Searching for the Dutch-Paris Escape Line
On 19 February 1944 a black automobile running on gasoline drove into the border town of St-Julien (Haute-Savoie, France) and stopped at the home of Police Inspector C. (born 1906). Four men in civilian clothes got out. After they arrested the inspector, two of the men took his wife to the Hotel Cheval Blanc where they demanded a Madame A (born 1889). By this time they were impatient and threatened to burn the hotel if Mme A was not found within 10 minutes. Fortunately for everyone else, she was in the laundry room.
The unknown men carted away two suitcases and box of clothing and other scarce items when they drove away from the inspector’s home with their two prisoners. Inspector C. and Madame A were taken by car to Lyon and put on a train to Fresnes prison in Paris that same evening. Madame A returned to Haute-Savoie in January 1945, where she died at the hospital of Annemasse three months later. The Inspector was never seen again.
Having heard about the arrests through “the public rumor” as soon as they happened, the local French gendarmes investigated. They were unable to determine who had made the arrests although witnesses agreed that the four men wore civilian clothes, had sub-machine guns and drove a black Peugeot 402, probably with Lyon license plates. They also agreed that the men were German with the possible exception of one, who was French.
The gendarmerie returned to the case in December 1945 and January 1946 as part of the regional investigation into war crimes. In 1944 witnesses had known that the two victims had been active in the Resistance. In 1946 the local chef de la Résistance testified that the victims had been part of the French networks MUR and NAP. In fact, the Inspector had been in charge of “inter-allied information services” with Geneva, and Mme A had been a courier between Paris, Montluçon and the Swiss border.
Apparently the day before the arrests the Inspector had been in Geneva as he often was, but had told a friend in a Resistance café that he thought a certain French innkeeper had been following him. Or perhaps the arrests were triggered by the betrayal of a certain “Sonia” that had already led to the arrests of other members of the group in Paris and Montluçon in January. So the motive was established, however murkily.
But the gendarmes could not determine who had made the arrests. Clearly they were part of the German security services because they had a gasoline powered automobile and Madame A had been taken to the notorious prison of Fresnes. But which of the security services? The fact that the men had been in civilian clothes and that there wasn’t a single [German] police or Gestapo unit based in the region of St-Julien made it impossible to say. Madame A herself didn’t know who arrested her, although she told friends that two of the men had been French and two German.
It goes to show you how disorderly things had gotten on the Franco-Swiss border. And how complex the clandestine world was. Because Inspector C and the Hotel Cheval Blanc are both on John Henry Weidner’s November 1944 list of members of Dutch-Paris. So we can say that Inspector C was working for at least two Resistance groups. That makes sense. There couldn’t have been that many people willing to take the risks of Resistance who had the training of a police inspector and the possibility to travel frequently between Geneva and France. He probably provided information about border crossings and refugee reception for Dutch-Paris, although Weidner didn’t specify what the people on his list did for the Line.
As for the hotel, it may have just been a coincidence that the courier for the local MUR ate her meals in a hotel that probably sheltered Dutch refugees before they made their way under the barbed wire into Switzerland. But probably not. The courier needed the shelter of people who didn’t wonder why she was away so often. Those innkeepers were in the Resistance too.
And so the plot thickens. Not only do we have clandestine agents on the side of the Resistance, moving about with false names and leaving as few tracks as possible, but now we also have unnamed, unmarked agents on the other side hunting down the resisters. It’s good news for the writers of thrillers; bad news for the historian who needs to establish the paper trail.