Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
It’s easy enough to imagine the agonizing dilemma of a Jewish family or a resister who needed to find a passeur to Spain or Switzerland. Obviously, their first choice would be to go with a resistance line like Dutch-Paris, if only they could find one. Failing that, they would have to pay a passeur and hope that they had entrusted themselves to an honest businessman rather than a criminal who intended to hand them over to the Germans or abandon them on a glacier.
But what we don’t often consider is the situation of a prospective passeur. Imagine that you know a good way into Switzerland or Spain and would really like to defy the Germans by helping their enemies escape. It’s possible that if you simply stay put fugitives will find you and ask for help. But maybe not. In that case, there are two problems.
The first problem is security. You could go to a café near the big train station and see if anyone needs help. But what if the people claiming to need help are really German agents provocateurs? You need a safer way to find the people who need to get across the border.
The second problem is money. You don’t want to take advantage of people in need, but you do need to earn a living. You cannot hold down a job if you keep disappearing for two or three days to escort fugitives through the mountains. Of course those disappearances are dangerous in themselves because the wrong person might notice and wonder where you went.
What you really need is to link up with a resistance escape line that will bring you fugitives who are not undercover agents and have all the necessary false documents, shoes and food for a difficult trek. That, of course, is hard to do. This is how one man did it. We’ll call him Ferdinand, a barber who lived in the medieval mountain town of Foix in the Ariège, where the Pyrenees scrape the sky.
Around October 1943 Ferdinand took a British agent calling himself “Paul” from Foix to Spain. Unfortunately Ferdinand did not explain how he encountered this Brit. Did he come into the barber shop for a trim? Had he spent a prewar summer holiday on Ferdinand’s uncle’s farm? However he met him, this Paul told Ferdinand how to contact the curé [priest] of Ruffec, quite a ways north of the Pyrenees. Ferdinand went there and asked for a white wine at a particular café, saying, “le vin blanc est roi” [white wine is king]. The bartender gave him a rendez-vous with the priest. And that led to Ferdinand taking four or five convoys of American aviators from Foix to Spain via Andorra. He hired local men as guides through the actual mountains, paying them each 1,000 French francs per aviator when they reached Andorra. That’s not as much as it might sound given the price of food and shoes at the time and the very real danger of being caught with an American aviator.
Ferdinand also took some Engelandvaarders to Spain for Dutch-Paris before he was himself arrested and deported to the concentration camps. As dangerous as it was for fugitives to cross borders illegally, it was more dangerous for the passeurs. They had to go back into occupied territory.