IN APRIL 1941, Aldebert and Clara de Chambrun invited the ranking American diplomat in Paris, Maynard Barnes, to lunch at 58 rue de Vaugirard. Barnes had been chargé d’affaires in Paris and at the Château de Candé since Ambassador Bullitt’s departure a year earlier. The Chambruns had regarded him as a friend for some years, and they believed he understood France better than his colleagues. In Vichy, Bullitt’s successor as US Ambassador to France, Admiral William D. Leahy, thought Barnes ‘had a higher opinion of Laval than prevailed generally’. Over the modest, rationed lunch, Barnes told Clara and Aldebert that the United States would undoubtedly declare war on Germany. ‘Please tell her not to delay much longer,’ General de Chambrun admonished the diplomat. Clara shared her husband’s view that America must, at last, fight for the Allied cause. This was a change from her conviction in October 1939 on a visit to the United States for the publication of her History of Cincinnati, when she told the Cincinnati Times-Star, ‘Why should the United States even consider getting in the war? The question should be decided purely on the grounds of American trade and American rights … As for the allies wanting America to enter the war, they already have more men to feed than they need to maintain what can only be a deadlock.’ After the Germans broke the deadlock in the spring of 1940, the occupation of France made American intervention acceptable to Clara. At lunch, she pressed Barnes on American intentions. ‘Do not worry,’ he told her. ‘We will be there even if England is beaten. We cannot afford, after the war, to see our trade cut off from Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Austria, Germany, Belgium, Holland, and the Scandinavian Peninsula.’ Barnes, who was preparing to close the Paris embassy under orders from the Germans, asked whether the Chambruns wanted to send anything with him to the United States. Aldebert entrusted him with two Purdey shot-guns that had been made for him in London. If the Germans found them hidden in the linen cupboard, he and Clara would be sent to prison.
While America remained neutral, Clara wrote, ‘Extreme politeness was still the rule towards citizens of a country that Hitler hoped would stay out of active warfare.’ She added, ‘A considerable number of American businessmen remained and continued to work under these new conditions … American residents contributed generously to the “Secours National [National Aid],” organized by the Marshal [Pétain], and which helped almost miraculously to keep up the morale of the unfortunate, and to give material help everywhere.’
On 14 April, considering the possibility of a changed American status in France, the American Hospital in Paris asked Count Aldebert de Chambrun to become its director. Although an American citizen, General de Chambrun was also French and, more importantly, connected to the upper reaches of French society and politics that the hospital might have to call upon to survive. Clara lamented that 14 April became the day ‘my husband and I were obliged to separate’. She wrote, ‘As he seldom does things by halves, he felt that, to begin with at least, he must take up his residence in the hospital building, learn the ropes and become acquainted with his large staff.’ On 15 April, the hospital’s medical board, including Dr Sumner Jackson, voted unanimously to appoint General de Chambrun president. But, like the American Library, the hospital needed a legal mechanism to spare it from German seizure if the United States and Germany broke relations. Aldebert adopted ‘the same formula that proved so efficacious in the case of the American Library’. That is, he turned it over to a French organization, the French Red Cross. Officially, the American Hospital became the Centre d’Hospitalisation pour Blessés de Guerre Libérés, the Hospitalization Centre for Liberated War Wounded. General de Chambrun’s policy was to provide medical care to anyone–American civilians, Belgian refugees, wounded British and French soldiers–except Germans.
As 1941 progressed, the United States sent more and more supplies to Britain. In March, Congress passed the Lend Lease Act to exchange British bases in the western hemisphere for surplus American destroyers. This made the United States, if not a combatant, at least a partisan in the struggle against the Nazis. A German U-boat sank the American merchantman Robin Moor on 21 May 1941 off Brazil. President Roosevelt condemned the attack as an ‘act of piracy’. The following October, Nazi submarines torpedoed the American merchant ship Kearney and sank the US Navy destroyer Reuben James off the coast of Iceland. A hundred American sailors from the Reuben James died in frozen waters, giving rise to Woody Guthrie’s song with its refrain, ‘Tell me what were their names?/Did you have a friend on the good Reuben James?’ Another folk song popular in the United States demanded, ‘What are we waitin’ on?’
When I think of the men and the ships going down
While the Russians fight on across the dawn
There’s London in ruins and Paris in chains
Good people, what are we waitin’ on?
Good people, what are we waitin’ on?
