Paris after the liberati.., p.10
Paris: After the Liberation 1944-1949,
George Orwell, a much later arrival, was delighted to be in Paris in uniform. Having heard that Hemingway, whom he had never met, was also at the Scribe, Orwell went to his room and knocked on his door.
‘I’m Eric Blair,’ he announced hesitantly.
Hemingway was packing. He looked up, displeased at seeing a British war correspondent – he was going through a strongly anti-British phase. ‘Well, what the ying hell do you want?’
‘I’m George Orwell.’
‘Why the zing hell didn’t you say so?’ bellowed Hemingway. He pushed the suitcases aside, bent down under the bed and emerged with a bottle of Scotch. ‘Have a drink. Have a double. Straight or with water? There’s no soda.’
Orwell had more in common – including the same tutor at Eton and a love of Dickens, Kipling and Hopkins – with the philosopher A. J. Ayer, who was also in Paris at the time. Freddie Ayer, the author of Language, Truth and Logic, had been an SOE officer and had a roving commission reporting on the liberated areas of France. For this task, he had acquired a large chauffeur-driven Bugatti in which he installed his army radio transmitter. He had now returned to Paris to work as an attaché at the British Embassy, where he impressed important guests by being able to explain what existentialism was.
In January 1945, Hemingway was visited by Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. They found him in bed with a heavy cold, wearing a green newspaperman’s eyeshade.
Hemingway promptly grabbed Sartre by the hand enthusiastically. ‘Vous êtes un général!’ he exclaimed, embracing him. ‘Moi je ne suis qu’un capitaine: vous êtes un général.’ Bottles of Scotch were produced and the drinking began. Sartre later admitted that it was one of the few occasions when he had passed out from alcohol. Around three in the morning, he recovered and, opening one eye, watched in astonishment as Hemingway tiptoed round the room, collecting up the empty bottles to hide them from members of the hotel staff.
Allied officers benefited from what might be termed unofficial privileges in Paris. Establishments, including all the bonnes adresses of the Occupation, were compulsively generous to senior Allied officers. They were allowed to dine free at the Tour d’Argent, they were given scent for their wives by Guerlain, and shirt-makers fell over each other to offer them prices so special that they were almost free. Even the grandest institutions were not averse to political insurance in these uncertain times.
The Jockey Club, at 2 rue Rabelais, quickly offered membership to a number of senior American and British officers. The British military attaché, Brigadier Denis Daly, received ‘the impression that members of the Jockey Club had very probably supported the Pétain régime’ and that they felt it would be ‘wise to have the support of the British and the Americans during the months to come’. At lunch, the Duc de Doudeauville plied Daly with questions about the menace of the Red Army. When Daly said that there was no doubt that the war could not have been won without the Russians and that from a ‘realistic point of view’ the Allies should therefore be grateful, Doudeauville appeared ‘considerably shaken’.
This highly advantageous state of affairs for Allied officers was soon somewhat curtailed. For example, British officers were no longer allowed into restaurants in uniform, since most of the good ones depended on black-market produce. To circumvent this inconvenience, Maxim’s in the rue Royale was taken over as an officers’ club, and Albert, the maître d’hôtel who had bowed to their tables almost every German officer from Reichsmarschall Goering down, was soon doing the same for their enemies. The French army, not to be outdone, took over Ciro’s as an officers’ club, and Charles Trenet and Edith Piaf went to sing there.
With a large number of British and American officers avid for Parisian cooking, restaurants reopened with startling speed. For the richer officers, Prunier and the Méditerranée in the Place de l’Odéon were soon serving fresh seafood in a triumph of black-market enterprise over appalling communications. Lucas Carton in the Place de la Madeleine, perhaps the greatest of all Parisian restaurants, possessed an outstanding advantage over its rivals. Having bricked up its wine cellars (which run right under the Place de la Madeleine itself) just as the Germans entered Paris in 1940, it could still offer the very best vintages.
Parisian nightlife was in great demand, especially among those on leave from the front. At least 60 per cent of the audience at the Folies Bergère were in uniform. Soldiers were attracted to the bals publics or dance halls, which, having been banned throughout the Occupation, reopened with the Liberation. The most popular were the establishments on the rue de Lappe near the Place de la Bastille and the numerous bals musette around the edge of the city. The musicians were amateurs, working part-time, who gave rousing versions of popular songs on accordions and percussion instruments.
The next tier up –les dancings – included the more sophisticated dance halls and nightspots from the Moulin de la Galette to some of the smarter places on the Champs-Élysées, employing almost all the capital’s 1,500 professional musiciens de danse. At the top were places like Monseigneur in the rue d’Amsterdam, an ornate and expensive establishment, heavily White Russian, with Tzigane violinists serenading the diners. You went to Monseigneur, remarked one of Martha Gellhorn’s characters in her collection of short stories A Honeyed Peace, only if ‘beginning a romance’.
