IN PARIS, SOME OF THE WOMEN AND MEN Sylvia Beach loved most were risking their lives to protest or resist the occupation. ‘There were a few Nazi sympathizers in Paris, called “collabos”,’ she wrote, ‘but they were the exception. Everybody we knew was for resistance.’ One of them was the daughter of her friends Henri and Hélène Hoppenot. Henri Hoppenot was the French diplomat who had arranged, at Adrienne’s request, documents for Arthur Koestler to escape from Paris in 1940. He was also an author and librettist, while Hélène was an accomplished photographer. Their teenage daughter, Violaine, had been a subscriber at Shakespeare and Company’s lending library for years. Sylvia had written to her own father on 27 February 1940 about her ‘young friend Violaine who was named after [Paul] Claudel’s play “La Jeune Fille Violaine” and prefers politics to poetry’. Claudel, a favorite in Odéonia, was Violaine’s godfather. Encouraged by Sylvia, Violaine Hoppenot had been admitted to do postgraduate study in America. But her preference for politics over poetry took her into the Resistance, carrying messages on her bicycle past the German troops in Paris and distributing banned literature. Another friend, the writer Jean Prévost, had left Paris to become a Resistance fighter in the mountains of eastern France.
Sylvia and Adrienne’s friend and supporter, 69-year-old Paul Valéry, was publicly at odds with the Nazis. When the philosopher Henri Bergson died on 4 January 1941, Valéry bravely delivered the eulogy. He praised his Jewish friend and Nobel Laureate at the Académie Française on 9 January in full view of collaborators who would report his words to the Germans. He said of Bergson, ‘He was the pride of our company.’ Born in France in 1859, Bergson was the son of an Anglo-Irish mother and a father who was Polish, Jewish and a musician. When Vichy offered to make Bergson one of the ‘special’ Jews whose cultural and scientific accomplishments exempted them from discriminatory laws, he declined. Arthur Koestler admired him, and the Nazis hated him. Valéry said Bergson was a ‘very pure, truly superior figure of the thinking man, and perhaps one of the last men who had exclusively, profoundly and exceptionally thought, in an epoch when the world goes on thinking less and less’.
Sylvia, who had supported the Nazis’ enemies in Spain, neither cooperated with nor appeased the occupiers. She consorted with intellectual opponents of the Nazis like Valéry and résistants like Violaine Hoppenot and Jean Prévost. At Shakespeare and Company, she refused to dismiss her Jewish volunteer assistant, 27-year-old Françoise Bernheim. Bernheim was taking a degree in Sanskrit until the University of Paris acquiesced to German pressure to expel its Jewish students. A sympathetic professor allowed Françoise to continue her studies clandestinely.
Françoise and Sylvia politely served Germans who came to Shakespeare and Company in search of English books. Some of the browsers were from the Gestapo. ‘I wasn’t on good terms with these Germans,’ Sylvia said. ‘But they came to my shop before we closed and asked to look at my theatrical books. And I showed them all Gordon Craig’s books. Then I said, “You know, it’s a disgrace for you to have imprisoned Gordon Craig and his wife and little child.” And they said, “Oh, we’ll get him out.”’ The son of famed English actress Ellen Terry, Edward Gordon Craig was a respected actor and theatre critic. Shakespeare and Company had sold his theatrical magazine, Mask, until it ceased publication in 1929. The Germans had interned him, although he was nearly seventy, along with the other British subjects in France at the beginning of the occupation. The Gestapo men returned to the bookshop with another officer, who told Sylvia to prepare a report on the Craigs that verified they were not Jewish and bring it to Gestapo headquarters. Sylvia complied, and the Gestapo officer promised her the Craigs would be freed by Christmas.
Sylvia and Adrienne closed their shops for the summer holidays. Adrienne joined her family in their thatched cottage near the village of Rocfoin north of Chartres, and Sylvia went to La Salle du Roc. On 14 August 1941, she wrote from Bourré to Carlotta Welles Briggs in California, ‘While Rome burns, and everything else, I think you can’t do better than play the fiddle. Meanwhile I am a war profiteer. That’s plain enough, what with all my holidays in your beautiful place.’ She was pleased that a neighbour named Baptiste was supplying her with fresh vegetables for which she did not have to queue for hours. ‘It is cool and windy and sometimes rainy here but the flowers in the border are as gay as can be and you know how the fountain and the green-lawn and the trees are swell at this time of year–and at all times.’ Alone in the country, Sylvia catalogued Carlotta’s books. Country life had minor inconveniences: ‘There’s a magpie in the village who is going to be for someone’s dinner if it doesn’t stop flying into rooms and stealing anything it can lay its hands on. Trinkets or a whole cheese, the coiffeuse says, disappear in the magpie’s secret cache.’ The corn was growing well, ‘but there are no lima beans this year’. Sylvia’s First World War expertise from working the land as a Volontaire Agricole served her well with the flowers and vegetables on Carlotta’s land. In the same letter, she sent sad news of the Armenian friend Carlotta had asked her to visit in November 1940: ‘Your friend Mme Barseghian died on May 19th. Her son is a prisoner. The neighbors told me all about them. An operation on her eyes was unsuccessful.’ She wrote that Marcel and Gertrude de Gallaix, who were also using the house, would return ‘soon after the 15th when I shall be going back to town’. The two German officers assigned to live in the house in 1940 must have left by the time of Sylvia’s stay, because her letters did not refer to them.
