A word of caution to family historians and student researchers who are looking for resisters in the archives (see my posts of 23 December 2013, 18 February 2014 and 4 March 2014). Not all the documents in the archives are the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

In the first place, very few individuals involved in the Resistance knew the whole truth. People’s lives depended on everyone involved knowing as little as possible. You couldn’t give information under torture if you didn’t have it to begin with.

In the second place, every document was written for a purpose but that purpose was very rarely to solicit the whole unvarnished story. The reports written for the American intelligence unit MIS-X that looked for helpers after the Liberation, for example, deal only with the help given to Allied aviators. So you may find a thorough report on how a family helped one American who bailed out over France but it won’t say a thing about the dozens of Jews they also helped because the people asking the questions didn’t ask about Jews.

In the third place, not all resisters wanted to write the whole truth. Survivors of the concentration camps were sometimes too exhausted to write so much. Sometimes their mental equilibrium depended on them not reliving the whole story. Other resisters exercised a charming modesty that made them write down every single thing that everyone they knew did but not much at all about themselves. Some resisters refused to write anything at all because they thought they should have done more and they wanted to be done with the war.

So much for the whole truth. How about nothing but the truth? You have a better chance here because resisters tended to be people of strong moral character, but you still can’t take it for granted.

There were individuals of low moral character who had not been in the Resistance, or only joined at the last minute when it was clear who was going to win the war, who put considerable effort into “whitewashing” themselves by having themselves declared to be resisters. There was a sorry cabal of Dutchmen in Paris during the war who gave very impressive accounts of all their resistance work to the Americans in the summer of 1944. The MIS-X officers, however, understood the stakes and asked known resisters such as John Weidner to verify all such claims. Captain Weidner, who happened to be running the Netherlands Security Service in Paris at the time, put the record straight. These guys had nothing to do with Dutch-Paris even though one had claimed to be running it. They were, in fact, economic collaborators. (Such cases tend to get very murky because these guys played both sides of the fence, but that’s a story for another time).

As for the genuine resisters, they may have felt justified in bending the facts to serve the deeper truth. I’ll give you one extreme example. There was a Dutch woman who worked on an escape line out of the Netherlands with her husband. The couple fled to Paris when the rest of their group was arrested. The Gestapo caught them both. Only the woman returned from the concentration camps. Her health was broken. Her husband was dead. There was no one left alive to testify to the authorities that she had been in the Resistance. John Weidner put her on the official roll of Dutch-Paris. She wasn’t in Dutch-Paris although Weidner had reason to think that her group had been associated with his. But Weidner wasn’t one to let a widow go without adequate medical care because her husband and colleagues had died in the concentration camps. He knew she had been a resister. If the only way to get her the medical care, small pension and other tokens granted to resisters after the war was to fudge a bureaucratic form, then he was willing to fudge that form.

So take the testimonies in the archives with a grain of salt. The more documents you find, the better chance you have of getting to the facts.