Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
The circumstances of the Second World War created uncertainties and mysteries that haunted survivors for decades. This is especially true for the Resistance, where people operated under false names and could disappear from one hour to the next either to save themselves or because they’d been captured and deported under the notorious “nacht und nebel” regime.
It happened to a man we’ll call Michel, a Romanian born in 1913. The Paris chief of Dutch-Paris called him “our liaison with the German embassy”. Sure enough, in his memoirs, a German officer who worked at the Paris embassy during the war remembers Michel as a member of a Gaullist group to whom he gave information.
The records show that Michel also belonged to the Corps Francs Vengeance, although of course we’re interested in him as a member of Dutch-Paris. One American evader described Michel as being in his mid to late 20’s, 6’ tall and “looking like a dope fiend”. In their reports, members of Dutch-Paris refer to him as the husband, or sometimes lover, of a Dutch student. They did both carry false papers with the same last name and same address, which would have supported the confusion.
I say confusion because Michel was not married to the Dutch woman. He had an eastern European wife and a small daughter (born in 1938) also living in Paris; although he had apparently moved out of the family apartment in October 1942. He may have abandoned his family or simply left to protect them from his Resistance activities, we have no way of knowing.
Among his friends in Dutch-Paris, some thought he might be a Communist. Everyone thought he was attached to the Dutch woman. And everyone knew that he was arrested on 23 February 1944, tortured and deported.
After the war, after all who would return from the concentration camps had returned, Michel’s wife filed the necessary forms with the French government to secure a pension for herself and her daughter. Such pensions, however, required both a death certificate and the official designation of “mort pour la France” [died for France]. In 1946, Michel’s wife got an “act of disappearance” in lieu of a death certificate, which got her a step closer to financial assistance. Two years later, by what can only have seemed like a miracle to her, she found a witness to her husband’s death.
On July 16, 1948, a certain Magha S. certified that Michel had been evacuated from Neuengamme to Buchenwald with him, where Michel had died on April 10, 1945. His wife was now officially a widow with legal rights to pensions and benefits for herself and her daughter.
The widow lived at 145 rue St. Maur. Magha S. lived at 209 rue St Maur. Was it merely coincidence that brought them together? Did one overhear the other and offer or beg for help? Was the widow bemoaning her uncertainties at the grocers one morning while Magha S picked out oranges? Did the concierge from 145 tell her colleague at 209 the terrible story, causing her to remember that she had a survivor from Buchenwald in her own building who might know something? Did they meet at a party or at church?
Michel’s widow found out what had happened to him; his Dutch lover was not so fortunate. After she returned from Ravensbruck, she spent years writing to the Red Cross and other tracing agencies trying to find him, especially after another former political prisoner told her he had seen Michel in Ebensee, Germany, after the liberation (in fact a month after his death). Finally, many years later, she and the German from the embassy concluded that Michel must have drowned in the Cap Arcona, a ship full of concentration camp prisoners that sunk in the Baltic.
It was probably as good a story as the truth, but you can only wish that his partner in the Resistance didn’t have to suffer from the years of uncertainty created by the false report from Ebensee in addition to her own memories of Ravensbruck.