Paris after the liberati.., p.16
Paris: After the Liberation 1944-1949, p.16Antony Beevor
SHAEF’s worst demonstrations of bloody-mindedness were reserved for the end of the war. It suddenly decided to destroy all the German equipment which the Americans did not need and refused to give any to the French. ‘It seems hardly believable,’ wrote Duff Cooper, when he heard. A month later SHAEF went further, ordering the French to hand over all captured enemy arms and equipment for destruction. ‘The French have very sensibly refused,’ wrote Duff Cooper in his diary on 13 June.
American diplomats appear to have had much more sympathy for France’s predicament. When the American ambassador made ‘a quiet and unostentatious visit to some of the so-called “red banlieues” of Paris’ he was ‘shocked and disturbed by the misery’ he saw there and was surprised at the calm way their inhabitants regarded the terrible destruction from Allied bombing attacks on the marshalling yards. Over a thousand people had been killed in one area.
‘It is clear that they expect pertinent help from the US,’ he reported to Washington. Telegrams from the American Embassy expressed one exasperation after another.
The French, on the other hand, felt belittled by the American attitude to their war record. Senior French officers had begun to complain openly that ‘the US is supplying inferior and semi-obsolete tanks and other material to the French forces’. A far greater cause for French resentment, however, was the generally justified suspicion that the Americans preferred the Germans. In France, Americans claimed to hear only complaints and excuses; while in Germany they found a population grateful for having been saved from occupation by the Red Army.
Even military parades and celebrations of victory produced bad feeling among the Allies. During the spring and early summer of 1945, de Gaulle held no fewer than five major parades in just over three months. Allied diplomats and officers, especially the Americans, became increasingly exasperated at having to stand for hours watching ‘their’ tanks trundling past on victory parades, using their gasoline when the French were complaining about shortages of fuel.
After the victory celebrations in May came the biggest parade of all on 18 June – the anniversary of de Gaulle’s broadcast from London – with a march-past by 50,000 men, led by the whole of the 2nd Armoured Division. It was a tremendous display, with the French air force flying low overhead in the shape of the cross of Lorraine. ‘One couldn’t help thinking,’ wrote the usually sympathetic Duff Cooper, ‘how all these [planes and vehicles] and most of the equipment was of Anglo-American origin. Not a single English or American flag was shown. There was no evidence of an ounce of gratitude and one felt throughout that France was boasting very loud, having very little to boast about.’
SHAEF had another reason for disapproving of the celebrations with the extra national holidays announced by the government. Coal production in France fell 80 per cent during the week of VE Day, just at the time when France was demanding more coal from the Ruhr on top of the 50,000 tons already allocated. ‘They do not seem to be taking any very active steps to put their own house in order,’ the SHAEF report concluded. Inevitably, another unfavourable comparison was made with the German determination to get back to work.
The French Communist Party was quick to exploit the reservoir of anti-American feeling. Some of the rumours spread were ludicrous, yet gained a measure of credence. The Communist minister, François Billoux, claimed that during the fighting the United States air force had bombed heavily ‘in a premeditated plan to weaken France’. Another rumour even claimed that the Americans had been so angry about the Franco-Soviet pact signed in Moscow that they had allowed the German Ardennes offensive to penetrate into France purely to give the French a fright. Other rumours, rather closer to the truth, concerned a wave of crime by American servicemen and deserters.
Galtier-Boissière wrote: ‘it appears that they are American deserters, who, with sub-machine-guns in hand, are playing at Chicago movies’. The Germans had been the ‘Fridolins’; now the Americans became known as ‘les Ricains’.
At a dinner at the British Embassy, General Legentilhomme, the military governor of Paris, painted a terrifying picture to the Englishwoman beside him. American servicemen were ‘barbarians, worse than the Russians, you simply cannot imagine, chère madame, how appalling the situation is’. Coincidentally a British diplomat, driving back with his wife from a dinner party, found a street cordoned off by men armed with sub-machine-guns ready to rob the occupants of any car which passed. Reacting quickly, he accelerated, forcing them to jump for cover.
