Paris after the liberati.., p.9
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       Paris: After the Liberation 1944-1949, p.9

           Antony Beevor
 

  Pétain was a privileged prisoner. He benefited from special menus – the Germans allotted him sixteen ration cards – and escorted walks in the countryside. His suite was on the seventh floor. The hierarchy, as Henry Rousso describes in his book Un Château en Allemagne, descended floor by floor. On the sixth floor, Laval and other ministers were lodged. Laval complained about his four-poster bed – ‘Je suis un paysan, moi!’ He spent the first part of each morning in a study lined in blue silk, preparing and practising his defence for the day of temporal judgement, when he would face de Gaulle’s new Haute Cour de Justice on charges of treason. Laval had brought out 20 million francs of the government’s petty cash, but German banks refused to change it.

  The nominal leader of Sigmaringen’s equally nominal administration was Fernand de Brinon, a failed aristocrat whose Jewish wife had been made an ‘honorary Aryan’. Brinon had been Vichy’s ambassador to Paris, an extraordinary yet significant paradox for Pétain’s French State. The tricolour was raised over Sigmaringen to a roll of German drums and a milicien guard of honour presenting arms. The French State exchanged ambassadors with that other puppet-theatre of the absurd, Mussolini’s Salo republic.

  General Bridoux, the equivalent of Minister of War, was put in charge of recruiting French prisoners to fight in the SS. The ‘Minister of Information’ was Jean Luchaire, a newspaper magnate, who was accompanied by several mistresses and his three daughters, one of whom was the film star Corinne Luchaire. In the library, intellectuals of the arch-right such as Alphonse de Châteaubriant and Lucien Rebatet met and squabbled. Céline managed to avoid them. He had found lodgings down in the town with his wife, Lucette, and there he reverted to his profession of doctor.

  News of the Ardennes offensive in December produced an outburst of almost hysterical optimism in the castle. Some people declared that they would follow the German army back into Paris by the New Year, not knowing that Field Marshal von Rundstedt’s tanks had run out of fuel. When the scope of the disaster was finally revealed, the only hope left was the promise of Hitler’s secret weapons. For the more realistic, their nightmare was of falling into the hands of French colonial troops, the Senegalese or goums. Céline, despising all around him, set off northwards with his wife, a journey through the terrifying death throes of Nazi Germany, until they reached Denmark, where he was imprisoned.

  As for the wives and children of the miliciens who had sought refuge in Germany, their fate was little better. Far from being treated as allies, they were locked up in conditions comparable to the worst internment camps. At Siessen, sixty children died of malnutrition. The least fit of the men were transported for forced labour. The remaining 2,500 were transferred to the grandly designated Charlemagne Division of the Waffen SS. In March 1945, this formed part of Himmler’s Army Group Vistula, and was smashed in Pomerania when Marshal Zhukov’s tank armies cleared his Baltic flank before the assault on Berlin. Fewer than 1,000 of them managed to slip westwards, trudging through snow-covered pine forests in the rear of the Russian advance.

  The remnants of the Charlemagne Division were transferred to an SS training camp north of Berlin to recover. And it was there, in April 1945, that 100 volunteers commanded by Captain Henri Fenet accompanied General Krukenberg through the Soviet encirclement of Berlin to take part in the final battle for the Reich capital. With the suicidal bravery of the damned, they stalked Soviet tanks with Panzerfaust anti-tank weapons amid the ruins. Along with some Danes and Norwegians from the SS Nordland Division, they faced the Red Army’s final assault in the barely recognizable landscape of what had been the government district around the Reich Chancellery. On 29 April, the eve of Hitler’s suicide, a brief candlelit ceremony took place in an underground station while the battle still raged overhead. SS General Krukenberg presented the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross to former milicien Eugène Vaulot for having destroyed six Soviet armoured vehicles. Few of these last defenders of the New Europe returned to their homes.

  The British, not having suffered the divisive effects of occupation, had few traitors to deal with. One of the most famous was in Paris in August 1944. John Amery, the son of Leo Amery, the Secretary of State for India and Burma, had developed an infatuation for the Nazi regime. He had made broadcasts from Berlin urging Britons to fight for Hitler, and the Nazis used him to lead the Legion of St George, the British contribution to the New Europe. Only sixty-six volunteers emerged, which did not make a centuria, let alone a cohort or a legion. Amery, arrested in Paris at the Liberation, was flown back to London for trial. He was hanged on 19 December 1945.

