Paris after the liberati.., p.17
Paris: After the Liberation 1944-1949, p.17Antony Beevor
Among the painters who had been on the sponsored tour of Germany were Paul Belmondo, André Derain, Dunoyer de Segonzac, Kees van Dongen and Vlaminck. Vlaminck, a friend of Simenon and bitter enemy of Picasso, went into hiding at the Liberation. But the sanctions against the painters were mild. The Beaux-Arts recommended that they should each be made to create a major work for the state as punishment, and their works were excluded from the Salon de la Libération.
‘It is clear,’ wrote Galtier-Boissière in his diary two weeks after the Liberation, ‘that the majority of our stars are more or less tainted… but in the campaigns which are gathering steam, there is a strong whiff of jealousy.’ Even after Arletty’s death in the summer of 1992, letters were published in newspapers objecting to the fulsome obituaries. They did not complain about her ‘collaboration horizontale’ with a German officer, but about the fact that she had been dining at the Ritz while the rest of France was going hungry.
Most of the directors and stars of the cinema had worked with the German-controlled company Continental. Henri-Georges Clouzot was the director of Le Corbeau, considered one of the most remarkable films of the war years. The Germans were very dubious about Le Corbeau, in which a series of poison-pen letters throws the inhabitants of a village into a turmoil of mutual hatred and suspicion. Many people saw it as a veiled indictment of the Occupation; but after the Liberation, Clouzot was banned from working in France. As soon as the decision was announced he left for Hollywood.
Robert Brasillach reached Fresnes prison a week after Benoist-Méchin, but at first neither of them knew of the other’s presence, even though they were colleagues in an alien world, with echoing sounds of footsteps, keys jangling and iron doors clanging. Benoist-Méchin described the image of shivering figures in its foggy penumbra as ‘a queue of the damned waiting to cross the River Styx’.
In the rare moments they found for conversation, usually in the exercise space, they discussed their lawyers, their examining magistrates, but not their own prospects of acquittal, only those of others. The trials of writers and propagandists began that autumn.
The last day of October marked the trial of a fanatical old scribbler of pamphlets, Comte Armand de Chastenet de Puységur, who described himself professionally on his visiting cards as ‘anti-sémite, anti-maçon, anti-bourgeois, anti-capitaliste, anti-communiste, anti-démocrate et anti-républicain’. When he heard the death sentence read out, he gave the fascist salute and shouted, ‘Vive la France!’ The anti-Semites of vieille France had forgotten nothing and forgiven nobody. When Charles Maurras, the leader of Action Française, was condemned to life imprisonment a few months later, he cried from the dock, ‘It’s the revenge of Dreyfus!’ Maurras lost his chair at the Académie Française.
Céline, imprisoned in Denmark, was accused in absentia of collaboration under Article 75. His retort, predictably sarcastic, was that he had hardly sold the plans of the Maginot Line. He also sent the following diatribe from Copenhagen: ‘I never set foot in the German Embassy. I never met Otto Abetz before the war. Abetz always detested me. I met Abetz during the war two or three times for a few minutes. I always found the political activities of Abetz grotesque and disastrous and the man himself a creature of terrible vanity, a cataclysmic clown.’
The purge of writers was not only a judicial affair. It became a matter of professional conscience, or politics. During the Occupation the Comité National des Écrivains (CNE) – the National Committee of Writers – had been established as an association of intellectual resistance. Its mouthpiece was Les Lettres françaises, the literary review of the Resistance, established by Jacques Decour (later executed by the Germans at the fort of Mont Valérian) and Jean Paulhan, a writer and editor at Gallimard.Les Lettres françaises was a defiant challenge to Drieu la Rochelle’s takeover of La Nouvelle Revue française.
On 9 September, two weeks after the Liberation, the first non-clandestine issue was published. It contained not only articles by Mauriac, Sartre and Paulhan, but also a ‘Manifesto of French Writers’ signed by some sixty leading intellectuals. This contained a demand for ‘the just punishment of usurpers and traitors’. The next issue had a blacklist from the CNE containing ninety-four names. An expanded list of 156 names was included in the issue of 21 October.
