Paris after the liberati.., p.14
Paris: After the Liberation 1944-1949, p.14Antony Beevor
The diplomatic corps reassembling in Paris, perhaps inevitably for such a place and such a time, seemed to divide automatically between hedonists and puritans. The Canadian ambassador, General Georges Vanier, was an incorruptible Catholic. He at first stayed in the Ritz while the embassy was made ready, but, according to his military attaché, he ‘left in disgust, as it appeared to be full of war profiteers drinking champagne by the bucket’. Vanier also refused to have his office heated, as the French had no fuel for their homes, so he sat at his desk in his army greatcoat.
The Papal Nuncio, Mgr Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, was not a soldier-monk like Vanier. The food and wine at his little lunch parties were always good, but these gatherings were very discreet. He explained to Jacques Dumaine, the chef de protocole at the Quai d’Orsay, that he thought it wise to keep a low profile, though Georges Bidault and other Catholic ministers made de Gaulle’s government much less hostile to the Church than many in the past.
The Swiss ambassador, Carl Burckhardt, had been League of Nations commissioner in Danzig, then president of the International Red Cross during the war. His legation was the Hôtel de l’Abbé de Pompadour, at 142 rue de Grenelle. It had come into Swiss hands in the late eighteenth century, having belonged to Besenval, the captain of Louis XVI’s Swiss Guard and an entertaining diarist of court life.
Burckhardt, the humanist historian, was a worthy, albeit more serious, successor to Besenval. Tall and good-looking, his conversation could be highly intellectual – ‘I’m always in an agony of not understanding,’ wrote Diana Cooper, with whomhe had had an affair in the late 1930s. The Coopers and the Burckhardts remained firm friends; and he regaled her with all the wild stories which circulated about her and the British Embassy.
The British Embassy was decidedly unaustere, not so much with luxury, although the food and drink were always good, but in a refusal to take petty moral stands. As far as Duff Cooper was concerned, what was past was past. He would not invite any notorious collaborators – guest lists were privately checked with Gaston Palewski – but he had no time for poisonous and often ill-informed whispering campaigns. Writers of the Resistance such as Vercors, author of Le Silence de la mer, and the Communist Paul Éluard did not object to lunching with Cocteau and Louise de Vilmorin, who were much criticized after the Liberation. Even bitter political enemies accepted the advantage of meeting on neutral ground. The Communist poet Louis Aragon did not walk out on finding an increasingly right-wing André Malraux present.
Diana Cooper had a way of mixing guests recklessly and getting away with it. On one occasion she threw Daisy Fellowes and the Marchioness of Bath, two of the most mondaine women imaginable, into a lunch party for Tito’s ambassador and Marcel Cachin, the doyen of the French Communist Party. The fact that Daisy Fellowes, who had long been regarded as the most beautifully dressed woman in the world, sat opposite Madame Cachin, who was ‘looking like an old concierge’, caused no unease on either side. Madame Cachin, who ‘proved to be highly cultured with a great knowledge of art’, was a pronounced success.
The Russian Embassy in the rue de Grenelle had been a beautiful building until iron doors with peepholes and every other security device imaginable had been bolted on to it. Receptions took place in gilded rooms ablaze with powerful electric light and, in the place of a string orchestra, a wireless blared from the sideboard. It was a suitable setting for Stalin’s representative, Sergei Bogomolov, the most hedonistic ambassador of all – if measured by alcohol consumption.
One evening, after the ambassadors of the Big Three had presented joint notes at the Quai d’Orsay, Bogomolov asked Caffery and Duff Cooper back to the Russian Embassy. ‘There were two tables,’ Duff Cooper recorded in his diary, ‘one for the three Ambassadors, and another for the three secretaries, Eric [Duncannon, later Earl of Bessborough], MacArthur and Ratiani.’ Dishes with slices of sturgeon, pots of caviare, eggs and sardines were placed in the middle of the table, to help the drinking. Bogomolov began by proposing some fifteen toasts, all being drunk in vodka. The other two ambassadors were expected to follow suit.
The first to succumb was Bogomolov’s own secretary, Ratiani, who was sick on the floor. It was not long before the other diplomats present had to be helped to their cars. Neither Caffery nor even Bogomolov himself was seen until the late afternoon of the following day. Both Duff Cooper and MacArthur were really ill and had to stay in bed for several days.
