Andrée de Jongh: a laudable life

Obituaries may be biographies for the lazy and the short of attention.  Yet, where else might one encounter such lives as this one?

Andrée de Jongh, whose youth and even younger appearance belied her courage and ingenuity when she became a World War II legend ushering many downed Allied airmen on a treacherous, 1,000-mile path from occupied Belgium to safety, died Saturday in Brussels. She was 90.

She was working as a commercial artist in May 1940 when the Germans absorbed Belgium. Having had first-aid training, she began working as a nurse. She quietly pored over the myriad German rules governing control of movement and conferred with confidants about escape. . . . Eventually Ms. de Jongh settled on the long route to Spain. When she got her first two airmen to the British Consulate in Bilbao, Spain, she asked for support for further missions.

Ms. de Jongh eventually led 24 to 33 expeditions across occupied France, over the Pyrenees to Gibraltar. She herself escorted 118 servicemen to safety. At least 300 more escaped along the Comet line.

When the Germans captured her in 1943, it was her youth that saved her. When she truthfully confessed responsibility for the entire scheme, they refused to believe her. . . . After 20 interrogations, the Germans still refused to believe her confession and she was sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp. There, among skeletal and shaven forms, she was so unrecognizable that the Gestapo could not identify her for requestioning.

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