Jean Paulhan – ‘Paulhan le Juste’, as Galtier-Boissière called him – became first uneasy about, then strongly opposed to, the calls for retribution. Like Paulhan, Galtier-Boissière distrusted and disliked the rush to accuse. ‘The Nazis,’ he wrote, ‘have left us an imprint of authoritarianism and persecution.’
Louis Aragon, the Surrealist turned Stalinist, with his silver hair and icy looks, was the Robespierre of the intellectuals. He attempted to extend the attack to writers hated by the Communist Party. But he was not as bloodthirsty against his right-wing colleagues as has often been made out. He stood up for Drieu la Rochelle and for his former publisher, Robert Denoël.
The trials of journalists and writers continued in December and into January 1945. This rapid rhythm was explained by Pierre-Henri Teitgen, who became de Gaulle’s next Minister of Justice: ‘these “intellectuals” had provided the prosecution case for their own trial during the Occupation. It was only necessary to reread their articles and other published work to establish, without any argument, the indictment they deserved before sending them in front of the court.’ The result was that writers were tried while the clamour for vengeance was at its peak.
On 29 December, however, when Henri Béraud, the editor of Grin-goire, was condemned to death, people were shocked. Béraud was right-wing, anti-Semitic and hated the British, but he had never written in favour of the Germans. Many suspected that jealousy had played a part. Béraud had been the best-paid journalist in France, earning 600,000 francs a year. And when the secretary of Jean Hérold-Paquis (the announcer of Radio-Paris, who had been executed in October) was condemned to forced labour for life, even the Resistance press was outraged.
Two days later, on 4 January, François Mauriac published his article, ‘About a Verdict’, in Le Figaro. There were no grounds for condemning Béraud for intelligence with the enemy, he argued.
This intervention almost certainly persuaded de Gaulle to commute the sentence. In his campaign in Le Figaro against the imbalances of the épuration, Mauriac even went so far as to say that people should be allowed to have made the wrong political choice – a brave position to hold at the time, and one that made him many enemies. The satirical weekly Le Canard enchaîné baptized this outspoken Catholic writer ‘Saint-François des assises’ – St Francis of the assizes. Camus argued in Combat that mercy for killers removed their victims’ right to justice, and that the crimes of fascism must be discouraged for ever. Mauriac replied in Le Figaro; and so began a great tennis match of moral argument.
Even before it opened on 19 January 1945, there was a feeling that the trial of Robert Brasillach, the fascist editor of the magazine Je suis partout, was going to be the apogee of the intellectual purge. François Mauriac and Paul Valéry both provided submissions on his behalf.
The morning of the trial was intensely cold. Paris had been under snow for sixteen days. There was no fuel for heating since coal barges were ice-locked on canals. In the ill-lit courtroom, the breath of a speaker condensed in the freezing air.
The issues, apparently clear at first, were hammered in and out of shape by both sides. Brasillach’s counsel, Maître Jacques Isorni, who became famous as Marshal Pétain’s most eloquent defender seven months later, claimed that an error of political judgement did not constitute treason. If Brasillach had supported the Germans, it was his way of wanting a stronger France. The climax of his defence was when, having elevated Brasillach to the status of a poet of national stature, he lifted his arms and cried out, ‘Do civilized people shoot their poets?’ This dramatic question tapped into the feeling which had swept Europe in 1936, when the Nationalists executed Federico García Lorca. Isorni ignored the fact that Brasillach
The crucial evidence lay in his articles in Je suis partout. Here Isorni was on more difficult ground. Brasillach’s words were there on the page, and what Isorni called his ‘erreurs tragiques’ went beyond most people’s idea of collaboration. He had supported the German invasion of the unoccupied zone in November 1942 on the grounds that it reunited France. He had called for the death of politicians such as Georges Mandel, Reynaud’s Minister of the Interior in 1940, who was murdered by miliciens shortly before the liberation of Paris. Although he had not denounced anybody to the authorities, he had denounced people in print. Brasillach, like Drieu, had signed the call in the summer of 1944 for the summary execution of all members of the Resistance. But perhaps the most chilling statement was: ‘We must separate ourselves from the Jews en bloc and not keep the children.’ Brasillach claimed that, although anti-Semitic, he had never advocated collective violence against the Jews. Probably he did not know about the death camps when he wrote those words; yet even if he was thinking of mass resettlement in Eastern Europe, his statement is still horrifying.
