21st Jan

Weather Delays in the Pyrenees

Dutch-Paris did occasionally have to suspend its escapes into Switzerland or Spain due to severe weather in the mountains that made travel impossible. It had to be absolutely impossible, though, because delaying escapes meant having to hide and feed the evaders somewhere in occupied territory.

As long as there was a chance of getting through, the evaders made the attempt. They did so even though few of them had what we would consider to be adequate winter gear. Even if it was possible to get decent mountain boots (which was by no means certain), it was dangerous to wear them Read the rest of this entry »

7th Jan

As I’m writing the snow is falling down faster than we can keep the walkways shoveled, and the schools have been closed for the next three days due to dangerously cold temperatures. The last winters of the war and the first winters of the peace were also remarkably cold. But unless you stick to straightforward facts like the temperature, our cold now is nothing like the wartime cold.

My neighbors have snug houses with central heating and electric lighting. Our closets are full of parkas, boots, hats and mittens. Our cupboards are full of food. Few people in western Europe could have said the same in the mid-1940’s.

Most houses were heated with coal, which was rationed. Firewood, and even trees, were scarce in cities. Many people had to shut off whole rooms of their homes and huddle together in the one room that they had a hope of heating. In many places electricity was also rationed. It came on and off, sometimes on a rotating schedule of one or two hours per day and sometime Read the rest of this entry »

23rd Dec

A number of readers have asked me about their relatives who were involved in Dutch escape lines during the war. So in this season when we think about our families, I offer to everyone the advice I’ve given to them.

First, please remember that I do not use anyone’s true name in this blog except John Henry Weidner’s. Every other name is a pseudonym (schuilnaam, nom de guerre). The stories in this blog are all true, but you cannot know that any one story is about your relative.

Second, it’s not easy to find traces of resisters in the archives. The good news is that 10 years ago it was well nigh impossible. Now you at least have a chance because of changes in archival laws and the establishment of new archives.

Third, the records are uneven, to say the least. There simply are no records for some people. This might be because they died during the war or because they refused to ever fill out any forms after the war. Ironically, there are almost no files on JH Weidner because he was so well known as a famous resister in 1944-1946. Some files have one sheet of paper with, say, a name and birth date. Other files have years’ of correspondence and gendarmerie reports. I once spent months getting permission to see a particular file, flew to France, took a train, rented a car, found an archive in the middle of nowhere and only then discovered Read the rest of this entry »

9th Dec

Although the German army did its best to lock down Occupied Europe and control the movements of the population, there was a surprising amount of room for maneuver for those with the character to find it. Take, for instance, the story of a young Dutchman we’ll call Bob.

When the Germans started rounding up Jews like himself in June 1942, the eighteen-year-old Bob left the Netherlands with a friend. The two of them made their own way across the border into Belgium, across Belgium and into France, across the Demarcation Line and to Lyon. There they looked for help at the Dutch consulate, and met John Henry Weidner. The consulate helped them with identification documents, ration coupons and the like while they waited for three more friends,.

The three friends, a couple and a bachelor who were almost old enough to be the young men’s parents, arrived in Lyon within a couple of weeks. They all negotiated clandestine passage to Switzerland with a Read the rest of this entry »

25th Nov

A Long Trip to Switzerland

Although the German army did its best to lock down Occupied Europe and control the movements of the population, there was a surprising amount of room for maneuver for those with the character to find it. Take, for instance, the story of a young Dutchman we’ll call Bob.

When the Germans started rounding up Jews like himself in June 1942, the eighteen-year-old Bob left the Netherlands with a friend. The two of them made their own way across the border into Belgium, across Belgium and into France, across the Demarcation Line and to Lyon. There the Dutch consulate helped them with identification documents, ration coupons and the like while they waited for three more friends.

When the three friends, who were almost old enough to be their parents, arrived, they all negotiated clandestine passage to Switzerland with a professional passeur. The man charged an outrageous sum, but Read the rest of this entry »

11th Nov

It’s easy enough to imagine the agonizing dilemma of a Jewish family or a resister who needed to find a passeur to Spain or Switzerland. Obviously, their first choice would be to go with a resistance line like Dutch-Paris, if only they could find one. Failing that, they would have to pay a passeur and hope that they had entrusted themselves to an honest businessman rather than a criminal who intended to hand them over to the Germans or abandon them on a glacier.

