Say it’s 1943 and you’ve had enough of the Occupier and his brutal ways. You know there’s a Resistance because you’ve read the illegal press and you’ve heard the rumors. You want to join, but how? It’s not like you can walk down to the local recruiting office or look them up in the phone book to make an appointment.

How did you join before the Allies landed in Normandy and the Resistance came out into the open?

It seems to me that you would need two things: character and opportunity. Resistance in any form, from listening to the BBC to blowing up trains, was dangerous for you, your family, your colleagues and possibly your entire neighborhood. Danger could come from all sides. You might make a mistake or a neighbor, whom the Dutch would call praatzieke (chatter-sick), might gossip. Which might lead to the Gestapo or their none too pleasant collaborators getting their hands on one of your colleagues. No one expected everyone to hold out under torture, but they did hope they’d keep silent for at least 24 hours, long enough for the others to take cover.

And so you needed a certain character to risk Resistance. I suspect that at heart it boiled down to a matter of tolerance. The more abuse were you willing to tolerate as long as you and yours were left alone, the less likely you would be to join the Resistance.

But you would also need an opportunity provided by someone you knew or something you had. Successful resisters didn’t trust strangers. They trusted people they knew from their family, neighborhood, school, work, church or leisure activities. They invited their cousins or university roommates or business partners to join by asking for help.

If they took a chance on a stranger, it was because that stranger had something they needed. Bureaucrats could help falsify documents. Landladies could provide hiding places. Shopkeepers could sell food without ration tickets. Police officers could look the other way. Bankers could exchange money off the books. Doctors could provide treatment without reporting it.

To some degree, resisters who survived didn’t trust strangers who asked for help either. After all, that stranger could be an agent provocateur. In the case of downed aviators, London gave escape lines questions that only authentic Allied aircrew could answer. Some of the military escape lines even radioed the aircrew’s serial numbers in to London to verify that the men were who they said they were. If they failed the test, they shot them.

The combination of character and opportunity were different for every man and woman who joined the Resistance before the Normandy Landings. In the case of the Dutch-Paris Line most, but by no means all, of the members and the people they helped were Dutch and spoke a language that few outsiders learn. But the stories of how they joined vary widely. I’ll tell you some of them in future posts.