The revival of public dancing was short-lived. At the end of October the provisional government banned it again, this time in response to a press campaign claiming that too many families were in mourning to permit such levity. On 16 January, cabarets and nightclubs were also closed.
The Syndicat des Artistes Musiciens de Paris denounced the measure as ‘a prudery out of touch with the virility demanded by the war’. Dancing, they argued, had never been forbidden in London throughout the Blitz or the VI rocket attacks, because the authorities realized how important it was for morale. Dance halls used less electricity, because their customers did not like too much brightness, and gaiety must be kept up in the capital: ‘Afin que PARIS reste PARIS!’ But protests were in vain. Dancing in public places was not permitted again until April 1945, just before the German surrender, and even then organizations representing deportees and prisoners of war objected.
Many of the most expensive nightclubs ignored the January ban, but they received a shock the night after it came into effect. The police raided six establishments and took a total of 300 customers off to unheated cells in police stations. One of the clubs targeted was the Monseigneur. Those unfortunate enough to have picked Wednesday, 17 January, to begin their romance got off to a chilly start.
The Épuration Sauvage
Whenever the Allies liberated a town or village during the advance across northern France, they often found that the first victims of what became known as the épuration sauvage – the unofficial purge – were the most vulnerable members of the community. ‘At Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte yesterday,’ David Bruce wrote in his diary, ‘the inhabitants had shaved the heads of twelve women who had been sleeping with German officers and soldiers. They must henceforth slink about the village. The Frenchmen with us think it is a very fitting and salutary punishment.’ Six weeks later, he discovered that a production line for head-shaving had been established in the Prefecture at Chartres as soon as the last Germans had been rounded up.
Among the accused were married women whose husbands were in Germany as prisoners or conscripts of the STO (Service de Travail Obligatoire). With as many men imprisoned or enslaved in this war as there were dead in the last, there was hardly a family which was not missing a father, son or brother. This collective loss had developed a strong emotional solidarity among those left behind, so any wife of a prisoner or deportee accused of ‘collaboration horizontale’ was guilty of a double betrayal. The fact that sleeping with a German might have been the only way for a woman to keep her children from starvation was scarcely considered when the communal fury was unleashed.
Some women were subject to even greater degradation. There are phot
Head-shaving is said to have been inflicted on a well-known French count who had fallen for the martial attractions of the conquerors. He had earlier been arrested by the Feldgendarmerie for having enticed German soldiers to indulge in Unzucht zwischen Männern. Yet when the prisoner replied that his sexual tendency was not only honoured by the ancient Greeks but practised by the Führer himself, his captors were so terrified that this heresy might reach their superiors that they threw him back on to the street.
A number of Resistance leaders tried to stop the head-shaving. The Communist military commander, Colonel Rol-Tanguy, had posters run off and pasted up which warned of reprisals against the perpetrators of any further incidents. Another leader, René Porte, respected in his quartier not least for his strength, bashed together the heads of a group of youths he found shaving a woman’s head. One woman is said to have shouted at her shearers, ‘My ass is international, but my heart is French.’
A volatile mixture – moral outrage, suppressed fear, jealousy and guilt – seems to have produced a hysteria which was quickly spent. In too many cases the women were made scapegoats for the whole community. Whether men who had collaborated escaped more lightly as a result remains a difficult question to answer.
Most Allied soldiers seem to have been shocked or sickened by incidents of head-shaving, but in the battle zone the execution without trial of traitors provoked far fewer objections. There was a strong feeling among American, British and Canadian forces that, not having suffered the trauma of defeat and occupation, they had no right to sit in judgement on France’s private agony.
Political passion rejects shades of grey, yet during the four years of occupation France had witnessed every paradox imaginable, from antiSemites who saved Jews to bien-pensant anti-fascists who betrayed them, from black-marketeers who helped the Resistance to Resistance heroes who pocketed ‘expropriations’. Curiously, many who were Dreyfusards in their youth became passionately pro-Pétain. There were also examples of saintly self-sacrifice, as well as cases of the blackest evil, but these two extremes represented tiny minorities and were seized upon by political fanatics to demonstrate their point.
The philosopher Isaiah Berlin, who visited France many times during the immediate post-war period, came up with an informal but useful definition of acceptable conduct during the Occupation. To survive, you might have needed to do business with the Germans, whether as a waiter, a shoemaker, a writer or an actor, but ‘you did not have to be cosy with them’.
For many there was no such thing as a good German, and, for the Communist Party especially, the notion of a good Pétainist was treason in itself. All the crimes of the Germans in France were heaped upon Vichy, clouding an already complicated issue still further. The Communists’ anger was both genuine and artificial. Their strength of feeling over Vichy’s selection of Communist hostages for execution, or over its close cooperation with the Gestapo and the dispatch of French workers to slave labour in Germany, cannot be doubted. Yet there was a deliberate political purpose behind their condemnation of Vichy. The greater the purge of every part of the administration which had continued to work under Vichy, from the police to the post office, the greater the opportunity for Communist control after the war.
