Let’s continue with how Dutch-Paris illustrates several of the lessons in Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth-Century. We covered lessons 9, 10 and 11, which are about the importance of finding out the facts for yourself and thinking for yourself. They bring us to lesson 12, which is about an important element of how to keep your independence of mind.

Lesson 12 – “Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is part of being a citizen and a responsible member of society. It is also a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down social barriers, and understand whom you should and should not trust.”

Dutch-Paris started when an individual decided to help another individual. It ended with 330 people who lived in four countries conspiring together to rescue strangers. How did men and women who did not know each other when the war started create such a vast illegal network? Obviously, they did not advertise for co-workers in the newspaper. Instead, they talked to other people. They made friends with secretaries in town halls who filled out identity documents for a living. They got to know owners of cafes. One Dutch refugee in Toulouse found a highly reliable escape line to take fugitives over the Pyrenees to Spain by making friends with a Spanish refugee who ate dinner in the same restaurant every night. It turned out that the Spanish refugee knew another Spanish refugee who ran the line over the mountains.

Every new meeting, though, was a risk because the person across the desk or table could have been a collaborator or a gossip who talked to collaborators. The resisters had to have enough experience chatting with strangers to develop a sense of intuition about people.

Many times, strangers helped the resisters or the fugitives to avoid arrest. A Swiss customs official drew a courier’s attention to the fact that the Germans were searching everyone in line as soon as they stepped into France while the courier was still able to leave the building. An elderly lady walking down a street in Paris took the arm of a young Dutchman who had just escaped from the Wehrmacht officers who arrested him and calmly escorted him to a Metro stop. Strangers don’t make such small but dangerous gestures in a society where no one looks at or greets anyone else. Being friendly in public not only made the resisters of Dutch-Paris look harmless, it created a safety net of goodwill around them.