Eleven days later, Sylvia returned to Carlotta’s house near Bourré. On 25 August, she wrote to Adrienne Monnier,
Food is missing completely in this countryside–not a chicken nor eggs nor butter nor cheese nor rabbits … But I have been to all my relations here to prostrate myself to have a chicken, a duck, a goose with no result … One may give me some eggs to be crushed on the trip to Paris with the mob I’ll find on the trains at the end of the month.
I hope that you have taken your vacation and that you are rested like me. You need it after all the months of exhaustion and privation to stand another winter of the kind that awaits us … Until Saturday night at 8 o’clock, I kiss you, Sylvia.
Back in Paris, Sylvia saw more of her friend Sarah Watson. Born in South Carolina in 1885, Miss Watson had lived in France since 1918 and was directress of the students’ hostel for girls in Paris, the Foyer International des Etudiantes, in the boulevard Saint-Michel. She and Sylvia met occasionally for lunch in the hostel’s cafeteria. Their views on the Nazis were identical. Miss Watson wrote home, in words that might have come from almost any American in occupied Paris, ‘If only America can wake up before it is too late, if she can realize this is not just another war–it is a new religion that is conquering the world.’
The last letter that Sylvia’s sisters received from her was sent in June 1941. A parcel of clothing that they sent her never arrived, because the British were seizing packages sent from the United States to France. Holly posted a letter to Sylvia in September, but it ‘was returned to me unopened’. George Antheil, Ernest Hemingway, Archibald MacLeish and other friends from her Golden Age in the 1920s wrote to her as well, but their letters came back. Paris was increasingly closed off, and Sylvia was closed off with it.
In the summer of 1941, Charles Bedaux was working on his equivalism project at Roquefort in Les Landes. His Ausweis from Otto Abetz allowed him to return to the Occupied Zone for weekends with Fern at the Chateau de Candé. At one of Candé’s lavish dinner parties, a German guest mentioned that the Luftwaffe planned to bomb the British petroleum refinery at Abadan. This information troubled Bedaux, who had studied the refinery on the Iranian shore of the Persian Gulf for its owners, Britain’s Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, in 1937. In July 1939, he had advised Anglo-Iranian’s chairman, Lord Cadman, in London to protect the oil refinery from bombardment. Abadan, a prime asset in war and peace, was the world’s largest refinery with production of twelve million tons of fuel a year. Much of the oil came by pipeline from British-owned fields in Iraq. Petrol and lubricants from Abadan were vital to the British war machine in Iraq, Transjordan, Palestine and Egypt. Without it, Britain’s tanks and warplanes could neither deter the indigenous populations from seeking independence nor face the German threat.
To the German high command, denying petrol to Britain’s Middle East forces made military sense. A pro-German faction of the Iraqi officer corps under politician Rashid Ali al-Gailani had just seized power in Baghdad and sought German support against the British occupier. Syria and Lebanon were in the hands of French officers loyal to the Vichy regime, and Admiral Darlan granted the Germans access to Syrian airfields within range of Abadan. An air raid was as feasible as the recent Italian attack from Libya on Britain’s smaller refinery at Haifa in Palestine. Bedaux argued strongly against destroying Abadan and asked the Germans to take a long-term view of Abadan’s possibilities. His solution for Germany was not to destroy Abadan, but to capture it.
