This story doesn’t involve anyone from Dutch-Paris, but it illustrates the problems of researching the history of Dutch-Paris or any other Resistance organization.*

During the war in the Basque country, in the western edge of the Pyrenees, there was a young woman of seventeen who worked as a secretary to the village mayor, who happened to be her future father-in-law. Her fiancé had crossed the mountains to Spain in order to escape the forced labor draft that would have sent him to Germany.

One day a stranger showed her the photograph of her beloved and herself that her fiancé had taken with him when he left the country. The stranger said that he could get her fiancé out of a Spanish internment camp if she would make false identity papers for him using the official stamps of the town hall where she worked. The young woman was worried about the trouble this might bring on the town if the Germans got wind of it, but she didn’t want her future father-in-law to be bothered about it either. He had already been taken to prison and released once before.

After she made the false papers, her fiancé reappeared on the French side of the border as a courier for an official French resistance line. Both of them became heavily involved in the clandestine passage of people and documents to and from Spain until they had to flee to Madrid.

Her father-in-law, the mayor, never knew what they had done. A few years after the war, her husband told the woman that she could get a medal for her Resistance activities. But she said no because she didn’t want her father-in-law to know that she had forged his signature under the Occupation.

And so, for that purely personal and familial reason, this courageous woman kept herself out of the historical record. She’d be completely forgotten if her husband hadn’t also been involved and an oral historian hadn’t asked her about what she’d done decades after her father-in-law had died.

And so there are always bound to be holes in any history, but especially in the history of a clandestine effort. In the case of the Resistance, few people knew very much during the war. The puzzle couldn’t be put together until people came forward with the pieces after the war. But some pieces – the parts of the story known only to those who participated in it directly – never became public because the people who knew them never told. Perhaps they didn’t survive long enough to speak or perhaps their postwar lives gave them a compelling reason not to speak.

*Gisèle Lougarot. Dans l’ombre des passeurs, p. 80-85.