23rd Jul

In the previous post I talked about how cigarettes were used to buy things on the black market and bribes during the war. Although it looks like some Dutch-Paris couriers may have used cigarettes for petty bribery, for the most part Dutch-Paris relied on cash for both the black market and bribes.

Dutch-Paris, of course, could not remain aloof from the black market in food because they had to feed fugitives who did not legitimately figure in the rationing scheme. In Paris they had connections to certain Dutch farmers who had moved to France before the war. These men sold them food, either to feed people hiding in Paris or to make up food bundles to take on clandestine trips over the Pyrenees to neutral Spain. Being patriotic, the Dutch farmers did not charge the full black market prices for this food. For the most part, however, Dutch-Paris paid huge sums to restaurants selling black market meals.

Similarly with bribes, Dutch-Paris tended to use cash whenever possible. For instance, in April 1944 a new courier crawled under the barbed wire from Switzerland to France with Jean Weidner. The new guy forgot to look both ways before stepping onto the road and walked right into Read the rest of this entry »

9th Jul

The Cost of Cigarettes

One of the items to show up on the expense reports of two of the Dutch-Paris couriers is “cigarettes.” For example, on 30 June 1944 a couriers spent 1,000 French francs on ten packets of cigarettes. On first glance, it’s hardly surprising that anyone smoked during the Second World War, let alone men traveling through occupied territory with false documents and carrying microfilms full of military intelligence.

But they did not submit the costs of their daily newspaper or the shoe shines that were essential to their disguises as legitimate businessmen. So why would the Dutch government-in-exile effectively accept paying for these men’s cigarettes? And why do cigarettes figure on only two of the courier’s expense reports? Furthermore, why do cigarettes only appear in late 1943/early 1944 and the summer of 1944? Did these men stop smoking for a while as they patched up the network after many of their colleagues had been arrested over the course of several weeks? It seems unlikely.

There must be something more to these cigarettes. One possible explanation is that they bought the cigarettes for the men they were escorting. So the cigarettes from January 1944 were smoked not by the resisters but by Allied aviators being smuggled across western Europe by the resisters. But they did not buy cigarettes during every convoy of airmen, let alone every convoy of Engelandvaarders.

Another avenue of explanation lies in the fact that Europeans used cigarettes like currency during the war, and especially at its end. The price of cigarettes fluctuated over time and locale, but they were accepted everywhere, unlike currency. You could only buy things with Belgian francs in Belgium, but you could buy things with cigarettes anywhere. In fact, people lost so much confidence in the wartime currencies, that there were places where traders accepted nothing but cigarettes (although the economy never got that grim in western Europe).

This might explain why the cigarette purchases appear only intermittently. Better quality cigarettes had greater trading power but were harder to come by. Perhaps the couriers bought the good cigarettes when they had the opportunity, which was at only certain times.

If the couriers bought the cigarettes as a form of currency, then there are several ways they may have used them. They might have given them to the men they were sending over the Pyrenees as a form of pocket money for them to use after they left Dutch-Paris’s care and made their way into Spain. Or they might have given them to families in hiding to use for bartering.

Or the couriers might have used the cigarettes as a convenient form of bribery to grease the many palms that inspected their false documents, sold them train tickets or black market meals or hotel rooms, or let them out the back doors of train stations or cafés. Cigarettes could also be used as discreet thank yous for the myriad people who helped Dutch-Paris through their jobs, by providing information, shelter or rationed goods.

Say you happened to be walking along the French side of the Swiss border with some mud on your knees from crawling under the barbed wire and a gendarme asked you for your papers, what would you do? If your false documents were good, as Dutch-Paris documents were, it could go two ways. If you acted nervous, the gendarme might get suspicious and take you in for questioning. But if you remained calm, maybe lit up a cigarette and offered one to the gendarme like a copain, commented on the weather and acted like you understood that the man was only doing his duty but you regretted that he had to waste his time like this because there was nothing suspicious about you, chances were good the gendarme would let you go. The Dutch-Paris couriers were masters at cultivating such friendly encounters. They even chatted to German officers in trains about morale at home in the Third Reich.

After the war no one concerned thought that the cigarettes needed any explanation or perhaps that they were important enough to explain. I suspect that they used the cigarettes that they charged on their government expense reports to buy some thing or some one’s good will. If they smoked any cigarettes themselves, they undoubtedly paid for them with their own money.

