29th Mar

For the younger set who have thousands of photos on their cell phones and who take photos with the cell phone to remember something rather than write it down, I should explain the state of photography during the Second World War.

Digital cameras had not been invented yet. Every camera used film. It came rolled up in little canisters to protect the film from exposure to sunlight. You had to go into a dark room to put the film in the camera and make sure that the little holes running along the top and the bottom of the film were hooked into the camera properly, or the film would not advance correctly. You advanced the film by turning a little wheel like knob on the camera. You had to do this after each photo or you would get a double exposure of more than one picture on the same photograph. When the roll of film was done, usually 24 exposures, you took it out of the camera and took it to a camera shop. They developed the film in a dark room that involved a series of smelly chemicals and particular timing. When you came back to pay for your photographs, the shop gave you both the photographs and the negatives, ie the film. You kept the negatives in case you ever wanted to make another copy of any of the photographs.

Color film had been invented already, but it was expensive and in short supply. It also required Read the rest of this entry »

10th Mar

I am happy to announce that Uitgeverij Boom will publish a Dutch translation of my book on the history of Dutch-Paris this autumn. It  is called Ordinary Heroes or Gewone Helden. (No English language publisher yet.)

While looking through what few photos there are in the archives, I was struck by how very ordinary the men and women of Dutch-Paris looked; although there was nothing ordinary about their actions. That gave me, and the wonderful team working on the book production in Amsterdam, the idea of finding as many photos of as many people who were involved in Dutch-Paris as we can.

My sincere thanks to all those who I have met through my researches or through this blog who have already shared photos of themselves or their families. Is there anyone else who has a photo for the book?

The photos need to be of people who were involved with Dutch-Paris, either as a helper who belonged to the line or someone who was helped by them (refugees, Engelandvaarders, aviators). They should be from the war years or shortly before or after the war. I doubt very much that there are any photos of Dutch-Paris in action. Would anyone actually have stopped to take a snapshot while sneaking under the barbed wire into Switzerland? But there are the passport photos on false identity cards. There are photos of people in Spain or Switzerland just after they arrived. There may have been a war on, but people still went to birthday parties or had their photos taken at weddings.

I do not need the actual, physical photograph, so there is no risk of losing it. Instead, the publisher needs only a high resolution scan (300dpi or 3-5MB). It would be most helpful if you could give the image the name of the person in the photo. It might be best to send me a message through the blog first to say that you have a photo. Then I will give you a better email to send the photo to. It would be a great shame to lose any photos because there wasn’t enough room on the server.

Seven months is just a blink of an eye as far as putting a book together, so the sooner we have the photos, the better. Thank you! Bedankt! Merci!

1st Mar

Seventy-two years ago, on 28 February 1944, German police arrested a number of Dutch-Paris helpers in a well-organized sweep. Officers from the Abwehr (German military intelligence), Geheime Feldpolizei (secret military police) and Gestapo (secret state police) cooperated in the raids. One group invaded the Dutch-Paris safe house in Brussels at the same time that other units arrested Dutch-Paris helpers in Paris at their homes across the city and even outside it.

Those men and women who were captured on 28 February endured interrogation and in many cases torture, imprisonment, deportation in cattle cars and the slave labor, exposure and mistreatment of the concentration camps. Some of them survived to return home after the war. Others did not.

Over the months of March, April and May, Read the rest of this entry »

16th Feb

In the last post I asked how much a map of an occupied city can really show of what it would have been like to walk from one place to another in a city hushed by gasoline rationing, darkened by air raid precautions and filled with dread. We can ask the same question about clandestine border crossings.

A standard map of the Franco-Swiss border in the Genevois with the Dutch-Paris hiding and crossing places marked on it would certainly provide a sense of distances. A really detailed version might even include the no-man’s-land that fugitives had to run across before actually reaching safety in Switzerland. And it might be able to convey the looming hulk of Mt Salève on the French side of the border and the steep climb to and from the safe house above the village of Collonges and the border. The map would indicate the bridge that resisters and their charges hid under as they waited for German motorized patrols to zoom past or looked out for French gendarmes on foot. But can a map suggest the fear or excitement? Can it adequately portray the confusion of Read the rest of this entry »

2nd Feb

I’ve been thinking about maps of Dutch-Paris. The line covered so much territory that the story needs many maps: Dutch-Paris’s routes through the Netherlands, Belgium and France; maps of the clandestine crossing places from the Netherlands to Belgium, from France into Switzerland and from France to Spain; maps of Dutch-Paris places in the main cities along the route, Brussels, Paris, Lyon and Toulouse.

These maps would give a reader a sense of the distances that the line covered, thousands of miles across western Europe. They would illustrate that in Lyon almost all the Dutch-Paris addresses were in the same neighborhood, but in Paris and Brussels they were scattered all over. The map would show how far a resister might have had to walk from his or her apartment to a train station to meet fugitives or to another resister’s apartment for a meeting. It might even show the most obvious routes that resister might have taken.

But a map does not show how narrow the streets were or how exposed intersections might be. They give no sense of the quiet of city streets when Read the rest of this entry »

19th Jan

The second reason that Dutch-Paris hesitated to take Allied aviators until January 1944 was that the German authorities considered helping aviators to be a much more serious offense than helping civilians. Helping an Allied service man was, after all, aiding and abetting an enemy soldier, at least from their perspective.

