Paris after the liberati.., p.11
Paris: After the Liberation 1944-1949,
What happened next gives some idea of the tortuously difficult position of the Paris police in the months leading up to the Liberation. The man put in charge of the case was one of the most famous police inspectors in Paris: Georges-Victor Massu, who (with his predecessor) was the inspiration for Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret. Massu soon established that the author of these crimes was Dr Pétiot. What he did not know was whether Pétiot was killing to order.
Very early on in the investigation, Pétiot himself had appeared at the scene of the crime, on a bicycle. Posing as the leader of a Resistance network, he had told two of Massu’s subordinates that the bodies were those of ‘Boches’ and ‘collabos’ executed on Resistance orders. He had then vanished into the crowd – the police, who did not want to be in trouble at the Liberation, had let him go.
Yet the proximity of the charnel-house to the rue Lauriston, where the Gestapo’s henchmen tortured and killed their victims, had raised the possibility that Pétiot might be working for them. It was not until he had ascertained that the Germans had nothing to do with these murders that Massu felt able to proceed with a criminal investigation. Seven months later, Pétiot was caught – at a Paris métro station, wearing FFI uniform.
Rough justice, in the form of severe beatings, was another form of reprisal. French railwaymen, known as cheminots, had played a courageous and important role in the Resistance, sabotaging German rail movements. Many were members of the Communist Party and a considerable number had been shot for their activities. It is not surprising that the treatment of colleagues suspected of collaboration was brutal. During the autumn of 1944, seventy-seven managers, stationmasters and senior engineers were ‘made incapable of working’. None, however, is recorded as killed.
It was not just the FFI who mistreated captives. The old Brigades de Surveillance du Territoire, which remobilized themselves at the Liberation and purged the police, were controversial in their methods. Even women were said to have been tortured in the camp of Queueleu near Metz. ‘The BST of Metz,’ according to one lawyer’s report, ‘were unashamed of using methods for which the Gestapo was condemned – prolonged ducking in a bath – freezing – the plank torture – bastinado, etc….’
In Paris, those accused of collaboration by Resistance groups or denounced anonymously by a neighbour or concierge were usually arrested early in the morning, before they had a chance to dress.
A group of FFI burst into the apartment of the writer Alfred Fabre-Luce to arrest him, but he managed to slip out of the service entrance. (Fabre-Luce was doubly unfortunate: although a Pétainist, he had been imprisoned by the Germans for an anti-Nazi book he wrote.) The fifis, not finding their intended captive, took his old butler away instead.
Fabre-Luce’s wife, Charlotte, rang her brother, Prince Jean-Louis de Faucigny-Lucinge. He rushed round to 42 rue de Bassano, where an impromptu revolutionary tribunal had been established. He spotted the butler through a glass-panelled door, and also the Duchesse de Brissac, her hair dishevelled, wearing a fur coat which had been thrown on over her underclothes.
As soon as Alfred Fabre-Luce heard that his butler had been taken in his stead, he went straight to the rue Bassano to give himself up. The duchess, whose romantic friendships with German officers had become too well known, was taken off to the Conciergerie ‘like Marie Antoinette’. Lucinge telephoned her husband to warn himwhat had happened. The duke thanked him, but never mentioned the episode again. Most of those accused, however, were taken to police stations or the town hall of the arrondissement. The pianist Alfred Cortot was released after three days and three nights on a police-station bench.
The next step was transfer to the Prefecture of Police on the Île de la Cité. Many arrived at the Prefecture literally shaking with fear. Others were unbowed. Comte Jean de Castellane, younger brother of Boni de Castellane, the great fin-de-siècle swell described in his heyday as ‘rotten with chic’, proved worthy of his family’s traditions. One of the guards told Castellane to remove his shoelaces and braces, the normal procedure to stop prisoners hanging themselves. He regarded the man with a thunderstruck expression: ‘If you take away my braces, I will leave immediately.’