  The other Englishman in Paris whom the British authorities wished to interview was not so much a traitor as a victim of his own political naïvety. One of the first jobs given to Major Malcolm Muggeridge on his arrival in Paris was to keep an eye on P. G. Wodehouse, who was still at the Hotel Bristol, where he had been installed by the Germans. Arrested with his wife at their villa at Le Touquet in 1940, he had been interned in the Silesian lunatic asylum of Tost. Released shortly before his sixtieth birthday, he was asked by the Berlin representative of CBS to make a broadcast to the United States. Not realizing that this would be used by German radio for their own purposes, Wodehouse made the broadcast in his typically jolly way, making light of his imprisonment and giving the impression that life under German domination was not too bad.

  This story emerged at a bad moment in Britain. Wodehouse’s failure to hate anybody at this time of total war was incomprehensible to most people who had endured the Blitz, and some of his throwaway remarks – the most notorious was ‘whether England wins or not’ – provoked great anger. The worst onslaught came in a broadcast by the journalist William Connor, ‘Cassandra’ of the Daily Mirror. This was personally authorized by Duff Cooper, the Minister of Information, who had overridden the objections of the BBC.

  Just over a week after the Liberation, Wodehouse wrote to the Home Secretary in London, ‘hastening to report to you my presence here’: ‘This is not the occasion for me to make a detailed statement, but may I be allowed to say that the reports in the Press that I obtained my release from internment by agreeing to broadcast on the German radio are entirely without foundation. The five talks which I delivered were arranged for after my release, and were made at my own suggestion.

  ‘That it was criminally foolish of me to speak on the German radio, I admit. But the only motive in doing so was to give my American readers a humorous description of my adventures, as some response to the great number of letters which I had received from them while I was in the camp. The five talks covered the five phases of my imprisonment, were purely comic in tone and were designed to show American listeners a group of Englishmen keeping up their spirits and courage under difficult conditions.’

  The British authorities could not make up their mind what to do, so left Wodehouse where he was. On the night of 20 November, however, a woman at dinner with the Prefect of Police announced that Wodehouse, who had broadcast from Berlin, was living openly in Paris at a hotel. Luizet wasted no time. Four leather-jacketed policemen armed with submachine-guns were promptly dispatched to bring him in.

  Malcolm Muggeridge went round to the police station where Wode-house was held. Ethel Wodehouse had been brought in as well, with her pekinese Wonder; the police inspector in charge was only too relieved to be rid of its hysterical yapping, so ‘Mme Wodenhorse’ was allowed to leave. All that remained was to convince the French authorities that ‘M. Wodenhorse’ was ill and that he should be transferred to a sana-torium under the guard of Major Muggeridge. On 1 December, Duff Cooper saw Wodehouse’s stepson-in-law, Peter Cazalet. They agreed ‘that the best thing that could happen would be if the French would agree to get him moved out of Paris and allowed to live quietly in the country’.

  When George Orwell came to Paris, Muggeridge took him round to introduce him to Wodehouse, a meeting which stimulated Orwell to write an article in Wodehouse’s defence. It is hard to imagine a more dissimilar pair. Plum thought Or
well ‘a gloomy sort of chap’. Orwell, on the other hand, recognized that Wodehouse, who lived in the fantasy world of his own creation, made an ideal whipping boy in the demagogic atmosphere of war socialism.

  After a brief sojourn near Fontainebleau, the Wodehouses moved back to Paris. They were left undisturbed, feeding their meat ration to Wonder, until they finally left for the United States in 1947.

  7

  War Tourists and Ritzkrieg

  In the weeks following the Liberation, Paris experienced an Anglo-Saxon influx which far surpassed the days of the Versailles peace conference. The very first arrivals included intelligence officers, counter-espionage experts and journalists. Within a week or two, the proportion of those simply ‘wangling a joyride’ from London – including the wives, or future wives, of men already there – gathered pace.

