Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
It’s not hard to come up with a long list of hazards involved in rescuing fugitives from the Nazis. The Germans themselves and their collaborators in all their many manifestations take the top of the list, followed by the usual problems of living in a warzone, such as bombardments. Sometimes, however, the fugitives’ fear put their rescuers at risk.
The letter below doesn’t need much comment, except to point out that what the author doesn’t say is that every trip by the “social worker,” meaning a Dutch-Paris courier, not only wasted her time and energy, but unnecessarily exposed her to the usual dangers of travel and to being captured with false documents.
John Henry Weidner wrote the letter under one of his many pseudonyms on 18 May 1943 to a friend of his who was also a friend of the P’s on 18 May 1943. (I translated it from the French.)
“For the second time I’ve sent someone to get the P. family. A week ago a social worker left with an order to travel from Lacaune to Chambèry [France] signed by the minister of the interior [made out for the P’s, probably forged]. But they didn’t want to leave, saying that they didn’t have French identity cards. … In Savoie, where Chambèry is, there’s no danger for Jews because they are under Italian protection. I am really annoyed (ennuyé) that they are showing so little courage because obviously there is always some risk when making a journey but you have to know if you want to take that risk or submit to the bad treatment that they claim they are receiving [in Lacaune]. A false ID card will not help at all to leave Lacaune because the gendarmes know everyone there so it would be necessary to leave without them seeing no matter what. And you do not need ID cards en route because of the travel order. …. Please send them a message to have a little courage for this operation. Next time the social worker will take 2 ID cards to the P’s. After you tell me you’ve written to them to have a little courage, I’ll try again and hope that this time it will succeed. As you see, I’m taking care of it and keeping my promise, but I can’t force them. As for me going there personally, there’s no point because they would have to travel with the social worker no matter what. Besides, there are so many unfortunates to help (many hundreds) that I don’t have the time to even take care of my own business.”
It’s not clear whether the mutual friend sent a persuasive enough letter, because the last thing in the P family’s archival file is a handwritten note from Mme P dated Lacaune, 11 April 1943, thanking Weidner for the money and asking for help for her son and daughter-in-law in Montagnes. If they never worked up the courage to leave Lacaune under false papers, they probably left under armed guard, heading for Auschwitz.