After a length of time which could vary from a couple of hours to a few days, prisoners were taken across to the ancient Conciergerie of blackened stone and pepperpot towers on the Quai de l’Horloge. From the Conciergerie, after a few hours, days or even weeks, some prisoners were transferred to the holding camp at the Vélodrome d’Hiver, that stadium of dreadful memory where the Jews had been taken after the ‘Great Round-up’. Then they would be sent either to Fresnes prison or to the camp at Drancy, the former staging post for Jews before they were forced on to cattle trucks bound for Germany. A number of women prisoners were sent to the fort of Noisy-le-Sec. Many prisoners were also held at the Santé prison – ill-named, since it possessed only twelve showers for a population which now numbered nearly 3,000 prisoners.
Drancy was completely run by the FFI for the first few weeks after the Liberation, to the frustration of the authorities. The Prefect of Police had no control at all and visitors were not welcome. Pastor Boegner, who finally managed to gain entry to Drancy on 15 September, discovered cells that measured three and a half metres by one and three-quarters, holding six people, with only two mattresses between them. Luizet at least achieved one objective, quite rapidly. On 20 September, Drancy was ‘liberated’ from the fifis and returned to the regular prison service.
The main prison for those accused of collaboration was Fresnes. It held so many celebrities that one inmate, a ‘trustie’ who helped with the catering, used to take his autograph book with him on meal rounds. There were many members of ‘le Tout-Paris de la collaboration’, like the film star Arletty and the actor-playwright Sacha Guitry, who had met either at the receptions of the Luftwaffe General Hanesse or in Otto Abetz’s salon. Albert Blaser, the head waiter at Maxim’s, was also briefly in Fresnes, as were the singer Tino Rossi and the publisher Bernard Grasset. Rossi was never in danger of execution, but that did not stop one of his female fans from offering to be shot in his place.
In Fresnes, Jean de Castellane was pleased to see Sacha Guitry. Castellane was something of a chatterbox, and since Guitry possessed a similar taste for jeux de mots, the two men made running jokes on the unsavoury conditions in the prison and on their own likely fate. Guitry later observed that beds which had been occupied by unexpectedly released prisoners were thought lucky and people clamoured to take themover.
Many inmates tried to depict themselves as victims of a second Terror. But savage as the épuration was in some places, this was hardly September 1793. Outraged at their treatment, few asked themselves what the camps and prisons had been like under the Vichy government. One well-dressed woman, given a palliasse to sleep on, asked for another. When told that prisoners were allowed only one each, she replied that it would be needed for her maid, whom she wished to summon to look after her. Another daughter of Daisy Fellowes, Emmeline de Casteja, served five months in Fresnes locked up with prostitutes. Their chief amusement, she told a friend later, was to jiggle their bare breasts at the men in the block opposite.
Before the war, Fresnes had no more than one prisoner for each of its 1,500 cells. Now there were 4,500 inmates. The bloc sanitaire was even more crowded than the bloc pénitentiaire, because many were unfit for the rigours of prison life. A considerable number were elderly and unaccustomed to a diet of dried vegetables and noodles.
At the beginning, prisoners had no right to a lawyer. Whenever they wrote letters, the guards usually read them and made sure they were never delivered. The only contact with the outside world was established through four representatives of the French Red Cross. These four ladies were swamped with work. Whenever possible, they obtained the address of each prisoner and a telephone number where they could contact the family to inform them. In many cases the families had had no news and had been left destitute when the breadwinner was arrested.
The work of the French Red Cross was greatly encouraged by the Prefect of Police, Charles Luizet, who was very keen to bring Fresnes back under control. Having managed to get the FFI guards out of Drancy three weeks after the Liberation, he was keen to purge the ‘auxiliary’ guards in Fresnes. It is alleged that in the early days of the Liberation a number of prisoners were taken out in the middle of the night and shot, and a few beaten to death; but since there were no reliable records of who had been arrested, and since the guards refused to release the names of those they held, the number of cases is impossible to assess.
