—Dr. Mordecai Paldiel, Director, Department for the Righteous Among the Nations, Yad Vashem
The Dutch-Paris Escape Line grew to include more than 300 rescuers and sheltered or escorted to safety approximately 3,000 people, including more than 100 downed Allied aviators.
An experienced mountain climber, Weidner at times evaded Nazi checkpoints by leading Jewish refugees down the steep cliffs of the Salève Mountain to freedom in Switzerland. He knew the border region intimately from his years growing up at the Séminaire adventiste du Salève. He used his knowledge of the local geography, as well as his contacts in Haute-Savoie, to guide refugees through a maze of deadly patrols. His clothing shops in Lyon and Annecy served as safe houses and fronts for his rescue work.
In 1943, Weidner became the chief courier of microfilm for Allied intelligence along the “Swiss Route” organized by General Van Tricht and Willem Visser ‘t Hooft. He delivered sensitive messages across enemy lines for the family of Charles de Gaulle.
Weidner became a marked man with the Gestapo placing a high price on his head. He was arrested several times, endured torture, and on one occasion escaped being handed over to the Nazis by Milice collaborators in Toulouse by leaping from a three-story building (together with a comrade and fellow Resistance leader, Jacques Rens). Criss-crossing several countries using false identity papers, Weidner kept the underground network running in the face of mounting dangers.
Catastrophe struck when a young woman in Weidner’s network was arrested by the Gestapo and revealed details of the operation under threat of torture. More than 100 Dutch-Paris members were captured. Many were executed or sent to concentration camps, including John’s sister, Gabrielle. At least 40 Dutch-Paris rescuers died during the war. After the Liberation, Weidner worked for Dutch intelligence investigating Nazi collaborators. In 1955, Weidner immigrated to the United States.
For his courageous and selfless actions to save the lives of others, Weidner became the most decorated Dutchman of World War II. In 1946, he received the United States Medal of Freedom with Gold Palm and the French Legion of Honor. In 1947, he was awarded the Dutch Order of Orange-Nassau by Queen Wilhelmina. In 1951, he received the French Croix de Guerre with Palm. He was made an Honorary Officer of the Order of the British Empire and Officer of the Order of Leopold by the government of Belgium.
In 1978, Weidner was honored as a Righteous Among the Nations at Israel’s Holocaust Memorial, Yad Vashem. In 1984, he received a Scroll of Honor from the Simon Wiesenthal Center. In 1993, Weidner was chosen—together with a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto, Helen Fagin—to light one of six candles as part of the opening ceremonies of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Each candle represented one million Jewish lives lost. Weidner was the only rescuer of Jews honored as part of the lighting ceremony.
John Weidner passed away on May 21, 1994.
The John Henry Weidner Foundation for Altruism is a registered 501(c)(3) organization established in 1996 through the generosity of John and Naomi Weidner. The Foundation was one of Weidner’s final endeavors and acts of altruism. Our mission is to preserve Weidner’s legacy and to cultivate selfless and courageous action in the spirit of John Weidner and the Dutch-Paris Escape Line.