It took a certain psychic fortitude and flexible attitude to survive as a rescuer.  Take just one story from a Dutch businessman who had been living outside Lyon since 1938 whom we’ll call Bernard.  He and some of his French friends in his village opened their homes to Dutch refugees, giving them shelter, buying them food on the black market, washing and mending their clothes.  They arranged for false documents through the local French resistance group and for safe passage into Switzerland through Dutch-Paris (see previous post of 10 November 2011 for more details).

In early 1944 John Weidner asked Bernard if he would shelter a young Dutch family with a 10 month old baby for a few days on their way to Switzerland.  He said he would be happy to do so and opened the door one day to find a woman with a large basket that turned out to have the baby in it.  The widow who lived in the same building and did the washing and mending for the refugees was overjoyed to have a baby in the house even though other people at the time considered babies to be a noisy security risk.

It just so happened that Bernard had already made an appointment to go to Clermont-Ferrand to fetch another young couple on their way to Switzerland at the same time that the 10 month-old was at his home.  According to the doctor, the wife was due three weeks later, but she fell into labor almost as soon as she arrived in Bernard’s home.  Bernard fetched a midwife of his acquaintance who recommended the lady go to a clinic.  But the lady was Jewish and a clinic meant the Gestapo.  So they delivered the baby right there.   They registered the baby as the child of the mother’s false name and an unknown father, presumably to establish the dubious protection of French citizenship for him and to get him and his mother ration coupons.

So Bernard soon had the first lady, her 10-month-old and her husband as well as the second lady, her infant and the “unknown father” in his home.  Then, quite unexpectedly, they had their own “German invasion”: fourteen “Huns” (as Bernard put it) in his  home for 6 weeks.  “It turned out well,” Bernard later wrote, “but it took a lot of diplomacy.”

It must have also taken an almost epic level of sangfroid on Bernard’s part.  Because he didn’t throw those two Jewish babies and their parents out of his home for the very understandable reason that they would all be dead if the Germans caught them.  No, he kept his guests safe and tolerated the Germans until they left.  Imagine, the man had an almost visceral hatred of Huns from the First World War, but he had to be polite and accommodating  enough to these occupiers of his home that they wouldn’t ask any questions about the diapers on the clothesline or any odd creaks in the attic ceiling.

Unfortunately Bernard didn’t consider this or anything else he did during the war for at least 150 other people sufficiently remarkable to go into details about what he did or how.  He must have been an unusually impeturbable and determined man.