Paris after the liberati.., p.19
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       Paris: After the Liberation 1944-1949, p.19

           Antony Beevor
 

  The Duke spoke to the large group of waiting newspapermen of the terrible damage around them, and the Duchess said that she hoped to join a relief organization for helping war victims. Finally, after the 134 pieces of luggage and packages had been dealt with, the Windsors climbed into the British Embassy Daimler with Daly. Their staff – the Duchess’s secretary, a maid and their black butler Sydney – were put in the car behind. Meanwhile, the drivers of an American military escort in five jeeps revved their engines impatiently. The British military attaché was still far from relaxed at breaking the law. ‘There was a terrible moment when Pookey was in the car safely ashore and the journalists crowded round for a final cinematograph show and photographs. The little beast kept quite quiet in his covered box shaped like a suitcase – he must have known he was a stowaway.’

  Within a couple of days of the Windsors’ return to their rented house at 24 Boulevard Suchet, Adrian Holman, the minister at the embassy, had a talk with the Duke of Windsor – still referred to as ‘Edward P’, from his signature when Prince of Wales. Holman warned him that things had changed since his departure from the Côte d’Azur in 1940. French politics had moved sharply to the left, and he and his wife must recognize the new state of affairs. They should also be careful to avoid French people who were not bien vus – the safest course would be to stick to British and American friends for the time being – and they should not patronize the black market. But it was clear that the Duke and his wife, whatever her pronounced intentions to work for war victims, had not emerged from their egotistical cocoon. The Duchess remarked that Paris now offered ‘the most expensive discomfort she had ever known’.

  There was no shortage of people ready to provide their luxuries. Count O’Kelly, a member of an Irish expatriate family who had a well-established wine business in the Place Vendôme, was able to provide much more than just wine. Nor was there a shortage of guests. ‘The house was looking extremely well, with masses of flowers,’ wrote Daly in his journal after a party there. ‘One of the best dinners we have ever had in Paris in a private house.’ Others were curious to see at close quarters this famous couple, rather less than fairy tale, but still unreal. ‘At fifty,’ recorded Jacques Dumaine, ‘the Duke remains the royal Peter Pan… his wizened jockey’s face, his fair hair and his debonair appearance contribute towards his persistent youthfulness and make one understand the note of novelettish sentimentality in his abdication.’ Janet Flanner observed that the lines on his face were the result of too much sun and not too much thought.

  Duff Cooper’s greatest problemwas that the Duke was ‘so anxious to do right’. The ex-king was still angling for an official position, preferably in the United States. The Duke asked himwhether he should pay calls on General de Gaulle and Bidault. Duff Cooper found it sad that he still hankered after public life.

  The Duke’s next preoccupation, however, was the Communist menace in France. It does not seem to have occurred to him that events like his meeting with Hitler offered perfect material to promote Communist Party propaganda. But the Communists evidently felt they had better targets. They pointed ceaselessly to the extermination camps, with the argument that only an international Communist order could prevent such horrors happening again.

  14

  The Great Trials

  Early in 1945, with Nazi Germany disintegrating, France knew that it could not face the post-war world until accounts had been settled with Marshal Pétain and Pierre Laval; but both men were still in Germany.

  In the meantime, the trial of traitors who had betrayed the Resistance provided a false assurance that the basic issues were clear. Most of the public eagerly followed court proceedings in the press. The trial that preoccupied everyone for the first eleven days of December 1944 was that of the notorious Bonny–Lafont gang, otherwise known as the ‘Gestapo Française’.

  Lafont was one of several criminals serving prison sentences who were released by the Germans, who had a use for their talents. In return for cars, petrol, guns and false identity papers, they kept the Gestapo and the Abwehr well informed and did much of their dirty work. Lafont became a member of the Gestapo and took German nationality in 1941. His right-hand man was an ex-policeman called Bonny, who had been involved in several pre-war scandals. With their henchmen, they formed one of the most hated gangs in Paris. Protected by the Gestapo, they rounded up and denounced hundreds of people and grew rich on blackmail, robbery, racketeering and terror. In their headquarters in the rue Lauriston, they tortured and sometimes killed their victims.