His theory was simple. If German troops invaded Iraq from Vichy Syria to support the anti-British coup, they could move on Iran and take Abadan for themselves. Bedaux’s rationale for saving Abadan, he said, had less to do with the war than the peace: ‘I advanced the philosophy of first thinking that to prevent it was continental logic. My idea was that Continental Europe would rebuild after the war only as fast as continental oil could be supplied, and that with its twelve million tons a year, Abadan was the heart of continental oil, continental gasoline.’ He revived the scheme he had presented to Lord Cadman in 1939 to protect the refinery and its Iraqi pipeline by filling them with liquid sand. The Germans, whose experience of Bedauxizing some of their factories had been positive, listened. They discussed it with him in the summer and invited him in November 1941 for planning sessions in Berlin with Albert Speer, the minister of armaments and munitions. With technical experts, Bedaux and Speer went over plans to save Abadan for Germany. Bedaux had already worked it out. Grains manufactured from sandstone, rather than harder natural desert sand, could be liquidized and fed into the pipes to absorb the shock of bombardment. He convinced Speer the operation could be accomplished in three days. When the refinery was finally safe from bombing, workers would need only three weeks to remove the sand. Bedaux later justified his collaboration with the Germans over Abadan: ‘My idea was that in introducing in their minds the idea of preserving, I would remove from their minds the idea of destroying.’ The delay made an Abadan attack less likely, because in the meantime Britain had removed the military junta in Iraq and forced the Vichy French out of Syria and Lebanon.
There were reports that Bedaux offered to sabotage Abadan for the Germans by filling the refinery with sand to render it unworkable. Such an operation would have denied Britain the petrol it needed to confront General Erwin Rommel’s Afrikakorps in Italian Libya. No sabotage took place. Bedaux claimed that no one in Berlin would see him about the Abadan project. His invitation had come through German lawyer Alois Westrick, whom Bedaux had known from pre-war soirées at the American Embassy in Berlin. On arrival, Bedaux checked into Berlin’s Hotel Adlon at his own expense. While Westrick kept him waiting, Bedaux saw an engineer from his old German company. The man told him that productivity in the German firms he advised had dropped by a third since the war began, which he attributed to low morale among the workers. Dr Emil Georg von Stauss, the banker in charge of nationalized companies whom Bedaux had met in 1937, invited him to his country house for a weekend. Back in Berlin, the German Production Ministry asked for his recommendations for the Bor copper mines in Yugoslavia. Bedaux said that the German Bedaux company, which the Germans owned, could deal with it. ‘What about French Bedaux?’ an official asked him. Bedaux became evasive, but promised to look into it. Janet Flanner wrote that Bedaux had ‘pepped up’ copper production at Bor for the Nazis, an accusation he denied.
In Berlin, Bedaux took up the cause of his old friend, Count Joseph von Ledebur. After Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, von Ledebur had been sent to the Russian front. Bedaux used what leverage he had with German officialdom to persuade them that Ledebur was more important to the successful running of the French occupation than as one of thousands of captains in the Russian theatre of operations. Bargaining his expertise for Ledebur’s freedom, he appeared to wield some influence. But, as with his other requests to the Nazis, he was advised to wait.
On 21 November, Bedaux entertained the wife and daughter of Dr Franz Medicus to tea at the Adlon. Mrs Medicus, unlike her husband in Paris, was indiscreet enough to criticize the Nazis. She insisted to Bedaux that Germany must not be allowed to win the war. He left Berlin four days later. Back in France, he told Pierre Laval, ‘Many people in Germany who were in the know, now after the first retreat on the Russian front, not only didn’t think Germany would win the war but opposed it because victory meant perpetuation of Nazi rule.’ Laval disagreed, and Bedaux claimed to have answered, ‘You will be sorry.’
Although Bedaux insisted Abadan had not been on the agenda during his three weeks in the German capital, the US government opened a file on its expatriate citizen-entrepreneur. His activities came under the scrutiny of several American government agencies, including the Treasury, State Department and the Office of Naval Intelligence. Federal Bureau of Investigation Director J. Edgar Hoover took a personal interest in Bedaux’s activities.
Florence Jay Gould arrived late for her weekly salon of German and French writers in her suite at the Hôtel Bristol, where many Americans were still living under the nominal protection of the US Embassy. When one of her guests asked what had delayed her, the society beauty declared, ‘The Paris stock market has just crashed. I think it’s a bad sign: America is going to enter the war.’ Outside her circle of German and collaborationist littérateurs, the prospect of American entering the war to defeat the Nazis was not at all unwelcome.
