Secret Business

For Joseph Smit, the train ride from Paris to
Lyons was a journey filled with terror. He knew the city of Lyons was a
carefully guarded control point between occupied and unoccupied France. He and
his family could face inspection by French and German officials–neither
terribly fond of refugees from Holland. Either side could hurl him, his wife,
children, and the old woman into untold horrors.

And if they made it to Lyons, where would they
go? They knew no one. They had no money, no plan, no hope.

The train lurched along the tracks, crossing the
fertile fields of central France as the hours dragged on.

Amazingly, they reached their destination for
that day. The forged travel papers he’d been provided proved convincing enough
to allow them to pass in one piece and, more importantly, still together.

“What do we do now?” Mrs. Smit asked,
her voice trembling slightly as they eyed the busy streets of the unfamiliar

“The consul,” Joseph brightened.
“Well go to the Dutch consul here in Lyons. Certainly the consul can help.
After all, we’re Dutch citizens, aren’t we?”

* * *

Later that day the phone rang in a modest home
somewhere in France. A man who operated a chain of textile factories picked up
the receiver and spoke into the handset. “Hello?”

“Is your name John Weidner?” asked the
voice on the other end of the line.

The man hesitated. Who was calling? What did he
want? Before the war phone conversations were simply part of doing business.
But since becoming involved in the underground work of transporting refugees to
safety in neighboring Switzerland, John Weidner had become very careful about
whom he talked to and what he said. Both the German and French Gestapo would
like nothing more than to catch someone in the illegal act of helping
“enemies of the state” escape to freedom.

“Why do you wish to speak to John
Weidner?” the man said slowly.

“I’m calling from the Dutch consulate here
in Lyons. I understand you might agree to help a refugee family who’ve just
arrived on the afternoon train.”

“I’m listening,” John said, still
guarding his identity.

“Their name is Smit. Husband, wife, four
children, and a grandmother. They’ve been robbed of all their funds by
dishonest passers.”

John closed his eyes. He’d heard this report so
many times before: people desperate to escape Nazi aggression and death giving
everything they owned to men who promised safety, only to abandon them in
harm’s way.

“So they have no money to continue their
journey to the border. The Gestapo is after them. We put them up in a local
hotel last night, but it’s not safe. Can you help?”

John sent a quick prayer heavenward. “I’ll
see what I can do,” he said.

The Smit family soon found themselves tucked away
in a tiny apartment near the center of town. A man stood before them, his voice

“My name is John Weidner, and I will take
you to Switzerland. This evening some of our men will snap pictures of you and
your family. The photos will be used to prepare new documents that can get you
to the French-Swiss border area through Annecy. We leave in two days.”

“Why can’t we leave tomorrow?” Joseph
asked, eying the stranger.

“It’s important that we wait,” John
urged. “It’ll be market day in Annecy. Lots of people traveling about.
Trains will be so full that the guards won’t be checking the passengers as

Joseph lifted his hand. “Mr. Weidner, you
know I have no money. All the other passers wanted cash and more cash. When it
ran out, so did they. But you’ve not asked for any. Why?”

John smiled. “It does cost money to help
people cross the border. Others know that, people you’ll never meet. When we
find families in your situation, we do what we can with funds they

Tears filled Joseph Smit’s eyes. “Thank
you,” he said. “My family thanks you.”

“Hold your gratitude a few days more,”
John responded. “We’re not over the border yet. But we will be.”

Mr. Smit nodded. For some reason he believed this
new stranger with the caring eyes and confident voice. For the first time in
weeks he felt a spark of hope deep in his heart. He’d almost forgotten how good
it felt.

* * *

Later that day another phone rang somewhere in
the city. An energetic female voice answered. “Weidner Textiles.”

“Hello, Raymonde,” John said, pressing
the receiver against his ear. “I think we both need a little

The young woman smiled. “In Switzerland,

“How did you guess?”

“Seem’s we’ve been going there a lot lately.”
The speaker paused. “How many this time?”

“Just seven. A man and his family from
Holland. Grandmother too. Do you have any people ready to go?”

Raymonde answered. “Yes. Nico Gazan and his
wife, Mary. Oh, and Armand Lap. His father was killed recently by the Gestapo.
Terrible. They’ve got papers and have been cleared by the immigration office in
Geneva for entry into Switzerland. They can leave anytime.”

“Great,” John enthused. “We’ll
head out day after tomorrow. I think with so many we should travel in two
groups on the train. I’ll take part of the group in one section, and you bring
the others in another coach. Tell our contacts in the French underground to
make the Smit papers as though they’re from Alsace. Their French is a bit
shaky; it sounds much like the way the people talk in Alsace.” Raymonde
smiled at the friendly jab her boss had delivered concerning the citizens
living in the small portion of northeastern France whose language differed
somewhat from that of the rest of the country. “We don’t want to arouse
suspicions, you know.”

Raymonde agreed. “I understand.” Then
she added, “The job description for being your secretary didn’t exactly
include transporting illegals across the Alps.”

“It didn’t?” John gasped.
“I thought all secretaries agreed to put their lives on the line for their
bosses. I really must rewrite your papers.”

Raymonde chuckled softly. “Don’t bother. See
you in two days.”

John grinned as he hung up the phone. What a joy
it was to speak to someone he trusted completely. In a world where he was
constantly fearful, where one slip in conversation could send him and others to
immediate arrest and imprisonment, a little playful joking during a serious
conversation such as he’d just held was very valuable.

The man sighed, remembering a Bible text he
repeated often. It represented his marching orders from the heavenly
General he willingly followed into battle after battle: “He hath sent me
to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the
opening of the prison to them that are bound” (Isaiah 61:1, KJV). What
comfort he found in those holy words!

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Secret Business

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