The leader of Dutch-Paris, John Henry Weidner, was born 100 years ago today on 22 October 1912, in the Belgian city of Gent.  As the son and grandson of ministers, Weidner was raised to know right from wrong.  When they lived in Switzerland in the 1920’s, for example, Papa Weidner didn’t want his four children to attend school on Saturdays, the day on which Seventh-day Adventists observe the Sabbath. The Swiss authorities gave him the choice of either sending his children to school or himself to prison on Saturdays. Papa Weidner chose jail for himself.

After the family moved across the border to Collonges-sous-Salève, France, so that Papa Weidner could teach ancient languages at the Seventh-day Adventist seminary there, young John spent all the time he could in the mountains.  He spent many summers as a young man traveling throughout Belgium and France selling religious literature.  When the Germans invaded the Netherlands, John Weidner and a friend got as far as boarding a ship to England before the captain made them get off. They set up a textile shop in Lyon instead.

Because of its location in the Vichy zone close to Switzerland, Lyon acted as a great catchment center for refugees of all sorts during the war. Weidner and other devout Christians there resisted Nazism in various ways, some by printing clandestine newspapers, others by helping fugitives. Circumstances and one thing leading to another meant that John Weidner began to specialize in helping Dutch fugitives.  He began by helping the Dutch consuls in Vichy to aid the many Dutch refugees coming into southern France by sending food and clothing to Dutch Jews caught in Vichy’s notorious internment camps and writing endless official letters to get them out.

In 1942 business acquaintances who had fled the Netherlands asked him to help them get to Switzerland. Because he knew people on the border, he found a way. Then he set up a textile shop in Annecy, closer to the Swiss border, so that he would have the legal right to travel in and out of the border zone. He became known as a man who could get people to Switzerland.

When the Germans shut down the official Dutch aid to refugees, Weidner and other Dutch expatriates opened their own coffers to support the Dutch refugees in southern France who did not have the legal right to work, but it wasn’t enough. Because Weidner had ways of getting into Switzerland, he went on behalf of the committee of expatriates to beg for money from the Dutch government-in-exile in the person of the Dutch ambassador.

While he was in Geneva, a Dutch Jew whom he had smuggled into Switzerland introduced Weidner to Willem Visser ‘t Hooft, secretary of the World Council of Churches in Formation and a Dutchman. He and other Dutch expatriates in Switzerland took up a collection for their compatriots in France.  Weidner agreed to distribute the monies from the government-in-exile and the Dutch expatriates in Switzerland without the Germans’ knowledge.

But Visser ‘t Hooft and the Dutch military attaché had other another use for John Weidner. They needed a way to get men and information to and from the Netherlands. John Weidner accepted the mission and created what we know as the Dutch-Paris Line. He was arrested a few times but always managed to escape. French police once beat him with rifle butts, leading to a brain operation a decade later, but then released him because they couldn’t get him to admit that he was anyone other than the person described on his identity cards. By a fluke, they had arrested him on one of the rare occasions on which he was carrying his own, legitimate identification papers.

This work, he said, cost him and his colleagues “blood and tears” in the form of imprisonment, torture and death at the hands of the enemy.  They knew the risks, but did it because they believed in the justice of their cause.   Weidner himself said that he always felt the protection of God while doing this work.

In November 1944, after the liberation of France, Queen Wilhelmina called Weidner to London. He accepted a commission in the Dutch army and the task of running the “Netherlands Security Service” in Paris. Weidner used that position to get Dutch-Paris officially recognized as a Resistance organization so that his colleagues would have rights to various pensions and medical benefits. He never forgot his responsibilities as “the chief,” filling out forms and writing letters on behalf of Dutch-Paris members for the rest of his life. He himself received the highest awards for his wartime humanitarian service from the Netherlands, Belgium, France, the United Kingdom, the United States and Israel. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum honored him in its opening ceremonies.

He returned to private life in 1946, but Europe held dark memories for him, particularly the death of his sister Gabrielle in the concentration camps. He immigrated to California in 1956 and started a chain of health food stores.

John Henry Weidner died in Pasadena, California, in 1994, a man who could honestly say that he had done his utmost for others despite the risks to himself.