On another occasion, a dîner à quatre, Madame Bogomolov fortunately put a stop to ‘the vodka struggle’ when her husband began to propose more and more ‘ingenious toasts so that one seemed ungallant or unpatriotic and ungrateful or churlish to refuse’. She even reproved him for interrupting their guests, but that did little good. While Stalin’s representative ‘issued a monologue of statistics – how many women had matriculated in each Soviet republic – and boasted of Soviet scientists and astronomers’, Madame Bogomolov confided to Lady Diana Cooper that she had not seen a bar of soap for weeks. The Soviet soap crisis was rectified by messenger the next day with several tablets as a thank-you present.
The 7 November celebration of the Russian Revolution proved neither very proletarian nor egalitarian. ‘The traffic in the rue de Grenelle was completely out of control,’ Duff Cooper observed. ‘It took about half an hour to approach the house. All the members of the Embassy were in their smart uniforms, and Madame Bogomolov was in full evening dress. There were lights everywhere and cinema operators. Everybody was photographed as they went in and again upstairs while shaking hands with the Ambassador and the Ambassadress. I was conducted by a junior member of the staff to a special room set apart for the more privileged guests, where there was any amount of vodka and caviare, the others being allowed only inferior sandwiches and hardly any drink.’ For Duff Cooper, however, the evening, when he did manage to fight his way out through the crush in the outer room, proved to be memorable in other ways: it was the night he fell in love with the writer Louise de Vilmorin.
While Duff Cooper had diversions whenever de Gaulle proved particularly intractable or rude, Georges Bidault bore the brunt of his unpredictable head of government. De Gaulle, who seldom consulted his Foreign Minister or even kept him informed of his private démarches, made policy ‘uneasy to conduct or even formulate’.
Over the next fifteen months, Bidault was constantly apologizing in private to the British and American ambassadors for de Gaulle’s provocations. They had much sympathy for his difficult position. Caffery reported a series of Bidault’s complaints against de Gaulle, and remarked that the Foreign Minister had added ‘that there is absolutely no one else in sight and that it must be admitted that de Gaulle loves France, even if he doesn’t like Frenchmen’.
Under the strain, Bidault began drinking too much – in diplomatic circles, he soon acquired the nickname of ‘In Bido Veritas’ – and in November, de Gaulle nearly refused to take him on an important mission abroad.
Bidault’s life was not made easier by the distinctive and unusually slow character of the French diplomatic service. The Quai d’Orsay had still not caught up with the change in the balance of world power. While three diplomatic bags a week went to London, only three a month went to Washington. French diplomats were also noticeably out of touch with what was going on in their own country. But nobody could dispute their erudition. It was a service in which the elegant composition of a report seemed to be of far more concern than its contents.
François Mauriac feared later that the literary constellation of ‘Claudel, Alexis Léger, Giraudoux and Morand has created a kind of cerebral cramp, with the result that after them the diplomatic machine has suffered from intellectual anaemia, to be cured only by blood transfusions from the École Normale Supérieure’.
After the Liberation, key administrative posts were given to the handful of career diplomats of outstanding talent who had not served Pétain, such as Hervé Alphand. The junior ranks were purged and repopulated with those who had a good war record, like
Foreign ambassadors were much encumbered by the social round. Official and semi-official lunches took up most of the middle of the day, since they could run to seven or eight courses, even at a time of desperate shortage. At one interminable meal Duff Cooper agreed with his neighbour, Jean Monnet, who ‘was most indignant about the length of the menu, and said that it was feasts like this that gave people passing through Paris such an entirely false idea of the true position’.
In the autumn of 1944, the visitor who preoccupied Duff Cooper most was Winston Churchill. Once again, he was horrified to hear that the Prime Minister proposed to arrive in Paris without a word to de Gaulle beforehand. He even had to beg Churchill not to visit General Eisenhower at SHAEF, because without an invitation from the provisional government his arrival on French soil would be taken as yet another insult. Finally, with the help of Massigli and Bidault, de Gaulle was persuaded to accept a visit from the British Prime Minister on 10 November, so that Churchill would be in Paris for the First World War commemoration of 11 November.
