Paris after the liberati.., p.8
Paris: After the Liberation 1944-1949, p.8Antony Beevor
De Gaulle, meanwhile, affected not to hear the firing. His open car continued down the rue de Rivoli to the Hôtel de Ville, where the band of the Garde Républicaine was drawn up in review order outside. After a brief stop, he crossed the Pont d’Arcole to Notre-Dame.
Outside the cathedral Mgr Suhard, the cardinal-archbishop of Paris, was conspicuously absent from the welcoming party. He had wanted to be present, but there was little to recommend him in Gaullist and Resistance eyes. In August 1942, he had insisted on giving absolution in the service of blessing for the Legion of French Volunteers off to fight for the Wehrmacht in Russia. In April 1944, he had welcomed Pétain on the latter’s visit to Paris; and only two months before the Liberation he had dignified the funeral of Philippe Henriot with full pomp and ceremony. Henriot, assassinated by the Resistance, had been Vichy’s Minister of Information and a pro-Nazi propagandist.
Shooting broke out again just as de Gaulle entered Notre-Dame. Outside, FFI groups began firing at the towers. The members of the Jewish platoon concentrated on the north tower. Inside, policemen and soldiers trying to protect de Gaulle aimed up into the recesses and vaulting of the cathedral. Some shots brought down chunks of masonry. Members of the congregation, who had thrown themselves flat, then tried to hide behind pillars or even under chairs. De Gaulle, disengaging himself from the mêlée, walked forward up the aisle towards the high altar, where the service was due to begin.
Malcolm Muggeridge, a British intelligence officer who had reached Paris late the night before, described the whole event. ‘The effect was fantastic. The huge congregation who had all been standing suddenly fell flat on their faces. There was a single exception; one solitary figure, like a lonely giant. It was, of course, de Gaulle. Thenceforth, that was how I always saw him– towering and alone; the rest, prostrate.’ There were others, such as Alexandre Parodi, who remained upright, but with all eyes fixed on de Gaulle; he alone appeared majestic, fearless and untouchable.
The incident confirmed de Gaulle in his determination to disarm the FFI at the earliest opportunity. There could be no further doubt that they represented a bigger danger to public safety than the rump of any ‘fifth column’ of miliciens. Disturbances presented a double threat. ‘Public order is a matter of life and death,’ he told a visitor to the rue Saint-Dominique a few days later. ‘If we do not re-establish it ourselves, foreigners will impose it upon us.’ The American and British forces now appeared to be seen as ‘foreigners’ rather than allies.
At half past eleven, during a second night of celebration, the air-raid sirens sounded. The Luftwaffe had arrived on a revenge attack, bombing at random. A hospital was seriously damaged. So too were the spirit warehouses of Les Halles des Vins. The orange glow against the night sky could be seen from all over Paris.
On the day of liberation, it seemed as if almost every French Communist had converged on party headquarters at 44 rue Pelletier, always known as ‘le 44’. Those released from prison turned up at the six-storey building in search of news, and most had gone into one of the nearby cafés in the hope of discovering who had survived the terrible years and who had not. The entrance was protected by sandbags, a legacy from the building’s last occupants, the Milice.
Six days later Jacques Duclos, Thorez’s deputy and stand-in, summoned a meeting of the party’s central committee. Only some twenty members met that night, including Professor Joliot-Curie, the scientist who had made Molotov cocktails in the Sorbonne. Four tables had been arranged in a rectangle, ‘like a marriage feast’. The veteran Communist Marcel Cachin presided. Behind his head a proclamation decorated ostentatiously with tricolour flags listed the members of the central committee who had ‘died for France’. From another wall, a photograph of Stalin watched over them.
Duclos’s fellow members of the French Communist Party’s wartime triumvirate were Benoît Frachon, who was to prove a skilful leader of the Communist trades union movement in the post-war years, and Charles Tillon, a hard and resourceful man who had been the real leader of the Communist Resistance during the Occupation. Duclos feared his influence and soon arranged for him to be one of the Communist ministers in de Gaulle’s government. This would restrict his freedom of action and also remove him from the real centre of power within the party itself.
