American Grandees

WHILE CLARA DE CHAMBRUN assumed greater responsibility for preserving the American Library, her husband found himself tasked with saving the other major American institution, the American Hospital in Neuilly. Aldebert served on the hospital’s board of governors, whose members were were the grandees of American Paris. The president was Nelson Dean Jay, who had come to Paris during the Great War as an aide to General John Pershing. He had stayed on to work with J. P. Morgan’s Paris bank, Morgan & Cie, expanding its business from a convenience for expatriate American depositors into a major corporate investment house. Dean Jay and his wife, Anne Augustine, lived at 58 avenue Foch, just down the street from Dr Sumner Jackson. The couple entertained most of the prominent Americans, like Charles Lindbergh, IBM chairman Thomas Watson and Allen Dulles of the law firm Sullivan and Cromwell, who came to Paris between the wars. The managing governor and first vice-president was Edward B. Close. The popular ‘Eddie’ Close owed his fortune to his ex-father-in-law, General Foods founder Charles William Post. Mr Post had been so fond of Close that he left him a vast inheritance despite his divorce from Post’s daughter, Marjorie, in 1919. The board’s secretary was William DeWitt Crampton, John D. Rockefeller’s man in France, officially vice-president of Standard Française des Pétroles. Like the other members of the board, he lived in the lavish 16th Arrondissement on the Right Bank, at 23 rue Raynouard. A 1914 Columbia graduate, he had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order by the British and become a Chevalier of France’s Legion of Honour during the Great War. Crampton belonged to the gentlemen’s Travellers’ Club on the avenue Champs-Elysées, not far from his office at number 82. He and his wife, the former Maude Evelyn Billin, golfed at the Chantilly and Le Touquet golf clubs. It was Crampton who, just before the Germans entered Paris, had obtained Robert Murphy’s approval to torch Standard’s oil reserves. Other board members were treasurer Bernard S. Carter, lawyer Max Shoop, Laurence Hills, J. S. Wright and General Aldebert de Chambrun.

The occupation did not interrupt the board’s monthly meetings. On 26 July, most of the board appeared for the 6 p.m. conference at 25 avenue des Champs-Elysées. Count de Chambrun was in Le Puy, but Dr Edmund L. Gros, the hospital’s chief of staff, attended ‘by invitation’. ‘At present,’ the minutes noted, ‘we have approximately 125 serious fracture cases in the Hospital, most of which will take several months to recover.’ The first item of business was to order a plaque in memory of Dr Thierry de Martel. The governors voted to pay salaries of 5,000 French francs monthly to Miss Elisabeth Comte, assistant to the director, and Mr Otto Gresser, chief superintendent. The Count de Chambrun had praised the two Swiss nationals for their ‘intelligence, courage and exceptional devotion’. The board also recommended that the managing governor ‘should endeavor to slow down our gratuitous activities vis-à-vis soldiers and an endeavor should be made to reduce our expenses in connection with this work, the principal reason being that we at the present time cannot see ahead nor formulate any definite financial program for the future due to conditions brought about by the present situation’.

In August, Dr Sumner Jackson’s wife and son, Toquette and Phillip, returned to Paris from the lake house at Enghien. Sumner wanted them back to protect their empty apartment in the avenue Foch from requisitioning by the Germans. Even with a red US Embassy seal, the Jacksons’ apartment in the avenue Foch was vulnerable if no one lived in it. The Nazis had already taken houses in the avenue Foch for the Gestapo and Sicherheitsdienst, the party’s secret police known as the SD. At the same time, Sumner asked Toquette’s sister Alice, nicknamed Tat, to remain at Enghien to protect the vacation house from seizure. Dr Jackson continued to sleep at the hospital in case of emergencies. He tried to get home at weekends, and Toquette and Phillip visited him in Neuilly.

Like most other Parisians, the Jacksons made the transition from driving cars to riding bicycles. Jackson ordered an extra large bike, because he was too tall for those made for the average Frenchman. The family cycled everywhere, even an hour away to Enghien. While visiting the lake in the late summer, Sumner and young Phillip cut firewood to be ready for winter.