Partly prompted by a campaign in the Communist press claiming that traitors were living in style, the Ministry of the Interior commissioned a report on the prison. ‘It must be acknowledged,’ wrote the Inspector-General of Prisons, ‘that the auxiliaries have let us down badly.’ Jewels and money had been stolen from prisoners and a flourishing black market existed. The guards charged prisoners 300 francs for a packet of cigarettes, 3,000 for a bottle of alcohol, and sold extra clothes when the weather turned cold. They also took bribes for turning a blind eye during lawyers’ visits.
Escoffier, the governor of the prison, tried to appeal to the better nature and patriotism of the guards, but his efforts clearly did little good ‘because trafficking continued just as before during the following months’. The Prefect of Police then sent in some of his men in disguise, but they were quickly spotted and had to be withdrawn before they could do anything useful. Altogether only ten guards were arrested in over six months.
The chaotic state of records and dossiers meant that many people were held for several months and then released for lack of evidence. ‘Many of the dossiers were empty,’ recorded the jurist Charpentier. ‘Others only contained anonymous denunciations. The worst thing was to have no dossier at all.’ Without a dossier, you could not even see a juge d’instruction to have your case heard.
On 21 September, General de Gaulle told Boegner that there had been 6,000 arrests in Paris, but that may well have represented only those processed through the Prefecture of Police. Altogether in France, around a third of a million dossiers were opened on the basis of accusations. It would appear that the main backlog of untried prisoners, particularly of people who should never have been arrested in the first place, began to be cleared by the end of 1944. Pastor Boegner was struck by the decline in the numbers of prisoners in January 1945. But release did not necessarily represent the end of the affair.
Some stories are so terrible that they are hard to believe. Roger Codou, a Communist veteran of the International Brigades, reached Lyons in October 1944. He had been summoned back by the party from Algeria, officially to work in the Cabinet of the Communist minister, Charles Tillon, but also to help set up a secret factory in Paris for manufacturing false papers. In Lyons, a Communist major from the FTP looked after him. During their time together he took Codou out to the military airfield of Bron. In August, the Germans had massacred 109 prisoners from Montluc prison on the runway, now used by French bombers flying over enemy territory ahead of de Lattre’s 1st Army. One of the pilots asked: ‘Have you got any customers for us tonight?’ The major then explained to Codou that, as a fitting punishment for traitors, any Vichyist prisoners acquitted by the courts in Lyons were kidnapped, bound and gagged, then taken to the airfield after dark and put in the bomb-bay of an aircraft on top of the bombs. They were then dropped on ‘their friends’ during the next sortie. Nearly fifty years later, Codou still did not know whether this was a ghastly revelation or told only to shock.
The scale and nature of the épuration are bitterly contested to this day. The wildest figures – 100,000 to 120,000 victims during the Occupation and after the Liberation – have long been discredited. Yet although the difference between the estimates has now narrowed considerably – approximately 10,800 according to the Institut d’Histoire du Temps Présent, and around 14,000 to 15,000 according to Henri Amouroux – strong disagreements remain. They reflect the conflicting attitudes of two generations – the older one, which experienced the dilemmas and sought to justify many of the compromises; and the younger one, which refused to condone Vichy’s assistance in deporting Jews to Germany.
There is, however, a general agreement that some 39,000 French were executed during the Occupation. Out of that figure, the Milice probably killed between 2,000 and 3,000– a tenth of the total, or less. The Milice was without doubt responsible for a large proportion of the other deaths, having in many cases provided information. Nevertheless, nobody can yet give an accurate idea of how many French men and women were betrayed to the Germans by the French of Vichy, or simply by neighbours with a grudge.
The battle lines of the debate have tended to concentrate on how many people were killed by the Resistance. This turns on the huge problem of defining the whole process. Do you include the settling of private accounts? Do you include the victims of criminal gangs who operated under Resistance colours?
