The Traveler and His Baggage

On 19 May 1943, a news report from Berlin deepened the already dreary gloom that clung to the people of Nazi-occupied Paris. Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels proudly announced to the world that the German capital of Berlin was officially judenfrei–free of all Jews. As this news buzzed in the background on Nazi-controlled airwaves, a man named Yvan Dreyfus–a Jew residing in Paris–was carefully packing his luggage for a long, illegal journey. A close inspection of Dreyfus’ suitcase would have revealed a hidden compartment containing 200,000 francs in cash, a small stack of passport-sized photographs of himself, and a conspicuous absence of any documentation to identify the owner of the bag.

As Dreyfus stepped outside into the mid-morning, the once-bustling streets of Paris were hushed and tense. Three years prior, swathes of citizens had fled the French capital as the booms of German artillery grew louder in the distance. Millions of Parisians had crammed into cars, trucks, and trains en masse, often with no specific destinations other than ‘away.’ This left the city’s famous arrondissements sparsely populated. The lack of humans was not the only cause for the quiet–the German occupiers had enacted onerous gasoline rationing, and it was difficult or impossible for ordinary citizens to travel by automobile. On the occasion that a car or truck was seen driving in the city, it was usually full of bad news.

As he had been instructed, Dreyfus made his way to the address 25 Rue des Mathurins, and climbed a set of stairs to a decaying beauty parlor on the building’s second floor. There, he was scheduled to meet with the mysterious “Dr. Eugène.” According to confidential sources, this doctor was the head of an illegal escape network that smuggled Jews and other oppressed persons out of Nazi-occupied France. While Dreyfus was an excellent candidate for such a network, there were machinations afoot. Under prolonged torture by agents of the French Gestapo, Dreyfus had acquiesced to a deal. As he ascended the stairs toward the beauty parlor, French Gestapo agents followed at a discreet distance. Dreyfus was the bait in a Nazi snare.

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