Churchill arrived in fine form at Le Bourget, where he was met by the Communist Minister for Air, Charles Tillon, and then taken to the apartments reserved for state guests at the Quai d’Orsay. The British Prime Minister was thrilled to find that he had a gold bath, while Anthony Eden’s was only silver.
Churchill’s presence in Paris had been kept secret, but news spread with astonishing rapidity on the morning of Armistice Day as he drove in an open car from the Quai d’Orsay to meet de Gaulle. Churchill was well buttoned up against the cold in RAF greatcoat, and beaming from under the uniform cap. After the two leaders left the rue Saint-Dominique for the Arc de Triomphe, ‘the reception had to be seen to be believed’, Duff Cooper wrote in his diary. ‘It was greater than anything I had ever known. There were crowds in every window, even in the top floors of the highest houses and on the roofs, and the cheering was the loudest, the most spontaneous and the most genuine.’
As Churchill and de Gaulle laid wreaths on the grave of the unknown soldier, members of their entourage glanced up at the umbrella of Spitfires circling over Paris to guard against any marauding German fighters. The crowds were more than ten deep when the two men began their walk down the Champs-Élysées to the dais from where they would take the salute. They all chanted: ‘Vive Churchill! Vive de Gaulle!’ De Gaulle raised both arms, Churchill made the V-sign, unleashing further roars of approval. They presented ‘a curious pair,’ observed Malcolm Muggeridge, ‘the one so rotund and merry, the other so tall and grave; like Mr Pickwick and Don Quixote’.
The march-past was led by General Koenig, with a band from the Brigade of Guards playing ‘The British Grenadiers’. There were also kilted Canadian pipers, goums from the Atlas mountains, a detachment from the Royal Navy and the Garde Républicaine in their cuirassier uniforms on black chargers.
Almost as important as the public enthusiasm was the relaxation of tensions between the two leaders. Both de Gaulle and Churchill were ‘in the happiest of humours’. After a lunch for sixty people at the rue Saint-Dominique, they went upstairs for discussions. De Gaulle, Palewski, Massigli, and Coulet and Chauvel from the Quai d’Orsay sat on one side of the table, facing Churchill, Eden, Duff Cooper and Alec Cadogan of the Foreign Office on the other. The conversation lasted ‘for about two hours – Winston talking most of the time in his uninhibited and fairly intelligible French. He speaks remarkably well, but understands very little. There was not an unpleasant word said, although nearly every subject, including Syria, was covered.’ Yet despite moments of real warmth – almost affection of the sort an estranged couple shows in the relief of making things up – de Gaulle was about to make advances in a different direction.
Three days before Churchill arrived in Paris, de Gaulle had told Bogomolov that he would like to visit the Soviet Union to discuss relations with Marshal Stalin. De Gaulle knew that the Americans and the British would soon be discussing a post-war settlement with the Russians and he did not want France to be left out.*
On 24 November 1944, the day after General Leclerc’s 2nd Armoured Division entered Strasbourg amid scenes like those in Paris the previous August, Charles de Gaulle took off by plane for Moscow. His party included Gaston Palewski, Georges Bidault and General Juin, together with a number of senior officials from the Quai d’Orsay.
Their slow progress along North Africa and across the Middle East to Baku represented its own form of humiliation. The head of government’s obsolete two-engine aircraft broke down with embarrassing frequency. De Gaulle’s party left their aircraft in Baku, mainly because of the bad weather. Allotted the old-fashioned train of the tsarist commander-in-chief, Grand Duke Nicholas, they then embarked on an even slower journey north across the steppes to Moscow. They were banqueted at every stop amid appalling misery and war damage. In the ruins of Stalingrad the Russians were still digging corpses out of the frozen ground two years after the battle. One day, in the compartment of the train, after glancing out at the endless winter landscape, de Gaulle observed drily that the journey was taking so long that he hoped there would not be a revolution in his absence.
Descriptions of Stalin at this time focus on his sloping rectangular forehead, his pale complexion and large, slanted, gleaming eyes. The way his skin was stretched tightly over his cheeks when he smiled increased the impression of a mask. De Gaulle summed him up memorably as a ‘Communist dressed up as a field marshal, a dictator ensconced in his scheming, a conqueror with an air of bonhomie’.