Duclos, when he faced his colleagues, was in an embarrassing position. It was he who had directed the approach to the German authorities in 1940, invoking the Nazi–Soviet pact, to arrange for the reappearance of the party newspaper L’Humanité and the release of Communist prisoners. In exchange he had offered to put France back to work. Tillon had ridiculed the idea that French Communists would thus receive preferential treatment. ‘For shit’s sake, do you really think that in Paris the Germans will see you as Russians?’
Duclos was a little man, almost risible in the eyes of someone like Tillon. His round face with round glasses made him look like a complacent petit-bourgeois; but the impenetrable smile and the clever little eyes hinted at why he was such a formidable survivor. He knew that the faithful follower of the party line, as laid down in Moscow, would come out on top in the end. The Comintern had been officially disbanded in May 1943, mainly to please the American government and encourage the huge flow of Lend-Lease aid. It simply continued to function under the same leader, Georgi Dimitrov, but under another name: the International Section of the Central Committee.
The French Communists of the Resistance, many of whom had left the party during the Nazi–Soviet pact, failed to appreciate this. They now wanted to launch a revolution on the back of the Liberation, but few had stopped to wonder whether or not it might suit Comrade Stalin’s strategy. The reason why Stalin never gave the French Communist Party the order to start a revolution was quite simple. It was not in the interests of the USSR. A French Communist attempt to seize power in the rear of the Western Allies as they prepared to invade Germany would have caused a major breach with the United States. Stalin still needed the massive American logistic support to the Red Army to keep coming, especially the Studebaker and Dodge trucks which had transformed its mobility. Meanwhile, his great fear was that the Americans and British might make a secret peace with Hitler, and a French Communist uprising in their rear might provide them with an excuse.
French historians, with remarkably few exceptions, appear to have been unable to see the Communist failure to seize power after the Liberation in anything other than French terms. It is, of course, much less surprising that most of the Communists who joined during the war completely failed to understand that the French Communist Party was not an ally of the Soviet Union; it was a totally obedient subordinate. The problem for Duclos, however, was the lack of clear guidance emanating from Moscow. France was very low on the list of Soviet priorities.
Duclos could not assert party discipline until de Gaulle granted Thorez an amnesty for his desertion at the beginning of the war and allowed him to return from Moscow with clear instructions. For the moment, however, Thorez could only fret in impatience in Moscow. The General did not even bother to reply to his telegrams. He simply passed a message back by his representative in Moscow that any delay was the fault of the British, who controlled the air route via Cairo.
While Tillon and his followers wanted to maintain the Resistance in arms as a force for political change, Duclos was far more cautious. The party, however, could still increase its power by installing its own candidates in key positions wherever possible. One way was to lead the call for popular justice against traitors and then, during the ensuing purges, denounce anti-Communists as collaborators and replace them with their own people. More and more reports arrived from all over France of last-minute massacres carried out by the Germans. There had also been incidents of German officers who let political prisoners go, but they received less attention at a time when most news was so grim.
On 1 September, the French and foreign press was given a tour of the Gestapo’s torture chambers in the rue des Saussaies, just behind the Ministry of the Interior on
New arrivals in liberated Paris were seeking out old friends. One of Hemingway’s first visits was to Sylvia Beach at 12 rue de l’Odéon. He was sad to find that in 1941 the Germans had forced her to close down her bookshop, Shakespeare & Company, so this part of expatriate Left Bank life was over. But at least she had survived, having spent six months in an internment camp.
In the cafés of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, people discussed their different wartime experiences, or heard about events from which they had been separated by censorship or distance. Raymond Aron described the bombing of London. Far worse tales had also begun to emerge, like that of the Warsaw uprising and the first rumours of the death camps.
