Paris after the liberati.., p.13
Paris: After the Liberation 1944-1949, p.13Antony Beevor
Most of the other ministries were in a similar position. Writing paper was in such short supply that they had to use up the remaining batches of Vichy letterhead, striking out ‘État Français’ at the top and typing in ‘République Française’ underneath. In some departments this embarrassing practice had to continue until the trial of Marshal Pétain the following summer.
It was not just government ministries which were short of essential equipment. Hospitals lacked thermometers as well as drugs and bandages. In the terrible winter of 1944–5, there was little plaster of Paris left to mend the bones, brittle from malnutrition, which broke so easily in falls on the icy streets.
The cold spell which started during the Ardennes offensive at the beginning of January and continued throughout most of the month was one of the worst that France had suffered for a long time. On 20 January 1945, the American ambassador sent the following telegram to Washington: ‘There has been snow on the ground for 17 days; previous record 10 days. It is still snowing – water frozen to hydroelectric plants – ice-breakers unable to smash thru 8″–12″ ice on canals fromcoalfields, so 70,000 tons of coal stuck in barges, ice-bound. Daily arrivals have dropped by a third down to under 5,000 tons for whole of Paris. Sixty-six trains frozen fast.’
Even before this, the government’s greatest concern remained the food supply. White bread had appeared just after the Liberation, thanks to flour provided by the Americans, then disappeared again as soon as the provisional government was left to its own resources. Shortages became so acute that people were saying they had been better off under the Germans. Such complaints overlooked the fact that the transport system had been destroyed in the fighting. Several main lines were impassable for many weeks after the Liberation; and after the Germans had withdrawn, taking most vehicles with them, road transport depended on a very limited number of charcoal-burning gazogène trucks. The fundamental problem, according to the Sûreté Nationale, lay with peasant farmers resisting la Collecte, the compulsory purchase of food-stuffs at fixed prices. The reactionary peasantry of the Vendée was apparently the worst. In October 1944, no more than four tons of butter in the whole département were handed over. During the same month, the Pas de Calais, with only a few more dairy cattle, produced 355 tons for the official market.
Money in these times seemed to have no politics. The Duc de Mouchy was mayor of Mouchy-le-Chastel in the Oise, a village whose peasant farmers mainly voted Communist. He was liked and trusted, to the point that one old farmer asked him to buy a diamond ring for his daughter the next time he was in Paris. The duke bought a ring as requested. But when he returned with it, the farmer promptly said that it was not nearly big enough. So the following week the duke went to Chaumet, the jewellers in the Place Vendôme, with 350,000 of the farmer’s francs in a paper bag, and bought a huge ring. This time the farmer was delighted, reassuring the duke that he still had 7 million francs tucked away in his cupboard.
François Mauriac wrote that the government’s efforts against the black market resembled those of ‘the child St Augustine saw on a beach who wanted to empty the sea with a shell’. Paul Ramadier, the Minister of Supply, demanded that the Sûreté Nationale initiate ‘la plus active répression’. Ramadier bore the brunt of the government’s unpopularity for the lack of food. He was soon known as ‘Ramadan’ and the daily rations as ‘Ramadiète’. His ministry became the target for demonstrations by committees of housewives, usually organized by the Communists. At the Hôtel de Ville, 4,000 women chanted, ‘Milk for our little ones!’ And at a mass meeting at the Vélodrome d’Hiver, the crowd yelled, ‘A mort!’ every time Ramadier’s name was mentioned.
The Prefect of Police received orders to crack down. In the second week of March checkpoints were put up on all roads leading into the city, an operation that was quickly dubbed ‘the Siege of Paris’. But the first priority was to cut the traffic in provisions, brought in by ‘suitcase-carriers’, who purchased food directly and illegally from Norman farmers. Ripening Camembert, twenty to a suitcase, and the blood from joints of freshly slaughtered animals dripping from the luggage racks made such a sickly and overpowering smell in trains that even the normal French obsession about draughts was overcome and the carriage windows left open.