In addition, everyone in the Third Reich, including the families of German servicemen stationed in western Europe, suffered greatly under the Allies’ almost constant bombardment of Germany. The Germans considered Allied aircrews to be “Luftterroristen” or “air terrorists” who killed women and children.

German military intelligence, the Abwehr, had counter-espionage units dedicated to tracking down evading airmen and their helpers. These men were highly trained, professional and very successful. The penalties for captured helpers ranged from imprisonment to deportation to the concentration camps to death and often including torture along the way. These penalties could and sometimes did fall upon the helpers’ entire families including uncles and cousins.

It is not surprising, then, that the German officers who interrogated Dutch-Paris members after their arrests in February and March 1944 questioned them about Allied airmen. The round-ups caught Read the rest of this entry »

5th Jan

Who’s in the Tank?

Right around this time in 1944 Dutch-Paris started taking downed Allied airmen to Spain.  Some of the men and women in the line who worked in Brussels and Paris had been wanting to do this for some time.  The problem had not been where to find aviators on the run.  Other resistance groups in the Netherlands, Belgium and France were eager to pass on aviators whom they had gathered up after their airplanes crashed.  The problem was that helping airmen was far more dangerous than helping Jews or resisters.

There were a couple of reasons for this.  In the first place, Allied airmen were foreigners who looked and acted like foreigners.  This wasn’t as true for British fliers, but it certainly held true for Americans.  Without meaning to, they stuck out.  Here’s a story from the liberation of Maastricht that demonstrates how attuned civilians were to strangers in their midst.

In September 1944, no one could say when the Allies would arrive in Maastricht, but there were signs of their approach.  Most of the German left town, blowing the bridges over the Maas behind them.  Local boys who belonged to a Dutch partisan group that camped a few miles away in Belgium Read the rest of this entry »

22nd Dec

In 1944-45 my father lived on the eastern side of the river in Maastricht, not far from the railway station and the Bailey bridge that the US Army slung across the Maas for heavy artillery and troops on their way to Germany. He and all the other kids in the neighborhood had a lot to watch, and plenty of time to do it before the schools reopened.

Not surprisingly, that bridge had its own anti-aircraft battery stationed right there in my father’s neighborhood. The unit cooked for itself. Sometimes they made doughnuts. These were the kind that are called cake donuts, fry cakes or sometimes cider donuts. They’re plain rings of a cake like dough of flour, baking powder, cinnamon, sugar, eggs and milk fried in oil until they’re crispy on the outside and cake-y on the inside. Every American has had them. They’re good for dunking in coffee or cider.

The Pied Piper himself could not have put out a more compelling call to the neighborhood children than the smell of frying doughnuts. Every time my father and every other kid downwind of the anti-aircraft guns came running toward the smell of doughnuts, the GI who was frying them up passed them out.

I can’t ask my grandmother, but there’s a good chance that she and the other mothers appreciated the gift of doughnuts given to their children even more than the kids who ate them did.

Happy Holidays to that American GI who shared the donuts with the local kids, and all his family, from a Dutch boy who still remembers the kindness, and all his family.

8th Dec

It didn’t take long for the businessmen in Dutch-Paris to figure out that all their careful vigilance in getting the best possible exchange rates and diligence in raising donations from themselves and others could not pay for hiding people indefinitely or escorting other fugitives out of occupied territory. The black market food, rents, clandestine health care, clothing and train tickets for hundreds of people simply cost too much.

They needed the kind of money that only a government could provide. The problem was not so much in convincing the Dutch government-in-exile and Queen Wilhelmina in London to support Dutch fugitives in France and Belgium as it was in getting the money to the resisters who were helping those in need in occupied territory. It had to be in cash in the local currency to be of any practical use, but the German occupation authorities had disrupted the usual banking system. You could not wire large amounts of money from London to Paris during the war.

Various members of the line came up with various schemes to circumvent the legally authorized exchange system, all of which boiled down to one idea. The resisters in France and Belgium would get a loan in local currency from some local individual in town. The government would pay the loan back after the Allies won the war. Obviously, they came up with this idea after the German army lost at Stalingrad and it began to look like the Allies might actually win the war. The more certain that became, the easier it was to raise the loans.

A few members of Dutch-Paris did indeed “loan” Read the rest of this entry »

24th Nov

Family Banking in the Resistance

The question of getting money across borders during the occupation that Weidner solved with postage stamps in the last blog post bedeviled other Dutch-Paris resisters and, indeed, the whole line. They came up with a number of arrangements that added up to a private, clandestine banking system that stretched from the Netherlands through Belgium and France to Switzerland.

These things started on a small scale between family members. For example, a Dutchman whom we’ll call Joseph lived and worked in Brussels, Belgium, while his father, a retired colonel, lived in Maastricht, the Netherlands. When family friends decided to leave the Netherlands illegally because they were Jews, the Colonel offered his son’s help. Because Jews were not allowed to take themselves or any currency out of the country, the Jewish family gave the Colonel a certain sum in Dutch guilders. When they arrived in Brussels, Joseph took the equivalent amount in Belgian francs out of his own bank account to give to the fugitives. Of course they made this exchange at the legal, official exchange rate, which was the most favorable one for the fugitives but was unavailable to most civilians. Joseph and his father held themselves to the highest ethical standards while breaking the law, a common enough paradox for resisters.

Being an insurance agent with seven children at home, Joseph soon Read the rest of this entry »


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