Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
In the last post I described a young Alsatian man who was both a resister and a collaborator. He was far from the only young man from the occupied countries who made a choice that the world considers to be evil out of concern for his family rather than ideological commitment or personal depravity.
Here’s another example. Consider a young Dutchman whom we’ll call Ton. He was one of the oldest of 10 children, the son of a nurseryman. Inevitably, he received an official notice to report for labor duty in the Third Reich. This was unwelcome news. Ton would likely be assigned to work in a factory, where conditions were harsh. German factories were also the regular target of the fleets of bombers that flew over the family’s home on their way from their bases in England to their targets in Germany.
Ton’s father offered to arrange a hiding place for him with an acquaintance in the city of The Hague. His family, however, would have to provide food for him, which meant making the long trip into the city at least once a week. Ton did not think that the family could manage this extra burden along with running the nursery without his help. So he turned down the opportunity to become an onderduiker in hiding from the German authorities.
Instead, he came up with a compromise between the German factory and the Dutch hiding place. The family’s horticultural contacts included a few farmers in Germany. One of these farmers was short handed because his own sons had been conscripted into the Wehrmacht. So Ton made arrangements with the local labor draft board to be sent to work on that German farm rather than in a German factory.
So where does Ton fit on the good vs evil scale? He chose not to defy the Germans by going into hiding or joining the Resistance. But he also found a way to stay out of the Wehrmacht and to stay out of the German war factories. You could say that he freed up a German man to fight by taking his place on the farm, but the young men had already been conscripted from that farm before he arrived. Still, he helped grow food for the enemy. But how can you tell if that food fed the army or the school children?
In any eventuality, Ton could not continue working on his own family’s land in the Netherlands. If he had taken the hiding place in the city, he would have reduced his family’s productivity by the time and energy it took for them to bring him his food. There’s also a good chance that he would have starved to death during the Hunger Winter of 1944-45. Instead, he was able to return to the Netherlands in relatively good health at the end of the war and get right to work rebuilding the country while many of his neighbors were still too weak from starvation.
When making his choice between what the world now calls “resister” or “collaborator” Ton did not consider the great ideological or political positions of the day or even his own reputation or postwar chances. He did what he felt was best for his own family. When it comes down to it, that is probably what most civilians in Occupied Europe did during the war.