Paris after the liberati.., p.40
Paris: After the Liberation 1944-1949, p.40Antony Beevor
On 7 February, Kravchenko’s former wife, Zinaïda Gorlova, made her appearance for the defence. The courtroom became tense with anticipation. ‘She’s a prepossessing blonde,’ wrote an eyewitness, ‘thirtysix years old, with what used to be called “advantages” which are tightly restrained in a corset. She wears a black dress. Her face is pale, with a closed expression.’ Gorlova had been flown into Paris with a woman guard, presumably from the NKVD, who escorted her everywhere from an apartment rented by the Soviet Embassy in the Boulevard Suchet. In a voice which sounded monotonous from over-rehearsal, she recounted that Kravchenko had beaten her, broken china and forced her to have an abortion. He was a liar, a womanizer and a drunkard.
Kravchenko’s lawyer, Maître Georges Izard, had little difficulty in making the poor woman squirm. She refused to admit that her father was either a former White Guard or in a prison camp. She claimed that he was dead. She had never seen the scenes of famine in the Ukraine which Kravchenko had claimed to witness with her. The effort was so great for her that she had to ask for a chair so that she could sit down. Nordmann, for the defence, tried to stop Kravchenko speaking to his former wife. The president of the court told him to be quiet. A furious row broke out between them, and in the uproar Gorlova continued to repeat mechanically the insults against her former husband. ‘Always the same recording!’ Kravchenko yelled, as the president of the court brought the session to a hurried close.
The proceedings were often chaotic. One exchange led to Kravchenko throwing himself at Wurmser, before being dragged back by a gendarme. Many of his remarks were not only clever and funny; they cut to the bone, to the delight of his supporters on the public benches. Claude Morgan, on another occasion, burst out: ‘They’re not the public, they’re cagoulards!’ André Wurmser, too, could not contain his unfeigned outrage that a man he considered a traitor should be allowed a public hearing.
Over the next few days, Gorlova’s appearance changed. She had become listless, her face looked yellow, her hair was unkempt, she had lost weight. Kravchenko felt sorry for her, knowing that her failure to make an impression boded ill for her and her family. ‘She did not come to France voluntarily,’ he cried to the court. He promised to look after her in the West for the rest of her life. ‘But she must say why she came here!’ The courtroom was electrified. Gorlova collapsed, vainly searching for a handkerchief in her handbag. Her female guard sat frozen beside her. Before the court reassembled, Gorlova was taken to Orly, where a Soviet military aircraft was waiting to fly her back to the Soviet Union.
It was then Kravchenko’s turn to call his witnesses. Almost all came from camps for displaced persons in Germany, but his most effective witness had arrived from Stockholm. This was Margarete Buber-Neumann, the widow of a pre-war leader of the German Communist Party, Heinz Neumann. On Hitler’s rise to power the couple had sought refuge in Russia, but were sent to Soviet labour camps, accused of political deviationism.
In 1940, after the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact, the Soviet Union handed them and some German Jews over to the Nazis. Margarete Buber-Neumann survived five years in Ravensbrück and managed to escape just before the Red Army arrived. According to Galtier-Boissière, who was watching closely, Claude Morgan and André Wurmser looked down at the ground during her description of the Soviet labour camps. Her account was clear and unflinching in every detail, and revealed an astonishing courage and stamina. Only the most fanatical Stalinist could have disbelieved her. That other Communist renegade, Arthur Koestler, exulted at the effect of her contribution. Buber-Neumann went to stay with him and Mamaine Paget for a couple of days.
The verdict in Kravchenko’s favour was announced on 4 April, the same day as the signature of the North Atlantic Alliance. Almost as if to prove his point, the press in Russia claimed the opposite: that Kravchenko’s case had collapsed before the truth of the Soviet position. Yet news of the Communist defeat in Paris still reached Solzhenitsyn in the prison camp of Kuibyshev, bringing a glimmer of hope.