25th Jun

The Couriers’ Expense Reports

Money was as critical for Resistance as it is for almost everything else. But for the most part resisters did not keep careful accounts of it. Most resisters did not have the time or the means or a safe way to keep accounts. After all, receipts and expense sheets could be used as incriminating evidence if the enemy captured them. Nor did most resisters have sufficient motivation to count the pennies. They were risking their lives for the greater good, not trying to turn a profit.

Dutch-Paris, however, did keep some accounts. It came naturally to the majority of its leaders who were businessmen. And after they started receiving financial support from the Dutch government-in-exile, they became accountable to the government for the expenditure of its funds. Furthermore, they had a safe place to keep some of the accounts in Switzerland. Unfortunately the accounts that were kept in France or Belgium were either burned or captured.

The accounts kept in Switzerland were mostly expense accounts submitted by the main Dutch-Paris couriers. They tell us many things. Obviously, they record prices. The price of a passeur over the Pyrenees. The price of a rucksack in Toulouse at the end of the war. How much money Dutch-Paris paid to a certain restaurant to feed fugitives. How much a train ticket between Paris and Annecy or Paris and Brussels cost.

The accounts also give us the chronological structure of the Dutch-Paris leadership. They record the date that a courier paid a passeur to take so many American airmen over the Pyrenees, and sometimes even provide the names of the aviators. From looking at his expense reports, I can tell you what city a certain courier was in for almost every day between October 1943 and September 1944. More than any other documents, they testify to that man’s dedication and almost incredible skill.

The more general overview accounts help to explain how much money Dutch-Paris distributed across France and Belgium to support Jews and others in hiding. They also help to explain how the resisters raised that money and how they exchanged Swiss francs for Belgian or French francs and transferred the cash across borders at a time of repressive currency controls.

The financial records do not explain Dutch-Paris, but they provide details not found in other documents and give them a necessary structure.

11th Jun

The Eleventh Man

Like detectives, historians try never to rely on only one witness to an event. Everyone sees things from their own perspective, and very few people ever have all the information. So we look for as many documents as possible and piece together the story as best we can. In the case of Dutch-Paris, the documents are scattered across dozens of archives, in large part because the witnesses came from many lands. Here’s an example.

When the Germans raided a Dutch-Paris safe house in Brussels in February 1944, they captured ten Allied airmen. But there had been an eleventh military fugitive in the boarding house the night before. Why wasn’t he lined up along the garden wall with the others?

The Americans thought the eleventh man was a traitor or a German agent pretending to be a Pole. They distrusted him, possibly because he went on a lot of walks. The fact that he wasn’t captured with them confirmed their suspicions. This is an entirely plausible scenario and fits into the limited information available to the Americans. German agents certainly did infiltrate escape lines, although they usually took them all the way to England rather than betraying them in Brussels. I learned about the American explanation for the arrests from the navigator of a B-17 who was there and generously shared his recollections with me via email.

In the British archives, however, I found a report filed in May 1945 by a New Zealander who flew for the RAF and described his capture after his return from a POW camp. According to him, the eleventh man was Read the rest of this entry »

28th May

A German reader, a relative of one of the Dutch-Paris station chiefs, asked me an interesting question about the last post. You may remember the story of a young Dutchman we’ll call Ad who lived in France. He started out by allowing the rain to ruin shipments of linen destined for a factory that worked for the Germans. By the end of the war he was leading a sabotage squad for the local Resistance network.

The reader asked what happened to Ad’s father while he was running about blowing up coal trains and if Ad’s family was in danger because of his activities. The answer is yes: a resister did put his or her family in danger. The Nazis practiced a policy of family responsibility and did punish fathers, mothers and siblings if they could not catch the individual they wanted. They enforced that policy much more often and more extensively in eastern Europe than in western Europe, but they did enforce it.

For example, when a Dutch-Paris man escaped arrest in the Pyrenees, German troops Read the rest of this entry »

14th May

Strategic Incompetence

Many resisters started out small. They did what they could to harass the enemy with the opportunities available to them. As the war went on, their opportunities may have increased and they may have came into contact with like-minded people. Perhaps they even crossed paths with a Resistance group.

Take the story of a young Dutchman (b. 1918) who had been living with his family in France since 1935. When the war started he was working for his father’s linen manufacturing business. He soon figured out that one of his father’s business associates, a Belgian with whom he had been friends since the First World War, was an economic collaborator. The man was helping the German war effort for profit rather than politics. So our Dutchman, whom we’ll call Ad, started sabotaging the shipments of linen to the his father’s friend’s factory.