There is no way of telling whether these hold-ups were carried out by military personnel or by civilians who had got hold of uniforms. Military police apparel was the most sought after. Clearly, French deserters and former fifis were also involved in some of the attacks. The director-general of the Sûreté Nationale described this ‘increase in armed attacks’ in a strong letter to the Minister of the Interior. On one evening alone, seven armed robberies had been carried out in the capital, two of them by American soldiers.
The generosity the French displayed towards the Americans and British had been unstinted in the early days, going far beyond the bottles of champagne hidden until the Liberation. ‘We’ve been waiting for you for so long,’ they had said over and over again, with genuine emotion. But then, as Malcolm Muggeridge observed, everybody ends up by hating their liberators. The writer Alfred Fabre-Luce wrote of ‘an army of drivers, with no indication of rank, who threw cigarettes to onlookers as if to an African crowd’.
The French indeed felt themselves very poor relations. The quantity of vehicles alone was a painful reminder of the French army in 1940, trudging to war after being delivered to a railhead in cattle trucks. The US army seemed to run not just on gasoline, but also on baked beans, coffee, cigarettes and packets of almost everything imaginable; not just cookies, candy and condoms, but also sachets of stew and mashed potatoes, permanganate to sterilize the water, tins of peanut butter and condensed milk, doughnut-making machines mounted on army trucks, and, of course, K rations. French children swarmed round their vehicles, begging for chewing gum. Soon the drivers of trucks painted on their tailboard: ‘No Gum Chum’.
The American influence in Paris became unmistakable. Some typically French bars were transformed, in an attempt to attract the rich liberators. Windows were darkened, iron chairs changed for comfortable upholstered ones, and the waiters in their black waistcoats and long white aprons were replaced with smiling girls. As a final touch, these new venues were given names like ‘New York’ or ‘The Sunny Side of the Street’.
Many disliked the way French youth appeared infatuated with all things American – detective stories, films, clothes, jazz, bebop, Glenn Miller. This fascination represented both a yearning to escape from the poverty and dilapidation around them and a preference for American informality after the stuffiness of Vichy. But it also struck a deeper chord, the legend of a new world offering a vision to the old. ‘America symbolized so many things!’ wrote Simone de Beauvoir. ‘It had stimulated our youth. It had also been a great myth – an untouchable myth.’
Writers and Artists in the Line of Fire
When the Allies disembarked in Normandy, Alfred Fabre-Luce saw their landing craft as Viking ships in a new invasion. Along with other right-wing writers, journalists, actors and artists likely to be accused of collaboration, Fabre-Luce had to decide whether to stay or flee, but he appeared more relaxed than most. At a literary funeral during the uneasy interregnum of that summer, when writers of the intellectual Resistance were moving back to Paris, he noted that ‘one could see side by side François Mauriac “already returned” and Drieu la Rochelle “not yet departed”’.
The tension increased during late July and early August. The actor and dramatist Sacha Guitry, like several others at risk, began to receive scribbled death threats. The Spanish ambassador, José Lequerica, at a dinner on 17 August, offered Guitry a visa for Spain. He made a similar offer to Drieu la Rochelle, but both declined: Drieu because he felt his fate awaited him in
As well as writers such as Céline and Lucien Rebatet who escaped to Sigmaringen, a few sought shelter elsewhere. The elderly Alphonse de Châteaubriant, who won the Prix Goncourt in 1911, elected to live out a hermit’s existence in a forest of the Austrian Tyrol. He was on the Resistance’s wanted list because he had been a member of the central committee for the recruitment of the Legion of French Volunteers. Charles Maurras, the arch-reactionary demagogue of Action Française, hid under a false name in Lyons. Georges Simenon, the Belgian-born creator of Inspector Maigret, feared arrest because two or three of his books had been filmed by the German film company Continental. He was placed under house arrest in January 1945 for three months, but released without charges being brought.
