Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
To say that the political prisoners whom the Nazis deported to Germany, such as dozens of men and women who belonged to Dutch-Paris, disappeared into the maw of the concentration camps is true but not necessarily accurate. Prisoners had wildly different itineraries and were often shuttled about from one camp to another. And although all were meant to die of starvation and mistreatment, some cheated that fate by dying in an Allied bombing raid or of blood poisoning following an accident at the work site. And, fortunately, some survived.
In an incongruous nod toward civilized behavior on the part of their captors, some of the political prisoners were allowed to send letters home. This great privilege could be carried out twice a month on a short, official form. They had to be written in legible German no matter what language the prisoner spoke. I presume that the prisoner had to pay for the forms and the stamps him or herself, although I don’t know that for a fact.
I know about these letters because I’ve seen copies of a handful of them in the archives of the French and Belgian administrations in charge of locating missing persons after the war. The families had submitted them as evidence of their beloved’s last known whereabouts. Other incarcerated members of Dutch-Paris most probably also sent letters home, but either the person or incontrovertible proof of his or her death returned in the summer of 1945, so the letters never made it into an archive.
The letters I’ve seen came from three men, all of whom died in the concentration camps without benefit of an official notation of their deaths. They all cover the same “safe” topics: I’m healthy; I’m with my comrade so-and-so; I can receive letters and/or packages; kisses to everyone.
Intriguingly, none of these men sent these letters to their immediate families. One man, who had been arrested in the Haute-Savoie where he was a refugee with his wife and children, sent his letters to his mother in Lorraine. Although Haute-Savoie and Lorraine are both in France, it was impossible for the mother to communicate with her daughter-in-law for at least five months after her son was deported.
Another man sent letters using the alias under which he’d been arrested to his cousin’s neighbor in Switzerland rather than to his wife and baby in Belgium. Another man used his own name but sent his letters to the mayor of a Swiss village rather than to his wife and children in Haute-Savoie. He probably did that to protect his family, without knowing that his wife had been arrested three weeks after his own capture and the little girls taken in by friends.
All of which tells us that these men did not consider their resistance to be over just because they had been captured. They were still protecting their families, and their colleagues as they struggled to survive.