During the war, the Occupation authorities rearranged the social and political units of western Europe into individual boxes then threw up barbed wire barricades and a wall of regulations and police authorities to keep people and information from going from one box to another. It wasn’t impossible to get out of, say, the Netherlands and into, say, Belgium. But it wasn’t easy and it was even harder to get news to or from your family in another of the boxes. The situation gave rise to resistance networks like Dutch-Paris. It also presented opportunities to criminals.

Take the case of a certain young Dutchman we’ll call V who made a wartime career for himself of preying on the goodwill and/or fears of other Dutch men and women in France.  He appears to have been collecting money from his countrymen and from the Gestapo, who paid a bounty for resisters.  Here’s just one of his exploits.

At the end of 1943, V and a friend were trying their luck on the Riviera by posing as Dutch workers who needed money to go to Spain to join the Allied armies. They gathered quite a number of “loans.” But while they were talking to a Dutch consul, his colleague called the Dutch consul in the next town, who warned him that V was working with the German police. They got him out of the office as soon as they could.

But V and his friend used their Gestapo travel passes to go to the Netherlands. There they went to visit the two men’s sisters, with special greetings from their brothers in France. Being good talkers, the young men got a total of 200 guilders out of the respectable, middle-aged ladies. V. and his friends needn’t have had any fears about the ladies calling their brothers to verify the story. A phone call to southern France was out of the question; a letter would have taken weeks.

Unfortunately, one of the ladies told V all about how her son was in a concentration camp in Germany. A little while later a young man showed up at the lady’s door, claiming to have been released from that very same concentration camp. He also claimed to be able to get money to her son, which story got him another 200 guilders. V was waiting at the corner of the street, where he got his share of the money that was “swindled by playing on the feelings of a mother in distress,” as the prisoner’s uncle put it.

In November 1944, after the liberation of France, the uncle travelled from Monte Carlo to Paris, where he discovered that V was living at a Dutch hostel. He immediately made a complaint against V with the French police for fraud. The French arrested V, but released him the next day on an administrative technicality.

The Dutch Security Services based in Paris, however, arrested V themselves, gathered up a fat dossier of complaints against him, and sent him under guard to the Netherlands to stand trial. The freer movement of people and information after the liberation put an end to the extortion and swindling that V had been engaged in almost without hindrance for the previous two or three years.