Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
There was a young man we’ll call Ed (born 1923) who was flat out broke in 1942 and staying with a distant cousin of his mother’s who ran a restaurant in a small mountain town between Annecy and the Swiss border in Haute-Savoie (France). His hostess introduced him to a man in the hopes that he’d be able to earn some money. The man was John Henry Weidner; it didn’t work out quite the way she’d been expecting.
Weidner was looking for someone to join the cause, and join it Ed did. From May to November 1943, Ed passed people over the Swiss border for Dutch-Paris. There were difficulties though because a lot of these people were traveling with children and their own parents. They had luggage. They weren’t up to the rigors of climbing down a mountainside in the dark.
So Ed built up a team. He would take the families from Annecy to the Café des Lilas in a small village along the border, where they could rest until dark. Then he and an assistant would take them to the border. The assistant would go through the woods first, carrying the luggage and acting as a look-out. About 50 feet behind would come the travelers, often city folk wearing inadequate shoes. When they got to the barbed wire, Ed and his assistant would hold the strands apart so the refugees could climb through and then they’d pass them the children and the luggage.
In November 1943, however, Ed was called up for forced labor service in Germany (STO). Obviously, he didn’t report for duty, but he couldn’t stay near the border anymore either because he was now wanted for evading the labor draft. So he went to Annecy, where he lived with a family who owned a restaurant. Weidner found him a new role: travelling literally throughout southern France from Nice to the Midi to Lyon and everywhere in between to pick up families and individuals who needed to get to Switzerland. Dutch-Paris paid for the necessary train tickets and black market meals.
Ed was able to do this because he looked much younger than he was and because Weidner got him “true false” identity papers. These were made by resisters who worked in prefectures or town halls so that the only false things about them were the names and birthdates. Ed got himself a wooden suitcase to sit on during the very crowded train rides that took longer than they should have because of all the sabotage. He kept the important papers that Weidner gave him in an iron box in a heap of coal under the staircase in the restaurant.
When the Germans started arresting Dutch-Paris people in the region in March 1944, Ed joined the local maquis and fought with them until the liberation later that summer. He was undoubtedly still broke, but it wasn’t because he hadn’t been working.