Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
Although Dutch-Paris was mostly in the business of rescuing people, the line did also convey information. For the most part, the information was gathered by other people skulking about the peripheries of German military installations, plying officers with wine or simply and boringly counting the number of trucks that drove by. The information, whether it be about military affairs or the state of the food supply, was written up into reports, microfilmed and then carried across the continent rolled up in hairbrushes, fountain pens and the like.
And, of course, the Dutch-Paris couriers themselves would have been good sources of information, if only about public opinion, because they relied on their powers of observation to stay alive.
But there was always the taint of rumor on any clandestine information, and sometimes it could be hard to assess. For instance, in March or April of 1944, the Dutch military attaché in Switzerland sent a letter to his British counterpart. The general was an experienced and level-headed person but he was puzzled by a report he got from a “reliable Dutchman” who had heard the same story from four different sources in four different places in southwestern France.
According to all four of these people, the Germans had put remote-controlled mines in the sea off the coast and were building large pipes down to the beaches. And according to all of them, “…the Germans intend to press glue through these pipes, by water pressure, on the beach. The landing troops running up the beach to attack, will stick in the glue……. [sic]
I do not know what to think of it,” the general continued in English, “but I do not see fit to keep it for myself. It was also told that the glue-works in Germany and the occupied countries are working with day and night shifts which could perhaps be verified.”
The story was not quite absurd enough for the general to dismiss it. After all, was it as far fetched in 1944 as the idea of self-propelled bombs making their way from the continent to England, which was actually happening in the form of V-1 and V-2 rockets? Was it harder to believe than the reports coming out of Auschwitz? If the enemy could and did do those things, why not glue up the beaches?
It is possible, of course, that the general edited the rumor before committing it to paper. It bears a striking resemblance to a persistent rumor from the First World War. In the earlier version, the Germans were said to be boiling down soldier’s corpses to make glue. In the innocence of the time, that was considered an atrocity. I would not be at all surprised if the full rumor that the reliable Dutchman heard in southern France was that in this second war the Germans were boiling down the corpses of their civilian victims in places like Auschwitz in order to make glue to stop an Allied landing. It bears the hallmark of a good rumor, the kind that travels swiftly from place to place. It fits an ancient taboo, in this case desecration of the dead, to current circumstances. It would have been one way to explain the deportations.
Of course, I don’t have a literal transcript of what the reliable Dutchman did hear from the reliable French men and women. I might be making up a rumor myself right now. All we can say for certain is that both the French and the Germans thought there might be an invasion in 1944. We can also say with confidence that not only was accurate information difficult and dangerous to relay in occupied Europe, it was hard to come by.