Over two days, Luizet mounted a large-scale operation with his police at the Gare de Montparnasse to search the suitcases of all travellers returning from the rich agricultural regions of north-western France. But the travellers were so angry that a virtual riot developed. ‘In the circumstances,’ Luizet reported to the Minister of the Interior, ‘I felt obliged to give the order to my men to stop this sort of control operation.’
While the day-to-day struggle for food continued in the towns and cities, France’s task of reconstruction was overwhelming for a bankrupt economy and was kept afloat only by heavy American aid and loans. Factories had been destroyed or stripped by the Germans, the major ports bombed into rubble and twisted steel. There were still millions of mines to clear. SHAEF reported that 1,550,000 buildings had been destroyed, almost exactly twice as many as at the end of the First World War. There was also a severe lack of building materials and timber, much of the available stock having been used up by Allied forces.
The shortage of coal was so serious that well before the winter started urgent telegrams began arriving at the Ministry of the Interior from prefects, warning of the consequences. On 29 October a signal reached the Place Beauvau stating that Rouen had less than four days’ supply left. The train due had not yet arrived, and even when it did it would take three days to unload it. There was suspicion in the provinces that Paris was receiving privileged treatment. ‘We are most unhappy,’ the mayor of Rouen wrote to the Minister of the Interior, ‘to see Paris with theatres, cinemas and métro running long after working hours while Rouen suffers in its ruins without any help.’
One of the most striking items in the mass of data provided by opinion polls during the period following the Liberation was that its sample rated the confiscation of illicit profits as the top priority for ministers to tackle. It even topped the issue of food supply.
Communists, working on the Stalinist theory of sabotage – that every setback must be the work of a fifth column – had no doubt where the fault lay. ‘The insufficient purge has left the controlling levers of industry and government departments in the hands of people who collaborated with fascism before and during the Occupation.’ Even the government, while needing to keep experienced administrators in their posts, was privately forced to acknowledge that injustices remained. The minister initially responsible for reconstruction admitted that the government faced ‘un problème délicat’. The companies which had worked with the Germans were the best equipped – in finance, manpower and raw materials – to tackle the daunting tasks faced by France. Many of the larger construction companies had not even existed at the start of the war; now they assumed ‘une importance anormale’. Meanwhile, ‘patriotic’ companies which had refused to work with the Germans were very weak.
The Communist Party’s threats of reprisal against collaborationist industrialists had begun well before the Liberation and were repeated in L’Humanité as the Allies approached Paris. ‘The directors of the Renault factories must be made to pay for the lives of Allied soldiers killed as a result of their enthusiasm to equip the enemy.’ Louis Renault was arrested and sentenced on 23 September for having sold over 6 billion francs’ worth of material to the German army. The sixty-seven-year-old industrialist died a month later in Fresnes prison. His wife claimed he had been murdered; the doctors said it was a stroke. Marius Berliet, head of the truck manufacturers, and his sons were imprisoned in Lyons without trial, but they were hardly the worst offenders. Renault, Citroën and Peugeot had between them manufactured nearly 93,000 vehicles for the Wehrmacht, while Berliet had produced only 2,239. The banker Hippolyte Worms was another important figure to be arrested. Yet the vast majority of industrialists who had worked for the Germans, including the builders of the
Companies were confiscated and nationalized, some because they had genuinely collaborated, others because unavoidable collaboration provided the excuse to nationalize key industries. The Communists, once Charles Tillon became Minister for Air, were determined to have a fully nationalized aircraft and transport industry.
Surrounded by revolutionary rhetoric and the threat of nationalization, French industrialists’ and employers’ groups, known generically as le patronat, sent a memorandum to de Gaulle complaining about the campaign. It insisted that it had ‘fulfilled its duty to the nation by keeping the means of production on French soil while carrying out managerial resistance on an unrecognized scale. It must protest against the myth that France was saved by the working class alone.’ But such arguments were disingenuous. Only a distinguished minority of managers sabotaged the work and the justification for maintaining production implied that France’s long-term interests lay with a continuing German occupation rather than eventual liberation.
