Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
Very few people are cut out for the dangerous life of those Resistance heroes who dedicated themselves wholly to the cause – changing their appearance and identity regularly, always on the move, deliberately cut off from family in hopes of protecting them. But there were ways to continue with one’s usual life while helping out the Resistance. One could, for instance, keep one’s job at the town hall while putting legitimate stamps on false documents or warning people about impending police actions
Of course staying above ground while working for the Resistance carried its own share of dangers and anxieties. And they didn’t end with the war because to be effective such people had to appear blameless to the Germans. Which meant that they sometimes gained a reputation as a collaborator among the mass of people who were not resisters. Collaborators, or those commonly thought to be collaborators, had to answer to popular tribunals at the liberation. It was not always easy to prove that one was not a collaborator.
Take the case of a certain Dutch entrepreneur who gained valuable contracts building airbases for the Germans in southern France. Because he was working for them and they trusted him – which implies a certain amount of schmoozing the enemy on his part – our man was able to issue travel warrants to Dutchmen that authorized them to travel from the Netherlands to southern France. Our man used those warrants to camouflage the movement towards the Pyrenees of a certain number of Dutch officers and allied aviators on their way to England. He also used his own movements in southern France to gather information on German military movements and airbases for the American OSS.
Put that way it all sounds very patriotic, but our man had some difficulty convincing other people that he wasn’t a collaborator after the liberation. He compiled quite a dossier with the authorities. To name just the highlights, it starts with an attestation written by the Purge Commission of the French town of Istres, dated 9 September 1944, i.e. right after the region’s liberation. The Commission states that they have investigated our man and have decided to declare him honorable. The alternative to being declared honorable could well have been the firing squad or a lynching, so we can imagine our man had some anxious moments during the general joy at being liberated.
There’s also an attestation dated 10 October 1944 from a man claiming to work for the American OSS to the effect that our man gave him valuable information about German military operations around Istres.
Next we have an attestation from a French Captain to the effect that our man cooperated wholly with the Allies when they appeared at the airbase in Istres and then volunteered for military action against the Germans. That’s dated 18 June 1945, suggesting that doubts about our man’s wartime activities lingered. They must have continued to plague him because there’s also a letter from a Parisian madame dated 22 January 1946 saying that our man sent at least 50 Dutch and Allied evaders to her “hotel” to spend the night and that he provided the evaders with false documents.
So, yes, our man had helped the Resistance by providing documents to evaders. But the stubborn fact remained that he had also made a lot of money during the war by building defensive works for the Germans. Cynics might say that his Resistance work was a low-cost insurance policy that he made for himself in case the Germans lost the war. In fact, still today, he has the reputation of being an economic collaborator who covered all his bases rather than as a resister. Everyone knew that you didn’t make any money by being in the Resistance.