5th Jan

A Self-Appointed Spy

This is the story of a French man, born in 1898, who created an intelligence network specializing in information about German troop movements and the location of the launching sites for V1 and V2 rockets. He wasn’t involved with Dutch-Paris, although the two networks had people in common.

Our man had been wounded and gassed in the First World War and was too old to serve in the second war. Shortly after the French defeat in 1940 he started a gazogène business, demonstrating both a clear grasp of reality and excellent forethought. Gazogènes converted gasoline burning engines into wood burning engines. By the end of the war the Germans reserved what little petroleum was left in Europe for themselves. If the French wanted to travel by car, they needed a gazogène.

Naturally, our man had to travel quite a bit to build his new business. One day in 1941, when he had been caught trying to cross the demarcation line illegally, he overheard some Germans discussing military matters. Because our man spoke fluent German, he understood what they were saying. And that gave him the idea to become a spy. Read the rest of this entry »

26th Dec

One day in December 1943 a 21 year-old woman whom we’ll call Marie-France received a visit from her downstairs neighbor who worked at the nearby train station – the gare du nord – and whom we’ll call Dodo. He introduced her to another middle-aged man he called Felix, who was the Paris chief for Dutch-Paris.

Dodo told Marie-France that he had found a very good job for her, if she wanted it. She told him that she liked her job and had no intention of leaving it. But he persisted, saying that she would make a lot of money because it was a question of working for the Germans at the gare du nord. Marie-France shot back: “I’d rather hang myself than work for those people.” Felix laughed and said “violà, that’s what we need.” Then he told her about Dutch-Paris.

Because her fondest dream was to help the Allies, she quit her job and started working full time for Dutch-Paris. She ran a lot Read the rest of this entry »

15th Dec

Gestapo Arrests Swiss Official

On 21 July 1943, the Italian civil affairs officer for Haute-Savoie (France) called the head of the Swiss visa bureau in Annemasse (France) into his office to warn the 63 year-old Swiss citizen that he had been denounced by an Italian Fascist living in Geneva. We’ll call the Swiss bureaucrat Mr. S. The Italian Fascist had accused Mr S of carrying intelligence over the Franco-Swiss border for the English consul in Geneva. Being a careful man, Mr S wrote up a report of this interview for his superior and left it in his office in Geneva with instructions for his son to deliver it should anything happen to him.

Nothing did happen until 9 August 1943 when a dubious individual showed up at the visa bureau in Annemasse. This person told Mr S that Lyon was in terror because the Gestapo was making mass arrests and that a certain Mr. B had had to go into hiding. He claimed that he had been sent to tell Mr S to take this message to “the people you know” and showed him a medallion with the Cross of Lorraine (the symbol of the French Resistance led by de Gaulle). Mr S. claimed he had no idea whatsoever what the man was talking about. The man left and Mr S continued with his paperwork until 1:00pm, when he went down the street to have coffee at the home of some friends.

He noticed the dubious individual lurking in the street, but continued on his way. As he was hanging up his hat at his friends’, the doorbell rang. His hostess came back saying that she’d told the men to see Mr S at his office but they’d followed her inside. The three men in civilian clothes drew their pistols and Read the rest of this entry »

5th Dec

Sometimes when I’m humming along in my research, thinking that I’m looking for innocuous facts like date of birth, I suddenly fall into a bog of accusations and counter-accusations, of activities that look very bad from one point of view but reasonable enough from another. It’s not unusual; the Second World War was custom made for such confusions. It was entirely possible for an authentic resister to have dealings with the enemy in order to shield his or her resistance work. To most of the world he or she looked like a collaborator rather than the courageous resister he or she really was.

I came across such a case in the Belgian archives while trying to determine how long a particular Dutch businessman had been living in Brussels. We’ll call him Joseph (b. 1907). It seems that Joseph moved to Belgium in 1942 in connection with a family business that supplied lumber to the German navy in Antwerp. The Belgians didn’t consider him necessary to the Belgian economy and asked the Germans to give him a pass back to the Netherlands, but the Germans declined.

The difficulty lies in Read the rest of this entry »

25th Nov

This is the story of how a young Jewish man joined Dutch-Paris. We’ll call him Joe. He was born in Berlin in 1921 but moved to Amsterdam with his family in 1928. The Nazis revoked his German citizenship while he was learning the textile trade. He didn’t belong to a Resistance group in the Netherlands but he found ways of getting false papers and false work documents to people in need because of his position at a textile firm in Appeldoorn.

In June 1943 he crossed the Belgian border on his own and found himself a room in a small pension in Brussels which didn’t require him to register. The Dutch pastor in Brussels introduced him to another member of the Comité which was the Belgian branch of Dutch-Paris. At that same meeting, Joe met a Dutch Engelandvaarder who was looking for a place to stay. Joe offered him hospitality and in return the Engelandvaarder introduced him to a couple of passeurs on the Dutch/Belgian border near Maastricht. Joe did some liaison work for the Comité.

On 2 August 1943, Joe received a letter from his sister saying that she and her parents were in danger and Read the rest of this entry »

15th Nov

Convoys of evaders walking over the Pyrenees to Spain worked on the same principle as convoys of ships crossing the Atlantic: it was safer to take one large group than many smaller groups. So Dutch, French, Belgian and Polish men wanting to join the Allied armies and downed aviators crossed in large groups of up to 30 made up of men of many nationalities who arrived in the foothills courtesy of different evasion lines including Dutch-Paris.

