Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
The Panier Fleuri was a small inn on the outskirts of Toulouse that has enjoyed a modicum of postwar fame as the place where Dutch-Paris hid evaders before they left for the Pyrenees. Over the years, it’s been confused with other places, perhaps because it had name for people to remember (see previous post).
This is the brief history of the Panier Fleuri and Dutch-Paris.
Dutch-Paris actually inherited the Panier Fleuri as a safe house when Weidner and his colleagues set up a base in Toulouse in November 1943. Before that, Weidner had been arranging for Engelandvaarders to travel between Geneva and Toulouse, where they passed into the care of the acting Dutch consul. The official Dutch consul had already disappeared into the concentration camps by that time. His replacement was a refugee with good intentions. This refugee-consul seems to have established the Panier Fleuri as a safe house, probably in August 1943. We don’t know how he recruited the owners because his secretary burned all his papers when he went into hiding and he himself died of a heart attack at the end of the war.
When Weidner’s colleagues arrived in November 1943, they found the Panier Fleuri dangerously overcrowded with Dutchmen on the lam. They moved some of the more flexible sorts into cheap hotels in town, putting at most two evaders in one place. They also began the laborious process of finding apartments to rent. But they continued to use the Panier Fleuri because it was so difficult to find hotels or landlords who would risk the penalties for lodging illegal foreigners.
On 7 January 1944 Weidner himself was in Toulouse trying to figure out where to hide a young Dutchman who had made his own way that far south. He and one of his top agents telephoned the Panier Fleuri but got no answer. So they took the tram to the end of the line to talk to the proprietor themselves. It was a good thing that they didn’t show up the day before, because the Gestapo had only just left.
When German police raided the Panier Fleuri on December 31 1943 or January 1 1944, they captured four Dutchmen, two Belgians and one Irishman. As usual, they set up a “mousetrap” to catch any other fugitives or resisters who came to the inn. They released the owners with only a fine to pay. Needless to say, Dutch-Paris did not use the Panier Fleuri again after Weidner’s narrow escape.
Strictly speaking, the Panier Fleuri played a role in Dutch-Paris for only about six weeks at the end of 1943. Weidner himself did not consider the owners to be members of the line because they were well paid for every fugitive who stayed there. But in popular memory the Panier Fleuri has come to stand in for every hiding place in Toulouse, giving it a much larger postwar role than it ever played during the war.