What Did My Father Do in the Resistance?

When someone asks me how they should go about learning more about the Resistance activity of a relative, I try to offer some suggestions.  These, of course, vary from one person to the next.   Nevertheless, below are some suggestions that may be useful.  Links will direct you to further information on other websites as well as other pages on this website.  I would welcome suggestions for additions to the list.

  • Danish, Dutch, Belgian, Hungarian, Luxembourg, French, or Yugoslavian Helper Lists. If the person helped Allied airmen, take a look at the lists of Danish, Dutch Belgian, Hungarian,  LuxemburgerFrench, or  Yugoslavian helpers posted on this website.  Not everyone who aided an airman is listed, but it is a good starting point.  Note the Award Grade, which provides some idea of how Allied Military Intelligence ranked the person’s contribution (a #1 is the highest).  For a discussion of the meaning of the award grades in English, click here.  For it in French, click here.   On the lists there sometimes are notations of payments to helpers to recompense them for their losses.  Another source for an explanation of the Award  Grades is in the report on the History of the Holland Office, 6801 MIS-X Detachment, the second memo (dated 28 June 1946), pp. 7-11 on this website.
  • National Archives Helper Files. If the person is on one of the lists of helpers of Allied airmen, both the British and American national archives may have a copy of the person’s helper file compiled by Allied Military Intelligence.   A file may contain a list of the person’s contacts in the Resistance, names of airmen helped, correspondence, etc.  A questionnaire, or vragenlijst in The Netherlands, typically was completed by the helper.  In the United States, National Archives II at College Park, Maryland has the WWII records, including the helper files.  Follow the links to get their address and request a copy from the Textual Research Room.  To see a list of the file boxes containing the helper files and the corresponding identifying information, for Dutch files click here and for Belgian files click here.   If you need the help of a professional researcher, click here.  To see a discussion of the complications faced by Allied military intelligence after the Liberation in tracing who the helpers were of Allied airmen, click here.
  • Aid to Allied Airmen.  If the person aided an American airman and you know his name, there may be a file, called the escape and evasion (E&E) report on the airman, at National Archives II in College Park, Maryland.  Those reports are now available on-line.  The report may include the name of the relative you are researching and the names of his or her associates in the Resistance.  There is a special part of the escape and evasion report known as the Appendix C that is especially informative.  If it is not part of what is available on-line, you may be able to get a copy of it by writing the National Archives II.  The National Archives of the United Kingdom has similar records for members of the Royal Air Force who were shot down.
  • Concentration Camps in Germany, etc. If the person was arrested and sent to a concentration camp, try the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen, Germany and any of the concentration camp memorials for records kept by the Germans on the prisoner.  Here is a website on concentration camps as a whole.
  • Executions in The Netherlands.  Foundation Eerebegraafplaats Bloemendaal.  Located in the dunes west of the city of Haarlem near Overveen, Eerebegraafplaats Bloemendaal is a cemetery and memorial to Dutch Resistance fighters.  The remains of 347 Resistance fighters executed by the Germans are buried here.   In addition to the home page, there are biographies on the victims in the person registry.
  • Pension Files. If the person had a pension after the war for injuries suffered  because of Resistance service in The Netherlands, Stichting ’40-’45 may have a file for him or her.  Stichting files that I have seen contained testimony by other members of the Resistance about what the person did in the Resistance.  Only family members are given access to the files.  In Brussels, the Belgian equivalent is the Service Archives et Documentation du Service des Victimes de la Guerre.  Here, too, only family members may see a file, but an archivist may be willing to answer specific questions about the content for non-family.   These records are in the same building as the CEGES-SOMA records.
  • Red Cross Records.  The Dutch Red Cross (Nederlandse Rode Kruis) has extensive files of correspondence about Dutch citizens who were in concentration camps or forced labor in Germany.  I have found a lot of valuable information here.
  • Escaping Society Records — Royal Air Forces Escaping Society.  There was a point in my research where I reached a blank wall in trying to identify the helpers of 2nd Lt. Tom Applewhite in the south of France.  I learned that the membership records of the Royal Air Forces Escaping Society (RAFES) were at the Imperial War Museum in London.  Knowing that Sgt. Stan Munns, a member of the RAF, had been with Applewhite on that part of their evasion, I wrote to the IWM asking for copies of Munns’ RAFES membership.  They complied and provided a copy that listed all of Munns’ helpers, including the ones in the south of France which he shared with Tom Applewhite.  Once I had their names, I was able to get copies of their helper files from NAII which confirmed that they had helped Applewhite and Munns.
  • Escaping Society Records — Air Forces Escape and Evasion Society.  The American equivalent of RAFES is the Air Forces Escape and Evasion Society (AFEES).  Unlike RAFES, however, AFEES is still active.    A valuable source of information is a collection of 20 scrapbooks compiled over the course of 24 years by Scotty David, widow of Clayton C. David.  They contain correspondence, newspaper articles, personal accounts, etc.  representing her contact with over 600 evaders and 2000 helpers.  They can be seen on DVD at the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum in Pooler, Georgia near Savannah.  In working with them note that the computer index to the contents counts the title pages.  This means a slight difference between the computer page number and the page number of the scrapbook.  Note also that AFEES is in touch with living evaders and helpers.  Contact the membership secretary for assistance.
