Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
I’m taking the title of this blog and the following story from an article published by the Resistance newspaper Het Parool in 1947. It’s the story of how a young man (b. 1918) who we’ll call Valmont joined Dutch-Paris.
As many other Dutch Jews did in 1942, Valmont joined a “convoy” to get to Switzerland, but was arrested on the Belgian border. He made up a story about getting lost after a party and was sent back to the Dutch town of Breda (arrest #1). He resumed his journey and was arrested three more times before finally making it to Switzerland (arrests #2-4; the article is regrettably short on details for these).
On the neutral side of the Alps, Valmont, like all other young Dutch men, was put into an internment camp. He escaped with the idea of returning to the Netherlands to fetch his parents and beloved. The Swiss caught him (arrest #5), but he made it back home on his second attempt in April 1943. His parents had meanwhile found a safe hiding place and decided to stay there. His girlfriend also decided to stay in the Netherlands, but Valmont did escort a friend’s wife back to Switzerland.
The internment camp being too small for this particular young Dutchman, the Dutch military attaché in Bern made him a courier for microfilms on the so-called Swiss Way. His boss in the courier service was John Henry Weidner, which made Valmont part of the Dutch-Paris Line. Like Weidner, he combined a little people smuggling with his information smuggling.
In May 1944, Weidner, Valmont and another of their colleagues were sitting in a café in Toulouse when the Gestapo surrounded them. Unfortunately for Weidner, his current disguise made him the spitting image of a French Communist. Valmont’s false papers looked real enough, but they listed his profession as “dentist.” Unfortunately he couldn’t name all the teeth. Arrest # 6. But Valmont was locked in a room with a window without bars. He jumped out of the second floor and made his escape.
Valmont went back to work as a courier of microfilms and wanted persons, but the situation had become more complicated after the Normandy Landings. He was arrested (#6) by maquis (French partisans). After Valmont gave them the names of some American pilots he had helped, including one Simon Levi, they let him go.
Sometime between the invasion in June and the liberation of Belgium in September 1944, Valmont was caught up in a general razzia at the train station in Brussels (arrest #7). The Germans didn’t discover his true identity, but they did deport him and every other young, healthy man they could find to Germany as forced labor. He managed to escape from the train in Germany but was captured again a few hours later (arrest #8).
Valmont spent two days in a V-1 factory then made his escape with a Belgian colleague. They were caught (arrest #9) and put back on a train to their factory. When he saw the barbed wire of a border, Valmont jumped from the carriage window while the train was moving with predictable results for his head and his knees. He nevertheless managed to struggle towards the border. The Germans caught him 7 meters from Switzerland.
He convinced them that he was simply a slave laborer trying to get to his fiancée in Switzerland, so after a stint in a prison hospital and several months in various prisons he ended up at Nordhausen. He stayed there until the Americans liberated the infamous factory manned by skeletal slaves. He did not, however, wait for the transport home provided by the Allies. He made his own way back to the Netherlands, arriving on 17 April 1945.
Some people just won’t stay put.