Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
In Paris, as in Toulouse, Dutch-Paris hid its fugitives at many addresses although one address has eclipsed the others in the memory of the line. In Paris the best remembered safe house was used for only a few weeks in early 1944 and mostly by downed Allied airmen.
If they reached England again, aviators remembered that Parisian hiding place as a “dungeon with rats,” a school or a hospital. It was, in fact, an electrical room in the basement of one of the buildings of the prestigious Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS) near the Sorbonne. Although students and faculty at the ENS belonged to the Resistance, the institution itself had no connections to Dutch-Paris. That particularly building played a role in Dutch-Paris because of its concierge and its neighbor.
The building sits next door to a monastery. One of the brothers there was a Dutchman who did a lot of the shopping and errands for his congregation. He was well known and liked in the neighborhood, especially by the children, who appreciated his jokes. This Dutch brother started helping Dutch refugees almost as soon as the war started. From helping refugees he moved on to helping fugitives, which included a number of Engelandvaarders. In the course of that illegal work, he met a Dutch diplomat who played an important role in Dutch-Paris.
In early 1944, when Dutch-Paris started gathering Allied aviators in Paris before taking them south towards Spain, the diplomat and a Dutch priest came up with the idea of hiding them in the university building next to the brother’s monastery. It was empty most of the time and free of the usual surveillance that the police lavished on hotels. It was also a lot cheaper than a black market hotel. The brother knew the concierge well enough to persuade him to risk hiding airmen in the building.
The concierge and his family put some cots and blankets in it for their guests. Members of Dutch-Paris came by to visit the airmen and bring them cigarettes. The Dutch brother took them their food, some of which was cooked by the concierge’s wife.
This arrangement, however, lasted only a few weeks before a well-planned series of arrests of Dutch-Paris agents led the German police right to the ENS’s basement. Luckily, they did not find the hiding place that morning. By the time they returned in the afternoon, the aviators were gone. The concierge’s teenage daughter convinced them that the cots and blankets were for a civilian air raid shelter. So no one was caught in that hiding place. But the concierge and his wife, the Dutch brother and most of the other people who knew that address were taken away to torture chambers and prisons. Needless to say, Dutch-Paris did not use that safe house again.