Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
Rescuing people during the Second World War the way Dutch-Paris did was one of those projects that just keep getting more complicated the further you get into it. It sounds straight forward enough: take a person from point A to point B. Of course there are obvious problems such as money, false documents and transportation. But there are also a whole host of secondary problems lurking in the details. Medical care, for example.
During the occupation, many civilians suffered from chronic medical problems because of the shortages of food and heating fuel and, for some, the bone-weary fatigue that comes from spending nights in air raid shelters. In addition to the general hunger and cold, some of the people whom Dutch-Paris helped also had to hide in confined spaces without fresh air or exercise for long periods. In addition, few of the aviators whom they rescued had been injured when their airplanes crashed or they had bailed out.
The shortages that sapped civilians’ health also compromised the public health services, starting with the number of doctors available. In France some doctors spent the war as POWs. In the Netherlands some doctors lost their licenses by refusing to cooperate with the Nazis. And everywhere Jewish physicians were forbidden to practice. Those doctors and nurses still at their posts did not have adequate equipment or medicines. Furthermore, the occupation authorities required doctors to report their patients, especially those with suspicious wounds.
For a fugitive any trip to the doctor’s or a hospital might end in prison. So what did the resisters of Dutch-Paris do when one of their protegés fell ill? They did what they did with any problem. First they searched their social and professional networks for doctors, nurses and hospital administrators willing to work illegally, without reporting the patient. Second, they raised money to pay for black market medical bills.
In Paris they found a doctor who was willing to make house calls to a resister’s apartment to treat the injuries and illnesses of aviators. In Toulouse one of their number was a medical student. In fact, he spent the last couple of months of the war as the doctor for a partisan unit. The Comité in Brussels, however, organized the best medical care for the hundreds of men and women whom they hid. They had good connections because the wife of one of the leaders had been the director of a clinic in the city before the war. But they also managed to raise enough money among Dutch expats to create a “sick fund.” A young Dutch widow managed the fund and escorted those in hiding across the city and to appointments if the fugitive did not speak French.
So as with all the daily problems that the resisters of Dutch-Paris encountered, solving the problem of providing medical care took extra time, flexibility and money. But they did solve it.