  In the murky society of collaborationist Paris, Lafont became a person of some consequence. He acquired a town house in Neuilly, where he entertained his well-connected friends and mistresses, and among his guests was Bussières, the Prefect of Police whom Luizet replaced at the Liberation. He mixed with the journalist Georges Suarez and Jean Luchaire, the press baron and later ‘Minister of Information’ at Sigmaringen. Maurice Chevalier was said to have been another friend, but Chevalier quickly issued a statement saying he had met him only once. Lafont even boasted that he had acted as intermediary between Laval and Otto Abetz.

  He was betrayed at the Liberation by one of his own followers, a certain Joanovici, who joined the Resistance at the eleventh hour to save himself, even providing weapons for the police defending the Prefecture on the Île de la Cité. Joanovici, who allied himself with the new Communist element in the Paris police, was to cause their undoing two years later, when the government fought back against their encroachment.

  The twelve principal members of the ‘Gestapo Française’ were tried simultaneously. The charges against them ran to 164 pages and took three hours to read. At one point during the trial, Lafont complained about being beaten up in custody, which earned the police a rousing cheer from the courtroom. All but two of the gang were sentenced to death. Muggeridge, who had interviewed him, fantasized about the guillotine slicing off ‘his neat, sallow head with the blunt Mediterranean back to it’ like a thistle’s. In fact Lafont faced a firing squad on 26 December, watched by his defending counsel and arrogant to the end.

  Of the other traitors brought to trial, their motives varied, but not very widely. Jacques Desoubrie, a fanatical Nazi-sympathizer who betrayed the ‘Comet’ network in Paris in June 1943, proclaimed his belief in National Socialism at the Court of Justice in Lille and was executed. But most traitors did not have the courage of any conviction. Prosper Desitter, the German-recruited spy known as ‘the man with the missing finger’, and his mistress Flore Dings were also sentenced to death for helping the Gestapo destroy the ‘Comet’ network. The night before his execution, Desitter was said to have howled with terror in his cell.

  ‘The purge trials preoccupied us all that year,’ wrote Susan Mary Patten, ‘and the incoherence with which justice was meted out did much to cause the crise morale, or crisis of conscience, among the French.’ The mood of the populace was not the only obstacle to a fair trial for those accused of collaboration at that time. The Cours de Justice set up by the provisional government were, in a sadly ironic way, a new form of the Cours Spéciales of Vichy. The problem was that nobody had ever envisaged one version of France putting another version on trial for treason, so the principal law used against collaborators was Article 75 of the Penal Code, which covered ‘intelligence with the enemy’.

  In the eyes of the provisional government, it was better to have juridical imperfections than no courts at all. As one of de Gaulle’s entourage put it, ‘it was not possible to administer justice serenely’ in the situation which existed after the Liberation. If collaborators were not judged and sentenced, people would simply take the law into their own hands, with revolutionary tribunals and lynchings. But the Minister of Justice should never have permitted a jury system in which the jurors were members of the Resistance and relatives of those who had been in camps in Germany.

  The trials of journalists and writers had shown that timing, just as much as the evidence, could play a decisive part in a prisoner
s fate. The lack of chronological logic in the trials of senior Vichy officials was even more flagrant. ‘One sees more and more,’ wrote Pastor Boegner in his diary during the trial of Admiral Esteva in March 1945, ‘that the trial of the Marshal should take place before those of men who only obeyed him.’ This question of following orders revealed fundamental flaws in the new legislation. Article 3 of the decree of 28 November 1944 acknowledged that no crime had been committed if the accused had followed orders – ‘la stricte exécution exclusive de toute initiative personelle’ – but another piece of legislation stipulated that any order coming from the ‘so-called government of the État Français’ had no validity.

