8th Feb

I’ve been looking through the handful of cartons of documents originating from the German police at the Archives nationales in Paris. These are the papers of the SIPO-SD, meaning all the various German policing authorities, both Nazi Party and military, that persecuted Jews, Communists and resisters; passed out travel permits, and kept an eye on industry. It’s an incongruous collection of receipts for requisitioned cutlery, biweekly forms of numbers of arrests made, and internal Gestapo telephone books.

Intriguingly, even if you took the papers themselves out of context, pretending you didn’t know how the Second World War ended, you could tell that the people who wrote these papers both knew that their end was near and refused to believe it.

To begin with, there’s the quality of the paper. Read the rest of this entry »

29th Jan

They Stayed Behind

There isn’t much mystery about why people went to Switzerland or Spain via Dutch-Paris. They were fleeing from the lethal Nazi persecution of the Jews. Or they had been involved in the Resistance but the Gestapo had found their trail. Or they were members of the Allied military, or wanted to fight the Germans alongside it.

The question is more difficult in the cases of people who had every reason to flee, and the connections to do so, but chose to stay behind and help others escape. Of course at some point every resister had a good reason to go underground. Many of the men and women of Dutch-Paris did so while, usually, keeping up their Resistance work. I’m thinking of people who were themselves displaced fugitives who already stood out as refugees but who nevertheless took the added risk of opposition.

Take, for example, the handful of young, Dutch, Jewish men whose families were deported “to the east”. Two of these men literally jumped off the trains that took the rest of their families to Auschwitz. They could have Read the rest of this entry »

19th Jan

Wartime Trip Planning

One of the realities of Occupied Europe that’s hard to appreciate from our current perspective is how hard it was to come by information. I’m not talking about reliable news, which was censored. You had to engage in the criminal activity of listening to the BBC or reading the clandestine press for that. I mean the sort of daily information that we take for granted today.

If you’re going on a trip today you simply go on the internet from the comfort of your home to purchase your airline ticket and print out your boarding pass. You can study the train timetables, chose your train and buy your ticket from anywhere in the world that has internet access. You can go on Google maps, put in the address you’ll be leaving from and the address you’ll be going to and choose the best way to get there for the day and time you’ll be traveling by foot, car or public transportation. You can even get photographs of your route.

It was considerably more challenging Read the rest of this entry »

9th Jan

One of the more unexpected difficulties I’ve encountered in researching Dutch-Paris has to do with people’s names.

I knew, of course, that it would be difficult to uncover the names of all the members of the line in the first place. Resisters hid their identities; so well that some of them still count as missing persons today because their friends and colleagues who survived didn’t know their true names to report an arrest or death to the family.

But most people did know at least their immediate colleagues’ names, either because they had known them before the war or because they had revealed their true identities to each other afterwards. So in their postwar reports they mention their fellow “illegal workers” by name and, very considerately from my perspective, mention their own noms de guerre.

It is possible, then, to gather up all these names into a semblance of a who’s who of Dutch-Paris. With that, you can go into more archives. Whether it’s the Swiss border patrol or Read the rest of this entry »

30th Dec

Some people ended up in the Resistance bit by bit, because their first act of kindness led to another, that led them to do something else that led onward to something else. That was the case with John Henry Weidner who started out by offering entirely legal assistance to Dutch nationals interned in French camps and ended up leading a multinational rescue operation.

Others propelled themselves deep into illegality without any forethought through the force of their moral outrage. Such was the case with the truck driver and farm wife whose story I quote below. It comes from a collection by the courageous men and women of CIMADE about their efforts to comfort and save the prisoners in the French internment camps, who were mostly Jews. (On occasion Dutch-Paris and CIMADE worked together to rescue particular individuals in danger.)

