In my off minutes from being an historian or mommy, I’ve been reading Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize winning novel Wolf Hall. I’ve been surprised to discover that St. Thomas More personally oversaw the torture of heretics while Thomas Cromwell made sure his kitchen boys were warmly dressed and taught to read and write. But what resonated most thoroughly with me was the following quotation:

“The world is not run from where he [Henry VIII] thinks. Not from his border fortresses, not even from Whitehall. The world is run from Antwerp, from Florence, from places he has never imagined; from Lisbon, from where the ships with sails of silk drift west and are burned up in the sun. Not from castle walls, but from counting houses, not by the call of the bugle but by the click of the abacus, not by the grate and click of the mechanism of the gun but by the scrape of the pen on the page of the promissory note that pays for the gun and the gunsmith and the powder and shot.”

That is true for Dutch-Paris. Every member of the Line counts as a hero. But heroism wasn’t enough. If Dutch-Paris didn’t need promissory notes for guns they needed them for food and train tickets and false documents. The entire enterprise relied on a network of bankers, professional or metaphorical who raised money and clicked their abacuses to get the best exchange rates, to marshal their funds, to make their efforts cost-effective.

In August 1944, Dutch-Paris was supporting 400 people at 150 addresses in and around Brussels at the cost of 400,000 Belgian francs for that month alone and not including the costs of their information and people-smuggling operations in the other four countries involved. Not one centime of that was spent legally but it all had to be spent in cash. Donations came in Dutch guilders, Swiss francs, and Belgian francs with the occasional contribution of US dollars, Pounds sterling and Canadian dollars. There were undoubtedly some Australian dollars and other unlikely currencies involved as well.

Money did not flow freely in Hitler’s New Order. In fact, the Germans had a special currency police to make sure that it did not. And yet it did, from places that the men with the guns probably did not even imagine.

For example, when the donations of private individuals proved insufficient, the Comité tot Steun van Nederlandse Oorlogsslachtoffers in België requested funds from the Dutch government-in-exile. London sent them in the form of a microfilmed promissory note drawn on Swiss francs that was smuggled from Switzerland to Brussels in an empty fountain pen. The Comité then raised substantial loans among the Dutch community in Belgium on the strength of a microfilmed letter from an exiled government. One of the Comité‘s members, a bank director, also created a system of false accounts to draw the Swiss francs directly from Switzerland and exchange them into Belgian francs before distributing them through a series of false checks.

Dutch businessmen in their forties who lived in Belgium created exchange loops with their business associates or their relatives living in the Netherlands. They recruited a cheese dealer who had the legal right to exchange guilders for francs at the best possible rate, that of the Brussels bourse.

The bankers gave the money to the couriers, who gave it to the forgers and the passeurs and the shopkeepers who would sell potatoes or shoes without ration tickets. And they kept the Jewish families alive and they snuck the pilots and the journalists and the priests and the young men who were going to London to bring down the Third Reich out of Occupied Europe to the Allies’ bases in England. Despite the enemy’s guns and despite his fortifications.