He didn’t cover the wagons so the linen was destroyed en route to Belgium. He wrote the manifests incorrectly and weighed the linen incorrectly. And he let the wagons sit empty at the train stations, saying that there was no gas for tractors to bring linen to station. All that gave the Germans Read the rest of this entry »

30th Apr

In the last post I mentioned that the Armée Secrète (Secret Army) around St-Gaudens, France, policed passages over the Pyrenees in their region. This is how they did it.

In March 1943 it came to the attention of the captain of the local AS that the number of fugitives trying to walk to Spain was increasing and that some of them were being scandalously exploited. Passeurs were charging Jews 20,000 to 50,000 francs per person. They charged young French men intending to join de Gaulle’s Free French army in North Africa 4-6,000 francs per person in convoys formed by guides. Some of the guides abandoned their clients in the mountain wilderness. Some even robbed their Jewish clients and delivered them to the Germans.

The AS took the matter in hand by creating their own network of passeurs and enforcing set rates on others. Furthermore, any free lance passeurs in the region would have been well aware that they would have to answer to the AS for any robberies or fatalities in the mountains.

The AS recruited forest rangers (gardes forestières), road workers (cantonniers) and shepherds into an intelligence network that would watch the movements of the Germans guarding the border. Station masters in the foothills received evaders and sheltered them until it was time to assemble the convoys. Men who lived high in the mountains served as guides. Most of them worked as volunteers, paid only to reimburse the costs of feeding and perhaps clothing the clients.

The AS did, however, also need to engage professional passeurs, which meant men who intended to earn a living from the job during the war. The AS set a wage scheme for such professionals that reflected Read the rest of this entry »

16th Apr

On the night of 5 November 1943, maquisards of the Armée Secrète (Secret Army) rescued a sick companion from the hospital in St-Gaudens, France, in the foothills of the Pyrenees. They left 100 francs wrapped around a note saying “thanks for taking care of him. Don’t tell until 7:30 or 8:00am.” The director of the hospital called the gendarmes at 7:00 am. The gendarmes called the Germans. They also noted that the sick man’s fiancée had been seen eating dinner at a restaurant in town the night before but had also disappeared.

Five weeks later the captain commanding the AS arrived at the same hospital in dire need of medical care. The director of the hospital refused to take responsibility for the captain but did provide the care he needed. Somehow or other, his maquisards spirited him out of his hospital room despite the three Feldgendarmes (German military police) and five French gendarmes guarding him.

These stories aren’t about Dutch-Paris, but they tell us something about the atmosphere in which Dutch-Paris operated. Dutch-Paris sent aviators and Engelandvaarders over the Pyrenees into Spain in the region controlled by that unit of the AS. They relied on the AS to police the clandestine trade in passages and to keep a sort of order in the region.

If the AS had acted rashly, it would have brought Read the rest of this entry »

6th Apr

The Problem of Feeding Fugitives

Finding food posed a constant problem for just about everyone in Europe during the Second World War, even more so for resisters who helped fugitives. Even if the fugitive had forged or stolen ration cards, the helper could not simply stand in line at the usual store and hand over more than the usual ration cards. People would notice. Unwelcome questions would be asked. No, the helper would have to stand in the usual line for the family’s usual rations and then go to another neighborhood to stand in another line for the “guest’s” rations.

Few people, however, found the official rations to be sufficient or even reliable. Most people had to resort to one form or another of the grey market that ranged from the wholly mercenary and very expensive black market of trade between strangers to the lightest of grey markets in which friends sold food to friends for below cost. Obviously, personal connections made all the difference in the world to what appeared on the dinner table.

Dutch-Paris constantly faced this problem as they funneled hundreds of people, some of whom were young men in a hungry stage of life, through the occupied territories. In many places they had to resort to paying for black market meals at restaurants. But one member of the network in Paris had a different solution.

This was a Catholic brother who had the responsibility of feeding his monastery in Paris. We’ll call him Brother T. The brothers of this monastery, who came from different nations in Europe including Germany, often had visitors, some of whom did not arrive with legal documents or ration tickets. Before he ever got involved with Dutch-Paris, any number of Dutch men knocked on the door because they had run away from labor assignments in France or were trying to get to Spain. Brother T managed to feed them all because of the friendships he made with some Dutch families who farmed 30 km or so south of Paris.

