26th Jun

Just because dossiers on resisters are now available, doesn’t mean that the dossiers have more information than a name and date of birth (sometimes not even that). But sometimes you can piece together a portrait out of bits from different archives.

Take the example of Dr. Dreyfus. I first came across the name in the Dutch Nationaal Archief on a list written by John Weidner. That’s all it said: Dr Dreyfus, a known colleague of Dutch-Paris.

Now that’s really not enough information. For one thing, was this Dreyfus French, Belgian or Dutch? Dreyfus is a fairly common name. To figure out which Dreyfus you need at least a first initial and preferably the full name and birth date. And then, of course, you’d like to know what it was that he did for Dutch-Paris. Read the rest of this entry »

16th Jun

The Historical Hunt

Historical research is a little like hunting. You need to know what kinds of tracks your quarry leaves; it always helps to have a local guide, and timing makes all the difference.

For the most part historians follow paper trails, so we have to think about who would have written about our subjects and why. For instance, the men who wrote the Treaty of Versailles wrote all sorts of official memos, reports and proclamations that were diligently preserved by their governments. It’s a matter of notorious common sense, however, that resisters did not write things down and that the Gestapo burned their files.

But it turns out that common sense is wrong. Read the rest of this entry »

6th Jun

L’Arc en Ciel

I’ve come to Paris to try to figure out how it came about that over one hundred members of Dutch-Paris were arrested in February and March of 1944, many of them later dying in the concentration camps. John Henry Weidner was more than a little interested in the question himself, and, as a Captain in the Dutch Security Services, in a position to investigate it just after the war.

The original arrest in a long “roll-up” of arrests, happened on 11 February 1944 in Paris when French police arrested a young courier who we’ll call Erna (b. 1921). After her return from Ravensbruck in 1945, she confessed to having told the Germans everything they wanted to know after they tortured her and threatened her father.

I spent a day at the archives of the police looking at the purge dossiers of three officers involved in Erna’s arrest. I can’t say that I learnt very much from them except that they arrested her, which I already knew. She says they arrested her because she had a large bag of food, too much given the current rations. They say they arrested her because she had a false ID, but Dutch-Paris IDs were usually quite good. Read the rest of this entry »

27th May

Resister or Collaborator?

Here’s an intriguing turn of events. I’ve come across the name of a Belgian man, we’ll call him Legrand, in a few reports in a couple of archives.

The first is a long and detailed account written by an enthusiastic member of Dutch-Paris in Brussels, known as the Comité. Legrand makes a brief appearance as the colleague of the banker who was jointly running the Comité. Legrand and the banker, apparently, managed to furnish the Allies with detailed information about the V1 rockets that were storming down on Antwerp, London and the people in between.

The next appearance comes in a membership form for a postwar Resistance organization filled out by the banker. He claims to have been recruited by Legrand for a Belgian information to be their “financial delegate.” Which means he exchanged money for them under the table, something he was already doing for Dutch-Paris.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I opened the Resistance file of Legrand to find out that he served 6 months in prison in 1948/49 for economic collaboration. Read the rest of this entry »

17th May

But Where Is Nestor?

Few people today appreciate the chaotic disaster of Germany in 1945 or of the millions of non-German Displaced Persons liberated there by the Allies. It would take a number of books to understand it. But I can give you one example of the confusion that also explains the richness of the archives of the Dutch Red Cross Information Bureau.

A Dutch Jewish businessman (b. 1906) whom we’ll call Nestor acted as a founding member of both the Dutch-Paris related Comité in Brussels and the treasurer of the Committee for the Defense of Jews there. In March 1944 Nestor knocked on the door of an apartment on the Avenue Victor Hugo in Paris that belonged to another Dutchman loosely affiliated with Dutch-Paris. The Gestapo answered the door.

In the fall of 1944 Nestor sent two postcards from the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen to a cousin in Switzerland. Read the rest of this entry »

8th May

They Have Not Forgotten

1940-1945

1940-1945

The Netherlands celebrates Liberation Day with an official holiday on the Fifth of May every fifth year. But the Dutch remember the war every year with two minutes of silence at 8 pm on the Fourth of May, known as Dodenherdenkening (Remembrance of the Dead). People gather at monuments across the country, with the biggest and most official taking place on the Dam in Amsterdam.