The figures in certain areas are still contested. The département of the Seine, with the city of Paris, had the greatest population. Yet the Institut d’Histoire du Temps Présent lists a total of only 208 killings by members of the Resistance during the war, of which fifty-seven took place after the Liberation. And while it is true that there were no mass killings in the capital, there were countless deaths in suspicious circumstances in the sixteen months following the Liberation. For example, from September 1944 there was a very marked increase in the number of deaths listed as ‘violent death of undetermined nature’. From August 1944 until the end of the year they amounted to 424, while in the five months before the Liberation there had been only 259 cases. Murder by firearm more than doubled, from forty-two cases in 1943 to 107 in 1944.
How, for example, does one classify the case of the blacklisted publisher Denoël, who had brought out Céline’s Voyage au bout de la nuit in 1932 and more recently the work of the pro-Nazi polemicist Lucien Rebatet? Denoël, a Belgian, was found killed beside his car in December 1945. This may well have been a common crime, for there were many that particular winter, but one cannot rule out the possibility that the motive was political.
The épuration sauvage throughout France was not a phenomenon which burnt itself out within a couple of months of the Liberation. There was another surge of killings in January and February 1945, perhaps influenced by the fears raised during the Ardennes offensive. A larger wave, however, occurred in June 1945, following the shock of the deportees returning from the prison, labour and concentration camps. Many returning prisoners had scores to settle. Almost any Vichy official was at risk, however indirect his involvement in the policy of sending workers or prisoners to Germany. Others were frequently regarded as guilty simply for having supported a regime capable of sending French men and women to such a fate.
According to the less than comprehensive files of the Renseignements Généraux, the number of assassinations ‘de caractère politique’ did not begin to tail off until the second part of August 1945. Between 3 July and 13 August there had been 410 killings in a total of twenty départements. A small revival was recorded later in October. The most striking statistic, however, is revealed in the detailed figures for the week of 13 August 1945. Out of thirty-seven killings, thirty-three were carried out by explosives. Unfortunately, this is the only week for which such a breakdown is provided. One must of course be extremely wary of reading too much into it; yet perhaps it sheds light on the curiously high number of people listed as dead from‘gas explosions’.
In the Archives de la Ville de Paris, figures for causes of death in the metropolis are scrupulously broken down, even if the categories are not always consistent. From September 1944 the casualties from gas explosions increased dramatically. In 1942, 184 people died in gas explosions during September, October and December. In 1943,183 died during this period. But in 1944, no fewer than 660 died. Even allowing for pipes fractured during the fighting and the frequent interruptions of supply, it is hard to explain such a ma
Alfred Fabre-Luce wrote that ‘France is a country where, in revolutionary times, hysteria is tempered by corruption.’ Although partly true of many upheavals, this view is unduly cynical in the case of France in 1944. The restraint on hysteria came almost entirely from examples of physical and moral courage, men and women standing up and daring to say that it was wrong to punish people without a proper trial.
The real argument in the historical debate is essentially a question of degree. How brutal was the épuration sauvage in its context? If the reaction after the occupation of France is compared with those of the other occupied countries of north-western Europe – Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Norway – the épuration in France was ‘moderate’, according to Jean-Pierre Rioux. His colleague Henry Rousso has argued, on the other hand, that if one compares the number of executions with the number of French who served in German uniform, then it was much harsher than elsewhere. Accurate atrocity figures are of course vital, but the debate they inspire can quickly turn into a moral quagmire.
L’ÉTAT, C’EST DE GAULLE
The euphoric welcome accorded to General de Gaulle when he marched down the Champs-Élysées appeared to confirm his authority as unchallengeable. But the relationship between the provisional government and the Resistance was still unresolved. French Communists had rightly suspected during the Occupation that his policy, aided by the British, was to ‘deform’ the popular nature of the Resistance and ‘prevent at any price a true national insurrection’. They even tried to claim that the Allies had held back from Paris in August 1944 in the hope that the Germans would crush the largely Communist-inspired insurrection. This was also a shameless attempt to counter criticism of the Red Army’s failure to come to the aid of Polish nationalists during the Warsaw uprising.
Paris: After the Liberation 1944-1949 by Antony Beevor / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes