Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
Odd as it might seem, you could join the Resistance without meaning to or even realizing it. This was especially true for rescuers, who often felt that they were simply doing what needed to be done. This was the case for a Dutchman we’ll call Bernard whose resistance work developed so gradually and, in his mind, inevitably, that he didn’t think of it as Resistance until someone asked him to write a report in December 1945.
Bernard was a Dutch businessman who had been living outside of Lyon, France, since 1938. Early in the war he received a letter from a business contact in the Netherlands saying that his son, Paul, would be visiting France soon. Bernard waited but received no visitors. Then one day he got a letter from Paul written from the French prison in Macon and asking for help. Apparently Paul and three of his friends had been caught crossing the demarcation line that divided France while they were trying to get to Spain to get to England to join the Allied armies. Bernard got the four of them out of prison and brought Paul to live in his own home. Because he helped out at the Dutch consulate in Lyon, Paul met many Dutch refugees, some of whom he took home to Bernard’s place with him. Once he found a route to Spain, Paul left. He eventually made it to England where he joined RAF Bomber Command. Bernard was pleased to have played a small role in bombing Germany.
Meanwhile, word got around the Dutch community in France that Bernard was a helpful fellow. Strangers showed up at his door asking for shelter. Letters arrived from French prisons asking for money and help. Bernard did what he could. And apparently he could do quite a bit. He recruited the other tenants in his building, a French widow and her son, to do the washing, mending and cooking for the Dutch people hiding in his apartment. The son did the black market shopping with Bernard’s money. He also convinced a nearby French farming family to take in other Dutch fugitives. He sent money to prisons. He arranged for Jewish families to get to Switzerland via Dutch-Paris. He gave John Weidner and one of his top lieutenants shelter when they needed it. He made contact with the local French Resistance to get false documents for his guests.
But during the Second World War, a helpful reputation could be a serious liability. Sure enough two young Dutchmen showed up at his door one day in May 1944 with what looked like the legitimate papers of Dutch soldiers. Bernard gave them dinner. They said they needed money and a route to Spain. He gave them the money but no longer had a secure route to Spain. However, he knew someone in Marseilles but not his address. At that point a Dutch Jewish couple who had been living in Lyon and helping Dutch fugitives, came to the door to say that their brother and his family had been arrested. They invited the two young men to spend the night at their house because they did have the correct address in Marseilles.
Once there, the strangers showed their Gestapo badges to the Jewish couple, claimed that they were tired of their dirty work and wanted to leave the country, and demanded 30,000 francs for their silence. The couple gave them 5,000 francs and fled. But first they sent their son to warn Bernard. At the urging of his friends in the French Resistance and his lawyer, Bernard took himself, the widow and her son to a holiday resort for the summer. They returned home after the region had been liberated in early September 1944.
He didn’t think much of all this until people started saying that he was a bad patriot because after the liberation he worked with a Dutchman who was working with the Red Cross in Lyon and who, unbeknownst to Bernard, had been a collaborator during the war in the Netherlands. So he wrote the report Weidner had been asking him for and tallied up the names he had of Dutch people he’d helped in one way or another during the war. There are 156 names on the list, 92 of whom had stayed at his home. In retrospect, Bernard had to agree that he had been in the Resistance.