The trial, coming after the Communist Party’s reverses in 1947 and 1948, began to convince France that the Soviet Union was not a workers’ paradise. The debates in the courtroom launched a wave of cynicism and people were no longer frightened of criticizing the Communists openly. On the last day of the month, the anti-Stalinist left held a conference at the Sorbonne on war and dictatorship, an event unthinkable two years before.
On 20 April, just over two weeks after the end of the trial, the Soviet Union tried a new tactic. The French Communist Party launched the Mouvement de la Paix at a meeting at the Salle Pleyel, presided over by Professor Joliot-Curie. Picasso’s dove, the emblem of the movement, was prominently displayed. A mass meeting followed on the same day and soon propaganda posters with the dove covered walls across the city. It was not long before an anti-Communist group, Paix et Liberté, began to produce counter-propaganda. The dove of peace was portrayed as a Russian bomber – ‘La colombe qui fait boum!’ – in a poster campaign designed to challenge the Communists’ virtual monopoly of the walls of Paris.
At the time of the Kravchenko trial, Koestler and Mamaine moved into a house called Verte Rive on the Seine at Fontainebleau. Just as they were moving, a fresh row exploded, only this time Koestler took Sartre and Beauvoir’s side against André Malraux. Malraux had been outraged by a recent attack on himin Les Temps modernes, and Gaston Gallimard had suddenly withdrawn his support for the publication. Sartre and Beauvoir discovered that Malraux had apparently threatened to expose Gallimard’s record during the Occupation if he continued to support Les Temps modernes.
Mamaine Paget recalled the evening of 1 March 1949, when Koestler ‘bearded’ Malraux. ‘At first when K. asked him about this, Malraux made evasive replies, but finally he more or less admitted that it was true… K. feels that his great faith in and friendship with Malraux is at an end – it really was a stinking thing to do… in fact, simply blackmail.’
The last joint outing of the three couples – Koestler, Sartre, Camus – had a certain air of déjà vu, although this time they did not go to the Schéhérazade, but to the Troïka, another smart nightclub run by White Russians.
A few days later, Sartre, Camus and Simone de Beauvoir discussed the evening. Camus asked: ‘Do you think we can honestly go on drinking like that and work?’ When Sartre and Beauvoir next encountered Koestler outside the Hotel Pont-Royal and he suggested that they should all meet up again, Sartre took out his diary as a matter of habit, then stopped himself.
‘We’ve nothing more to say to each other.’
‘Surely we’re not going to mess everything up for purely political reasons!’ Koestler protested.
‘When one has such different opinions,’ Sartre replied, ‘one can’t even see a film together.’
Koestler, who did not duck his share of the blame for the ending of their friendship, encountered Sartre again in June 1950 at the Gare de l’Est. They were both taking the overnight train to Germany. Koestler and Mamaine, now his wife, were off to Berlin for the Congress of Cultural Freedom, while Sartre was leaving for a conference in Frankfurt. Without the disapproving presence of Simone de Beauvoir, they shared their picnic supper with Sartre, along with two anti-Communist Poles and a police bodyguard assigned to Koestler by the Sûreté after he had received death threats from the Communists.
Sartre, although looking very ill – according to Mamaine, he was virtually living off a form of amphetamine called Corydrane – made a great effort and they had an amusing time together. But Koestler and Mamaine felt sorry for him. ‘On that evening in the sleeping-car,’ Koestler wrote at the end of his life, ‘Sartre complained that they hardly went out in the evening because there were so few people left with whom they agreed about politics.’
The year 1949 saw a wave of doubt among many Communist intellectuals. Both Vercors and Jean Cassou, Wurmser’s brother-in-law, resigned from the party, and were attacked by L’Humanité on 16 December as ‘traitors’. For Les Lettres françaises, however, which was
Sartre’s rift with Camus had also widened. After Camus returned to France from South America, his play Les Justes appeared in December 1949 at the Théâtre Hébertot, where his Caligula had proved such a great success in 1945.Les Justes, which dealt with revolutionary violence in tsarist Russia, marked a further step away from his communisant contemporaries. Some saw the play as a veiled attack on the Resistance, but Camus’s target was clear: the idea that revolutionary violence could be justified by the vague promise of a better future. The next step away from Sartre was his essay ‘The Rebel’, which came out two years later. It constituted a direct attack on intellectuals who allowed political considerations to corrupt their artistic integrity.