But I rode my bike to the Waalsdorpervlakte Memorial in the dunes in Scheveningen, The Hague. I arrived a few minutes early to find that there were hundreds if not thousands of people already quietly lined up waiting for the ceremony to begin at 7:25. Many of them carried flowers.

During the war the Germans incarcerated resisters in the nearby Scheveningen prison, which came to be known as the Oranje Hotel*. Read the rest of this entry »

29th Apr

Two weeks ago I had never heard of the archives of the Dutch Red Cross. But then in two days a Belgian archivist, a Dutch editor and a footnote all suggested that I needed to go there. They were right.

Like its counterparts everywhere, the Dutch Red Cross acted as a missing persons bureau during and after the second world war. In fact, as soon as the way was cleared into Germany, they sent teams in to gather up as much documentation about missing Dutch nationals as they could find. (They weren’t the only ones, “capturing” German documents was a bit of a sport at the time). They also asked all repatriates to fill out a form specifying with whom they had been arrested, which prisons and/or camps they had been in, who they had seen die where, and who they had seen be transferred to which prison or camp. But a quirk of Dutch law Read the rest of this entry »

20th Apr

Who Arrested the Inspector?

On 19 February 1944 a black automobile running on gasoline drove into the border town of St-Julien (Haute-Savoie, France) and stopped at the home of Police Inspector C. (born 1906). Four men in civilian clothes got out. After they arrested the inspector, two of the men took his wife to the Hotel Cheval Blanc where they demanded a Madame A (born 1889). By this time they were impatient and threatened to burn the hotel if Mme A was not found within 10 minutes. Fortunately for everyone else, she was in the laundry room.

The unknown men carted away two suitcases and box of clothing and other scarce items when they drove away from the inspector’s home with their two prisoners. Inspector C. and Madame A were taken by car to Lyon and put on a train to Fresnes prison in Paris that same evening. Madame A returned to Haute-Savoie in January 1945, where she died at the hospital of Annemasse three months later. The Inspector was never seen again.

Having heard about the arrests through “the public rumor” as soon as they happened, the local French gendarmes investigated. Read the rest of this entry »

12th Apr

Around the same time that the French started to open up their WWII archives (the 1990’s), they also started to collect the testimonies of Resistants. As part of this effort, the Center for the History and Documentation of the Resistance in Lyon videotaped a woman who had been an important courier for Dutch-Paris. We’ll call her Raymonde.

In the 100 minute interview, Raymonde reads from a sheaf of papers in front of her, answering the interviewer’s occasional questions with anecdotes. She is dressed conservatively and remains composed throughout. This is the story she tells.

Born in 1923, she had three older brothers who were killed in the First World War. Her mother died in October 1940. When she tried to tell the news to her fourth brother, she discovered that he had been killed in the Second World War. Soon after that, she met Jean Henri Weidner at church. He asked her to work as his secretary in his newly opened textile business in Lyon.

In December 1940 Weidner asked the young Raymonde if she would type some small Resistance tracts. Read the rest of this entry »

3rd Apr

In France, I’ve been looking through the regional and departmental archives for the Rhone (Lyon) and Haute-Savoie (Annecy) for records regarding Dutch-Paris. Given that I have the names of several people, including civil servants and police agents, who worked for the line in those cities and even the dates that a few of them were arrested by the Germans for doing so, I thought I’d find some official traces of it.

But there are very few. This telegram, loosely translated, explains why. Keep in mind that it was sent in the very last days of 1943 or first days of 1944, half a year before the Allies landed in Normandy.

“Today German police proceeded with an operation in Bernex (Haute-Savoie) during the course of which 4 evaders of forced labor [réfractaires] were killed, 5 persons were executed [fusillés], 9 chalets and 2 houses burned – stop – Mayor and baker arrested – stop – Reason given: peasants have not delivered quotas set by food authorities [Ravitaillement Général] and the presence of a bust of the Republic at the town hall – End.”*

There are other reports about partisans requisitioning food and kidnapping presumed collaborators from buses. The Alps were boiling with guerrilla warfare. The French authorities had more pressing concerns than a few unarmed Samaritans smuggling foreigners out of the country. Besides, the Germans were taking care of it.

*Archives départementales du Rhone, 182 W 269, regional prefect in Lyon to Ministry of the Interior, Police at Vichy, no date.

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