“I'd rather regret the things that I have done than the things that I have not.”
― Lucille Ball

Friday, June 13, 2014

Episode 2: French Pilots

Jules Haeck

French Pilots

In the first week of November, 1941 two French pilots are being delivered by a farmer from Denekamp (hamlet) to the house of Jules Haeck at the Berfloweg (street) in Hengelo. Robert David and Renee le Blas are escaped from a prison (POW) camp in the north of Germany. It took them 7 days to come this far, keeping themselves alive with a couple of rations they collected before and to eat from hog troughs along the route they followed. Their faces and legs were scratched everywhere from the barbed wire they didn't see in the dark.

Levie Cohen is visiting Jules Haeck when the pilots arrive and then he realizes that his cherished dream to flee to Great Britain finally is within reach. There are regularly raids to catch Jewish men and boys. Every-time so far Levie just escaped due to warnings of "good" policemen. The situation in The Netherlands is getting too dicey, Levie and his brother Izak want to flee now.

Robert and Renee take a week rest, before they return to their homeland France. Jules Haeck instructs the brothers Levie and Isak Cohen to bring the pilots safely at home. They cede their undergarment and outerwear to their French companions.

November 14 their journey begins. Levie and Izak are taking some money, some 1500 Guilders and jewels with a value of a couple of hundred Guilders. They take the train from Hengelo station.Their preliminary destination is: optician Dubois, an acquaintance of Jules Haeck, in Bordeaux, a city in the south of occupied France. "Two French and two Dutchmen, outlawed for the Krauts", will Levie write later about the journey.

The four travel via Arnhem to Heerlen in the south of The Netherlands, from there a business friend brings them to Eijsden near the Belgian border. They pass the night in Belgium in a monastery. When they travel through Belgium they pass the nights in monasteries again. It almost goes wrong, when they unsuspectingly in pitch dark enter a pub with German soldiers, with the smell of beer and cigarette smoke and on the wall painted "Wir fahren gegen England" (from a German sailors song for "We are sailing against England"). Just in time, without being noticed, the four are outside again.

They continue walking again, sometimes taking a short trip by train or hiking with a farmer's wagon. Travelling is usually during the evening and night, to prevent problems to be recognized as refugees. When they have passed already the Belgian-French border they have again an exiting moment. Because their beard is now visibly growing, the Cohen's and pilots decide to see a barbershop in St. Quentin, north of Paris, to be shaved. Levie is sitting in the barber chair 'reading' a French newspaper up-side-down, when suddenly a limping German officer enters the shop. He asks Levie in French if he is allowed to go first. The Dutchman doesn't understand a single word of French. One of the pilots replies for Levie that it is okay. The German didn't notice anything. He is being served and leaves in a hurry. Robert David checks whether it is safe outside. Nothing wrong and the four continue their journey to Paris, where a relative of Jules Haeck is waiting for them.

This map was not included in the Dutch version; courtesy of Wikipedia.org
The above map is included in this English version of the story, as many international readers may not be aware of the geography of the area they had to travel through. In the mid-upper position of the map the south of The Netherlands, below it Belgium, upper left the south of Great Britain (England) and south of France the north part of Spain and Portugal (not visible).

It's quite troubled in Paris. As five Germans are shot dead, there are many checks and raids, and probably killings by the Germans as a retribution. After waiting for a couple of days, the four decide to continue their journey, as they have simply no other choice. It will be a dangerous trip in a packed train compartment. They narrowly escape a check when in New Orleans for a stop and arrive benumbed and weary in Bordeaux.

Here again many German and French policemen are checking passengers and trains. Luckily Robert David was previously involved in the railway business. He knows an escape. Three of the four men are able to evade the checks, but Levie stays alone behind on the platform, completely surrounded by German and French policemen.

In a desperate attempt he is able to climb over a high fence with sharp nibs. First his winter coat on the fence, then himself. "My 20 years of gym has helped me", he writes years later.

Translation by Leo Kolwijck, 2014


Contact Form


Email *

Message *