Sartre did not believe that a writer could ever stand aside politically. In his case, political commitment was already subordinating art. He was patronizing about Camus’s scruples and refusal to swim with the progressive tide of history. ‘I only see one solution for you,’ he concluded, ‘the Galapagos Islands.’
The final break did not come until 1952. Sartre saw Camus in the bar of the Hotel Pont-Royal and warned him to expect a savage review of ‘The Rebel’ by Francis Jeanson in Les Temps modernes. The editorial committee had refused to censor what had been written.
Camus replied to the article on 30 June. Ignoring Jeanson, he addressed his letter to Sartre – as ‘Monsieur le Directeur’. In particular, he attacked ‘the intellectual method and attitude’ of the piece. His arguments may have lacked philosophical rigour, but he posed enough well-directed questions to render his opponents very uncomfortable. ‘One does not decide the truth of a thought according to whether it is right-wing or left-wing.’ He pointed out the fundamental contradiction of existentialists justifying a system which was totally opposed to the idea of the responsibility of the individual.
‘Such a polemic,’ commented Raymond Aron, ‘would hardly be understood outside France and Saint-Germain-des-Prés.’ There, more than anywhere else, progressive intellectuals continued to turn a blind eye to Stalinist methods. Some acknowledged them, but justified them. Others, like Simone de Beauvoir, acknowledged them and dismissed them as irrelevant. She argued that if you made an issue of them, you must be a supporter of American capitalism. She accepted that, though she disliked Kravchenko, the trial had undoubtedly proved that labour camps existed in the Soviet Union. Yet she revealed herself in a passage describing the American writer Richard Wright: ‘With his eyes shining from misguided fanaticism, he was breathlessly recounting stories of clandestine arrests, betrayal and liquidation – no doubt true – but one did not understand either the point or the scope of what he was saying.’
This new trahison des clercs was firmly in the Jacobin tradition: an intellectual terrorism justifying physical terror. Stalin’s regime might be pitiless, his apologists argued, but all revolutions had a terrible majesty. What mattered was that the Soviet Union’s stated philosophy was on the side of human justice. Against this, the United States offered no ideological or social programme except economic freedom, which simply meant the freedom to exploit others.
Those who were not sealed inside bubbles of morally vacuous theory might have fallen for the wartime appeal of a party of martyrs. But they could not blind themselves to the suspicion that the terrifying sacrifices which had fuelled the Soviet system had been wasted and were still being wasted. No Utopia could be built on a mass graveyard.
THE NEW NORMALITY
Americans in Paris
American Paris of the Montparnasse era had ceased to exist after the Wall Street crash of 1929, yet a certain pale renaissance occurred after February 1948, when the franc was devalued against the dollar. France once again became affordable for writers and anyone else with artistic pretensions. But the most conspicuous American presence in Paris at the end of the decade consisted of diplomats, soldiers and Marshall Plan executives.
For those cashing cheques at Morgan’s Bank in the Place Vendôme at the beginning of February, it was ‘like Christmas morning, strangers beaming at each other’. A hundred dollars bought over 30,000 francs. For those who cared about clothes, a Dior dress was within their grasp.
Arthur Miller, who reached Paris in the winter of 1947, formed a very different impression. He found a city which had been ‘finished’ by the war: ‘The sun never seemed to rise over Paris, the winter sky like a lid of iron graying the skin of one’s hands and making faces wan. A doomed and listless silence, few cars on the streets, occasional trucks running on wood-burning engines, old women on ancient bicycles.’
The Hotel Pont-Royal on the rue du Bac, where Miller stayed, was gloomy but cheap. The concierge wore a tail coat which was coming to pieces and ‘his chin always showed little nicks fromhaving shaved with cold water’. Once a day this prematurely aged man rushed home across Paris to feed his rabbits, the only source of meat for his family, as for much of the population. The ‘hungry-looking’ young prostitute who sat in the lobby all night watched passers-by ‘with a philosopher’s superior curiosity’.
