Dutch-Paris helped all sorts of people to escape from the Germans during the war. Some of them were much more obvious candidates for evasion than others. The trained military personnel who had bailed out of Allied aircraft had, one presumes, the field skills, discipline and health for the task. The young Dutch Engelandvaarders also had youth on their side, along with an innate understanding of the European situation. The older resisters who were called to London might not have had youth, but they had already proven their moral courage and resilience. Generally speaking, however, the Jewish families who fled with their elderly relatives and young children had nothing particular in their favor but desperation. Obviously some of them were young resisters in their own right, but as a group, the Jewish fugitives had neither chosen nor been trained for the arduous task of fleeing across Occupied Europe.

Here’s a story that illustrates how Jews and other fugitives had to rely on the kindness of many strangers. It comes from a young Dutch woman who fled with her middle-class parents during the mass deportations of Jews from the Netherlands. Unfortunately she doesn’t explain how the trio got over the Dutch border, through Belgium or into France, but picks up her tale at the demarcation line dividing northern, Occupied France from the southern Vichy zone. The three of them apparently walked across the demarcation line (she doesn’t say how) but were arrested in a train in October 1942 by the Vichy French police for not having the correct travel permits.

They were incarcerated in the prison in Annecy, a notoriously damp place in the middle of a mountain river. A French police captain, however, let them go at dawn with the advice to visit the archbishop. His Eminence received them, assured them of his good will, and gave them the name of a French family willing to help. The family welcomed them and told them about a local Dutch businessman called John Weidner who was known to help people get to Switzerland.

The fugitives went to introduce themselves to their fellow Dutchman that same day. Remarkably, considering that they had been imprisoned there, the family stayed in Annecy for the next three months. The father helped out at Weidner’s textile shop, which noticeably improved his spirits. And the daughter helped Weidner’s organization by meeting escapees at the train station and showing them to the addresses where they would be welcomed until they could continue on to Switzerland.

Finally in February 1943, the Gestapo got wind of the family’s fugitive status and they had to leave Annecy. Weidner took them to the border near Collonges, where they waded across the river Arve that separates France from Switzerland not far from Geneva. They spent the rest of the war in Switzerland.

This particular family had a run of good luck on a single day in October 1942 when they benefitted from the kindness of the French police captain, the archbishop, the French family and the Dutch businessman. It’s unlikely that they would have gotten that far if other strangers hadn’t shown them similar kindnesses along the way through Belgium and France.