On 23 November 1943, two plain clothes German policemen arrested a Dutch banker in the train station in Antwerp, Belgium. The banker sat in a prison in Belgium for three months without being interviewed, was then transferred to an internment camp in the Netherlands where he was interviewed in an almost gentlemanly manner and then deported into the concentration camp system. The English liberated him from Bergen-Belsen in April 1945.

The Dutch banker, we’ll call him Jan, managed a branch office in Brussels. He appears to have been very busy transferring and exchanging money for the Dutch Resistance. For instance, the Hervormde Kerk sent 80,000 guilders to its pastor in Brussels for the support of Dutch refugees through our man, who converted it into Belgian francs. He was, then, under suspicion by the Deviezen Schutz Kommando (DSK) for contravening their laws about money.

But he was arrested as part of the “roll-up” of a pilot escape line run by a dangerously chatty Dutchman from the Hague who had completely fallen for the false assurances of a Dutch Vertrauens-mann [loosely translated from the German as “person of trust”]. The V men and women were traitors who worked for the Germans as agents provocateur. This particular V-mann called himself van den Berg and worked for the Abwehr by infiltrating Dutch resistance networks. He was very good at it.

Interestingly, after Jan’s arrest in Antwerp, van den Berg made a tour of his friends. He told the manager of Jan’s bank in Breda that he knew the German in charge of Jan’s case and could bribe Jan out of prison with enough cash. He told the same story to a couple who smuggled downed airmen over the Dutch/Belgian border.

When the Dutch were collecting depositions about a different V-mann in 1948, the banker in Breda told them that van den Berg had showed up at his office one day with the news that Jan had been arrested. He told him so many details of Jan’s resistance work, that he trusted him. Van den Berg asked him for 50,000 Belgian francs to get Jan out of prison. He didn’t have any francs, so he gave him 6,000 Dutch guilders. He never saw either van den Berg or the money again and, “naturally”, nothing came of the attempt to free Jan.

The second V-mann said that van den Berg told the couple on the border that he was asking everyone to contribute to the bribe to free Jan so that the financial burden wouldn’t fall too heavily on any one person. The husband was willing to help, but the wife refused on the grounds that she didn’t trust van den Berg.

Van den Berg, of course, gave a different version of the story. According to him, he like Jan so much that he had protested the arrest, about which he knew nothing in advance. He made a deal with another German to get Jan out and went to raise the money amongst Jan’s friends. But, he says, the banker in Breda must have talked even though he told him not to, because van den Berg was called in by his superiors and required to turn over the 6,000 guilders.

Jan himself said that van den Berg called him in Brussels to ask for a meeting in Antwerp. Over lunch he asked him to take a particular train back so they could ride together. As he entered the station, he was arrested and was sure that he had been betrayed by van den Berg. He didn’t mention any rescue attempts.

Van den Berg’s story about wanting to buy Jan out of prison out of the kindness of his heart is hardly credible. But you have to wonder, why was he collecting this money? If he’d been ordered to do so, why not just blame it on his superiors as he does everything else? Even in 1948 he sounds bitter about losing the 6,000 guilders to his German superior.

I suspect that he was doing a little business for himself on the side with every intention of pocketing whatever money he could raise. After all, to whom are resisters going to complain that their attempts to free a resister went wrong? The German authorities?

It’s just another example of the greed that drove so much cruelty during the war, a relatively innocuous one at that.