Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
The herculean task of organizing the Weidner Archives is being ably undertaken by Stan Tozeski, a retired archivist from NARA. He tells me that when he started in on a heap of moving boxes filled with manila folders and papers in various states of deterioration, in other words, the contents of John Henry Weidner’s office shipped across the country.
Weidner’s personal correspondence is now neatly alphabetized in acid-free folders and stacked in 36 (at my last count) archival-quality document boxes.But Stan doesn’t have to worry about losing his job any time soon. There are plenty of papers left to sort and protect. For instance, there’s a particularly intriguing cardboard box perched on top of a filing cabinet with a post-it on the front that reads “Belgian Resistance”. I changed it to “Belgian resisters” for the sake of accuracy.
Because that box isn’t about the Belgian Resistance so much as about the Dutch Resistance in Belgian, in other words, Dutch-Paris in Belgium. And let me send my thanks to the men who compiled it because those files are an historian’s dream. In fact, it’s full of exactly the kind of information that knowledgeable historians (including me until now) would tell you doesn’t exist.
The Weidner correspondence mostly concerns Dutch-Paris in France, hardly surprising given that Weidner lived there during and after the war. It includes the reports that resisters sent to Weidner as chef du reseau (network chief) in order to qualify for the extremely beneficial status of combattant de la Résistance (Resistance veteran). Because Weidner didn’t specify what should go in such a report, they vary in detail. Mostly they simply retell the story of what that person did for Dutch-Paris during the Occupation and, if applicable, the story of that person’s arrest and deportation.
In December 1944, however, the brother of one of the early leaders of the Belgian group (who was then in a concentration camp) sent around a circular. That was three months after the liberation and five months before the end of the war. The brother requested a report containing eight rubrics: name; address; civil status; nationality; birthplace and date; profession; life course before the Occupation; life course during the Occupation, and future plans. It’s probably not a coincidence that the brother was working for Weidner’s Dutch “security service” detachment at the time, although he makes no mention of that in the letter.
He, or another of Weidner’s lieutenants, kept sending letters for a couple of years until they got an answer. Most people replied in full simply because they had been asked. The Belgian government wasn’t handing out benefits to Dutch resisters the way the French government was. But a few refused and others had been lost in the concentration camps or in the fog of war.
Those reports give a deeper picture of the rank and file resisters than I would have imagined possible. If I were a grad. student I’d be jumping for joy, but since I’m a staid old established historian, I’m merely quivering with excitement.