In this atmosphere, many Americans in Paris realized that their neutrality would not last much longer. Some decided to leave of their own accord, while others were persuaded by family and employers that remaining would be dangerous. On 5 May 1941, Edward A. Sumner informed the Rockefeller Foundation that ‘a cable was sent to Miss Dorothy Reeder, Directress of the Library, recommending her immediate return to the United States, and a cable to the Comtesse de Chambrun, First Vice President, authorizing her to employ a non-American substitute for Miss Reeder. Whether Miss Reeder will be willing to accept this recommendation of the Board of Trustees remains to develop.’ Dorothy Reeder did not want to leave, but she accepted the board’s advice. In mid-May, she obtained permits to cross the Spanish border and booked a berth on a ship from Lisbon to the United States. Clara wrote, ‘When our popular directress Miss Reeder departed, after a whirl of cocktail parties and as much cheer as bunches of souvenirs could give, she left on the desk which was to become mine, a card solemnly delegating me to fill her place together with the verbal encouragement: “Of course you will never be able to keep open.”’
Clara, ignoring the board’s recommendation that she find a non-American to run the library, decided to take on the job herself: ‘Accordingly, here I was, obliged to add to my duties of directing the Library, a position for which no previous training fitted me. What I did possess though was long human experience, a sense of justice, perhaps not too frequent among my sex, and a sense of humor capable of carrying me over very rough ground.’ Clara ‘wangled’ coal from unnamed suppliers, undoubtedly black marketeers, when other establishments were freezing. Nonetheless, there were times when the library lacked enough coal to heat the whole building and the staff worked in ‘overcoats, mufflers and gloves’. When the Germans attempted to conscript male employees to work in Germany, she wrote stern letters stating that ‘the individual designated was absolutely indispensible [sic] to the proper functioning of the Library’. Her appeals worked, even for Russian Boris Netchaeff after Germany invaded its former Soviet ally in June 1941.
As directress of the library, Clara became acquainted with one of the ugliest aspects of the occupation: la dénonciation. The German authorities were inundated with correspondence, often anonymous, from Parisians denouncing their fellow citizens as Jews, communists, Freemasons, black marketeers and résistants. Earning anyone’s animosity could lead to denunciation and, thus, arrest. One day, a woman who was upset at having to wait in a long check-out queue at the library threatened to denounce ‘our long-suffering librarian’, Boris Netchaeff. Clara lost her temper. ‘Take back your subscription and never darken our doors again,’ she ordered. The woman began crying and, in what Clara called ‘the greatest tribute ever given us in wartime’, said, ‘I cannot get along without the books I find here.’ Clara told her, ‘In that case, you may come back, apologize to Boris and take out your book.’ The woman apologized.
When Maynard Barnes closed the American Embassy on 7 May, he entrusted the keys and the flag to Mme Simone Blanchard. The Frenchwoman, who had been housekeeper at the embassy since 1928, hid the Stars and Stripes to await the Americans’ return. Barnes drove south to Vichy with Edward B. Close, managing governor of the American Hospital. After reporting to Ambassador Leahy, who had a low regard for him, he returned to Washington. Close sailed to the United States from Portugal, leaving the American Hospital’s administration in the hands of Aldebert de Chambrun and its medical staff to Dr Sumner Jackson.
‘After the departure of the Chargé d’Affaires,’ Clara wrote, ‘we bade adieu to almost all our American friends … Most of the few that did not take that opportunity of leaving, remained to the bitter end–among them was John Robinson, head of the Coudert firm who stayed on because his wife was too seriously ill to be moved. His presence was a real asset as he managed to do so much for the relief of numerous families unable for different reasons to abandon the country. ’ No Americans in Paris knew it, but even their embassy in Vichy had prepared two emergency escape routes for its diplomats. One was by sea from a Mediterranean port, and the other was overland to Spain. The embassy had ‘accumulated and buried in tins in concealed places along the roads enough gas to drive in our own cars over either route’.
Many Americans had no option other than to remain. The poet Pauline Avery Crawford, who had a prosthetic leg, could not make the arduous journey by land to Lisbon, point of embarkation for America-bound passenger ships and the Pan American Clipper aeroplanes. Charles Bedaux was too involved in his business schemes to return to the United States, where his company had not been under his control since the ill-fated Windsor affair of 1937. Sylvia Beach had not considered abandoning Paris or Adrienne Monnier since the first day of occupation, when the two booksellers had briefly contemplated escaping to the countryside. And Dr Sumner Jackson, whose wife and son were French, was responsible for the American Hospital’s surgery department and for a growing Resistance network. The American community in Paris dwindled by the spring of 1941 to 2,000 men, women and children–no longer protected by an embassy in the city, but served by their own hospital, library, churches and charitable societies. If America and Germany went to war, most would be subject to internment. For a few, like Dr Jackson, the stakes were higher.