Early in the war, Brother T. attended a monthly Dutch get together in Paris that included a Mass in Dutch followed by coffee. At the coffee he met a couple who had 16 children and a farm south of Paris with pigs, chickens, rabbits and two cows. The farmer invited the brother to visit the farm to buy food at cost. Brother T did just that, taking the freshly slaughtered meat wrapped up in tea towels under his habit on the light rail system back to Paris. He took the bloody tea towels back to the family to be washed, which could not have been easy when soap was so scarce. The children of the family loved to escort him to and from the station because he had so many jokes. Occasionally, he brought clothes for them.

The clothes caught the attention of a neighboring farmer for whom some of the K children worked. This Farmer J had been too afraid to make any illegal sales of food to Brother T before, but now began to do so. Farmer J was the brother-in-law of the son of another Dutch farmer who lived about 15km away. Brother T made friends with this Farmer B as well. Farmer B not only picked Brother T up at the station in his cart and sold him food, he agreed to hide 17 young Dutch fugitives on his farm (not all at the same time) when Brother T needed to get the young men out of Paris before sending them south to Spain.
When a horse had to be slaughtered because of an accident, Farmer B gave it to Brother T. The brother carried 350 kg of fresh and salted horsemeat back to Paris on the train 40 kg at a time in suitcases without ever being caught by the food inspectors who haunted the entrances to Paris looking for people doing exactly what he was doing. But a laborer on the farm denounced the illegal slaughter of meat to the authorities. Farmer B chose to pay 43,000 francs in fines rather than tell the inspectors that the meat had gone to feed the RAF. He knew that by this time Brother T and Dutch-Paris were feeding not just Dutchmen on the run from the labor draft but Allied aviators trying to get back to their airbases in England after crashing during bombing runs.

Brother T had two things in his favor when searching for food. First, his status as a religious inclined devout people to help him. It was extremely difficult for Dutch men and women raised in the Catholic milieu of the time to say no to a nun, a priest or a brother. Second, Brother T had a charming personality that repaid the farmers in other ways. He arranged a marriage with a Dutch nurse for Farmer B’s son. He told and brought warm sweaters for the children (probably second hand, but everyone wore second hand at the time). And he brought joy to them with his jokes, so much so that some of them remained devoted to him for decades. Both these characteristics allowed Brother T to establish the sort of relationships he needed to feed fugitives during the war.

27th Mar

Safety Amongst the Other Passengers

As I remarked in the previous post, Dutch-Paris relied on trains and trams to get around western Europe. The smaller and more local a train was, the less likely it was to be controlled.

Of course those smaller milk trains were ridden by the locals day in and day out as they went to work or into the city to have their ration cards renewed or make a purchase. The regulars on those trains knew when an outsider appeared and would have had a good eye for strangers coming from foreign lands or the big city. The local trains would have been more dangerous than the main lines if the regulars had chosen to report strangers. But they never did in the hundreds of train trips that Dutch-Paris made (or, as far as I know, that fugitives on their own or with other resistance lines made).

In fact, more than one Engelandvaarder has commented on the complicity of the regular passengers of trains in the Pyrenees who smiled indulgently at the thin disguise of eleven Dutchmen pretending to be a football (soccer) team. It’s impossible to know how many minor acts of Resistance happened on trains when ordinary people looked the other way, kept silent or created diversions for the benefit of strangers they suspected were resisters or fugitives.

Such helping acts came not just from passengers but also from men and women who worked on the railways, known as cheminots. Indeed, the cheminots had their own Resistance network. Dutch-Paris didn’t have any known connection to that group, but it did benefit from the help of several cheminots. For instance, a Dutchman who worked out of the Gare du Nord in Paris started out helping a Dutch diplomat get to The Hague in 1940 by disguising him as a dishwasher in the dining car. He escorted fugitives out of the Gare du Nord through doors the Germans did not watch. He undoubtedly provided critical information about the timing of trains and their surveillance. He died in the concentration camps for helping Allied aviators evade capture.

Further south, Dutch-Paris fugitives spent time hiding under the protection of station masters in the Luchon valley at the foothills of the Pyrenees. Those station masters belonged to a local group that attached warning signals to the morse code sent between the Gare Matabiau in Toulouse and the smaller stations in the region. Another cheminot based in Foix took high-ranking evaders out of the country by dressing them up as cheminots and hiding them in plain sight in his locomotive.

The trains, then, were not just the only means of long-distance travel available to most people during the war. They were also constantly shifting communities of complicity as passengers and cheminots made sometimes very small moves, even acts of omission such as not speaking up, that protected the resisters and fugitives among them.


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