Every citizen of every democracy should read Timothy Snyder’s short but important book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. Snyder uses examples from the history of Nazism and Communism and their domination of other countries to explain how tyrants take power in democracies and how individuals can defend their civil liberties in such times. He does not mention Dutch-Paris, but he could have. This and the following posts will describe how Dutch-Paris illustrates a few of Snyder’s lessons on how to fight tyranny.

Lesson 9 – “Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing phrases everyone else does….Make an effort to separate yourself from the internet. Read books.”

Obviously, the internet did not exist during the Second World War, but much the same thing did in the official and censored radio and newspapers that inundated civilians with propaganda. The men and women of Dutch-Paris did not rely on such dubious sources to tell them what to think. Instead they listened to the BBC, which stuck to the facts, or Swiss Radio, which came from neutral Switzerland, even though it was a crime to do so. They read illegal, underground newspapers. They observed with their own eyes and talked to other people to find out what they had observed.

So in 1943, for example, they did not fall for the official stories about how Germany was winning the war. They knew about the catastrophic defeat of the Wehrmacht at Stalingrad. They knew about the increasing volume of Allied bombers flying over the Netherlands and Belgium every single day to bomb Germany. They had enough facts to nourish the hope that the war would end and they would regain their liberties.

Even when the facts were downright depressing, the men and women of Dutch-Paris did not turn away from them. They did not take the bait of happy propaganda. This brings us to

Lesson 10 – “Believe in the truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom.”

When the Nazis and their collaborators started rounding up Jews in western Europe and deporting them in 1942, they announced that those men, women and children were being “resettled in the east.” That was enough explanation for most people. “Resettled in the east” sounded like they were going to work on big farms, which didn’t sound so very bad in the context of the war.

But John Weidner and his colleagues in the resistance did not accept the official slogan. They asked what it really meant and found out that being “resettled in the east” meant “going to die in Poland.” That put a whole different light on the matter. “Going to die in Poland” was bad.

They knew it was bad because they still remembered the truths that everyone accepted in their prewar democracies. According to fascism’s alternate facts, whatever benefited the master race was good. It followed that getting rid of people defined as enemies of that master race was bad. The resisters didn’t buy it. They stuck to the age-old consensus that murder is bad. Seeing the truth of what was happening and the truth of what it meant gave them the clarity of mind and the courage to resist.