There isn’t much mystery about why people went to Switzerland or Spain via Dutch-Paris. They were fleeing from the lethal Nazi persecution of the Jews. Or they had been involved in the Resistance but the Gestapo had found their trail. Or they were members of the Allied military, or wanted to fight the Germans alongside it.

The question is more difficult in the cases of people who had every reason to flee, and the connections to do so, but chose to stay behind and help others escape. Of course at some point every resister had a good reason to go underground. Many of the men and women of Dutch-Paris did so while, usually, keeping up their Resistance work. I’m thinking of people who were themselves displaced fugitives who already stood out as refugees but who nevertheless took the added risk of opposition.

Take, for example, the handful of young, Dutch, Jewish men whose families were deported “to the east”. Two of these men literally jumped off the trains that took the rest of their families to Auschwitz. They could have found refuge in Switzerland; after all, they spent their time helping others to get there through Dutch-Paris. But by staying in the occupied areas and constantly exposing themselves on trains and at borders, they defied the Germans and fought on their own, clandestine front.

It’s harder to explain why the family men didn’t make good their escapes or simply lay low and stay out of danger. Among many examples, there’s the professor from Paris, the father of two young girls, who spent the war as a refugee in Toulouse only to be executed a few weeks before the liberation for his Resistance activities, including Dutch-Paris escapes over the Pyrenees. Or the cobbler, father of children born in 1938, 1941 and 1942, who had to leave his home in Alsace when the Germans incorporated it into the Reich in 1940. He settled in Annecy, close enough to the Swiss border to guide others over it to safety. He was arrested in 1943 and returned from the concentration camps in 1945. Both men could have lived quietly like most refugees or taken themselves and their families over the border to Spain or Switzerland. Instead both engaged themselves in Dutch-Paris and other Resistance groups.

Those, I think, are real heroes: the men and women who had so very much to lose and who could have so easily slipped over the border to safety themselves but stayed behind to fight the good fight.