Josephine Baker, the quintessential American Parisian, spy for French intelligence and anti-Nazi résistante.
William C. Bullitt, United States Ambassador to France 1936–1940. He pleaded with his friend, President Franklin Roosevelt, to save France.
Roosevelt, Marguerite LeHand and William C. Bullitt, July 22, 1940. “Missy” LeHand was Bullitt’s sometime mistress, and FDR was disappointed that Bullitt did not marry her.
Myrsine and Helene Moschos and Sylvia Beach next to Ernest Hemingway, outside Shakespeare and Co. at 12 rue de l’Odéon for Sylvia’s birthday party in March 1928.
(Left to right) James Joyce, Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier in Shakespeare and Co., 1938.
Sylvia Beach in Shakespeare and Co., May 1941, during the Battle of France.
Sylvia Beach decorates the bookshop’s window, May 1941.
Adrienne Monnier in La Maison des Amis des Livres.
Countess Clara Longworth de Chambrun (far right) in the American Library in Paris.
Clara fought to keep the library open throughout the occupation.
An information card for the American Library.
René de Chambrun, an American citizen and the first lawyer admitted to the bar in both France and New York, with Josée Laval at the time of their engagement in 1935.
Clara’s house at the corner of the Luxembourg Gardens. The small villa it overlooks is heavily fortified by the Luftwaffe.
Pierre Laval (third from left) leaving the Château de Châteldon, 1942. Josée de Chambrum, his daughter, and her husband René are either side of him.
Charles Bedaux and his wife, Fern, South Africa, 1939.
Charles and Fern Bedaux.
J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI who took an interest in Bedaux’s activities from late 1941. The FBI also investigated René de Chambrun.
Charles Bedaux’s country residence, the Château de Candé, in 1937, the year it hosted the wedding of the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson.
Dr Sumner Jackson with his son, Phillip (“Pete”), in the garden of their avenue Foch apartment, c.1930.
SD Major-General Karl Oberg was responsible for tracking down members of the Resistance in Paris, including Dr Jackson.
Dr Edmund Gros, the director of the American Hospital of Paris.
Dr Sumner Jackson (centre), Dr Thierry Martel (in profile just in front of him), Dr Edmund Gros (fourth from the left) and Charlotte “Toquette” Jackson (third nurse from the right). This photo was taken in the garden of the American Hospital at Neuilly just before the German occupation of Paris.
The entrance to the American Hospital in Neuilly, c.1930.
Drue Leyton, the glamorous American actress whose broadcasts on Radio Mondiale made her a target for the Nazis.
Florence Jay Gould, who hosted a weekly salon of German and French writers in her suite at the Hôtel Bristol and at her avenue Malakoff apartment.
Polly Peabody’s author photo from her 1941 book Occupied Territory.
General Otto von Stülpnagel, German military commander of France, 1939.
Karl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel, c.1940. Otto’s cousin and successor in France. He believed that killing hostages both violated the soldier’s code and failed to intimidate the Resistance.
A German military parade passes the Hôtel de Crillon (left) and the French Naval Ministry (right) on the Place de la Concorde in Paris, 1940. The American Embassy is just beyond the Crillon.
Paris under occupation outside the Hôtel Meurice, the last German HQ in the city.
Marshal Pétain (centre in dark suit), pictured with his cabinet, the day after he succeeded French premier Paul Reynaud, 17 June 1940. Also pictured are Pierre Laval (with papers to the left of Pétain) and Defence Minister Maxime Weygand (in uniform to the right of Pétain).
Marshal Pétain (left) with American Ambassador to Vichy, Admiral William D. Leahy, February 1941.
Robert D. Murphy, US Embassy counsellor in France and President Roosevelt’s special representative in North Africa.
Shakespeare’s King John, translated by Clara Longworth de Chambrun, opened at the Théâtre de l’Odéon on 3 May 1943 to good reviews.
Parisians welcome an Allied tank during the Liberation of Paris, 26 August, 1944.
American flags on the Champs-Elysées, August 29, 1944.
Ernest Hemingway in Sylvia Beach’s flat following the liberation of Paris, 1944.
Phillip “Pete” Jackson in the uniform of the Royal Ambulance Corps, soon after he escaped death on the SS Thielbek.
Charlotte “Toquette” Jackson, June 1945, in Sweden following her release from Ravensbrück concentration camp where she had become disabled from starvation and exhaustion.