30th Nov

Very few people are cut out for the dangerous life of those Resistance heroes who dedicated themselves wholly to the cause – changing their appearance and identity regularly, always on the move, deliberately cut off from family in hopes of protecting them. But there were ways to continue with one’s usual life while helping out the Resistance. One could, for instance, keep one’s job at the town hall while putting legitimate stamps on false documents or warning people about impending police actions

Of course staying above ground while working for the Resistance carried its own share of dangers and anxieties. And they didn’t end with the war because to be effective such people had to appear blameless to the Germans. Which meant that they sometimes gained a reputation as a collaborator among the mass of people who were not resisters. Collaborators, or those commonly thought to be collaborators, had to answer to popular tribunals at the liberation.  It was not always easy to prove that one was not a collaborator.

Take the case of a certain Dutch entrepreneur who gained valuable contracts building airbases for the Germans in southern France. Because he was working for them and they trusted him – which implies a certain amount of schmoozing the enemy on his part – our man was able to issue travel warrants to Dutchmen that authorized them to travel from the Netherlands to southern France. Our man used those warrants to camouflage Read the rest of this entry »

20th Nov

It took a certain psychic fortitude and flexible attitude to survive as a rescuer.  Take just one story from a Dutch businessman who had been living outside Lyon since 1938 whom we’ll call Bernard.  He and some of his French friends in his village opened their homes to Dutch refugees, giving them shelter, buying them food on the black market, washing and mending their clothes.  They arranged for false documents through the local French resistance group and for safe passage into Switzerland through Dutch-Paris (see previous post of 10 November 2011 for more details).

In early 1944 John Weidner asked Bernard if he would shelter a young Dutch family with a 10 month old baby for a few days on their way to Switzerland.  He said he would be happy to do so and opened the door one day to find a woman with a large basket that turned out to have the baby in it.  The widow who lived in the same building and did the washing and mending for the refugees was overjoyed to have a baby in the house even though other people at the time considered babies to be a noisy security risk.

It just so happened that Bernard had already made an appointment to go to Clermont-Ferrand to fetch another young couple on their way to Switzerland at the same time that the 10 month-old was at his home.  According to the doctor, the wife was due three weeks later, but Read the rest of this entry »

10th Nov

Odd as it might seem, you could join the Resistance without meaning to or even realizing it. This was especially true for rescuers, who often felt that they were simply doing what needed to be done. This was the case for a Dutchman we’ll call Bernard whose resistance work developed so gradually and, in his mind, inevitably, that he didn’t think of it as Resistance until someone asked him to write a report in December 1945.

Bernard was a Dutch businessman who had been living outside of Lyon, France, since 1938. Early in the war he received a letter from a business contact in the Netherlands saying that his son, Paul, would be visiting France soon. Bernard waited but received no visitors. Then one day he got a letter from Paul written from the French prison in Macon and asking for help. Apparently Paul and three of his friends had been caught crossing the demarcation line that divided France while they were trying to get to Spain to get to England to join the Allied armies. Bernard got the four of them out of prison and brought Paul to live in his own home. Because he helped out at the Dutch consulate in Lyon, Paul met many Dutch refugees, some of whom he took home to Bernard’s place with him. Once he found a route to Spain, Paul left. He eventually made it to England where he joined RAF Bomber Command. Bernard was pleased to have played a small role in bombing Germany.

Meanwhile, word got around the Dutch community in France that Bernard was a helpful fellow. Strangers showed up Read the rest of this entry »

31st Oct

In 1947 one of the leaders of Dutch-Paris wrote to John Weidner because he was worried about one of their old comrades in the resistance.
The man in question was a Dutch religious (born 1901) living at his Order’s house in the heart of Paris. We’ll call him Brother Rufus. During the war he made several trips to the notorious internment camp at Drancy, outside of Paris, where the French imprisoned Jews in deplorable conditions before deporting them to their fate in Germany.
The guards undoubtedly thought that the good brother was bringing spiritual comfort to the unfortunates inside. And he may have been, but he was also using his robes to hide Read the rest of this entry »

21st Oct

Good Luck for the Germans

The German security services had many ways of uncovering their opponents in the Resistance. Some of their organizations were, in fact, highly professional and adept at counter-espionage in its many manifestations. Some of them relied on brute force. But they, like resisters, also sometimes benefited from sheer luck.

We can take Dutch-Paris operations in Brussels as an example. In July 1943, the Committee rented an apartment on the rue du Trône as a sort of office or headquarters for their daily work of hiding Dutch fugitives or helping them to get to Spain or Switzerland. In late December, the Committee moved the escape-line portion of the work across town to a pension on the rue Franklin.

