Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
It’s well known that the Germans plundered the Occupied Territories to support their war effort and their own home front. You think of occupying troops seizing the contents of an entire grain silo or shipping the entire production of a factory directly to Germany. And the theft of the great works of art to satisfy top Nazis is well known, as is the theft of the furnishings of Jewish homes after the arrests of the families who lived in them.
The extent and petty detail of such plundering, however, is less well known. The German security services routinely emptied out the homes of suspected resisters as soon as they arrested them, long before any potential trial or decision on their case would be made. Among the members of Dutch-Paris who survived the concentration camps, many returned to empty homes. The Germans even took the refrigerator out of one apartment in Paris. They took money and jewelry, of course, but also clothing, furniture, household linens, postage stamps and food.
When they arrested the Dutch consul in Lyon in February 1944, the Gestapo or their minions – none of the bystanders were asking too many questions at the time – confiscated 1,295 tins of sardines. The sardines had been purchased by the Dutch government in exile and sent to southern France via the Red Cross in Portugal. It had been done legally with all the requisite paperwork. Despite the barrage of official complaints, however, the German authorities in France refused to either return or pay for the sardines.
After all, those sardines meant a great deal to the Dutch families hiding in southern France who had little access to food, but they were hardly a Rembrandt or the wine cellar of a chateau. They were just a few more boxes of things meant to disappear into the “night and fog” along with the men and women who had owned them.