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 »

22nd Aug

Here’s the story of how a young man (b. 1916) became one of the most important members of Dutch-Paris.  Thierry, as we’ll call him, grew up in Antwerp speaking mainly French but also learning Dutch, as befitted a Dutch citizen.  He spent some time at an agricultural college, took a long sea voyage, was discouraged by his parents from entering the Belgian naval academy, disliked an apprenticeship at a diamond concern and finally ended up as a partner in a successful textile export firm in early 1940.  He tried in vain to join the Dutch army in April 1940 and ended up in the French Foreign Legion a few days after the German invasion of France.  After being honorably discharged in December 1940, he went back to Belgium to help his parents.

Thierry passed up a couple of opportunities to escape from Occupied Europe because his parents didn’t want to leave Belgium.  He and his partner printed illegal newspapers on the mimeograph machine in their office for a few months in 1941-42, and Thierry took a vacation along the Swiss border in anticipation of needing to make a quick escape over it.  The Germans arrested his father Read the rest of this entry »

12th Aug

To say that the political prisoners whom the Nazis deported to Germany, such as dozens of men and women who belonged to Dutch-Paris, disappeared into the maw of the concentration camps is true but not necessarily accurate.  Prisoners had wildly different itineraries and were often shuttled about from one camp to another.  And although all were meant to die of starvation and mistreatment, some cheated that fate by dying in an Allied bombing raid or of blood poisoning following an accident at the work site.  And, fortunately, some survived.

In an incongruous nod toward civilized behavior on the part of their captors, some of the political prisoners were allowed to send letters home.  This great privilege could be carried out twice a month on a short, official form.  They had to be written in legible German no matter what language the prisoner spoke.  I presume that the prisoner had to pay for the forms and the stamps him or herself, although I don’t know that for a fact.

I know about these letters because I’ve seen copies of a handful of them in the archives of the French and Belgian administrations in charge of locating missing persons after the war.  The families had submitted them as evidence of their beloved’s last known whereabouts.  Other incarcerated members of Dutch-Paris most probably also sent letters home, but either the person or incontrovertible proof of his or her death returned in the summer of 1945, so the letters never made it into an archive.

The letters I’ve seen came from three men, all of whom died in the concentration camps without benefit of an official notation of their deaths.  They all cover the same “safe” topics:  I’m healthy; I’m with my comrade so-and-so; I can receive letters and/or packages; kisses to everyone.

Intriguingly, none of these men sent these letters to their immediate families.  One man, who had been arrested in the Haute-Savoie where he was a refugee with his wife and children, sent his letters to his mother in Lorraine.  Although Haute-Savoie and Lorraine are both in France, it was impossible for the mother to communicate with her daughter-in-law for at least five months after her son was deported.

Another man sent letters using the alias under which he’d been arrested to his cousin’s neighbor in Switzerland rather than to his wife and baby in Belgium.  Another man used his own name but sent his letters to the mayor of a Swiss village rather than to his wife and children in Haute-Savoie.  He probably did that to protect his family, without knowing that his wife had been arrested three weeks after his own capture and the little girls taken in by friends.

All of which tells us that these men did not consider their resistance to be over just because they had been captured.  They were still protecting their families, and their colleagues as they struggled to survive.

2nd Aug

It’s not hard to come up with a long list of hazards involved in rescuing fugitives from the Nazis.  The Germans themselves and their collaborators in all their many manifestations take the top of the list, followed by the usual problems of living in a warzone, such as bombardments.   Sometimes, however, the fugitives’ fear put their rescuers at risk.

The letter below doesn’t need much comment, except to point out that what the author doesn’t say is that every trip by the “social worker,” meaning a Dutch-Paris courier,  not only wasted her time and energy, but unnecessarily exposed her to the usual dangers of travel and to being captured with false documents.

John Henry Weidner wrote the letter under one of his many pseudonyms on 18 May 1943 to a friend of his who was also a friend of the P’s on 18 May 1943.   (I translated it from the French.)

“For the second time I’ve sent someone to get the P. family.  A week ago a social worker left with an order to travel from Lacaune to Chambèry [France] signed by the minister of the interior [made out for the P’s, probably forged].   But they didn’t want to leave, saying Read the rest of this entry »

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