Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
Seventy-two years ago, on 28 February 1944, German police arrested a number of Dutch-Paris helpers in a well-organized sweep. Officers from the Abwehr (German military intelligence), Geheime Feldpolizei (secret military police) and Gestapo (secret state police) cooperated in the raids. One group invaded the Dutch-Paris safe house in Brussels at the same time that other units arrested Dutch-Paris helpers in Paris at their homes across the city and even outside it.
Those men and women who were captured on 28 February endured interrogation and in many cases torture, imprisonment, deportation in cattle cars and the slave labor, exposure and mistreatment of the concentration camps. Some of them survived to return home after the war. Others did not.
Over the months of March, April and May, more arrests trailed after the first big round up, extending to Lyon and Annecy.
Informally after the war, 28 February became Dutch-Paris’s “remembrance day.” It did not mark the day of the line’s defeat, because Dutch-Paris continued to help fugitives until the liberation made it unnecessary. Nor did it mark any particular person’s death. Nor did it remember any of the thousands of rescues which Dutch-Paris could claim as victories or even the general victories of the liberation or the end of the war.
Instead it focused the group’s memory on its most anguished and confused hour, when so many of their comrades were captured by a ruthless enemy. It was the beginning of sorrow for many, and perhaps guilt for those who escaped. It was also the only date that commonly affected all members of the line whether they were in the Netherlands, Belgium, France or Switzerland.
Although it is not quite 28 February, perhaps we can all spare a thought for those who fought for freedom and human dignity without weapons by rescuing the persecuted.