  The spring of 1945 began beautifully, with wisteria, chestnut blossom and lilacs out early. Yet almost every foreigner in Paris at the time was struck by the unhappy, haunted and often bitter faces they saw in the streets. The sight of the first deportees and prisoners to return from the camps in Germany had created a profound sense of shock. This was then augmented by film footage of liberated death camps such as Belsen and Dachau, shown in cinemas. Pierre-Henri Teitgen, the Minister of Justice, recorded that crowds stormed two jails, those of Dinan and Cusset, and lynched several collaborators.

  The sense of shock was renewed whenever a deportee was seen in Paris. They were instantly recognizable. Liliane de Rothschild recalled how pathetically hunched and thin they were. Their teeth were black with decay, their skin sallow, clammy, and constantly sweating. In the métro, even the most elderly lady rose ‘silently to surrender her seat when one of the skeletons entered the carriage’. The change in mood since the Liberation had been gradual but striking. In September 1944, no more than 32 per cent of the Institut Français d’Opinion Publique’s sample had expressed a belief that Pétain should be punished. Only 3 per cent wanted the death penalty. By the time Pétain’s trial started eleven months later, the proportion demanding punishment had more than doubled to 76 per cent, and those wanting the death sentence for the old Marshal had risen from 3 per cent to 37 per cent.

  The Communist Party, knowing that it could tap this anger and that the other parties would be forced to support it, began an intense and sustained campaign, demanding the Marshal’s execution. Meetings with star speakers like Louis Aragon were called ostensibly to commemorate the Resistance, but the true purpose was clear.

  Proceedings were started against Marshal Pétain in his absence in Germany at the beginning of April 1945. Pétain, hearing of this on the wireless at Sigmaringen, wrote to Ribbentrop, demanding to be allowed to return to France to face his accusers. He received no reply.

  On 20 April, General de Lattre de Tassigny’s 1st Army reached the Black Forest. The next morning, before dawn, Pétain was taken from the castle of Sigmaringen to Wangen, and then on to another castle to escape the advancing armies. His German escorts acknowledged that the only sensible course was to take himover the frontier into Switzerland at Bregenz.

  Pétain reached the border with joy and relief. The Swiss authorities allowed him to enter the country and then to cross to France to surrender to the jurisdiction of the High Court. On 26 April, after taking the salute from a Swiss guard of honour, Pétain crossed into France at Verrières-sous-Jougne in a limousine. The reception committee awaiting him on the French side of the border included General Koenig and the local Commissioner of the Republic. Pétain offered his hand, but Koenig remained rigidly at the salute for forty-five seconds and refused to take it, despite the Marshal making two more attempts.

  The Marshal, impervious to all these signs, talked on quite casually, congratulating Koenig on his war record. Koenig was ‘furious with de Gaulle for sending him to meet Pétain’, particularly since the Resistance press was outraged that he had saluted the Marshal at all.

  There was also considerable bitterness over the fact that the Pullman carriage in which the new prisoner was brought back to Paris was given priority over the far less luxurious wagons repatriating the deportees, who had been sent to Germany in cattle trucks. But any comfort which the Marshal may have enjoyed was disturbed by demonstrations along the way, organized by the Communist Party. At Pontarlier, a crowd of 2,000 threw small stones at the carriage and shouted: ‘Shoot the old traitor! Pétain for the firing squad!’

  On arrival, Pétain was taken to the fort of Montrouge on the perimeter of the city. A suite of cells had been hastily prepared for him and his wife. As a petty touch of humiliation, a portrait of General de Gaulle surrounded by tricolour ribbon had been hung in his main cell.

  The bâtonnier, Jacques Charpentier, the head of the Paris Bar, received a request that he should choose a defence counsel for the trial. So Charpentier came to discuss the matter. Pétain appeared completely lucid on banal matters, but when it came to the question of his defence, he was clearly out of touch with reality.

  ‘Why do you not plead my case?’ Pétain suddenly said.

  ‘Because I took a position against your government,’ Charpentier replied.

  Pétain was astonished. He could not believe that a reasonable man could have done such a thing. Charpentier found Pétain’s armour of complacency, strengthened by an old man’s facility for blocking out the world, breathtaking.

