Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
During the war the grocer in a small town outside Paris organized most of the other notables of the village into an escape line for Allied aviators. They gathered up survivors of USAAF or RAF crashes from across northern France and sent them on to Spain through another escape line. German counter-espionage agents rolled up that other line in late 1943, which caused a certain back up of aviators in the town.
At Christmas 1943, the villagers were hiding 29 Allied aviators, mostly in homes up and down two streets. In fact, there were so many Americans in those two streets that the locals called them the “rue Yankee” and the “rue Américain.” Obviously the resisters were eager to get rid of these guests because the consequences for helping Allied airmen were dire indeed. They tried another line, but it turned out to be a German trap that caught half the men. The French resisters sent the other half to Spain via Dutch-Paris.
You might ask yourself, especially if you’re an historian who has researched this period, how I know that the locals called those two streets “rue Yankee” and “rue Américan.” It’s not the sort of detail that usually shows up in the sort of bureaucratic records that make up official archives. It’s possible that one of the aviators mentioned it in his escape and evasion report, if he spoke enough French to catch on and was especially chatty, but no one did. It is the kind of thing that might show up in a memoir or oral history interview if someone had researched that resistance group in that town. As far as I know, no one has.
So how do I know? I know because an elderly friend of mine told me. He lives in Tasmania; I live in the United States. So we’ve never met, but we do correspond by email because this gentleman was one of the Dutch Engelandvaarders who traveled from Paris to Spain with the help of Dutch-Paris. He’s written a fascinating memoir about his trek, although this detail is not in it. He happened to remember it these many, many years later when something jogged his memory.
And how does this Dutchman who was never in that small French town know what the French villagers called those streets under their breaths during the war? He knows because he spent a grueling three nights walking across the Pyrenees and then a few, more restful days in Spain with some of the 29 Americans who had hidden in that French town for a couple of months. One of the American aviators told him about it. Fortunately our Dutchman spoke English, because the American didn’t speak Dutch.
That’s what you call research serendipity. It is also a long delayed example of how Dutch-Paris gathered its own intelligence. Someone told someone else something interesting, like that the German police did not inspect the documents of passengers on the Paris-Toulouse train on Thursday nights. The second someone told a third someone. And somewhere along the line, the resisters in Dutch-Paris found out what they needed to know to get 16 Allied airmen out of a little town to the northeast of Paris and all the way to Spain.