All these men would meet up in some clearing or hotel and walk on from there. Many of them started off from a certain “Hotel des Pyrénées.”  That hotel had a long career in the resistance, but the Germans eventually found out and surrounded it with heavy arms at 11:20 pm on 8 November 1943. Thirty evaders, including Engelandvaarders and downed aviators, a couple of mountain guides and the hotel owners were inside preparing for a convoy’s departure.

A lot of the Europeans and both guides managed to escape out the back windows. The sixty year-old landlady, however, was arrested and put into a German car parked in front of the hotel.  She took advantage of the dark and the fact that most of the Germans were busy pillaging her hotel to exit out the far side of the car, jump the wall and run through the neighbor’s garden to escape. She hid in the hills for a month until friends took her to the train in their car. She spent the rest of the war hiding in Paris. But, as she put it after the liberation, so many emotions gave her an attack, and she was paralyzed on one side.

Her husband died in a concentration camp in April 1945.

The Hotel des Pyrénées was out of business, but the guides moved their meeting place elsewhere and the evasions to Spain continued.

5th Nov

Evaders Jump Train

Sixty-nine years ago, on 5 November 1943, an American B-17 bomber crashed in the Netherlands not far from the North Sea. The plane had gone down so quickly that the crew didn’t have time to bail out. A couple were killed on impact; others seriously injured. Dutch civilians including a doctor arrived at the scene a few minutes before eight Germans pedaled up to take the Americans prisoner.

The Dutch police arrived about the same time and began a long argument with the Germans to the effect that because the Americans had crashed on Dutch soil they should be prisoners of the Dutch police. The Germans won that argument; shot over the heads of the crowd to disburse it, and marched the aviators to the village.  The doctor took the two seriously injured airmen to hospital under guard.

The Germans tried to interrogate their prisoners but got only name, rank and serial number in reply. So they put them in a third floor room without food or washing facilities and kept a close eye on them. One of the crew, the bombardier, who had been an enlisted man before the war, took charge of planning their escape. Fortunately for all of them, Read the rest of this entry »

22nd Oct

The Hundredth Anniversary of a Hero

The leader of Dutch-Paris, John Henry Weidner, was born 100 years ago today on 22 October 1912, in the Belgian city of Gent.  As the son and grandson of ministers, Weidner was raised to know right from wrong.  When they lived in Switzerland in the 1920’s, for example, Papa Weidner didn’t want his four children to attend school on Saturdays, the day on which Seventh-day Adventists observe the Sabbath. The Swiss authorities gave him the choice of either sending his children to school or himself to prison on Saturdays. Papa Weidner chose jail for himself.

After the family moved across the border to Collonges-sous-Salève, France, so that Papa Weidner could teach ancient languages at the Seventh-day Adventist seminary there, young John spent all the time he could in the mountains.  He spent many summers as a young man traveling throughout Belgium and France selling religious literature.  When the Germans invaded the Netherlands, John Weidner and a friend got as far as boarding a ship to England before the captain made them get off. They set up a textile shop in Lyon instead.

Because of its location in the Vichy zone close to Switzerland, Lyon acted as a great catchment center for refugees of all sorts during the war. Weidner and other devout Christians there resisted Nazism in various ways, some by printing clandestine newspapers, others by helping fugitives. Circumstances and one thing leading to another meant that John Weidner began to specialize in helping Dutch fugitives.  He began by helping the Dutch consuls in Vichy to aid the many Dutch refugees coming into southern France by sending food and clothing to Dutch Jews caught in Vichy’s notorious internment camps and writing endless official letters to get them out.

In 1942 business acquaintances who had fled the Netherlands asked him to Read the rest of this entry »

15th Oct

Most airmen got rid of their flying boots after their aircraft crashed on occupied territory. They were much better quality than any foot gear available on the Continent by 1943 and so would have immediately given away an evading airman to an even minimally observant policeman. But very few (short) Belgian or French farmers had a spare pair of shoes lying about that would fit a (tall) American.

So the aviators squeezed their feet into the best that could be found. But the best usually wasn’t good enough to walk over the Pyrenees into Spain, especially in the winter. So shoes had to be found at a time when shoes were rationed, and not usually available even with the coveted ration tickets.

Dutch-Paris solved the problem by Read the rest of this entry »

5th Oct

Smugglers, or Pilots?

One hundred and twelve Allied airmen made it to Spain and on to England courtesy of Dutch-Paris, but they didn’t all join the escape line at the same point or even travel with their own crews. If, say, a B-24 Liberator bomber were attacked somewhere over Germany while on a bombing run, the pilot may have been able to make a run for England through the cloud cover. If the plane couldn’t make it that far, it could crash in the Netherlands, Belgium, France or the Atlantic ocean. Hopefully the crew would be able to bail out first. But some might not make it out of the airplane. Some might be captured when they landed. Those who made it safely to the ground would be scattered over some distance and might be picked up by friendly local people who had no connections to each other. It’s entirely likely that at least one member of the crew would be badly injured with, say, a broken ankle or severe burns.

The safest thing for the patriots who found a downed airman to do was send him along his way to Spain as quickly as possible. The Germans executed people for helping aviators. So if the airman was Read the rest of this entry »

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