The majority of compromised writers chose to lie low and stay in the capital, despite the threat issued by the Resistance that all those who had contributed to enemy propaganda would be brought to justice. This justice was undefined, but the assassination on 28 June of Philippe Henriot, the Minister of Propaganda in Laval’s last government, provided a clear warning that words as well as deeds could constitute a capital offence.
Drieu la Rochelle and Jacques Benoist-Méchin were among those who stayed behind. Benoist-Méchin had the most to fear. He had not simply written in support of the New European Order; he had served as a junior minister in the Vichy administration and been passionately involved in raising the anti-Bolshevik legion for the Russian front.
Drieu had signed the diehard declaration of right-wingers on 9 July 1944, which called for a new government and heavy penalties, including the death sentence, for all those who encouraged civil war or compromised ‘the European position of France’. This would have been enough to execute him, but many would have pleaded for mercy in his case. Thanks to his charm and his talent, he had many friends on the left despite his views.
Obsessed since adolescence with death and suicide, Drieu made an unsuccessful attempt to kill himself the day before the church bells rang out in Paris. ‘He failed with his death as he failed with his life’ was the verdict of the Resistance newspaper Franc-Tireur. It took two more attempts before he finally succeeded in the following year. Drieu’s old friend Aldous Huxley wrote after his death: ‘The moral of the whole distressing story is that the majority of intellectuals at the present time recognize only two alternatives in their situation, and opt for one or the other, with results that are always bad, even if they happen to choose the victorious side.’
Others who stayed behind in the capital were Jean Giono, Fabre-Luce, Henry de Montherlant, Paul Chack and Robert Brasillach, the latter an exultant fascist and former editor of that virulent publication Je suis partout. Hidden in various apartments behind closed shutters, all they could do in that last week of August was to listen to the sounds of the Liberation and wait for a hammering on the door.
On 14 September, after twenty-eight days concealed in an attic room, Brasillach gave himself up. The decision was made when he heard that, on his account, his mother had been arrested and imprisoned. After taking a last look at the banks of the Seine opposite Notre-Dame – ‘Paris is beautiful, when one is about to leave it,’ he recalled from his cell – he presented himself in the afternoon at the Prefecture of Police and was conducted without handcuffs across to the Conciergerie on the Quai de l’Horloge. He spent the next five months in prison, first at Noisy and then at Fresnes.
Prominent figures in the performing arts were more visible targets than writers, but few of them had been carried away by the sort of dangerous idealism which had infected Brasillach. These members of the demi-collaboration were not guilty of treason, but of wanting to continue their lives as if nothing had changed. Jean-Louis Barrault argued that continuing to work and ignoring the Germans was a positive attitude, and all that could be done if one were not an active member of the Resistance.
This was perfectly valid as far as it went, but many people found it difficult to remain morally upright throughout the Occupation. It was also tempting for people in the performing arts to look on the Germans in Paris as no more than a new, cultivated élite. Otto Abetz was an ardent Francophile and those who attended his parties at the German Embassy in the rue de Lille found it hard to remember that this was the civilized face of a brutal and oppressive enemy.
The superficial glamour of the Occupation was perhaps best illustrated at the parties given by General Hanesse of the Luftwaffe, who had taken over the Rothschild town house in the Avenue de Marigny as his official residence. There he gave magnificent receptions, for Goering among others, which attracted a number of stars from the French stage. Arletty had a stronger reason for going. Her lover, with whom she lived in the Ritz, was one of General Hanesse’s officers. His guests were not only filmstars. On his return from prison camp, Baron Élie de Rothschild remarked to the old family butler, Félix, that the house must have been very quiet under General Hanesse’s occupation.
‘On the contrary, Monsieur Élie. There were receptions every evening.’
‘But… who came?’
‘The same people, Monsieur Élie. The same as before the war.’
Sacha Guitry, whose talents both as a dramatist and an actor suggest comparisons with Noël Coward, was arrested early one morning before he had a chance to dress. He was hustled out of his house in yellow-flowered pyjamas, jade-green crocodile pumps and a Panama hat, and taken to the mairie of the 7th arrondissement. When asked by the examining magistrate after his arrest why he had agreed to meet Goering, Guitry replied ‘par curiosité’. He said that he would have been just as interested in having dinner with Stalin, which was probably true.