In the climate of the moment, with the right seen as morally bankrupt after Vichy and the Occupation, there was a strong tide of opinion in favour of change for the sake of change. The achievements of the Resistance and the fraternity of the Liberation should be pushed forward into peacetime, to create a more equitable society. This political instinct or emotion was described as progressisme – a word which was convenient for Communists, who did not want to alarm potential fellow-travellers or right-wing socialists who feared Communist plans, but did not yet dare say so openly.
For those across Europe who had lost so much, progressisme seemed to offer the only way forward, leaving behind both the moral ambiguities of the war and the misery of the Depression in the 1930s. But conservatives and political free-thinkers who questioned such assumptions saw it as a slide towards Communism. Aldous Huxley, viewing a destroyed Europe from the United States, expected a Pax Sovietica to spread across the whole continent. He, like many, feared that it would be impossible ‘to put Humpty Dumpty together again’ except in a ‘nightmarishly totalitarian and pauperized form’.
General de Gaulle’s anger in Toulouse against Colonel Starr had really been an explosion of resentment against the Allied leadership. His obstinacy and readiness to take offence had not been eased with the triumph of the Liberation. The French en masse had acclaimed him as their leader, yet the Allies continued to delay formal recognition of the provisional government. At Roosevelt’s insistence (and almost certainly on the advice of Admiral Leahy, his former ambassador to Vichy), this delay extended for nearly two months after the Liberation of Paris. The fact that the ambassadors of the ‘Big Three’ were already in place only irritated de Gaulle more.
The British ambassador, Duff Cooper, whomde Gaulle already knew from Algiers, landed at Le Bourget airport in a Dakota on 13 September, having been escorted across the Channel by no fewer than forty-eight Spitfires. A police motorcycle escort swept his motorcade to the Arc de Triomphe, where he laid a wreath on the grave of the unknown soldier. He then joined the advance party of his staff in the Berkeley Hotel. The British Embassy, Pauline Borghese’s palace in honey-coloured stone on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, was undamaged; but there was no water or electricity, and its reception rooms were still piled with the furniture of families who had fled Paris in June 1940.
Next morning, Duff Cooper went to see Bidault at the Quai d’Orsay, and recorded their meeting in his diary: ‘He seemed curiously young and somewhat overcome by his responsibilities, admitting himself that he knew nothing, and had had no experience. On the whole I liked him, but whether he will prove a big enough man for the job I am inclined to doubt.’
It was not long before Duff Cooper found himself in a position he knew well from Algiers: being ground between the millstones of Churchill and de Gaulle. One of the first messages from the Foreign Office warned that Churchill wanted to pay a visit in about three weeks. Back went the reply that the Prime Minister must not think of coming until he had recognized de Gaulle’s government and received a proper invitation from the General himself. Churchill still saw France as part of the Allied war zone and not as a sovereign country.
The United States government was equally tactless. Duff Cooper was told privately by the Quai d’Orsay that the Americans had nominated an ambassador to France without even asking for the provisional government’s agreement and that Bidault was deeply offended.
Until Roosevelt was prepared to recognize his government officially, de Gaulle would not see either the American ambassador, Jefferson Caffery, or Duff Cooper, even though his own ambassador in London, René Massigli, had been received by the King and had been to stay in the country with Churchill. De Gaulle was holding up the process of recognition by refusing to agree to a temporary division of France between a war zone, which came under the authority of SHAEF, and a zone of the interior.
Eventually, after a last-minute flurry of confusion, the final barriers were removed and at five o’clock in the afternoon of Monday, 23 October, the United States, Great Britain, Russia and Canada simultaneously recognized the provisional government. ‘At last!’ noted the head of the Foreign Office, Sir Alexander Cadogan, exasperated that Admiral Leahy, the elderly bachelor ambassador to Vichy who had so influenced Roosevelt against de Gaulle, had managed to hold things up for so long. ‘What a fuss about nothing! Due to that spiteful old great-aunt Leahy. Hope he’s feeling pretty sick!’
