Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
The restrictions and shortages of living under German occupation during the Second World War brought out an impressive creativity among otherwise ordinary and law-abiding citizens. In fact, the whole story of how Dutch-Paris operated an escape line and rescued so many people could be seen as an exercise in creativity, but here’s a smaller, more personal example.
The leader of Dutch-Paris, John Henry Weidner, was living in Paris when the war started. His parents and youngest sister were living in the Netherlands. Now, Papa Weidner was a retired Seventh-day Adventist pastor who taught and translated Greek and Latin. He had a limited income. His son, on the other hand, was doing well selling textiles, at least early in the war.
John Weidner wanted to send money to his parents and sister in the Netherlands. But how? Doing so legally involved a great deal of paperwork and considerable taxes and fees. Even getting a postcard to his parents legally took time and a certain amount of double entendre to get it past the censor.
So Weidner sent his father postage stamps. Like many Dutchmen at the time, both of them collected stamps. Weidner, who could judge the value of a rare stamp, bought them in France. Then he sent them to his father to convert into cash by selling them. This provided an elegant way to avoid the taxes and questions that would have accompanied any attempt to legally exchange French or Swiss or even Belgian francs into Dutch guilders.
It’s not entirely clear how Weidner sent the valuable stamps from France to the Netherlands. All letters and packages were censored and many went astray. He probably asked other resisters or Adventists who were traveling to the Netherlands, either legally or illegally, to deliver them. He certainly asked at least two Dutch-Paris couriers to visit his parents on his behalf. Compared to the elaborate schemes that he and other Dutch-Paris resisters came up with to exchange and transfer the money that the line needed to help fugitives, sending money to his parents in the form of postage stamps was a simple matter.
Thanks to Janet Carper, who has translated the Weidner family wartime correspondence, for sharing her work and the postage stamp story with me.