Guitry recorded in his memoirs that as Leclerc’s troops approached the city Arletty had telephoned himin great agitation: she was an obvious target for épuration. When she was arrested early in September, a terrible rumour ran round Paris that her breasts had been cut off. This was a grotesque invention, but she may well have had her head shaved. Her hairdresser clearly remembers her turbaned head and having to make a wig for her. Arletty is said to have yelled at her accusers: ‘What is this government which is so interested in our sex lives!’ Her own account plays down the event of her arrest: ‘Two very discreet gentlemen came to fetch me.’ There was a car and no handcuffs, she said. Fromprison, she was allowed out under escort to make the final reshoots for Les Enfants du Paradis. It came out on 15 March 1945. One of her lines ran: ‘I amthe victimof a miscarriage of justice.’
Gabrielle Coco Chanel was born poor like Arletty, but rose to become the founder of one of Paris’s most successful fashion houses. She too had made her way up from nothing and was contemptuous of what people thought. ‘France has got what she deserves!’ Chanel declared at a lunch party on the Côte d’Azur in 1943. Prince Jean-Louis de Faucigny-Lucinge’s wife, Baba, was so shocked that, on meeting Coco the next day, she turned her back. (Shortly afterwards, when police came to arrest Baba Lucinge as a Jew – she was born d’Erlanger – Lucinge suspected that Chanel had tipped off the German authorities.)
The most striking similarity between Arletty and Chanel was that both had taken German lovers and lived in the Ritz. Arletty had her ‘beau Fridolin’ from the Luftwaffe, as Galtier-Boissière called him. Chanel – then aged sixty – was with a handsome German called Hans Gunther von Dincklage, known as Spatz, who may or may not have been an Abwehr spy.
As an insurance policy at the Liberation, Coco Chanel is said to have given away hundreds of flacons of Chanel No. 5 to GIs from her establishment in the rue Cambon. But when she was arrested at the Ritz early in September no American troops came to her support. She was, however, released soon after. She claimed that she had been involved in a secret mission to Spain, to bring the Allies and the Axis to the peace table, and hinted that Winston Churchill – a friend from her days a
Colette had supplemented her income during the Occupation by writing for the collaborationist paper Le Petit Parisien, and even produced an article for the pro-German La Gerbe. On the other hand, she was hiding her Jewish husband, Maurice Goudeket. After his escape from prison camp in 1942, he did not leave their apartment in the Palais Royal until the Liberation.
Colette’s neighbour in the Palais Royal, Jean Cocteau, exaggerated the insults and blows he received from fascists during the Occupation as an avant-garde writer and a homosexual. As a persecuted minority, he stood a better chance of effacing his appearances in Otto Abetz’s salon at the German Embassy.
Serge Lifar, Diaghilev’s protégé, who during the Occupation had been the Vichy-appointed director of the Paris Opéra and had toured in Germany, was initially banned for life from the French stage but was then let off with only a year’s suspension. He protested that he should have been honoured, not condemned, for having saved the Opéra from the Germans, but Lifar was seldom in touch with the real world.
Collaborators in the plastic arts numbered those who had attended the opening of the exhibition of Nazi-approved sculpture by Arno Breker at the Orangerie in May 1942 and those who had accepted an official tour of Germany sponsored by Berlin.
The Breker exhibition, in aid of Wehrmacht charities, was opened by the sculptor Aristide Maillol, and the occasion attracted most of the demi-collaboration. Guitry even argued in his memoirs that because Breker had asked Maillol to open his exhibition, and introduced him to a line of saluting Wehrmacht generals as ‘Mon maître vénéré’, the whole event represented France’s supremacy in the arts over Germany, and thus washed away the defeat of 1940. Guitry did not mention that a year later ‘degenerate works’ by Max Ernst, Léger, Miró, Picabia and Picasso were publicly destroyed outside the Jeu de Paume.
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