“One day the young driver of the truck carrying me [Jeanne Merle d’Aubigny] said brusquely, “Do you see that farm? The farmer’s wife did me a great service. Yesterday I had gone to get vegetables in the station at Limoges. While I was loading, I saw a German armored train enter. From the cars came screams, children crying, yells: ‘Papa, Mamma!…’ Mademoiselle, I could not stand to hear that. I backed my truck up to the door of the last car. All the guards were up front. I opened the locks and made a sign to about twenty kids from five to fourteen years old to jump into the truck. In less time than it takes to tell it, they were hidden under the vegetables. I carefully put back the locks and drove around to leave the station. But, what to do with that merchandise? Passing in front of this farm, I asked the advice of that woman. She told me: ‘Unload them here. I’ll take charge then.’ This morning I stopped and asked how it was going. She answered: ‘It’s OK. They are all stowed away in the vicinity.” *

And there you have a community turned into outlaws overnight because they wouldn’t stand aside to allow children to be persecuted.

*Jeanne Merle d’Aubigny and Violette Mouchon, eds. God’s Underground: Accounts of the Activity of the French Protestant Church during the German Occupation of the Country in World War II. Trans. William and Patricia Nottingham. St Louis: Bethany Press, 1970. p. 94.

20th Dec

A silent night could be a night of peace or it could be a night of complicity. It could be the silence of not speaking out to help someone in need or the silence of not telling the police where the fugitive is hiding.

You had both types of silence during the war, of course. There were those who shut their own doors tight when others were being hurt. But there were also those who kept silent to protect others, even under torture. That second silence of goodwill is harder to keep, of course, than the narrow silence of self-interest.

But there were those who did keep it, some heroically and others more simply. The heroes could not have survived without the silent complicity of neighbors and by-standers who knew more than they told.

Take, for example, a small town outside Paris that was home to an evasion line for Allied airmen. The group gathered aviators from northwestern France, equipped them and then passed them to other lines for their onward journey to Spain. From December 1943 to March 1944, Dutch-Paris took many of their aviators from Paris to Toulouse.

The local grocer ran the group and found hosts for the Allied airmen. The mayor and a few civil servants from the town hall furnished ration tickets for the aviators. The police commissioner signed their false identity documents. The local tax man himself provided tobacco rations, and the wine wholesaler contributed food and drink. The postmaster arranged for the chief to have a private, unlisted phone line that couldn’t be tapped like everyone else’s.

Surprisingly, although the grocer and his wife and father-in-law were arrested, no one else in the town was. That is a testament to the fortitude of the prisoners under interrogation, but also to the willing complicity of the rest of the community. Because it is impossible that that many people were involved without a great many other people knowing about it.

The aviators and their helpers came and went through that town cloaked by the silence of goodwill.

10th Dec

Speculations

One of the things that makes history so fascinating is that if ten people see the same event, they will have ten different versions or explanations of that event.  This is especially true of a catastrophic event such as arrest during the second world war, which was often only the prelude to torture, the unmitigated misery of the concentration camps, and death. So the documents on Dutch-Paris are full of speculations about who or what caused an arrest.

But the problem is that they are all just speculations. No one was in a position to know all the facts. Take the example of two Americans.

First we have our B-17 navigator who was arrested in Brussels on 28 February 1944 and spent his 21st birthday in a Gestapo cell. He and the other nine Allied aviators who were arrested with him and then shipped to Stalag Luft III have always figured that they were arrested because of the betrayal of the “Pole” who wasn’t arrested with them although, logically, he should have been.

Second, we have an American 2nd lieutenant who narrowly escaped arrest Read the rest of this entry »

30th Nov

When he was still 20 years old, R.F. Anderson took off in a B-17 named “Martha” to bomb Brunswick, Germany. The German air defenses disabled the plane but the pilot and Anderson, as the navigator, managed to nurse it far enough westward that they could bail out over the Netherlands, jumping 500 feet into a soft, sandy carrot field. The farmer, who had already returned from Mass, saw him and hid him in the barn. The Croojman family of Bakel later brought the other four surviving ambulatory crewmen who had been rescued from the German search to their home, where they sheltered and fed them for several days.

