30th Oct

What to do about the Parents?

It wasn’t just their children whom resisters had to worry about: their entire families were in danger of German retribution. But the calculus of risk is different when it involves adults. Some chose to protect their parents by excluding them; others to involve them.

For instance, one young Dutchman went so far as to sign the German loyalty oath for university students in order not to bring any attention to his Jewish father. But he didn’t let it stop him from all sorts of illegal activities, including bringing people over the Dutch-Belgian border.

There were other families, however, who worked together in the good fight. In Brussels in particular, most of the well-established businessmen in the line had sons in their early twenties, in other words just the right age to be taken for compulsory labor or want to go to England to fight with the Allies. The fathers gave money to the cause or sheltered fugitives while the sons smuggled microfilms and downed Allied aviators.

Similarly, a young French woman who escorted aviators and other fugitives between Paris and Toulouse was arrested with her mother at the family home in June 1944. It seems that her parents were active in a different, French network and possibly also Dutch-Paris. They all survived the camps.

It did not always turn out so well. In 1943 the Gestapo arrested a man in Amsterdam for helping Jews. A few months later, they found his daughter in Paris, where she was working as a courier for Dutch-Paris. They made her watch unknown men being tortured. They subjected her to a water torture. And they told her that she alone could save her father: if she talked, they’d release him. She talked. They released her father but then promptly rearrested him and deported him to a concentration camp where he died. She herself survived Ravensbrück.

As a result of that woman’s revelations, the Germans arrested John Henry Weidner’s sister Gabrielle while she was at church and offered to release her in exchange for Weidner himself. Forced to choose between his sister and the entire network, he did not turn himself in. Gabrielle died in Ravensbrück, a fact which preyed on Weidner for the rest of his long life.

20th Oct

Hide the Children

As if having the Gestapo on your trail weren’t enough, the men and women of the Resistance also had to worry that the Germans had little scruple about using their families against them.

Resisters took what precautions they could, of course. Perhaps the most important reason to use an alias was not to hide yourself, but to hide your family. Some people went further and actually hid their families.

John Henry Weidner smuggled the children of at least three resisters into Switzerland so they couldn’t be used as hostages by the Germans. He himself carried the small son of a prominent French resister through the snow into Switzerland around the same time that he also escorted the children of one of the few women to lead a French Resistance network out of occupied territory. He also took the daughters of a high-ranking Dutch diplomat who was in a Vichy prison into Switzerland when it became too dangerous for them Read the rest of this entry »

10th Oct

In Service of Humanity

Dutch-Paris defies easy categorization even within the extraordinary ranks of Resistance organizations. It was not a group of patriots intent on freeing their home, nor was it a group dedicated to helping their own co-religionists. It was not even a purely Dutch network despite the missions it accepted from the Dutch government-in-exile.

True, most of the people who worked on the line or came through it as fugitives were Dutch. But given the pre-war social pillarization of the Netherlands in which Catholics associated with Catholics and Calvinists with Calvinists, Dutch-Paris represented a striking range of Dutch society. There was a Dutch Catholic priest serving in Toulouse and a Dutch Reformed pastor in Brussels. John Henry Weidner himself was the devout son of a Dutch Seventh Day Adventist preacher. There was a Dutch engineer running a shipyard in Belgium and several Dutch farmers with land in France. There were Dutch nurses, university students, soldiers, widows rich and poor, secretaries, butchers, diplomats and aristocrats.

The fugitives whom Dutch-Paris helped escape from the Nazis were equally mixed. There were singers, writers, students, politicians and housewives. Many were Jewish but certainly not all. A minister and his wife who had run afoul of the Gestapo Read the rest of this entry »

2nd Oct

Somethings You Must Not Forget

While some resisters struggled to forget the war, others came to feel that they had a duty to remember it publicly. This seems to have been especially true among survivors of the concentration camps.

Such was the case with a Dutch woman named Anika who was a student at the Sorbonne when the war started. When the Germans invaded, she fled Paris with her good friend Anne-Marie [see “Everything I Saw in the Camp…” of July 20, 2009]. Later, they returned together and started helping others to escape from the Germans. Anika and Anne-Marie organized hiding places, food, clothing, and false papers for other Dutch people on the run and for Allied airmen. They also did the dangerous work Read the rest of this entry »

25th Sep

Somethings You’d Rather Forget

My research on Dutch-Paris constantly reminds me that wars don’t end when the fighting stops. This is most obvious in the cases of those resisters who survived the concentration camps but then died young after years of broken health. But even those who escaped deportation and made successful careers for themselves never quite got over the war.