Despite the weight of the case against him, Brasillach confidently dissected the prosecution case in the interests of historical accuracy. He defended himself ‘with eloquence and skill’, wrote the apprentice film director Alexandre Astruc, reporting the case for Combat. The jury, however, took only twenty minutes to reach their verdict. ‘C’est un honneur’ was Brasillach’s only comment on the death sentence, after some of his supporters had cried protests in his favour.
Brasillach’s mother, whose husband had been killed in the First World War, begged Mauriac to save her son’s life. Mauriac threw himself into the task. He redoubled his arguments for clemency in the Le Figaro and organized a petition asking de Gaulle to reprieve Brasillach. Among the fifty-nine signatories were a few genuine resistants, many neutrals, and a number of writers and artists who were already under a cloud.
Those who signed included Jean Anouilh, Claudel, Valéry, Colette, Cocteau and, most surprisingly, Albert Camus. Camus had spent a sleepless night debating whether or not to sign. He abhorred everything Brasillach stood for yet signed as a moral stand against the death penalty. Jean Cocteau signed because he felt that writers were being made the scapegoats for other leading collaborationists, especially industrialists, who, it could be argued, had killed many more people by helping the German war machine. (Among those who refused to sign were Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, who believed in authorial responsibility, and Picasso, who said he was following the will of the Communist Party.)
On 3 February 1945 at midday François Mauriac was received by de Gaulle at the rue Saint-Dominique with great courtesy; but that, as he realized, was not a reliable indication of the General’s thinking. Isorni received a much clearer idea that night at de Gaulle’s private residence in the Bois de Boulogne, where he was taken in an official car, through heavily guarded barriers. De Gaulle, despite all Isorni’s arguments, decided to reject the appeal.
Isorni believed that de Gaulle did not want to be attacked by the Communists for softness. There is also a phrase in Gaston Palewski’s memoirs which revealed his influence: ‘Personally, I regret that I did not insist on a reprieve for Robert Brasillach.’
Brasillach was executed on 6 February. It was the eleventh anniversary of the right-wing riot and the attempt to storm the National Assembly across the Pont de la Concorde, an event which led, two years later, to the Popular Front government. On 20 April 1945, as the Red Army fought towards the centre of Berlin, Brasillach’s coffin was moved to the cemetery of Père-Lachaise.
His friend Jacques Benoist-Méchin did not face trial for over two and a half years. The delay undoubtedly saved him. He was condemned to death on 6 June 1947, but his sentence was quickly commuted to forced labour for life. He was freed in 1954, having acquired a fascination with the world of Islam through prison reading. This extraordinary man amassed such a knowledge of his subject that de Gaulle, after he became President in 1958, used him discreetly as a special adviser on Arab matters.
Céline, finally tried in absentia in 1950, received a sentence that would have been unimaginably light five years before – a year in prison and a heavy fine.
The épuration only increased political tensions in the world of letters and the arts. According to that redoubtable chaplain of the FFI, Father Bruckberger, he and Camus resigned from the National Committee of Writers because of the increasing Communist grip exerted by Aragon and Elsa Triolet. Mauriac, who did not resign, later buttonholed Camus in an attempt to persuade him to return.
‘Why did you resign?’ he asked.
‘It’s for me to ask you why you didn’t resign,’ Camus replied. ‘And I’ll tell you why you didn’t: because you were afraid.’
‘You’re quite right,’ Mauriac admitted.
Mauriac was too honest to have any illusions. At a dinner with Pastor Boegner, he described the National Front – a Communist-dominated organization of which he was a member – as ‘the screen behind which Communism carries out its business. I know because I’m part of it.’
