One of the best things about this project so far is the community of people who are actively interested in escape lines.  For instance, the Escape Line Memorial Society (ELMS; based in the UK raises funds to assist helpers who are now in financial need.   They also run freedom treks across western Europe in honor and memory of the escape and evasion lines. 

There is also an informal community of people who are researching escape lines.  Serendipity has brought me into contact with Bruce Bolinger of California, who is researching the evasion of a young American airman named Tom Applewhite.   [If you have information about that, I’ll happily forward it to Bruce].  His researches have recently taken him to Washington, DC, where he’s been ferreting about in the National Records and Archives Administration (NARA).  In particular, he’s been looking for the “helper files” of the people who facilitated Applewhite’s escape.  He very generously sent me a stack of photocopies of files marked Dutch-Paris.

 The helper files are the kind of document that puts a little skip in an historian’s step because they’re detailed and come from a reliable source.  And I confess that I’m pleased to read something in English.  Both the British and the Americans started compiling them as soon as they liberated an area in order to reward and assist those individuals who had helped Allied servicemen, in effect aviators, to evade and escape the enemy.  Reward might come in the form of a certificate of recognition signed by General Eisenhower, if not the Congressional Medal of Freedom.  Assistance could well mean food, money or a job.  But SHAEF wasn’t just going to take someone’s word for it before they started handing out cash or tins of corned beef hash.

 Nope, the Americans and the British investigated every claim themselves as well as searching out people to thank.  They had actually been working on this before D-Day by debriefing the aviators who made it back to England.  Their mission then was to figure out how the lines worked and who worked on them so they could tell their air crews what to do if they got shot down. 

 The American detachment, called MIS-X, had offices in Paris, Belgium, Wasenaar (near The Hague) and elsewhere.  They shared information with their British counterparts and even had a bit of a competion going as to who could do more for the helpers.

 Judging from the very few MIS-X files I’ve seen, their modus operandiwas to ask someone they knew had been an authentic helper for the names of his or her colleagues.  Then they’d invite those people to come into the office and give a statement.  Some came, some didn’t.  They put all those statements together in the “helper files” and made recommendations for awards and assistance.  They clearly respected John Weidner as a recognized Resistance chief and authority on the subject.

Although the files are obviously skewed towards assistance to Allied airmen, they are wonderfully detailed about that particular activity.  Given that Dutch-Paris rescued 112 named airmen, and perhaps 80 more whose names were lost in a Gestapo raid, this is very useful information.  I’ll discuss one of the reports in detail in my next blog.

 In the meantime, I’ll just note that all the files I’ve seen so far have been declassified in the last 10 years.  I have to wonder why the reports of people who were considered to deserve the thanks of the American people were held secret so long.  Unless it’s because the American authors also included  their speculations about who betrayed the Line to the Germans?