The Dutch-Paris Line, a wartime European escape route
In honour of Liberation Day, which is yearly celebrated in The Netherlands on May 5, we will dedicate this post to the resistance in wartime Europe. Without the resistance help of many extremely brave people who were often organised in networks, it would have been impossible for many refugees, like our father Jan ter Doest, to reach their destination.
One such network was the so called ‘Dutch-Paris line’, which ran from Holland and Belgium all the way to France, Switzerland and Spain like an underground river. This line consisted of a set of contact addresses and names of local ‘passeurs’, who guided refugees across borders or mountains.
Founder of this network was Jean Weidner. Although born from Dutch parents (in 1912), Weidner grew up in the Haute Savoie region at the French-Swiss border. He spoke both Dutch and French fluently and he knew the mountainous routes by heart. His two textile businesses, located in Lyon and Annecy, served as a cover for his resistance activities. Being raised as a ‘Seventh Day Adventist’, Weidner developed a very caring lifestyle.
Jean Weidner (Photo collection 'Nationaal Archief' in The Hague)
“We did our utmost to defend humanity against a terrible attack on human dignity.”
But he was more than ‘just’ an altruist. His escape network became very successful due to his organisational talents, persuasiveness and perseverance. Initially, the majority of people who received his help were Jewish refugees, but later on also Engelandvaarders were supplied with shelter, food, money and documents. Furthermore, allied pilots who had been shot down above occupied territory and had survived their rough landing, were aided to make a make a successful ‘home run’ to England. One famous example is the Dutch pilot Bram van der Stok, who later became one of the Dutch 322 squadron leaders.
A second important task of the Dutch-Paris line (the origin of the name is unclear but was probably assigned post war) was the smuggle of micro films containing intelligence to and from the Dutch government in London. The lines for these espionage activities ran mainly via Switzerland. The system was funded by churches and allied governments.
Network of networks
The Dutch Paris line operated closely together with other networks within the Belgian and French resistance. The fact that the different escape routes were operating independently made the system very flexible.
A French catholic priest rings his contact within the resistance to ask for further help for 16 year old Jan ter Doest during his escape to England (illustration from newspaper "De Telegraaf" , 20-9-1976)
Guides and couriers were familiar with local circumstances and could quickly adjust to sudden necessary changes of routes. Sensitive knowledge of facts and names was kept to a minimum. Nevertheless, out of the estimated three hundred collaborators of ‘Dutch Paris’, at least eighty three people were arrested by the Gestapo. Around fifty of them were transported to German concentration camps and many didn’t survive. The Dutch diplomat Joop Kolkman at the 'Office Néerlandais' in Perpignan, who also played an important role in our father's story, was one of these courageous people who paid for his resistance activities with his own life. In total, The Dutch-Paris Line helped an estimated three thousand people on their way to freedom.
A Dutch-Paris convoy with shot down pilots and 'Engelandvaarders' across the Pyrenees from occupied France to neutral Spain, 1944 (photo collection 'Verzetsmuseum Amsterdam')
Note: The book on which we have mainly based our information for this post will very soon also be published in English titled:
Gewone helden. De Dutch-Paris ontsnappingslijn 1942-1945 - author Megan Koreman, uitg. Boom, 2016
Tulpen voor Wilhelmina. De geschiedenis van de Engelandvaarders - author Agnes Dessing, uitg. Bert Bakker, 2004
Joseph Willem Kolkman (1896-1944) en de Engelandvaarders, article in 'Negende jaarboek van het Rijksinstituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie', 1998 - author Sierk Plantinga