Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
Almost 70 years ago, on 5 February 1945, Russian soldiers liberated John Weidner’s younger sister Gabrielle from a sub-camp of the notorious women’s concentration camp of Ravensbrück.
On that day, Gabrielle was in what passed as the infirmary, although there was no medicine, no heat, barely any blankets. The only thing that made it an infirmary was that all the prisoners crammed into the building were deathly ill. German guards had already marched the healthier prisoners away toward the west in shoeless, coatless journeys that few would survive. Some of the stronger women in the infirmary crept out to find food despite their well founded fears that the remaining German guards would shoot them on sight.
The prisoners woke up on 5 February to see Russians outside the windows. The Russians did the best they could for the women by making them warm and feeding them. The fighting moved passed them. Gabrielle and some of the other women held a prayer service of thanksgiving. Gabrielle died ten days after her liberation on 15 February 1945 from whatever disease she could no longer fight off after months of malnourishment, exposure and slave labor. Her companions buried her in a marked grave, a dignity that had been denied to prisoners by the Third Reich.
Gabrielle had been arrested at church in Paris on 26 February 1944. Although she worked in Dutch-Paris as a postbox, she was arrested as a hostage. She might have been released if her brother had turned himself in. But, of course, he could not. John Weidner knew more than anyone about Dutch-Paris. To turn himself in would have been to betray the hundreds of members of Dutch-Paris who had not been arrested and the hundreds more Jewish men, women and children in hiding who depended on them.
It took years for the Weidner family to find out what happened to Gabrielle after she was deported from France to Germany in August 1944. It was only because John Weidner placed an ad in French newspapers asking for information that he found a French woman who had been with her at her death. Many years later, he traveled to Konigsberg-sur-Oder, East Prussia, but there was nothing left of the concentration camp on the windswept plain to mark the slave labor and suffering of his sister or any of the other women held prisoner there.