Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
Some people are just plain helpful. Take the case of a young Dutch woman we’ll call Catherine [born 1919]. Because she was working for the Dutch Chamber of Commerce in Paris when the war started, she naturally became involved in the effort to help Dutch refugees in 1940. But, as she later said, she soon entered the Resistance without even realizing it by helping the Jewish refugees whom the Germans would not allow to return home to the Netherlands.
Catherine joined Dutch-Paris as an active and dedicated courier and escort after she met John Weidner in early 1943. But by that time she had already lost two jobs because of her illegal activities on behalf of Dutch refugees and Engelandvaarders. One thing kept leading to another.
In June 1942, her superior at the Dutch Chamber of Commerce asked her to help a friend of his, who wanted someone to escort his (Jewish) wife and child from the Netherlands to Paris. Catherine did so, but when she got back she found that everyone at the Chamber had been arrested. A Dutch lawyer advised her to go back to the Netherlands, which she did. While there another boss from the Chamber of Commerce (who was in hiding) introduced her to a friend of his. This friend asked her to help his (Jewish) fiancée, Jeanette, who was caught in the French internment camp of Merignac. After returning to Paris, Catherine sent the lady in question a number of packages with food and clothing and sent her many letters.
Then one day she received an S.O.S. from a hospital in Orléans. Jeanette had been badly wounded while escaping from a deportation train on its way to Germany. Despite the difficulties inherent in any train travel in 1942, Catherine made the 81 mile trip from Paris to Orléans a dozen times to visit Jeanette in the hospital. Then one night they both walked out of the hospital together, Jeanette wearing clothes smuggled in by Catherine.
Catherine took Jeanette back to a small hotel in Paris, giving her her Dutch passport because they looked very similar. That night Catherine’s concierge told her that the French police had been in her apartment and would return the next day. As she later reported, she had to “remain calm” for a few days and to undergo two interrogations at the prefecture of police.
She later heard that Jeanette had made it safely back to the Netherlands, but Catherine never got her Dutch passport back, despite Jeanette’s solemn promise to return it.
Undeterred, Catherine continued on by helping hundreds of strangers – Jews, Engelandvaarders and aviators – by finding them lodging and identity documents and escorting them to the Swiss and Spanish borders until she was arrested at her parents’ home on 5 March 1944. She fell ill enough in Fresnes prison to avoid being deported and was liberated through the intervention of the Swedish consul on 19 August 1944.