Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
Dutch-Paris did occasionally have to suspend its escapes into Switzerland or Spain due to severe weather in the mountains that made travel impossible. It had to be absolutely impossible, though, because delaying escapes meant having to hide and feed the evaders somewhere in occupied territory.
As long as there was a chance of getting through, the evaders made the attempt. They did so even though few of them had what we would consider to be adequate winter gear. Even if it was possible to get decent mountain boots (which was by no means certain), it was dangerous to wear them or even carry them on the trip through France to the Pyrenees because it advertized a man’s illegal intentions of escaping occupied territory. Many evaders therefore wore city shoes in the mountains and suffered frostbite. It was also too dangerous to make a fire during rest stops in the mountains. More than one Engelandvaarder was so cold and wet as he huddled in a shepherd’s hut that he couldn’t sleep, adding to the exhaustion of the trek.
But sometimes the weather stopped even the passeurs whose own danger and that of their families increased every day that the evaders in their care lingered on the French side of the border. In late January 1944, for example, snowstorms closed the passes in the Pyrenees for several weeks. This caused problems in Toulouse, where Dutch-Paris had a couple dozen American and British aviators to hide and feed. They borrowed an empty and unheatable house in the outskirts of Toulouse for the aviators and brought food to them daily. The young men and women who smuggled the food through the city soon nicknamed the house the “Villa du Crime.”
As soon as it was possible to get into the mountains, the passeurs took the evaders into the mountains to wait in what some of them described as barns and some described as shepherd’s huts. While they waited for the snow to recede more evaders arrived in a truck driven by a man who had grown up in Oakland, California, but returned to his family’s farm in the Pyrenees in the 1930’s. Several of the evaders would walk five or six hours down the mountain every other day to fetch the group’s provisions. Armed resisters met them halfway to protect them from German patrols. The evaders finally made it to Spain in late March 1944.