their own. The French government recognized this by granting pensions and honors to a whole category of “non-affiliated resisters” whose actions outside of any known network could be documented and verified.
In my research I have come across at least two women who spent years helping fugitives in France without belonging to any Resistance group. Once of these was a Mme K who ran a family boarding house in Paris. Her last name and her story suggest that she or her husband may have had family ties to Belgium.
Starting in 1940 a priest from an international order which had a mother house on the rue des Sèvres in Paris sent young men to stay with her “off the record.” The priest provided the fugitives with false papers that he had gotten through a contact who worked at the prefecture. A second priest in a French order on the rue Notre Dame des Champs also sent fugitives to hide at her boarding house.
After the war Mme K explained that she had helped a number of Jews of all nationalities but mostly Dutch. She did not, however, know any of their names because she had never asked for them. That was simply the safest way for everyone involved; although it did not keep her completely safe. Around the middle of August, 1943, French police arrested Mme K, presumably for breaking the laws regarding the proper registration of foreigners. Fortunately, however, she fell into the hands of a “very Gaullist Corsican” police officer who let her go.
The French police did not trouble her after that. But one day the Germans arrested one of her young Dutchmen at the Place de l’Opéra. He had no identity documents to bluff his way out. The Germans demanded that he lead them to where he was staying, but he managed to give them the slip in the métro. Rather than simply running away, he went back to the boarding house to warn his hostess. She left for Belgium that same day and survived the war.
After the war Mme K said that representatives of two Dutch “associations” came to see her but she did not remember their names either. Nor did she specify whether these visits happened during or after the war. So perhaps she could be classified under a recognized Resistance group (although not Dutch-Paris) except that no one claimed her. She certainly did not consider herself to have acted as part of any particular group. So she counts as an unaffiliated humanitarian resister. She was simply an individual living out the demands of her principles.