Take the case of a Dutchman we’ll call De Jong. Like many other students, he left his university in 1942 when the Germans required a loyalty oath (to themselves of course). In August 1943 he became a regular courier for the Swiss Way between Amsterdam and Brussels. That meant that he smuggled microfilms over the border then turned them over to another Dutch-Paris courier to be taken on to Switzerland in exchange for microfilms heading back to the Resistance in Amsterdam. After the “roll-up” [arrests] of Dutch-Paris in February 1944, De Jong took over responsibility for the “mail” in Brussels until the liberation in September ’44.

Eventually, he finished his studies and had a successful career in the Dutch government. But the war could still ambush him Read the rest of this entry »

15th Sep

According to a written note sent to the Dutch military attaché in Bern by John Henry Weidner and one of his top lieutenants, there were five good reasons for fugitives to use false German documents while en route to Spain or Switzerland.

1 – So many thousands of Dutch people actually did work for German organizations in France that it would be hard to verify whether the fugitive did or not. [Quite understandably, Dutch men subject to compulsory labor preferred to build fortifications in France for the Organization Todt than work in Germany itself.]

2 – The fugitive didn’t need to speak German or French because according to his papers he was a Dutchman in German service.

3 – The fugitive didn’t need to worry about document controls by Germans in the trains Read the rest of this entry »

5th Sep

Although it would most probably be a serious misfortune to get involved with a corrupt police agent or civil servant today, it could have been a saving stroke of good luck during the second world war. On occasion, the corruption could be leveraged into escape.

For instance, there was a young teacher who lived in Hilvarenbeek on the Dutch/Belgian border who spent most of the war guiding desperate Jews from Amsterdam to Brussels. We’ll call him Mr Vos. In a 1994 interview, Vos said that there was only one time he was truly afraid.  He had just crossed the Dutch border when a German rose up behind him Read the rest of this entry »

26th Aug

How to Find an Escapeline

In July 1941 a young man we’ll call Frits (born 1918) left for England with a friend we’ll call Henk. They ran out of money in Valenciennes, France, and turned back to the Netherlands.

In order to support himself and his widowed mother, Frits took a job with the CCD in The Hague as a contraband food inspector. He always tried to let the individuals who were smuggling food for their own use go but cracked down on the black marketeers.

Apparently he did more than just look the other way because in May 1943 his mother (born 1900) was arrested for providing a false ID to a Jew and ration cards to about 10 Jews. The cards had actually come from Frits, but his mother took the blame Read the rest of this entry »

16th Aug

The Sticky Beaches of 1944

Although Dutch-Paris was mostly in the business of rescuing people, the line did also convey information. For the most part, the information was gathered by other people skulking about the peripheries of German military installations, plying officers with wine or simply and boringly counting the number of trucks that drove by. The information, whether it be about military affairs or the state of the food supply, was written up into reports, microfilmed and then carried across the continent rolled up in hairbrushes, fountain pens and the like.

And, of course, the Dutch-Paris couriers themselves would have been good sources of information, if only about public opinion, because they relied on their powers of observation to stay alive.

But there was always the taint of rumor on any clandestine information, and sometimes it could be hard to assess. For instance, in March or April of 1944, the Dutch military attaché in Switzerland sent a letter to his British counterpart. The general was an experienced and level-headed person but he was puzzled by a report he got from a “reliable Dutchman” who had heard the same story from four different sources in four different places in southwestern France.

According to all four of these people, the Germans had Read the rest of this entry »

6th Aug

On 29 July 1944 the Germans executed a Frenchman we’ll call Albert for what they called terrorism and aiding and abetting the enemy.

He was certainly guilty: he’d been in charge of organizing passages to Spain for Allied airmen and resistants from November 1942 until his arrest and subsequent torture in Toulouse on 15 May 1944. He appears to have been one of Dutch-Paris’s contacts in the French Resistance for getting people over the Pyrenees.

He was not, however, a local. He’d come to the Pyrenees after escaping from a POW camp Read the rest of this entry »

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