Who was John Weidner?
The son of a Dutch minister, John (Jean) Weidner (1912-1994) founded the “Dutch-Paris Line” in 1941 to help Jews, downed Allied pilots, and other persecuted people escape from Nazi-occupied Europe through Spain and Switzerland. An experienced mountain climber, Weidner personally guided fleeing refugees and asylum seekers down treacherous cliffs in the French-Swiss Alps. He used his textile business based in France as a front for his rescue work. Criss-crossing several countries using false identity papers, he kept the underground network running in the face of mounting danger. Weidner became one of the Gestapo’s most wanted men. He was captured, tortured, and sentenced to a German concentration camp. But he managed to escape by jumping from a train and continued his rescue work at great risk until the end of the war. After World War II, Weidner served as a Captain of the Dutch Armed Forces charged with investigating cases of Dutch and French collaboration with the Nazis. He later emigrated to the United States and settled in California, where he opened a chain of health food stores. Weidner is honored as one of the Righteous Among the Nations at Israel’s Holocaust Memorial, Yad Vashem. He was awarded the French Legion of Honor and the United States Medal of Freedom.
What was the Dutch-Paris Line?
The Dutch-Paris Line, created and led by Weidner, became one of the largest and most successful nonviolent rescue operations of the entire war. It saved the lives of an estimated three thousand people faced with capture and for many certain death. The underground network of safe houses grew to include nearly 300 members operating with forged documents across four borders, two mountain ranges, and six occupied zones, each requiring unique identity papers and travel passes. The Dutch-Paris Line also relayed microfilm and intelligence to the Allies and resistance groups. Near the end of the war, the Nazis infiltrated the Line. Sixty-five Dutch-Paris rescuers were arrested and more than 20 were executed or died in concentration camps. Weidner’s sister, Gabrielle, was one of those seized by the Nazis for her work for the Line. She died in Ravensbrück concentration camp.
The story of the Dutch-Paris Line is told in detail for the first time by Megan Koreman in her book, The Escape Line (Oxford University Press, 2018). Koreman’s research in Europe and the United Sates was made possible through grants from the John Weidner Foundation for Altruism. She was given exclusive access by the Foundation to never-before analyzed documents, which are now open to all scholars and housed in the Weidner Collection at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University.
Our work today
The John Weidner Foundation for Altruism is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization established in 1996 by Weidner’s wife, Naomi. Our mission is to cultivate selfless and courageous action in the spirit of John Weidner and the Dutch-Paris Line. We do this chiefly by preserving history and telling Weidner’s story, and by supporting scholars and students. Explore our website or contact us to learn more about our ongoing projects and to get involved.