In the last post, we talked about how the men and women of Dutch-Paris illustrate a few of the lessons in Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. They did not accept the slogans of propaganda but instead were “kind to our language” (lesson 9) and “believed in truth” (lesson 10).

The resisters in Dutch-Paris hid hundreds of Jews in occupied Belgium and France; smuggled hundreds more refugees, resisters and Allied aviators out of occupied territory, and acted as an international courier service that carried money, secret documents and personal letters throughout occupied western Europe. They were able to do so because they followed Snyder’s lessons 11.

Lesson 11 – “Investigate. Figure out things for yourself.”

Snyder is talking about how to figure out what is really going on in current politics. As we discussed in the last post, the men and women of Dutch-Paris did that by listening to the radio and reading the newspapers that the authorities made it a crime to listen to or read. If tyrants make it a crime to read something, there’s a pretty good chance that there’s something in it that’s of real value to a citizen.

As I mentioned in the last post, the men and women of Dutch-Paris saw through the propaganda of the day by finding reliable sources of facts and paying attention to the evidence in front of their own eyes.

But they also needed to investigate on a much more mundane level in order to do their illegal work. The Gestapo, for example, did not publish their patrol schedules or issue alerts that they would be raiding such and such a place at such and such a time. People who wanted to avoid the Gestapo and their ilk had to figure these things out for themselves. Someone in Dutch-Paris found out that the authorities rarely patrolled the train between Paris and Toulouse on certain days of the week. How did they find out? They either sent someone to watch the trains for a few weeks or, more likely, they talked to a railroad worker or police official who had observed the pattern.

Indeed, they cultivated relationships with people with access to information. They invited several women and men who worked in town halls or prefectures in Belgium and France to join the line specifically because they knew about the latest directives for identification cards and travel passes and they knew what the forms should look like when they were filled out.

They asked questions, discretely of course, and figured out what they needed to know to get themselves and other fugitives across and out of Nazi held territory.