Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
In the last post I mentioned that the Armée Secrète (Secret Army) around St-Gaudens, France, policed passages over the Pyrenees in their region. This is how they did it.
In March 1943 it came to the attention of the captain of the local AS that the number of fugitives trying to walk to Spain was increasing and that some of them were being scandalously exploited. Passeurs were charging Jews 20,000 to 50,000 francs per person. They charged young French men intending to join de Gaulle’s Free French army in North Africa 4-6,000 francs per person in convoys formed by guides. Some of the guides abandoned their clients in the mountain wilderness. Some even robbed their Jewish clients and delivered them to the Germans.
The AS took the matter in hand by creating their own network of passeurs and enforcing set rates on others. Furthermore, any free lance passeurs in the region would have been well aware that they would have to answer to the AS for any robberies or fatalities in the mountains.
The AS recruited forest rangers (gardes forestières), road workers (cantonniers) and shepherds into an intelligence network that would watch the movements of the Germans guarding the border. Station masters in the foothills received evaders and sheltered them until it was time to assemble the convoys. Men who lived high in the mountains served as guides. Most of them worked as volunteers, paid only to reimburse the costs of feeding and perhaps clothing the clients.
The AS did, however, also need to engage professional passeurs, which meant men who intended to earn a living from the job during the war. The AS set a wage scheme for such professionals that reflected the route they had decided to use. That route was divided into four sections. Each client was to pay 1,300 francs and bring enough food for five days. Each guide received a minimum of 10,000 francs for the section of the journey he led. If a convoy had more than 31 persons, the surplus money was to be divided between the four guides.
A small number of evaders who did not have the physical strength to walk the mountains or who were of particular importance could travel by train almost to the border and be in Spain within four hours of reaching the final station. This route was available only three times a month, for a maximum of nine passengers and cost considerably more than walking.
On its busiest week 128 people in two convoys crossed the Pyrenees along this route. Between May 1943 and the liberation in August 1944, approximately 2,000 people escaped to Spain over this AS route. They did so at the cost of the lives and imprisonment of many of the local resisters involved in this line.
Dutch-Paris and its evaders benefited from this organization in many ways. The fact that the local AS took an interest in passages and the prices paid for them kept them safer for everyone in the area. Furthermore, some of the passeurs that Dutch-Paris paid used some of this infra-structure of station masters and mountain spies to safeguard Dutch-Paris convoys. When there was any trouble, those guides called on armed escorts from the AS. Unlike other convoys, none of those lost anyone in the Pyrenees.