One can define acceptable and unacceptable behaviour under enemy occupation, but to decide degrees of guilt or fitting punishment in the strong emotions of the period is difficult. However, it seems to have been generally agreed that the denunciation of fellow French men and women to the Germans was a shooting offence.
News of last-minute massacres of political prisoners carried out by German forces just before they retreated and details of barbaric Gestapo tortures filled the Resistance press and fuelled the strong desire for vengeance.
Moreover, the Resistance did attract ill-educated youths who were prepared to join any group, no matter what its ideology, as long as it gave them a gun. It also attracted many last-minute conversions – collaborators trying to efface a dubious record by being plus résistants que les résistants – as well as opportunists who saw the chance for plunder. Although a despicable minority, their crimes, along with the excesses of some genuine resistants, tarnished the reputation of the movement as a whole. One of the most notorious gangs of brigands, 150-strong, operated in the Loire valley, where Michel Debré had been appointed Commissioner of the Republic. They had collaborated with the Germans, then fought against them at the Liberation. In the early autumn of 1944, they continued to loot and kill until their leader was arrested, largely thanks to the efforts of Debré.
In addition to head-shaving and summary executions, the épuration sauvage included sentences handed out by FFI military tribunals or the local Comité de Libération; looting under the guise of searches; and the lynching of prisoners set free by conventional courts. Many of those executed were undoubtedly guilty, for the German occupation had created a climate in which crime flourished. France had never seen as much trafficking, racketeering, theft, blackmail, abduction and murder as it did in those four years. But since the Germans and most of the miliciens responsible for the worst crimes had departed, many innocent people as well as guilty ones were killed out of rage and frustration. In a number of cases, both German soldiers and collaborators were saved by French veterans of the Great War, who, with considerable courage, told the would-be executioners that they had no right to kill anybody without a trial.
The Paris police, who had worked so closely with the Germans during the Occupation, now turned on each other. When the strike of 15 August was announced from the Prefecture of Police, it was made clear that its purpose was to help with the liberation of Paris. But instead of joining in street battles for control of the capital, many policemen (sometimes accompanied by FFI) went on what one author called a ‘chasse au collègues’ – a hunt for colleagues. Hundreds of policemen were arrested and held in the Prefecture, and one or two may even have been killed to stop them incriminating their assassins.
By the end of August a police purge committee had been formed, headed by a Communist resistant called Arthur Airaud, who had been tortured by the police Special Brigades in March 1944. Airaud was a ruthless operator who wanted not only revenge but also as many fellow Communists in the police force as possible. By 5 October, Luizet was obliged to sign an order suspending 700 officials and administrators working in the police and justice departments. Within the following year, the list of those suspended and brought before the police purge committees ran to over 3,000 names.
The provisional government’s efforts to put a skeleton administration into place to restore law and order were impressive, but a new Commissioner of the Republic could not hope to exert authority from the first moment. However much the Gaullists wished to maintain the fiction that they were simply reintroducing ‘Republican legality’, the system, in many places, had to be rebuilt almost from nothing. Often, the local liberation committees simply ignored the authority of representatives of the provisional government.
On 26 August, the day that General de Gaulle marched down the Champs-Élysées, a group of FFI arrested the consul-general of the Republic of San Marino at his house and took him off, without any explanation, to their improvised headquarters at the Lycée Buffon. It is possible that the FFI militiamen
Malcolm Muggeridge was invited by an FFI group to accompany them on their nightly purges. They were ‘very young, with that curious hunted animal look that street-life gives’. He was taken to their base, an apartment on the Avenue Foch which had been occupied by the Gestapo, as the ‘empty champagne bottles and discarded erotica’ showed.
They boasted about their executions, took cigarette cases, jewels and money, which were recorded and locked up in a strong box to be handed over later. But what became of the booty afterwards was never revealed. ‘Considering their youth,’ wrote Muggeridge, ‘they behaved with horrifying callousness, arrogance and brutality.’ He was not surprised to hear later that their leader had been arrested and found to have a record of collaboration.
The most notorious false resistant was Dr Marcel Pétiot. Between 1942 and 1944, Pétiot set up his own escape line. Jews, members of the Resistance, even gangsters being hunted by the police, were directed to the doctor, who said he could arrange safe passages to Argentina. On the pretext that the Argentinian authorities demanded inoculations, he gave his clients a lethal injection of cyanide, then watched them die in agony. Pétiot disposed of the bodies efficiently, at least at the start of his grisly career: they were dissolved in quicklime, and what was left was incinerated. Towards the end, however, the sheer quantity of corpses gave him away. On 11 March 1944, noxious smoke and a hideous stench prompted neighbours to call the fire brigade to 21 rue Lesueur. On breaking in, they found dismembered trunks, arms and legs, scalped heads with flayed faces, all waiting to be burnt in a coal-fired stove already overflowing with human remains.
Paris: After the Liberation 1944-1949 by Antony Beevor / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes