Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
Every time a resistance courier escorted a fugitive to a new place, the courier put his or her life at the risk of the fugitive’s ability to follow directions, act discretely and avoid being caught. How did they do that? We get a glimpse of it from a eulogy that a former Engelandvaarder, whom we’ll call Stapel, gave for one of the most important members of Dutch-Paris, whom we’ll call Moen.
Moen traveled through France and Belgium constantly during the war. He knew everyone and where everyone was. It was Moen who ran through the Dutch-Paris route in France after the big arrests in Paris, knocking on doors in the middle of the night, warning people to hide. He himself was never caught, although his mother and sisters perished at Auschwitz.
Stapel encountered Moen for perhaps three hours during the war but remembered him clearly and often until he met him again 25 years later at a commemorative event. He remembered him still as the model of a man who knew exactly what needed to be done. This is the story he told at Moen’s grave.
In November 1943, John Weidner introduced Stapel to Moen in Paris with the information that they would go to Lyon together the next day. Moen was businesslike and efficient. All he said was “8:30 in the hall of the Gare de Lyon.” The next morning at the train station Moen showed him where to buy a ticket and told him that they would travel in separate compartments. When they arrived in Lyon Stapel was to get out of the train and walk with the crowd; Moen would find him. Which is what happened, except that as they were leaving the station, they found out that there had been gunfire [schietpartijen] in the city the night before and the Germans had imposed at 7:00 curfew. No trams were running. They had just a few minutes to get to wherever they were going to spend the night.
They were supposed to take a tram 7km out of town to rendez-vous with two other Dutchmen waiting to go to Switzerland. Instead, Moen calmly took them somewhere else. The next morning Stapel went on to Annecy and Switzerland to later return with microfilms. Moen met him again and took him back to the Gare de Lyon in Paris. There he said, again very businesslike, “Now you’re going to Toulouse. When you get there, take such and such a bus to such and such a stop. Walk to the end of the street; you’ll see a small café. There will be Germans in the front but walk to the back and you’ll find everyone who’s waiting to go to Spain.” And it happened just as he said it would. Stapel made it to Spain and England and a career in the Dutch intelligence services.
Moen continued to travel after the war, constantly making the rounds of his many friends, the beloved center of the social network that grew out of Dutch-Paris. His friends’ children all called him Uncle Moen and remembered his good humor and how he loved to schmooze with the newspaperman or the train conductor as he traveled. It was only the people who had met him as a stranger who was willing to risk his life to help them during the war, who remembered him as curt and businesslike.