That evening, Duff and Lady Diana Cooper were invited to dine with the General. The Coopers took Beatrice Eden, the wife of the Foreign Secretary, with them. Other guests at the General’s residence in the Bois de Boulogne included Bidault, General Juin, François Mauriac and Gaston Palewski. The atmosphere remained resolutely gloomy, with very little conversation. De Gaulle refused to reply when Duff Cooper mentioned the recognition of the provisional government; and when the ambassador persisted, saying that he hoped the General was glad the whole process was over, de Gaulle shrugged and said that it would never be over. Duff Cooper sat next to Madame de Gaulle, who never took her eyes off her husband and said nothing the whole evening.
This ‘extremely frigid and dreary party, worse even than his entertainments usually are… should have been a gala evening,’ wrote Duff Cooper in his diary, ‘but gala is not a word included in the vocabulary of General de Gaulle’. On their way home in the car afterwards, Beatrice Eden observed that usually the things that one dreaded were not as bad as one expected, but this had proved far worse. When Duff saw Massigli in London a few days later and described the evening, his counterpart roared with laughter. As they both knew well from experience, de Gaulle was at his most churlish when nursing his wounded pride. It also did not help that he clearly believed small talk to be a vice. Perhaps the key to this, as a senior member of the Quai d’Orsay pointed out to Duff, was his excessive shyness.
De Gaulle was forced to take some part in social life, but it was alien to his nature. Diana Cooper had already found in Algiers that dinner conversation with the General ‘flowed like glue’. She and Duff Cooper called him Charlie Wormwood – as in wormwood and gall. De Gaulle’s household was famously austere, and embassy wives dreaded the experience of having tea with Yvonne de Gaulle, who had even less small talk than her husband. ‘Tante Yvonne’ was notoriously strict. Just the thought of meeting a divorced woman was said to give her a migraine.
The American ambassador, Jefferson Caffery, who arrived on 12 October, was not helped by the ‘discouraging’ accounts circulated by other Americans about him. Caffery was not a born diplomat and often looked ill at ease. He was always extremely well dressed, though he walked stiffly, with the aid of a cane. At times he was almost inarticulate due to a speech impediment, at others forthright and brusque, yet when relaxed he could be excellent company. Courageous and generous, he was a discreet homosexual; although his lover, one of his own staff in the embassy, was slightly less careful to preserve the secrecy
Although Caffery had little experience of France, several members of his staff made up for this deficiency. His political counsellor, Douglas MacArthur II (nephew of the general and son-in-law of a former vice-president), had been in the Paris embassy before the war and then on Admiral Leahy’s staff at Vichy. Ridgway Knight, who had been one of Robert Murphy’s vice-consuls in North Africa, proved one of the best-informed members of the embassy, thanks to his contacts; he had been brought up in France and was completely bilingual. On the intelligence side, there was Charles Gray, a rich polo-player and man-about-town who had lived in Paris before the war, and Captain David Rockefeller, who held the official position of assistant military attaché, that internationally recognized fig leaf for intelligence work.
The relaxed and charming Gray, who was a member of both the Travellers’ and the Jockey Club, had little in common with his ambassador. One day in the Travellers’ after lunch, Gray looked up from the backgammon board to find two members of the Jockey Club in white gloves, standing to attention. They had come to deliver a challenge to a duel on behalf of a friend who felt that Gray had insulted him. Monsieur Gray had the choice of weapons. Would he please communicate his answer later?
News of the challenge spread so rapidly that Charlie Gray found, on his return to the embassy, a message summoning him to the ambassador’s office. Caffery told him in the severest terms that any member of his staff involved in a duel would have to resign on the spot. Gray was despondent. He loved his job, but if he declined to fight he would never again be able to hold up his head in Parisian society. The solution came to him just in time. He wrote a note accepting the challenge and informed the seconds that his choice of weapon was tanks – at any range they cared to select.
Paris: After the Liberation 1944-1949 by Antony Beevor / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes