A friend of mine mentioned that the blog is very interesting but I’d neglected to write about how critical a role luck played in escaping Nazi Europe. He should know because he’s an Engelandvaarder who traveled from Amsterdam to Spain via Dutch-Paris. He now lives in Tasmania and has quite convinced me to move there if I should ever have the means, but that’s another story.

My friend, we’ll call him Z, generously shared his as-yet unpublished memoir of his escape with me. I hope it is published because not only is it the kind of story that will keep you turning pages until all hours, but it will teach you a lot about life in Occupied Europe. I’m willing to bet that none of you knew that one of the best places for a man of military age to hide in Amsterdam was the golf club. Apparently the Germans didn’t think they’d catch enough evaders there to make it worth their while to raid it.

It’s no coincidence that Z calls his memoir Luck Through Adversity. I’ll give you just three examples from it of the kind of luck you needed to stay away from the firing squad.

(1) On Z’s first attempt to get to England, his escape-line contact in Breda (the Netherlands) received a warning that stopped Z from crossing the border a few hours later. Members of the escape line had been arrested in Brussels, turning Z’s destination there into a trap.

(2) On his second attempt, Z was arrested because of indiscretions during a night out in Paris. That was unlucky. But it turned out that the Germans who arrested him didn’t know Paris well enough to navigate in the black-out. For two or three seconds all three Germans turned to the left to try to read a street sign. That was lucky because it allowed Z to roll out of the Citroën and get away. (Of course that was only lucky because Z had the audacity to let himself out of the Wehrmacht vehicle and could run so fast, but he gives the credit to luck).

(3) That arrest and escape in Paris convinced the Dutch-Paris agents to put Z and his companion on the Line down to Toulouse ahead of schedule. The two of them crossed the Pyrenees without notable difficulty and even managed to get through Spain without the usual purgatory in one of the Spanish internment camps. That was lucky because they were supposed to travel south with a convoy that ran into a German ambush at the Col de Portet d’Aspet eleven days after they had passed through it. Many of the men in his original group perished on the mountainside or in a concentration camp.

There are other less dire examples of luck in the story, but these will show you how crucial it could be. They also demonstrate that along with luck you needed the wit to take advantage of it. And they remind us that this wasn’t a game. Some people were lucky and they got through, but others were unlucky. And they died.