  Pétain’s return caused deep unease in Paris, acting as an uncomfortable reminder that the mass of the population had considered him their saviour in 1940. His presence now was seen as a direct threat to national unity. The centre-right and right feared that his trial would be used as a stick by the Communists to beat conservatives of every hue, while left-of-centre Resistance papers such as Franc-Tireur saw Pétain’s return as Germany’s secret weapon against France. The majority feared the washing of dirty linen that was about to begin. Only those who thirsted after ‘popular justice’ showed any relish.

  The torrent of abuse in the Communist press campaign never slackened. But the incident which best demonstrated the mood occurred in the third week of June 1945 at the congress of the Communist-dominated Union of French Women. A resolution demanding the death of Pétain was proposed, to fervent applause. But when it came to the vote, a handful of Catholic women from the Christian Democrat MRP voted against it.*

  ‘The assembly exploded in anger,’ Comrade Popova, the leader of a delegate of Soviet women, reported to the Kremlin a few weeks later. ‘It demanded that the women who were against the motion should go up on the podiumand explain why they voted that way – whether it was their own opinion or that of their delegation. One of these women was dragged by force on to the podium. “Pétain is old,” she said. “What is the point of killing him? He is not the only guilty one and as I am a Catholic, I am against killing him.” The assembly was outraged. Only when somebody began to sing the Marseillaise did things calm down again.’†

  On 23 July, in debilitating heat, the trial of Marshal Pétain opened in the Palais de Justice. Several hundred policemen were on guard in and around the building. The courtroom had room for only 600 people, not nearly enough for those who wanted to attend, so cafés in the neighbourhood were packed. The jury consisted of twelve members of the Resistance and twelve members of the National Assembly who had refused to vote full powers to Pétain in 1940.

  The ninety-year-old prisoner, accompanied by guards, entered in uniform to emphasize that he was still a Marshal of France. He wore only one medal, the Médaille Militaire. The marmoreal face, according to Galtier-Boissière, ‘makes one think of his wax effigy in the Grévin Museum’. After the president’s opening remarks, Pétain read out a three-page statement in a clear, firm voice.

  He began by saying that he spoke to the people of France, who were not represented by the court convened to try him; and that once he had made his statement, he would remain silent for the rest of the trial. Pétain argued that everything he had done was in France’s best interests. If the court found him guilty, its members would be condemning an innocent man, and they would have to answer before the judgement of God and of the future. After the hearing, he said to his gaoler: ‘I made a fine
speech.’

  His words made little difference to the jurors. For them, Pétain’s guilt was plain. When the defence exercised its right of veto on the selection of the jury, one of the many Communists disqualified shouted that his exclusion would not ‘save Pétain fromgetting his dozen bullets from a firing squad’. Several other members of the jury were heard to say that the death penalty was inevitable.

  Pierre-Henri Teitgen, the Minister of Justice, had a clear idea of how the case against Pétain should be presented. France’s defeat, Pétain’s elevation to head of state and the armistice were to be avoided altogether, and the prosecution would concentrate on Pétain’s actions after the North African landings in November 1942. From that moment, when he had given the order to fire on the Allied forces and had not opposed the German invasion of the unoccupied zone, it could be proved that Pétain’s claims to be acting in France’s best interests had collapsed. Teitgen had outlined this plan to Jefferson Caffery, the American ambassador, at a meeting they had on 27 June. Yet to judge by events, Teitgen was overruled by de Gaulle, who was determined that Pétain’s trial should prove that Vichy had been an illegal regime whose chief crime had been to dishonour France. De Gaulle, not for the first time on a matter too close to his heart, committed a major blunder. *

  The chief prosecutor was Procureur Général André Mornet, the man responsible for Mata Hari’s sentence of death before a court martial in this same building twenty-eight years before. Her trial had been a miscarriage of justice, both brutal and incompetent. The conduct of the Pétain trial was to prove less brutal but even more incompetent. Given de Gaulle’s probable interference in the case, this was not all Mornet’s fault, but soon the prosecution was irretrievably bogged down in the events of 1940.

 
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