The board of governors met again in September amid the uncertainty of an occupation that was making new rules every week, closing theatres and allowing some to reopen with German licences, changing the hours of curfew, gradually tightening the restrictions on Jews and permitting different German bureaus to set conflicting policies. The board had urgently to decide how the hospital would manage if the governors were forced to leave France. More than 2,500 American civilians and many French and British prisoners of war depended on the facility. The governors unanimously approved a motion that ‘in the event of prolonged illness, absence or inability to act for any other reason of Mr. Edward B. Close, Aldebert de Chambrun be and hereby is appointed Managing Governor ad interim in the place and stead of Mr. Close, with the same powers as those now held by Mr. Close’. Eddie Close told the board that Wayne C. Taylor of the American Red Cross had asked him to increase the number of beds for military use to 200, effectively adding fifty beds for French and British war casualties. The board ‘unanimously carried’ a resolution to make the 200 beds available and ‘not to call upon the Red Cross for financial assistance at this time’. Fortunately for the hospital, the American Society for French Medical and Civilian Aid, a fund-raising committee that Bullitt had asked Winthrop Aldrich of the Chase National Bank to establish in New York at the beginning of the war, had already transferred $40,000 to cover running costs. The last item of business was to commission a report for a fee of 7,500 francs from a Mr Sage on the hospital’s performance during the Battle of France, the ‘War History Report’.

When the meeting ended at 6.45 p.m., General de Chambrun went back to the business of keeping the hospital open and free of German control. A veteran of the First World War, he still called the Germans ‘Boches’. Despite the policy of collaboration adopted by his in-law, Pierre Laval, Aldebert vowed never to give a bed to a Boche soldier.

Aldebert de Chambrun, Sumner Jackson, Otto Gresser, Elisabeth Comte and the rest of the staff improvised so that the hospital could function without many of the necessities the Germans had either requisitioned or prohibited. The Germans did not seize the American Hospital’s ambulances, and the governors voted to donate six or seven of the fleet of ten to ‘services or municipal organizations where they could be utilized in the best interest of the parties concerned’. Without petrol, ambulances had to be converted to run on gazogene. The remaining ambulances were vital, not only for transporting patients, but for bringing food from farms around Paris to feed 500 people a day. ‘The Winter 1940–1941 was exceptionally cold,’ Otto Gresser remembered, ‘and no fuel oil was available. The Boiler-Room had to be converted to be heated with coal of very bad quality. The hospital cars were run with charcoal. Contracts were drawn up with farmers for supply of potatoes and other vegetables and fruits and sometimes beef was hidden in the car and covered with salad.’

Dr Jackson challenged Gresser one day about the food shortages. ‘Look here,’ he said, ‘we have so many patients and so little meat and it’s absolutely insufficient. If we can’t do any better, some patients are going to have malnutrition.’ Gresser asked a butcher he knew to send the hospital more meat. A week later, when Gresser came to work, he saw a large German car parked in the courtyard. ‘Then I noticed,’ the superintendent recalled, ‘that they were unloading three hundred kilos [of beef] into the storeroom. I immediately called the butcher and asked what the devil was going on since there were Germans at the hospital delivering meat. And he answered, “Well, these are not Germans, these are French volunteers in German uniforms having joined the German Army and they brought it in a German car from out in the country. You don’t risk anything.”’ Nonetheless, Gresser was worried, especially with the German Kommandatur only a few hundred yards away.

The next day, German officials paid a visit to the hospital and demanded to see Mr Gresser. ‘They asked me if I had seen a German car at the hospital with such and such a number, and I replied that I never took note of car numbers.’ When they asked how much meat was in the kitchen, Gresser admitted only to the legal limit of 60 kilograms. ‘After more questions,’ Gresser said later,

they wanted to talk to the Chief Cook to verify my story. Trying to act calm and not cause suspicion, I offered them seats in the lobby and slowly left to go to the kitchen where at this exact moment they were in the process of taking care of the three hundred kilos of meat. I said, ‘Throw that meat out in the garden. I don’t want to see it. And you go up and tell the Germans you have sixty kilos and you are not responsible for the purchasing of the meat supply.’ The Chief Cook answered the Germans’ questions. They seemed satisfied, said they would make a report and left.

Fearing he would be arrested, Gresser returned to the hospital with a suitcase of clothes and other essentials he would need in prison. He told General de Chambrun about the hidden meat and the German inspection. ‘Now look here, Gresser,’ the general said, ‘we’ve been talking about this for nearly a half hour, and nothing has happened. All is fine. Why do you worry?’ Gresser was not arrested.

With no gas for cooking in the kitchen, the chef boiled vegetables in cauldrons over open fires in the courtyard. Surgical instruments and hospital linen were sterilized in boiling water over wood fires. Part of the garage was converted into a pigsty to raise six piglets at a time. Keeping pigs was prohibited by the Germans, as was most hunting of wild game. When the pigs matured, the cook slaughtered them and made a feast for staff and patients alike.

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