Mr Anderson has never forgotten the courage and generosity of the Croojman family, nor of any of the other Dutch people who helped him even if he never learned their names. In his mind, they are the true heroes.

After a few days at the Croojmans’, the Americans were put onto an evasion line that turns out to have been Dutch-Paris. It was all a blur of sheds, attics and barns for them until they were given train tickets and told they were going to Brussels. They had crossed the Dutch border by Maastricht.

In Brussels they rushed first to a hotel near the train station and then to a three story pension that was the line’s HQ. There were rumors that the Paris safehouse had been raided, explaining the high number of aviators at 19, rue Franklin. There were nine Americans, a New Zealander and a man purporting to be a Pole. The aviators were amazed that the Belgian landlady managed to feed them all and suspicious of the Pole. He kept going out for walks.

Early in the morning of 28 February 1944, loud noises woke up the aviators. A large man burst into Anderson’s room, stuck a gun in his face, and demanded to know where his companion was. Anderson said he was alone, but his roommate revealed himself by falling through the floor of the armoire. The aviators were lined up in the garden and counted. Ten. No Pole.

Taken to Gestapo headquarters, Anderson was beaten while questioned about a new device in the B-17. He’s still not sure why. He was even put in solitary confinement, where he spent his twenty-first birthday. Eventually he was moved to the local prison with the others. The guards lifted the tedium one day by promising a special treat. The next day they presented the treat as roast squab, but it had four legs and a tail and Anderson wasn’t that hungry yet.

Eventually the aviators were turned over to the Luftwaffe and moved to Stalag Luft III. The six young Dutchmen arrested at the rue Franklin were kept in the military prison in Brussels until the liberation in September 1944. The Belgian landlady was deported to Ravensbruck, where she perished in January 1945.

Thanks to the precautions of anonymity among the Dutch helpers, the German investigation of Dutch-Paris did not reach as far as that carrot field near Bakel, nor the Croojmans’ farm.

20th Nov

Much to be Thankful for…

Studying the Second World War gives one a perspective that makes the Thanksgiving season all the more meaningful.

During the war, millions of men, women and children were displaced from their homes as soldiers, refugees, (slave) laborers or prisoners. Most did not leave forwarding addresses. So let us be grateful that we know where our loved ones are.

During the war all mail and news was censored, if not completely stopped. The Dutch Queen in London had no way of knowing what was happening amongst her people other than by risky and slow clandestine paths. Prisoners sentenced to “nacht und nebel” (NN, night and fog) were deliberately isolated to spread uncertainty and fear among their compatriots. So let us be grateful for the free flow of communication.

During the war people starved to death, and not just in the concentration and extermination camps or the occupier-orchestrated famines in the Netherlands and Greece. People starved to death in Paris. So let us be grateful for the abundance on our tables.

During the war death and destruction rained down from the skies. By the end the survivors in Berlin were hiding from the rampaging Red Army in caves dug out of rubble without electricity or clean water or any public service whatsoever. So let us be grateful that the skies over North America and Europe are peaceful.

And let us guard that peace zealously and work to extend it to all the people of the world.

9th Nov

Receipt for 3 guilders fine for smuggling 113 g of butter

Receipt for 3 guilders fine for smuggling 113 g of butter

One of the difficulties with illegal border crossing during the war was that you had to carry two sets of ID with you, one for each side. It was incriminating, to say the least, to be caught with both Dutch and Belgian papers at the border.

Different people had different approaches to the problem. You could, of course, carry only one set of papers and spin a good yarn about why you were on the other side of the border. This worked best if you had family on both sides and could reasonably claim to have innocent reasons to be visiting relatives.

You could also carry some minor contraband item, such as a pound of butter, that would distract a customs agent from further investigations. There might be some unpleasantness Read the rest of this entry »

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