Via Martin Black, I came across this article.
Every year, hikers trek the “Chemin de la Liberte” in the Pyrenees, to commemorate the 800 or so Allied airmen and Jewish refugees who risked their lives on a 60km (40 miles) route escaping Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II.
“The good escaper,” says a 1944 British military document called Tips for Escapers and Evaders, “is the man who keeps himself fit, cheerful and comfortable.”[…]
Reflect on what it was like, for example, to be shot down over Belgium when you are only 19 years old. Your parachute works – something of a surprise in itself, since you have had only the most rudimentary training – and when you land you find yourself behind enemy lines, with most of Nazi-occupied Europe between you and freedom.
You have to ask someone for help, even though you know they are risking their lives if they give it to you. And if you are lucky and they do not turn you in, there is still the long journey south to negotiate, past German checkpoints and patrols with, at the end of it all, the climb over these massive mountains.
Or think of the Jewish families who attempted the Pyrenees just one step ahead of arrest and deportation to the death camps.
I was told the story of a woman who carried her two-year-old daughter across in November snow. When the child cried in the cold their guide said she should be suffocated because the noise might alert the German patrols.
And what of the French helpers? One local supporter of the Chemin remembered his mother hiding escaping Allied airmen in her mountain bed and breakfast, where she was providing lodgings for German troops at the same time. (more…)