Jean Paulhan raged the most against the takeover of Les Lettres françaises. He openly scorned the more-resistant-than-thou fellow-travellers and the National Committee of Writers, which Aragon and Triolet wanted to turn into a writers’ union closely allied to the Communist Party.
Aragon’s plan, no doubt elaborated at party headquarters, was the classic Stalinist tactic of extending the purge to include critics of the Communist Party. On 25 November, in Les Lettres françaises, he launched an attack on André Gide, comparing him to Hérold-Paquis, the fascist propagandist from Radio-Paris. His real target was not the Gide who had, for a short period, written for Drieu’s Nouvelle Revue française, but the unrepentant author of Retour de l’URSS, the book most reviled by Stalinists at the time of the Spanish Civil War. Gide’s friend Roger Martin du Gard was disgusted with ‘the bad faith and the dishonest motives of Aragon’, and he warned Gide in Algiers to take care on his return to France. ‘Think carefully about reaching Paris: the ground is mined!’
The party also sought to destroy the reputation of Paul Nizan, a novelist and Sartre’s oldest friend, who had been killed on the retreat to Dunkirk in 1940. Nizan had been a loyal Communist until the Nazi– Soviet pact in August 1939. When his very short and simple letter of resignation was published, the enraged party circulated malicious allegations and Maurice Thorez described him as a ‘police spy’.
After the war Louis Aragon, as part of a renewed whispering campaign against Nizan, repeated the allegation to Sartre, a fellow member of the National Committee of Writers. Sartre prepared a statement of protest against the vilification and persuaded André Breton, Albert Camus, Jean Paulhan, Julien Benda and François Mauriac to sign as well. Sartre was powerful enough to stand up to the Communist anger directed against him, but the lies lingered on for years.
Politics were also complicated for those in the literary establishment who had something to hide. The veteran Catholic poet Paul Claudel presented a poemto the glory of General de Gaulle, which was read at a gala for the Resistance at the Comédie-Française some ten weeks after the Liberation. But the following morning, unkind tongues reminded people that Claudel had written a strikingly similar work in 1942, dedicated to the glory of Marshal Pétain.
Several publishers faced even more delicate problems. A week after the Liberation, the Resistance press demanded the blacklisting of publishers accused of collaboration, among them Gaston Gallimard, Bernard Grasset and Robert Denoël. Grasset was arrested and taken off to Fresnes prison, but Gallimard was left untouched. Gallimard had allowed Drieu la Rochelle to take over the Nouvelle Revue française, but since he had also helped Jean Paulhan launch its Resistance counterpart, Les Lettres françaises, he had covered himself brilliantly. ‘Not stupid, the old man!’ commented Galtier-Boissière in cynical admiration.
Gallimard had another strong suit. His pu
It was no secret that Gaston Gallimard had cooperated with the Germans. He had respected the ‘Otto List’ (named after Otto Abetz) of works proscribed by the Germans; he had exercised self-censorship in the books he published during the Occupation; and he had attended receptions at the Deutsche Institut. Nevertheless, he found strong supporters prepared to speak up for him – among them Sartre, Camus and Malraux.
André Malraux, author of La Condition humaine and L’Espoir, was as gifted a mythomaniac as he was a novelist. He pretended a deep knowledge of the cultures and languages of the Far East, whereas in fact he was more interested in the trafficking of Oriental antiquities. He made hugely inflated claims for his participation in both the Spanish Civil War and the Resistance, and it is astonishing that so few people challenged them: he was awarded all the most distinguished decorations for service in the Resistance, and the British gave him the DSO, the second-highest award after the Victoria Cross. This compelling, mercurial man had been a Communist sympathizer in his youth; but from the mid-1940s, he became a committed Gaullist and formed part of the General’s closest circle.
Malraux’s establishment in the Gaullist camp naturally put him out of sympathy with those, like Sartre, who were moving ever more aggressively to the left. Four years later, the differences between the two writers would erupt. Malraux, to obtain revenge on Sartre, was to blackmail Gaston Gallimard by threatening to expose his wartime record. Yet when questions were raised about Malraux’s exaggerated exploits, he threatened to send back all his Resistance medals – a gesture so dramatic that it seemed to silence his critics.
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