In the previous post I shared the reflections of Frits, a Dutch university student who smuggled Jews and Engelandvaarders over the border from the Netherlands into Belgium for Dutch-Paris. As far as passeurs go, Frits was unusual. Generally speaking, you can divide up passeurs into three classes: volunteers, professionals and criminals.

Frits was a volunteer who accepted no payment for helping the persecuted to cross a border from one country to another. He was unusual among volunteers in that he did not live on the border and had not grown up on the border. On the Swiss border it was possible for a passeur to literally live on the border, with the front door in France and the garden gate in Switzerland. But most volunteer passeurs lived close to the border and possibly had perfectly legal passes to cross it. Perhaps they lived in Belgium but worked in the Dutch city of Maastricht, or they lived in France but owned fields in Switzerland or went to university in Geneva. Such men and women were unquestionably part of the Resistance.

The second class of passeurs were the professionals: men (mostly) who charged clients for showing them the way over a border. Some of these men made their living by smuggling and simply changed their “cargo” under the circumstances of the war. Instead of hauling cigarettes over the mountains, they brought Jews or resisters over the mountains. Some of them made a living near the border, say as shepherds, but they lived in mountains so high and difficult to cross that they would have to leave their jobs for two or more days to escort fugitives to the next country. The question of whether passeurs were resisters gets murky with the professionals. Immediately after the war, John Weidner thought that anyone who Dutch-Paris paid to take fugitives over the mountains was not a resister and did not belong to the line. But others allow for shades of gray that take into account how much a passeur charged and how difficult or dangerous the route was.

No one thinks that the third class of passeurs had any part in the Resistance. These were criminals, people who preyed on the fear and desperation of fugitives, mostly Jews, to extort money from them. Some demanded huge sums, took the money and disappeared. Even worse, some took the money and began the journey but then abandoned their charges to the elements or to the Germans. In fact, it’s not quite accurate to call such people passeurs as they never passed anyone to another country. They were con men passing themselves off as passeurs.

Everyone seems to have known that these three categories of passeurs existed during the war. Many Jewish families hoped to find volunteer passeurs. When they could not, they had to turn to professionals with the fervent hope that they were entrusting themselves to honest smugglers rather than outright criminals. The authorities also knew about all this and made distinctions in their treatment of captured passeurs. The French showed much more leniency to volunteer passeurs than to professionals or criminals. The Swiss had no tolerance whatsoever for professional or criminal passeurs, but they did occasionally turn a blind eye to volunteer passeurs. In fact, they were so adamantly against professional passeurs that Dutch-Paris counseled the people whom they smuggled into Switzerland to be sure to stress that they had not paid anyone to help them. They were worried that the Swiss would turn people who had paid passeurs back over the border in order to discourage anyone else from paying passeurs.