Some people resurfaced in astonishing new roles. Right-wing anti-Semites appeared full of stories of the Jews or Communists they had saved from the Gestapo. Among the members of what was mockingly known as the ‘RMA’ – the resistants of the month of August – there were characters who, having denounced fellow citizens to the Germans, now denounced fellow collaborators with such venom that people dared not speak out against them.
It was a time for making new friends. Camus introduced Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir to Father Bruckberger, the FFI chaplain, whom they found in his white Dominican habit, smoking his pipe and drinking corrosive punch in the Rhumerie Martiniquaise. They also met the writer Romain Gary, and Lise Deharme, a poet whose salon was frequented by the rump of the Surrealist movement. Black American soldiers were greeted in Saint-Germain by Parisians starved of jazz, and the warmth of the welcome prompted a number of them to wonder whether to stay there instead of returning to the States.
It was a time of debate, ideas and conversation. Jean Cocteau and his friends held court in the bar of the Hotel Saint-Yves in the rue Jacob, where Cocteau, like Picasso, was famous for his monologues. For Cocteau, ‘the spoken word was his language and he used it with the virtuosity of an acrobat’.
It was also a period of feast and famine. Tobacco hunger, only partially assuaged by packets of Camel thrown from passing jeeps, was far more noticeable than a skinny ribcage. People dug out cigarette holders from the 1920s so as to be able to smoke their cigarettes down to the last drop of nicotine. Brassaï’s photograph of Picasso’s wartime muse, Dora Maar, shows the ash burning to within a millimetre of the holder. The black market boomed. At night the métro station of Strasbourg-Saint-Denis was ‘packed full of types who whispered out of the corner of the mouth as you passed: “Chocolate? Tobacco? Gauloises? English cigarettes?”’
In spite of the destruction of Les Halles des Vins, a miraculous supply of cheap alcohol somehow remained available, and a frenzy of parties followed the Liberation.Les Lettres françaises, the counter to the right-wing takeover of France’s great literary magazine, La Nouvelle Revue française, gave a cocktail party presided over by the Communist ‘royal couple’, Louis Aragon and Elsa Triolet. Éditions de Minuit, which had won such admiration by underground publication of books like Le Silence de la mer by Vercors and François Mauriac’s Cahier noir, gave a party at Versailles with a play by La Fontaine. Few guests were very smart, as much out of necessity as taste. Simone de Beauvoir had a single black suit for grand occasions, but Sartre seldom changed out of his worn lumber jacket.
For the GIs, however, the young women on bicycles with short skirts billowing were the most enduring memory of Paris. Galtier-Boissière noticed how ‘the short lampshade skirts generously uncovered pink thighs’. These short, loose dresses for bicycling were made out of patchwork, though even patchwork could differ in quality. Simone de Beauvoir observed that ‘les élégantes used luxury silk scarves; in Saint-Germain-des-Prés we made do with cotton prints’.
Long hair, piled high above the forehead, was one answer to the shortage of electricity. Constant power cuts made coiffeurs resort to a lot of back-combing. Lee Miller took a photograph of a pair of male cyclists furiously pedalling a tandem linked to a dynamo to provide current for the dryers upstairs. Most ingenious of all were the wooden-soled shoes with an articulated sole to avoid the rigidity of clogs. (The Germans had requisitioned all stocks of leather for the Wehrmacht.) The noise of those shoes clacking on pavements was one of the most evocative sounds of the war years. One of Maurice Chevalier’s songs was entitled ‘La Symphonie des semelles de bois’.
Maurice Chevalier put all his efforts at the Liberation into the song ‘Fleur de Paris’, an air of sentimental patriotism which he clearly hoped would help him ‘se dédouaner’ (get him through ‘customs’ in the form of purge committees) for having sung on the German-run Radio-Paris, among other accusations. Chevalier, Charles Trenet and the singing nightclub owner Suzy Solidor were all blacklisted, and Tino Rossi was locked up in Fresnes prison. Suzy Solidor went round to visit the editors of newspapers, claiming she had worked for the Resistance and that the only accusation against her was to have sung ‘Lili Marlene’ at a time when it was a great hit with British troops.