  • Internal Searches of Escape and Evasion Websites.  Some websites have so much material on escape and evasion and mention so many different people who helped airmen that you might miss the name of a helper unless you knew the  name of the airman he or she helped at the outset.  A way around this problem is to use an internal search feature of the website.  For example, in the case of the website Le  Réseau Comèteafter clicking on “Enter,” click on “Recherche.”  That takes you to a page with a Site Service by Freefind feature where you can enter the name of the person you are seeking.   For example, when I entered the name “Karst” for Karst Smit, I got 26 listings of places in that website where his name was used.  For a website that doesn’t have that feature, hitting the “Control” and “F” (for “find”) keys may help.
  • Museums.  The Verzets Museum (Dutch Resistance Museum) in Amsterdam has some interviews with members of the Resistance.  Elsewhere local museums will have connections to the local historical societies that probably will be especially interested in the Resistance in their areas.  See this website’s list of museums.
  • Military Police.  If the person was a marechaussee (member of the Dutch Royal Military Police), try the Marechaussee Museum in Buren, The Netherlands.
  • Books on WWII.  If you know the town where the person was active, look for a history of that town during the war, probably published on the 40th,  50th or 60th anniversary of the Liberation.   For example, I am particularly interested in Hilvarenbeek and Tilburg.  For the former I found the book, Hilvarenbeek 1940-1945 by Kees Van Kemenade published in 1983.  For Tilburg there is Tilburg 1940-1945 by Frans Janse published in 1984.
  • Historical Societies.  Try contacting the local historical society of the town.  In searching the Internet, in the case of The Netherlands or the Flemish part of Belgium, use “heemkundekring” (historical society) and the name of the town.  The actual name of the society may be that of some historical figure.
  • City Archives, Regional Archives.  Also contact the usual sources: city archives, regional archives, etc.  For example, I had an address of a contact of the Smit-van der Heijden Line in Amsterdam.  The Amsterdam City Archives was able to provide me with information on everyone who was living at that address during the war and even background on their Resistance activities.  Because much of the escape line’s activities were in Tilburg, I went to the Tilburg Regional Archives where the archivist located a great deal of valuable information for me, even arrest records.  The archive database, ARCHIEVEN.NL, allows you to search for particular words or persons in city archives in The Netherlands.
  • Newspaper Databases.  Another potential source of information is the newspaper database of the National Library, Koninklijke Bibliothek Historische Kranten, which allows full text searches of newspapers from the 18th-20th centuries.  Included are WWII newspapers, including Resistance newspapers, as well as Nazi propaganda.
  • Telephone Databases.   I have found telephone databases to be a valuable tool for locating members of the family of someone who helped an airman because they include people’s street addresses making it possible to write to them.  A page on this website provides links to such databases organized by country.  On one occasion I was trying to locate a top lieutenant in the escape line of Karst Smit, or members of the family of the man.  I mistakenly thought he had emigrated to Canada after the war, and wrote to everyone by that name living there.  As it turned out, none of them were related to the man but one of them took an interest in my research, replied to my letter, made some inquiries for me, and put me in touch with the son of the man, living in The Netherlands.   The son loaned me his father’s WWII papers, which were an invaluable source of information.
  • Genealogical Databases.   Lastly, be sure to search the Internet for any genealogical databases that might include your relative.  Some distant relative may have posted useful information that will be of help.
  • Newspaper Stories About Your Research.  A local newspaper serving the area where an airman was hidden and otherwise helped may be willing to publish a story about your search for information on the people who helped him.  A good example is the help given to me by the Gazet van Antwerpen by printing a story about my search for the Claes sisters who aided escaped French prisoners of war.  Click here to see the story.  In searching the Internet for the names of newspapers in The Netherlands and the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium, you may want to use the Dutch word for newspaper, krant.
  • Awards and Decorations.  Some websites have information on awards and decorations received by the citizens of a country.  The websites may include valuable background information on a person.  Click here to be directed to the page on this website that provides links to such websites.

2 responses to “What Did My Father Do in the Resistance?

  1. Brouckmans Nelly

    De naam van onze papa was Brouckmans Vincent, zijn moeder was afkomstig van Manchester en onze grootvader was Belg. Papa was 19 jaar en deed zijn legerdienst toen de oorlog uitbrak. Mijn grootouders moesten naar Engeland vluchten omdat mijn grootmoeder dreigbrieven kreeg van de Duitse medewerkers. Papa bleef hier alleen achter. Daar zijn moedertaal “Engels” was, werd hij aangeworven bij de “Intelligence Service” of zoiets. Hij heeft zo verschillende Engelse piloten geholpen om terug naar hun land over te vliegen. Hij heeft heel veel gedaan voor zijn land en ook voor de Engelsen. Ik als oudste van zeven en geboren op 30 oktober 1944 heb tijdens mijn jeugd heel veel verhalen gehoord van mijn vader maar hij heeft nooit gebluft over hetgeen hij gedaan heeft. Nu zou ik er heel graag meer van weten maar ik weet niet hoe. Dank bij voorbaat.

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