Miller went off in search of Jean-Paul Sartre, having heard that he could be found in the Montana bar. Had he but asked, the frayed concierge and the philosophical prostitute could have told him that Sartre and his friends now met in the basement bar of the very hotel in which he was staying. Far more important to Miller’s work, however, was an evening watching Louis Jouvet in Giraudoux’s Ondine. The theatre was freezing, the audience wriggling their feet in their shoes and blowing on their hands. Jouvet himself was so ill that he sat throughout the play in an armchair, wrapped in sweater and muffler. Looking at the audience, Miller felt that ‘there really was such a thing as a defeated people’; Jouvet, however, managed to connect with them ‘in a personal way I had never experienced before, speaking to each of them individually in their beloved tongue. I was bored by the streams of talk and the inaction on-stage, but I could understand that it was the language that was saving their souls, hearing it together and being healed by it, the one unity left to them and thus their one hope. I was moved by the tenderness of the people towards him, I who came from a theatre of combat with audiences.’
Truman Capote also stayed in the Hotel Pont-Royal, in a tiny room on the top floor. ‘Despite the waterfall hangovers and constantly cascading nausea,’ he wrote, ‘I was under the strange impression that I was having a damn good time, the kind of educational experience necessary to an artist.’
Simone de Beauvoir was frequently seen in the hotel, since the famille Sartre had moved to its ‘leathery little basement bar’ after fleeing the tourists in the Café de Flore. Capote sensed that he was a figure of fun in their eyes; according to one friend, he felt ‘he was the victimof some intangible conspiracy of malediction’. Beauvoir had not liked Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms, and had little respect for ‘fairies’. She compared the tiny American, in his over-large white jersey and pale-blue velvet trousers, to a ‘white mushroom’; and laughed with the barmen who pointed out that his first name was that of the President of the United States, while his surname was the French slang for condom.
Capote replied in kind with his description of the Sartre clan in the Pont-Royal bar: ‘Wall-eyed, pipe-sucking, pasty-hued Sartre and his spinsterish moll, Beauvoir, were usually propped in a corner like an abandoned pair of ventriloquist’s dolls.’
Camus was the only one who was always kind to the young American. Capote, however, later claimed that one night Camus, the great womanizer, had suddenly succumbed to his attraction and gone to bed with him– a story impossible to deny, but unlikely.
Capote also visited Colette, who received him from her bed ‘à la Louis Quatorze at his morning levée’. He described her ‘slanted eyes, lucent as the eyes of a Weimaraner dog, rimmed with kohl; a spare and clever face powdered clown-pale; her lips, for all her considerable years, were a slippery, shiny, excit
One of the first writers to migrate to France after the Liberation, as opposed to those who arrived in uniform, was the black writer Richard Wright, author of Black Boy and Native Son. Thanks to the combined efforts of Gertrude Stein and Claude Lévi-Strauss, then French cultural attaché in Washington, he arrived in Paris with his wife, Ellen (who was white), and their daughter, Julia, in May 1946.
The State Department had been very reluctant to give him a passport, but once in Paris – where he was an honoured guest – they could hardly ignore him. Nevertheless, Wright was seen as a distinct liability. At an official reception at the American Embassy given a few days after his arrival, he was told, ‘For God’s sake, don’t let these foreigners turn you into a brick to hurl through our windows!’
Wright could not get over the welcome accorded to him by the French. He was made an honorary citizen of Paris, and his French publisher, Gallimard, threw a party in his honour at which the guests included Roger Martin du Gard, Michel Leiris, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean Paulhan and Marcel Duhamel. His move to Paris had been made to gain a better perspective on the core of his fiction: the racial problems of America. He acted as a consultant for Présence africaine and Sartre’s Les Temps modernes, and in 1948 he became active in Sartre and Rousset’s Rassemblement Démocratique Révolutionnaire.
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