A New Plan, Autumn 1942
Jaap, it’s gotten worse since you’ve been gone,” said Kreen.
“I didn’t think that was possible,” Jaap replied from his bed. He was still recovering from prison.
“It feels like a sinking ship,” Kreen continued. “Everybody’s trying to cling to the end of the boat that’s still sticking out of the water but it’s going down fast. The Nazis are taking everybody now. Five thousand, in one night last week! Five thousand in one night! It was awful, Jaap.
“They were going house to house in my parents’ neighborhood. We were out in the street in pajamas but there was nothing any of us could do. My dad tried to stop them from taking our neighbor Mr. Meltzer, but he got the butt of a rifle in his face. My mother put her coat around an old lady and they yanked it off. They even emptied out the Jewish nursing home at the end of the street. What could they do with a bunch of old people? It’s total madness.”
Kreen peered out the window. A Jewish family was being loaded into a truck while the Nazis lit cigarettes and laughed. Kreen shook his head and turned away.
“We can’t hide a hundred thousand people. We’re lucky if we can hide ourselves. But what are we supposed to do? Just stand here and watch it happen?”
“I’ve been working on a new idea,” Jaap said. “I heard about an underground group working with the Allies. They rescue downed British and American pilots and bring them to France. The French Underground takes them across the Pyrenees to Spain and then the Spanish get them down to Gibraltar, where they pick up a boat to England. Maybe we could set up our own line to get Jews out of here.”
“How?” inquired Kreen.
“With false papers. Like the ones we’ve been making, just a different kind,” said Jaap. “I think I can get my hands on documents from a German construction company. I’ll copy their letterhead and print it on blank paper so it looks very official, but then I’ll write a letter on it saying that the company has hired us to bring workers to their job site in France. Then we use the letter to apply for an official travel permit.”
“And this job site would be. . .
“The Atlantic Wall! The Germans are building a huge wall along the coast of Europe, all the way from Norway down to Spain!”
“I know about it, but is this company building it?”
“Who knows? I don’t even know if they exist anymore. It’s just a chance we’ll have to take. But the Nazis have over five hundred thousand people working on the wall right now. They want to make Europe into a gigantic fortress. There’s no way they can keep track of who’s doing what and where!”
Kreen stood up. He paced back and forth, then stopped suddenly.
“Why don’t you just forge a travel permit?”
“I don’t have a real one to copy,” said Jaap. “Fake papers only work if they’re identical to real ones. If it’s wrong, we’re dead.”
“Hmrn. That’s a problem,” said Kreen. “The important permits are issued only in Paris.”
Now Jaap was out of bed, also pacing back and forth. “So…since we don’t have a travel permit yet, we’ll have to sneak to Paris to get it, right?”
“I think so,” said Kreen. “But one more thing. This all depends on having a good connection at the other end. Who do we know in Paris?”
“Jean-Paul! He moved back there at the beginning of the war,” said Jaap.
“Of course,” said Kreen. “He’ll have contacts in the French Underground.”
“I’d better get dressed,” said Jaap. “We have work to do.”
The next day Jaap visited an architect friend who had worked with the German construction company. He gave Jaap a few papers printed with the company logo. That night Jaap set to work transferring the logo to blank paper, using a small press and printer’s inks in his father’s print shop. The letter had to be written in perfect German, so he asked the help of a German friend who had fled the Nazi regime. With the false signature of the company director, the document was complete.
Jaap blew on it to dry the ink and then laid it down in the center of the table. They stared at it for a long moment, and then looked at each other.
“Well, there’s Step One,” said Jaap. “And now for Step Two.”
“Right,” answered Kreen. “Paris.”