Even Edith Piaf was suspect for a moment, having, like Chevalier, gone to sing for French prisoners in Germany, but she had never supported the Pétainist régime; unlike Chevalier, who had taken off his boater and drunk a bottle of Vichy water as a show of loyalty to journalists – the most ill-judged photo-opportunity of his career.
One singer whose Resistance credentials were impeccable was Josephine Baker. General de Gaulle even wrote the preface to the book about her exploits by Commandant Jacques Abtey, La Guerre secrète de Josephine Baker. De Gaulle also attended her first concert in Paris after the Liberation. Josephine Baker had returned to France with General de Lattre’s 1st Army and came up to Paris to see old friends and prove that the reports of her death were premature. She gave a gala concert for the French air force charity at the Paramount in November, when she sang ‘Paris chéri’, one of the last songs written for her by Vincent Scotto. Jo Bouillon’s orchestra provided the music and, soon afterwards, she married him.
Malcolm Muggeridge went in uniform with a brother officer to a very different cabaret on the Left Bank, packed out and thick with tobacco smoke. ‘There were only flickering candles to light the tiny stage, where a man, completely bald, with a large, sad clown’s face, was intoning a soliloquy, in which he recalled all the terrible things that had happened to him since the Germans came to Paris. “Et maintenant,” he concluded, with an expression of infinite woe, through which he struggled to break into a wry smile – “Et maintenant, nous sommes libérés!” The audience roared their approval, looking quizzically at Trevor and me. Somehow it seemed the most perfect comment on the situation.’
The Passage of Exiles
The resounding acclaim which greeted de Gaulle at the Liberation helped create the impression that Vichy’s version of France had evaporated, almost as if it had never really existed. This was the fairy-tale finish to a disturbing story. It helped soothe the deep wounds in national pride and aided the notion of Republican legitimacy.
The lingering death of Pétain’s regime was the grotesque fruition of its self-deceit. Patriots who had supported the old Marshal in 1940 found by 1944 that his ‘path of collaboration’ had been the path of dishonour and humiliation at the hands of the occupying power; while the feuding Germanophile factions – those of Pierre Laval, Marcel Déat, Jacques Doriot and Joseph Darnand, the head of the Milice – finally discovered that they were far from equal allies in the New European Order. The Nazis had despised them, simply using them for their own ends. As the Allied armies broke out of Normandy, the exodus of those vulnerable to Resistance reprisals matched the departure of German officials on 17 August. The collaborationist newspaper Je suis partout became known as Je suis parti.
The mutual hatreds and suspicions on the extreme right, both French and German, became more poisonous as the def
In August 1944, Joseph Darnand, head of the Milice, ordered his scattered groups of miliciens to withdraw eastwards. In Paris, Jean Galtier-Boissière watched the miliciens leave the Lycée Saint-Louis in a convoy of lorries.
Fearing reprisals, miliciens from many parts of France fled towards an increasingly embattled Germany with their wives and families. Those from the south-west had to cross a large stretch of hostile territory in small, vulnerable groups.
The old Marshal formally protested at the order for him to leave Vichy. He was escorted by Otto Abetz’s deputy, the minister von Renthe-Fink, to Belfort on France’s eastern frontier; then, on 7 September, he reached Sigmaringen, the castle and small town designated by Hitler as the capital of France in exile.
The castle of Sigmaringen on the Danube was supposedly the cradle of the Hohenzollern dynasty. As the setting for the Götterdämmerung of French fascism, its position, history and even quasi-Wagnerian name seem fittingly ironic. But the reality was far from grand opera. If anything, the claustrophobic squabbling sounded more like a parody of the antechamber of hell in Sartre’s play Huis clos, which had opened in Paris some ten days before D-Day. That brilliantly crazed writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline, with his unfailing eye for the grotesque, was the perfect chronicler of Sigmaringen. In D’un Château à l’autre, he described the vain rivalries as ‘un ballet de crabes’.
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