Now that we’ve got the Eurozone and you don’t even have to exchange money let alone show your passport when moving from one western European country to another, it’s easy to forget that the German Occupation didn’t introduce fortified borders in Europe. Certainly they created a few new ones such as the Demarcation Line in France, but for the most part they intensified the security along already existing borders by adding their own douaniers [customs agents] and troops to the local border authorities.

And if, for centuries, there had been guards and customs agents protecting those frontiers, there had also been people who had found ways to get past those guards and, especially, those customs agents.

There were, for instance, smugglers. Indeed whole families lived off the proceeds of smuggling for generations. Shortages meant that many amateurs joined the professional smugglers during the Second World War. Most, of course, were simply trying to feed their own families. But there were also men who had had to go underground and turned to smuggling as a way to support themselves and their families. Both sorts of smugglers tended to be “politically reliable”, meaning against the Occupation authorities.

There was also a wholly legitimate and legal category of individuals who crossed the border without the usual formalities: farmers who lived on the border and owned fields on both sides of it. The local border authorities knew these people on sight and really didn’t care if they strayed beyond their fields to attend services or have a beer in the “other” country.

The usefulness of both categories of experienced border-crossers didn’t escape resisters or fugitives. If smugglers could carry salt or cigarettes over the frontier without getting caught, then they could show people how to get over the frontier without being caught. Farmers who regularly crossed the border to tend their crops or go to church made ideal couriers to take messages, documents, money or mail to and fro.

So the Germans intensified the security along European frontiers; they made it more difficult and more dangerous to cross from one country to its neighbor. But they didn’t stop either the legal or illegal traffic across international borders. They made crossing borders more difficult and more dangerous, but they also made people more desperate and determined to do it.

In fact, there was probably far more illegal traffic across borders during the Occupation under the noses of the German douaniers and Feldgendarmerie [military police] than there had been before the war under the far more easy-going local border authorities.