  A more permanent population began to assemble during the middle of September, with officers posted to the city on official business, either attached to embassies or to SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force). British staff officers, with red bands round their service dress caps, were sometimes – to their furious embarrassment – mistaken for Soviet officers by French Communists, who acclaimed them with clenched-fist salutes and fervent expressions of admiration for the Red Army.

  One of the first British officers to enter Paris was Lieutenant-Colonel Lord Rothschild. Victor Rothschild had been formally seconded to the United States army after D-Day, to train its officers in the arts of sabotage and counter-sabotage, and on entering Paris he joined General Eisenhower’s supreme headquarters. He was given lodgings in the Young Women’s Christian Association (‘How strange,’ wrote his friend Duff Cooper, ‘since you are neither young nor a woman nor a Christian’), but it was not long before he made his way to the house of his cousin, Baron Robert de Rothschild, on the Avenue de Marigny. He found it occupied by American troops, but turned them out and declared the house to be the headquarters of his own anti-sabotage unit.

  His group’s first task was to locate and make safe demolition charges and booby traps left behind by the occupiers. (Some booby traps took the form of exploding horse dung, scattered on the roads by the departing Germans.) The rest of the unit, which included his future wife, Tess Mayor, arrived soon afterwards to work with the French Deuxième Bureau, hunting for arms and caches of explosives which might be used by a fifth column.

  Muggeridge joined Rothschild at the Avenue de Marigny, since the Services Spéciaux to which he was attached had not yet set up shop. After a very good lunch, they decided to make their position official with the British military authorities, and set off for the Roger & Gallet building in the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, where they had heard that a British Force Headquarters had been established. The brigadier to whom they reported, immaculate in service dress with red tabs, took this very scruffy pair for impostors. As soon as he realized that he was talking to Lord Rothschild, however, he became positively deferential. It was the sort of behaviour that Rothschild loathed.

  Victor Rothschild was a man of many parts and many paradoxes. Scientist, academic, and government adviser by profession, he was also, in his private capacity, a socialist, a millionaire, a jazz pianist and a peer who both hated privilege and enjoyed it. The servants at the Avenue de Marigny, headed by Monsieur Félix, the maître d’hôtel, were well aware of his foibles. They could not believe how meagre British army rations were and, since Victor Rothschild refused to eat better food than his soldiers, Muggeridge had to go off and scrounge K rations from the Americans.

  The German occupiers had looked after the house on the Avenue de Marigny very well. The heavy furniture and decoration in the ‘style Rothschild’ of the 1860s were left unlooted. Muggeridge asked Monsieur Félix why he thought the Luftwaffe general who had occupied the house had behaved so well. ‘Hitlers come and go, Monsieur,’ came the reply, ‘but Rothschilds go on for ever.’ The servants had also done all they could to preserve the contents of the house. They had hidden the most valuable china and silver to keep it out of German hands, and returned it at the Liberation.

  *

  Few of the journalists then starting to pour in knew Paris better than Lee Miller. She had been the muse, lover and apprentice of the Surrealist photographer Man Ray between 1929 and 1932. Now she had come in the splendidly original role of war photographer for Vogue. In her US war correspondent’s uniform, she went straight to the Place de l’Odéon. There she found the painter and theatre designer Christian Bérard and his lover, Boris Kochno. They took her to see Picasso in his studio on the rue des Grands Augustins. Picasso, for whom she had sat before the war, embraced her, declaring that she was the first Allied soldier he had seen and that he wanted to paint her again, this time in her uniform. They went to Picasso’s local bistro in the same street, Le Catalan, and Lee handed over her K rations to augment the lunch. Over the next few days she tracked down other friends from Surrealist times, including Jean Cocteau, and Paul Éluard and his wife, Nusch, who was looking skeletal.

  ‘Paris was liberated,’ Picasso later said to his friend Brassaï, the photographer, ‘but I was besieged, and I still am.’ It seemed that everyone wanted to visit him in his studio.

  Cleve Gray, a young American painter serving in the US Army, longed to meet Picasso. Summoning up his courage, he went to the door of Picasso’s studio and knocked. Jaime Sabartès, Picasso’s friend and general factotum, stuck his head out of an upstairs window and peered down. He was very short-sighted. ‘Who’s there?’ he called. ‘I’m an American painter,’ Gray shouted back, ‘and I want to meet Picasso.’

