Although it would most probably be a serious misfortune to get involved with a corrupt police agent or civil servant today, it could have been a saving stroke of good luck during the second world war. On occasion, the corruption could be leveraged into escape.

For instance, there was a young teacher who lived in Hilvarenbeek on the Dutch/Belgian border who spent most of the war guiding desperate Jews from Amsterdam to Brussels. We’ll call him Mr Vos. In a 1994 interview, Vos said that there was only one time he was truly afraid.  He had just crossed the Dutch border when a German rose up behind him and called him back. The German didn’t accept his long story about a sick Belgian grandmother and told him to “mitkommen” (come with him) to the command post.

The soldier didn’t quite look like a “true German” (echt Duits) to Vos, so he made him an offer of “money for some schnapps”. After some negotiating and a lot of buttering-up, it worked. Vos handed over the 60 guilders he was carrying from Brussels for an illegal group in the Netherlands and walked away with a warning.

Then there’s the case of a young Dutchman who was studying at the university in Leuven in Belgium.  He also escorted people over the border to Belgium and served as the contact person between a group in Maastricht and Dutch-Paris in Brussels.  In addition, it seems, he was in charge of bribing the German judge in Maastricht to get resisters out of German custody. Apparently the price was ten kilos of coffee, the real stuff, which wasn’t easy to come by. It was a high price, but not impossible. The judge got his coffee.

Of course coffee might not be the right bribe. I have a friend whose Dutch Jewish family made their own way out of Nazi-occupied Europe in 1941 before the escape lines had been organized. My friend once asked his father how he had managed it. His father’s laconic reply: “I bribed my way across Europe with a bag of gold, a bag of diamonds and a blond baby [i.e. my friend].”

Of course there are other stories of bribes offending the official and getting the briber into more trouble. You would have had to know when to offer the diamonds and when to wield the baby. You would have had to have the good luck to run into someone who could be persuaded in the first place.