The son of a Dutch minister, John (Jean) Weidner (1912-1994) founded the “Dutch-Paris Line” in 1942 to help Jews, downed Allied air crews, and other persecuted people escape from Nazi-occupied Europe through Spain and Switzerland. An experienced mountain climber, Weidner at first personally guided fleeing refugees and asylum seekers down treacherous cliffs in the French-Swiss Alps. As the rescue operation grew, he developed new alliances and better methods of helping refugees escape to safety. Weidner 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 a marked man, with the Gestapo placing a high price on his head. He was captured by French paramilitary collaborators but managed to escape by climbing from the window of a three-story building where he was being held. He continued his rescue work at great risk until the end of the war.
The Dutch-Paris Line, created and led by Weidner, was one of the largest and most successful nonviolent rescue operations of the war. It sheltered or escorted to freedom 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. In February 1944, the Nazis captured a Line member, tortured her, and used the information they extracted from her to identify other members of the operation. More than 100 Dutch-Paris rescuers were arrested, scores were deported to German concentration camps, and many died in German hands. Weidner’s sister, Gabrielle, was one of those seized by the Gestapo for her work on the Line. She died in Ravensbrück concentration camp. Over the course of the war, more than 40 Line members disappeared, died in German concentration camps, were killed in ambushes, or were summarily executed by the Nazis.
After the Liberation, 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 highest civilian awards of several countries, including the French Legion of Honor and the United States Medal of Freedom. Weidner became the most decorated Dutchman of World War II.
Our work today
The John Henry Weidner Foundation for Altruism (also known simply as the Weidner Foundation) is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that was officially established in 1996. Our mission is to cultivate selfless and courageous action in the spirit of John Weidner and the Dutch-Paris Line. We do this by preserving history and telling Weidner’s story, by supporting scholars and students, by shining a light on altruistic behavior in the present, and by partnering with other organizations to help address pressing human needs.
The story of John Weidner and of his family is vividly told, in their own words, in the 2020 book The Weidners in Wartime: Letters of Daily Survival and Heroism Under Nazi Rule, expertly selected, translated and introduced by Janet Holmes Carper. The Weidners in Wartime is the inaugural publication of Weidner Foundation Books. The story of the Dutch-Paris Line is told in detail by Megan Koreman in her book, The Escape Line (Oxford University Press, 2018), which was commissioned by the Weidner Foundation in 2009. Dr. Koreman’s research in Europe and the United Sates was made possible through funding 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 are housed in the Weidner Collection at Stanford University.
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