  It was late morning, but Picasso was just getting out of bed, dressed in nothing but his underwear. The room had no pictures on the walls. The scene that followed was a bohemian version of the lever du roi. Picasso stood by the side of the bed, holding a copy of the Communist newspaper L’Humanité in one hand while he held out the other for Sabartès to thread it through a shirt sleeve, then he transferred the newspaper to the other hand while Sabartès pulled on the other sleeve. Picasso was just about join the Communist Party.

  Then Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Picasso’s dealer, walked in. This was their first meeting for four years. The two men greeted each other with great warmth and effusion, though Kahnweiler was evidently irritated to find somebody else there.

  They all trooped upstairs to the studio, a large, long room with heavy old beams and a floor of well-worn hexagon tiles covered by the odd small rug. Paintings finished during the Occupation were propped against the wall, including all those which Picasso was about to exhibit in the first post-Liberation salon. The collection of frames, easels and a stepladder, with a platform and pulpit for working on large canvases, gave the impression of a lumber room. Almost as fascinating as Picasso’s sculptures was his huge cast-iron stove with bulbous pipes ascending in pillared layers, like a Jain temple.

  Picasso pointed to Gray’s army boots and said: ‘Look at them. Aren’t they extraordinary?’ Gray did not know what to do. Should he follow the Arab custom and take them off immediately to present them as a gift? Picasso might even render them immortal with a study. But if he did, how could he explain their disappearance on return to his unit? They were government property and he might face serious charges for selling them.

  Charles Collingwood, the famously good-looking reporter for CBS radio, toured Montparnasse with Pamela Churchill, who had come to set up a club for British troops on leave. Collingwood, however, was feeling rather bashful, and certainly hoped not to be recognized. To scoop his rivals, he had made a pre-recorded report announcing the liberation of Paris, but this had been broadcast by mistake forty-eight hours before Leclerc’s troops reached the city. Parisians had listened in anger and disbelief to the reports of worldwide celebration while fighting continued all around them.

  Almost everyone in London with a good excuse made sure of a trip to Paris as soon as possible after the Liberation. Like many from the OSS office in London, Evangeline Bruce, a future a
mbassadress but at that time responsible for creating personal histories for the false papers of secret agents, hiked a pillion ride on the back of an OSS motorbicycle for a tour of central Paris.

  One of the sights to be seen at the Ritz was Ernest Hemingway. His room was the first port of call for Mary Welsh, who had worked for the London bureau of Time, Life and Fortune throughout the war, and managed to reach Paris in time to cover de Gaulle’s triumph down the Champs-Élysées. Another star of the Ritz was Marlene Dietrich, who used the hotel as her Paris base while she travelled back and forth to the front, singing to American troops. Hemingway had known her for ten years and they were still close – she used to wander into his bathroom in the Ritz and chat to him while he shaved – but he emphasized that he had never slept with her.

  Hemingway did not stay only at the Ritz. He also used the Hotel Scribe, near the Opéra, which had been taken over as a centre for war correspondents. The lines of olive-green US army staff cars and jeeps with large white stars made the place look like a headquarters, an impression reinforced by the cluster of Allied flags over the entrance. The Parisians were envious of its privileged rations. Simone de Beauvoir, who visited the Scribe with a French journalist on Combat, wrote disapprovingly: ‘It was an American enclave in the heart of Paris: white bread, fresh eggs, jam, sugar and Spam.’

  The Hotel Scribe rapidly became a subject of folklore. The rooms were full of military impedimenta – jerrycans of petrol, ration packs, waterbottles, weapons and ammunition. One visitor recalled seeing in every window of the central light-well a journalist in an army shirt with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, tapping away furiously.

  During the course of that autumn and winter, the Scribe’s inhabitants included Robert Capa, William Shirer, Bill Paley, Sam White, Cy Sulzberger and Harold Callender of the New York Times; William Saroyan; Helen Kirkpatrick of the Chicago Daily News; Janet Flanner, the New Yorker diarist for Paris since 1925; Virginia Cowles, who had covered the fall of France in 1940, and her friend Martha Gellhorn.

 
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