Escape from Hitler's Europe: An American Airman behind Enemy Lines
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"A hell of an adventure story."―Ring Lardner Jr.
"A story of what is best in human beings triumphing over what is worst."―John Sayles
November 1943: American flyer George Watt parachutes out of his burning warplane and lands in rural Nazi-occupied Belgium. Escape from Hitler's Europe is the incredible story of his getaway―how brave villagers spirited him to Brussels to connect with the Comet Line, a rescue arm of the Belgian resistance. This was a gravely dangerous mission, especially for a Jewish soldier who had fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Watt recounts dodging the Gestapo, entering Paris via the underground, and finally, crossing the treacherous Pyrenees into Spain. In 1985, he returned to Belgium and discovered an astonishing postscript to his wartime experiences.
relief of being inside a warm house. It seemed years since I had been indoors, and still longer since I had been in a home. Those four walls of that large Belgian kitchen were like the walls of a fortress, protecting me from the cold and the danger lurking outside. The young woman sat me down beside the huge Belgian stove that jutted out into the room. While I was thawing out, she was already dishing up potatoes and getting out beer for me. I could see now that as long as I was cared for by
and feet before going to the table for breakfast. But we never warmed up. It was so cold even in bed that Johnson and I took to sleeping close together in a single bed, sandwiched between our two mattresses, to conserve our body heat. Still, we never felt really warm. Food was likewise scarce. There was much less than we had found in Belgium. Our main staples were potatoes, bread, small quantities of vegetables, and very little meat or fowl. For dessert there were apples and cheese. It was
down with your parachute in the fields of Durmen, the village where I lived with my parents. Since that day I know you by name, because daddy told us often enough “the story of George Watt” and each time my brother and I were hanging on his lips. I had wanted so much to see Raymond Inghels again, that irrepressible ship’s cook who took me by tram and train to his in-laws, Dr. Jean Proost and his wife, Hedwige, in Brussels. Now I was too late. He had died fourteen years earlier of lung cancer.
of this maneuver, called the “pursuit curve,” that your assailant presents the best target to the tail gunner. Of course, when you divorce the mathematics of this fascinating little game from the reality, you realize that you also make a better target to him. I realized that soon enough. I could see him blinking at us, and an instant later I heard his 20mm shells exploding in our plane. Our tracers were not hitting him. They were going a little too high. How we needed those ball turret guns now!
desperately edging toward the outskirts of the field, but I had to shake hands with everyone rushing at me. Concern for my personal safety completely vanished, as I was momentarily transformed from the hunted airman to an ambassador of hope and liberation. I stood there trying to look cool and confident. As each one approached, I rattled off a few words of cheer in French, in German, and in pantomime. “Death to Hitler! Death to the oppressors! We will win.” I said. “Yes,” they said, “but when