The main banquet in the Kremlin, with its conspicuous display of luxury, was not a cheerful occasion. There were some forty Russian officials, the French delegation, the British chargé d’affaires and Averell Harriman, the American ambassador. Stalin proposed endless toasts, first of all complimentary ones to his guests, followed by some thirty more to his Russian subordinates – Molotov, Beria, Bulganin, Voroshilov and on down the hierarchy.
Each time he raised his glass at the end of his little speech, he said, ‘Come!’, and the designated recipient of the honour had to hurry round the table to clink his glass with Stalin’s. The rest of the company sat in frozen silence. The Marshal’s voice was disconcertingly soft as he raised his glass to the chief of the Soviet air staff, then threatened him in a brutal display of hangman’s humour.
At one point that evening, Stalin turned to Gaston Palewski and said with a malicious smirk, no doubt because the French delegation had ducked the question of recognizing his puppet government for Poland: ‘One never ceases to be Polish, Monsieur Palewski.’
One of the main objectives of de Gaulle’s journey was to revive the traditional Franco-Russian alliance against Germany – his sense of history never let himforget that Russia had saved France in 1914 – but equally important, he wanted an alliance with Stalin as a counterbalance to Roosevelt and Churchill. He also needed to make sure that the French Communist Party behaved itself.
De Gaulle’s sense of injustice at the hands of Roosevelt and Churchill should not be underestimated. His outrage at the lack of consultation had been so intense in 1942 that he had even considered breaking off all relations with them. In London, he had requested the ubiquitous ambassador, Bogomolov, to discover the conditions that Stalin might impose in return for recognizing the Free French. In early 1943, a Free French fighter group went to Russia to fly in support of the Red Army, and distinguished itself as the ‘Normandie-Niemen’ regiment. A number of its aviators, although Gaullists rather than Communists, were made Heroes of the Soviet Union.
De Gaulle clearly had far fewer illusions about Stalin than did Churchill and Anthony Eden, who showed an astonishing readiness to believe in his good faith. Yet from the beginning, de Gaulle had shown a restraint towards the Soviet Union which he had seldom demonstrated towards his Anglo-Saxon allies. He had never openly criticized Stalin, the French Communists or even the Nazi–Soviet pact. De Gaulle had a good reason for keeping quiet on this last p
Stalin despised the French. The fall of France in 1940 had undermined the major purpose of his pact with Hitler. He had hoped for a prolonged war of attrition in the west between Nazi Germany and the capitalist democracies. But Marshal Pétain’s armistice had allowed Hitler to turn on the Soviet Union with undiminished strength and increased mobility, thanks to the mass of French army transport captured. One of the German army divisions which reached Stalingrad had started the invasion of the Soviet Union almost entirely equipped with French motor transport. At the Teheran conference in 1943 Stalin declared: ‘France must pay for her criminal collaboration with Germany.’
Stalin was much more suspicious of the Americans and the British. Eisenhower’s deal with Admiral Darlan in 1942 so convinced him that the British and the Americans would come to some sort of compromise with Germany that Roosevelt and Churchill were forced to reassure him with a declaration that they would accept only unconditional surrender. Stalin still did not believe them. De Gaulle’s view, on the other hand, that Germany should be split into tiny states and deprived of its industrial capacity, showed no sign of wavering. He thus offered the only thing of possible interest to Stalin: a wild card within the Western alliance.
Stalin eventually got round to the subject of Maurice Thorez, who had just returned to France. The Soviet dictator must have appreciated the subtlety of de Gaulle’s move to create an invisible link between Thorez’s return and the disbandment of the Patriotic Militias. But de Gaulle did not hide his irritation when Stalin tactlessly brought up the subject of Thorez directly. ‘Don’t take my indiscretion amiss,’ he told de Gaulle in a confidential tone. ‘I want only to say that I know Thorez and that, in my opinion, he’s a good Frenchman. If I were in your place, I wouldn’t put him in prison.’ Then Stalin’s eyes narrowed in one of his smiles. ‘At least not straight away!’
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