The German Sicherheitsdienst raided the pension on rue Franklin in late February 1944, where they captured six Dutch resisters, the Belgian landlady and ten aviators. The Germans knew the address because Read the rest of this entry »

11th Oct

Wartime Management Woes

Like all organizations, resistance networks were faced with occasional turnovers in their management positions, although not always for the usual reasons.
Take the Committee affiliated with Dutch-Paris in Brussels. It began in the spring of 1942 as the work of three men: a Dutch (Protestant) pastor we’ll call the Dominee, a Dutch (Jewish) businessman we’ll call Mr Albert, and another Dutch (Jewish) businessman we’ll call Mr. Smits. They were busy helping Dutch fugitives of all denominations hide or move on to Switzerland when Mr Albert was arrested and deported in July 1943. Recognizing that the burden of sheltering and supporting so many people was too great for two men, even with assistants, the Dominee and Mr Smits invited two more Dutch (one Catholic, one Protestant) businessmen living in Belgium to join the committee in September 1943. They put a younger man whom we’ll call van Cagenhem in charge of daily operations.
When van Cagenhem was arrested in November 1943 for being in the wrong place at the wrong time rather than for his actual offences against Occupation law Read the rest of this entry »

1st Oct

A Resistance Joke

Humor will tell you a lot about current happenings and values in a culture. Take, for instance, a letter that John Weidner wrote to a colleague at the end of October 1942.*

“I returned to Lyon two or three days ago after adventures that I hope to have the “pleasure” of telling you about some day. Let me just say that I was in prison for a day and a half and my hands were chained. Fortunately, it all came out alright. So now after the war I can respond to question 18 on the Dutch questionnaire: “have you been in prison”, and I won’t have to fill out question 19 “if not, why not?”.”

Both men, the author and the recipient, were extremely upright Dutchmen coming out of strict religious families. Incarceration would have been an almost unbearable scandal before the war. And yet in the middle of the Second World War, if a day and a half in chains isn’t cause for rejoicing, it’s not something to be ashamed of or hidden. Quite the contrary, there’s a clear expectation that after the war it will be a matter of pride.

This one joke leads us Read the rest of this entry »

21st Sep

Wartime Mysteries

The circumstances of the Second World War created uncertainties and mysteries that haunted survivors for decades.  This is especially true for the Resistance, where people operated under false names and could disappear from one hour to the next either to save themselves or because they’d been captured and deported under the notorious “nacht und nebel” regime.

It happened to a man we’ll call Michel, a Romanian born in 1913.  The Paris chief of Dutch-Paris called him “our liaison with the German embassy”.  Sure enough, in his memoirs, a German officer who worked at the Paris embassy during the war remembers Michel as a member of a Gaullist group to whom he gave information.

The records show that Michel also belonged to the Corps Francs Vengeance, although of course we’re interested in him as a member of Dutch-Paris.  One American evader described Michel as being in his mid to late 20’s, 6’ tall and “looking like a dope fiend”.   In their reports, members of Dutch-Paris refer to him as the husband, or sometimes lover, of a Dutch student.   They did both carry false papers with the same last name and same address, which would have supported the confusion.

I say confusion because Michel was not married to Read the rest of this entry »

11th Sep

Some people are just plain helpful.  Take the case of a young Dutch woman we’ll call Catherine [born 1919].  Because she was working for the Dutch Chamber of Commerce in Paris when the war started, she naturally became involved in the effort to help Dutch refugees in 1940.  But, as she later said, she soon entered the Resistance without even realizing it by helping the Jewish refugees whom the Germans would not allow to return home to the Netherlands.

Catherine joined Dutch-Paris as an active and dedicated courier and escort after she met John Weidner in early 1943.  But by that time she had already lost two jobs because of her illegal activities on behalf of Dutch refugees and Engelandvaarders.  One thing kept leading to another.

In June 1942, her superior at the Dutch Chamber of Commerce asked her to help a friend of his Read the rest of this entry »

1st Sep

Who Pays the Hero’s Debts?

The war left Europe in a state of poverty, financial entanglements and confusion that often blighted survivor’s lives for years while being sorted out.

Take, for instance, the case of a man we’ll call Junior.  In 1924, when he was five years old, his parents divorced.  He stayed with his mother in the Netherlands while his father, whom we’ll call Senior, moved to Paris to paint.  Junior rarely saw his father and even more rarely received any sort of financial support from him.  But during the war Junior occasionally sent some Dutch friends to his father’s address in Paris, and his father helped these young men on their way to Spain.  In that way, Senior got involved in Dutch-Paris.  For that, he was arrested in March 1944 and perished in Dachau.

Shortly after the war ended, in the summer of 1945, Junior traveled to Paris to settle his father’s estate, such as it was.  He was shocked to discover that the Dutch Embassy in Paris expected him to pay the rent his father owed for his apartment between his arrest in March 1944 and the day the embassy moved a Dutch family into the flat in December 1944.  But both an official at the embassy and John Weidner, chief of the Dutch Resistance in France, assured the young man that of course he wouldn’t have to pay the Ffrs 5,371 for rent due while his father was suffering in a concentration camp.

As it was, the young man owed the municipality of The Hague 4,000 Dutch guilders for a scholarship to finish his engineering studies and had a wife and two small children to support.  He also incurred a debt of 1,221 Dutch guilders to have his father’s Read the rest of this entry »

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