Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
Almost 70 years ago today, Dutch-Paris lost a courier through one of the common accidents of the Second World War. He was not arrested for his substantial resistance activities, or even suspected of them. But he was a young man on the streets of Brussels in the summer of 1944, which was enough to put anyone in danger.
It was June 1944, a few weeks after the Normandy Landings. Our man, whom we’ll call Pierre, and another Dutch-Paris courier were looking for a way to get to Paris. They had been told that all train traffic had been stopped at one station and were walking to another station to inquire about a train to Paris. On the big plaza outside the station two German agents in plain clothes stopped the young men and demanded to see their identification papers. The other courier still had his legitimate ID from the University of Leuven. The Germans accepted it. Pierre, however, had false documents prepared for him in Switzerland. One of the numbers was missing a digit. It was enough to merit arrest. The Germans let the other courier go after Pierre told them that they were not together.
Pierre told the arresting officers that he was a Belgian citizen who had false papers because he was hiding from the labor draft. It was a common enough story. Besides, these particular officers were looking for slave labor. They didn’t care if a man was a resister or anything else as long as he could work. Pierre was put under guard with other unfortunate young men until they had enough to fill a train past capacity and then was deported to Germany as a slave laborer. He ended up in punishment prisons for attempting to escape, which was a separate system from the concentration camps. As far as the German authorities were concerned he was a Belgian slave laborer called something other than his real name.
Almost the same thing happened to another Dutch-Paris courier in March 1944. This young man also fell victim to a street razzia, or round-up of random people who happened to be on the street when soldiers cordoned it off. He too was deported from Brussels as a slave laborer. The Germans never discovered that either one of these men was active in the Resistance. They may never have asked. They didn’t even discover that these men were Jewish, although the possibility worried both of them greatly. Or maybe their captors did know but just didn’t care as long as the men did the work required of them.
Both couriers survived a long year of captivity until the Allies liberated them in the late spring of 1945. They were not arrested, tortured and deported as resisters as many of their colleagues in Dutch-Paris were. But they were arrested during the course of their Resistance duties. They would not have been in the wrong place at the wrong time if they hadn’t been on a mission. It was simply dangerous to be a civilian in western Europe in 1944. Resisters were as likely to be deported as slave labor as everyone else.