Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
One of the things that makes history so fascinating is that if ten people see the same event, they will have ten different versions or explanations of that event. This is especially true of a catastrophic event such as arrest during the second world war, which was often only the prelude to torture, the unmitigated misery of the concentration camps, and death. So the documents on Dutch-Paris are full of speculations about who or what caused an arrest.
But the problem is that they are all just speculations. No one was in a position to know all the facts. Take the example of two Americans.
First we have our B-17 navigator who was arrested in Brussels on 28 February 1944 and spent his 21st birthday in a Gestapo cell. He and the other nine Allied aviators who were arrested with him and then shipped to Stalag Luft III have always figured that they were arrested because of the betrayal of the “Pole” who wasn’t arrested with them although, logically, he should have been.
Second, we have an American 2nd lieutenant who narrowly escaped arrest on 26 February 1944 in Paris. When he got to Spain he reported that the priest and concierge who had been helping him were arrested for black market activity. He figured that either the police walked in on the priest while he was preparing too much food for the number of people officially in the home, or they had been following him. The priest had been arrested on 13 February at the home of another Dutch-Paris agent arrested for black marketeering but had convinced the Germans to release him because he had been on a routine and innocent visit to a parishioner.
These are good explanations for young men who had literally fallen out of the sky into a dangerous situation where they understood neither the language nor the daily realities of life in an occupied country. With the benefit of having read many different versions of the same stories and of hindsight, however, I can say that they are wrong. The priest and concierge were just two of a couple dozen people arrested on that street in Paris on 26 February 1944 because the Gestapo had extracted the address and many names from a Dutch-Paris courier arrested on 12 February 1944. The arrests two days later in Brussels were part of the same sweep.
Or can I? Maybe because they had no preconceived explanations and no part in the conversation of the Dutch-Paris community, the Americans noticed some things that others didn’t. For instance, no one else mentions that the priest was arrested and released on the 13th. Even the priest forgot it in the ordeal of surviving deportation to the concentration camps. But it’s entirely plausible that the Gestapo followed him after releasing him. So perhaps the courier didn’t betray as many people as has been thought. Perhaps the Gestapo added a few names to the list on their own.
And although it’s logical that the arrest of Dutch-Paris evasion headquarters in Brussels on 28 February followed the arrests of the Dutch-Paris evasion HQ in Paris on 26 February, it’s not necessary. None of the Dutch resisters mention a “Pole,” but none of the survivors remembered anything more about the aviators than that there were 10 or 12 of them in the house. Maybe that “Pole” was indeed one of the German spies who went through the evasion lines and the dates of the two round-ups are coincidences. Or maybe he truly was a Pole who had a lucky escape.
Both stories make sense. The arrests in Brussels could have been caused by the courier’s betrayal or by the “Pole’s” betrayal. But we’ll never know for sure which it was until I find the German version of these same events. And then it’s entirely possible that they have an entirely different explanation.