Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
As I’ve said before, the documents don’t explain why the men and women of Dutch-Paris joined the resistance. No one asked that question at the end of the war when the reports in the archives were written.
In late 1944 Weidner did write in an official report that they risked their lives to help strangers because it was their duty, but that has the air of the expected official story. Of course some of them might have felt it was their Christian or patriotic duty, but that would have made it everyone’s duty. Because only a small minority acted on it, it’s not a satisfactory reason. There had to be personal, individual reasons.
A couple of people in the line volunteered some explanation. One Dutch businessman, living in Brussels with his wife and seven children, mentioned that he felt he had to act both because of his Catholic faith and because he had not forgotten how the German occupiers treated his Belgian grandmother and aunt during the First World War.
This is speculation, but I do not think that it’s a coincidence that the three top leaders of Dutch-Paris, Jean Weidner and his two lieutenants, lived through the German occupation of Belgium during the First World War. They were all very young at the time, not even old enough for school when it began. And one of them was passed north through the barbed wire on the Dutch border to live with his grandparents in the Netherlands in order to get him out of the famine zone. Soon after the Armistice ended that war in 1918, Weidner’s family moved to Switzerland to recover from the deprivations of the Belgian occupation. So their formative memories and their family histories and cultures were shaped by the German occupation of Belgium, which was marked by hunger, disease and slave labor.
I also do not think that it is a coincidence that the biggest and best organized section of Dutch-Paris was the Comité in Brussels. The Dutch expats in the Comité found a lot of help from their Belgian neighbors. No one in Belgium had forgotten the last war, even if they may have drawn different conclusions from it.
Was the memory of the First World War enough to make everyone in Belgium a resister? No, plainly it was not. But I cannot help thinking that it contributed to the making of Dutch-Paris. At the very least, it might have made the men and women who did join Dutch-Paris and other resistance groups willing to believe the worst. Because they understood that bad things happen, they were willing to take action to stop them from happening.