But what we don’t often consider is the situation of a prospective passeur. Imagine that you know a good way into Switzerland or Spain and would really like to defy the Germans by helping their enemies escape. It’s possible that if you simply stay put fugitives will find you and ask for help. But maybe not. In that case, there are two problems.

The first problem is security. You could go to a café near the big train station and see if anyone needs help. But what if the people claiming to need help are really German agents provocateurs? Read the rest of this entry »

28th Oct

Three Categories of Passeurs

In the previous post I shared the reflections of Frits, a Dutch university student who smuggled Jews and Engelandvaarders over the border from the Netherlands into Belgium for Dutch-Paris. As far as passeurs go, Frits was unusual. Generally speaking, you can divide up passeurs into three classes: volunteers, professionals and criminals.

Frits was a volunteer who accepted no payment for helping the persecuted to cross a border from one country to another. He was unusual among volunteers in that he did not live on the border and had not grown up on the border. On the Swiss border it was possible for a passeur to literally live on the border, with the front door in France and the garden gate in Switzerland. But most volunteer passeurs lived close to the border and possibly had perfectly legal passes to cross it. Perhaps they lived in Belgium but worked in the Dutch city of Maastricht, or they lived in France but owned fields in Switzerland or went to university in Geneva. Such men and women were unquestionably part of the Resistance.

The second class of passeurs were the professionals: men (mostly) who charged clients for showing them the way over a border. Some of these men made their living by smuggling and simply changed Read the rest of this entry »

14th Oct

Advice to Amateur Passeurs

A small handful of the men and women who risked their lives in their early 20’s as part of Dutch-Paris returned to the crusade to preserve humanitarian values in their retirement. Fortunately, Europe was not once again under occupation. But they felt that young people did not understand what had happened in World War II and, more importantly, that it could happen again. So they gave interviews to oral historians about their roles in the Resistance or they gave lectures about it, mostly to student groups.

One of them, a Dutchman whom we’ll call Frits, acted as a passeur. He smuggled many people, including Jews and Engelandvaarders (young men wanting to join the Allied military) over the border from the Netherlands to Belgium and often all the way to Brussels. He also carried documents back into the Netherlands and sometimes brought the luggage of people who could not carry their own suitcases as they sprinted through the border zone.

Fritz stressed that he and his colleagues were rank amateurs. They were university students who didn’t like what was going on and were willing to do something about it. He and his friends thought about carrying guns but Read the rest of this entry »

1st Oct

Although Allied governments certainly tried to organize and control “The Resistance”, especially the armed Resistance, it was a fundamentally grass-roots movement. You became a resister by taking action where you thought necessary and putting yourself at risk. That holds true for people who started resistance work because a friend or acquaintance asked them for help. As a result “The Resistance” included large scale and even international organizations such as Dutch-Paris as well as individuals working entirely on their own. The French government recognized this by granting pensions and honors to a whole category of “non-affiliated resisters” whose actions outside of any known network could be documented and verified.

In my research I have come across at least two women who spent years helping fugitives in France without belonging to any Resistance group. Once of these was a Mme K who ran a family boarding house in Paris. Her last name and her story suggest that she or her husband may have had family ties to Belgium.

Starting in 1940 a priest from an international order which had a mother house on the rue des Sèvres in Paris sent young men to Read the rest of this entry »

17th Sep

The last post showed photos of some of the places that Dutch-Paris used in Lyon, France. Dutch-Paris was hardly the only Resistance group operating in Lyon; they weren’t even the only Dutch resisters in the city. But the circle of people willing to risk themselves in the humanitarian resistance was small enough that the Dutch engaged in rescuing Jews and other persecuted people in Lyon knew about each other and cooperated even if they did not all belong to the same group.

Humanitarian efforts among the Dutch in Lyon centered on the Dutch consulate there, which was a natural destination for fugitives who had made their own way into Vichy France. Weidner met many of the people whom Dutch-Paris escorted to Switzerland through the consulate. But Weidner was not the only Dutch expatriate living in the Lyonnais who Read the rest of this entry »

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