Charles Bedaux had regularly briefed both Counsellor Robert Murphy and First Secretary S. Pinckney Tuck at the American Embassy in Vichy. ‘Kippy’ Tuck’s telegram of 24 September 1941, in which he wrote that Bedaux ‘let it be known that he is cooperating on friendly terms with the Nazis’, was already part of an expanding file. Adding to the dossier was testimony from Charles and Fern’s friends Herman and Katherine Rogers, at whose request he had invited Wallis Simpson and the Duke of Windsor to Candé in 1937. The Rogers were in Portugal in August 1941 to book passage home to the United States. A State Department official met them ‘by chance’ in Lisbon on 15 August, but he waited three months, until 24 November, to send a memorandum to his superiors. (It may not have been until then that he learned of Washington’s interest in Bedaux.) Katherine Rogers denounced Bedaux to the diplomat: ‘Mrs. Rogers stated that she had definite information that Mr. Bedaux was using his talents on behalf of the Germans in acquiring for the account of certain German individuals and for himself large properties in and about Paris, and that he traveled about without apparent restrictions and with all indications that he was persona grata to the German occupying forces.’ This was an unexpected turn in the friendship between the Bedaux and Rogers families. Herman Rogers had crossed British Columbia with Bedaux, Katherine had been a close friend of Fern’s and both couples had been witnesses at the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s wedding. Now, the Rogers were denouncing him to the American government as a Nazi collaborator.
The American official who sent this memorandum recalled meeting Bedaux in 1939 ‘in Rome, Italy, negotiating a contract with the Italian Government and [he] was introduced to attachés of our Embassy by the local representative of the Chase National Bank, Mr. Carlo Ruggieri, who entertained extensively for him’. The official offered ‘to elaborate this memorandum if it is found to be of interest’. Of Bedaux, he added, ‘He is a man of tremendous energy and apparent ability in his field of work.’
Bedaux was unaware of the interest he had aroused in Washington. From Candé on 6 December 1941, he wrote a two-page, single-spaced, typed letter to the American Consul General in Lisbon, Worthington E. Hagerman. Hagerman, while posted to France in 1940, had been the second of many diplomats to take up residence at Candé and had given Bedaux his drawings of the chateau. Bedaux’s letter to him concerned his income tax obligations. The tone was cordial, between two men who appeared to be on good terms. He wrote,
Dear Mr. Hagerman,
On my return from a series of journeys that have kept me away from August 15th to November 30th (Africa, Belgium, Holland and Germany), I find your letter of November 24th. In it I see a deep preoccupation in the minds of you and Mr. [Hugh] Fullerton regarding our fate and your strong desire to see us set rightly [sic].
This preoccupation of both of you is the result of friendship born during the one year when we gave our home of Candé to the United States government for the Embassy. My wife and I are deeply touched by it …
In 1937 the Treasury Department inquired into our tax position regarding income from sources outside of the United States. As our business is centered in Amsterdam, Holland, and as I have always believed and still do that our entire income is the product of our work and therefore earned income I invited the Treasury Dept., Mr. B. Wait, to order an examination of our books in Amsterdam. This was in December, 1937.
This was done. I was very ill in a hospital of Munich at the time, but in spite of the doctors [sic] orders I received the examiner Mr. Francis T. Smith on two occasions and answered his questions to the best of my ability.
Later, charges for back taxes were made by the Treasury Department. I met them by continuing to contend that in our type of work all our income can only be earned.
Bedaux offered to put his case before the ‘highest court in the land’. He wrote that he had ordered his income from most sources to be set aside to pay the tax demand if he lost the case. He mentioned that the Germans had seized his five companies in Amsterdam, the core of his international business. They were being run by a German engineer ‘whose health and faculties do not permit energetic management.’ In France and Belgium, though, his companies were not confiscated. They ‘are doing more business now than they ever did in peace time, this in spite of the defeat of the two countries above named. To this I have added the North African business opened by me during the year. This is a further proof that our income resulting from our work is earned.’ His energies on his recent Berlin trip were directed to replacing the manager in Holland, and he believed that he ‘will succeed fairly soon. It will enable me to meet our American tax obligations in full under the conditions described above.’
The letter noted that Hagerman had been urging Bedaux to return to the United States or risk losing his American citizenship. Bedaux responded that his citizenship could not be taken away for two reasons:
I have not yet been abroad for a full five years, the date being November 1st, 1942.
I am making a protracted stay abroad to serve an interest vital to the United States, namely the payment of income taxes the nature and amount of which have not yet been determined, taxes that cannot be paid unless I secure an alteration of the confiscatory measures that have been taken against me by Germany. Further I intend when the whole situation has been settled permanently to reside in the United States.
If my interpretation of the two above points is not correct I wish the American Government to know that I would rather lose my citizenship to fight for it later on than to place myself in the position where I would be unable, probably for all times, to meet my tax obligations.
He pointed out that his wife’s citizenship ‘cannot be seriously challenged’. Fern, born in the United States, had American ancestors dating back to 1630. He added that his son, Charles Emile, had been born in the United States and could not be deprived of his citizenship. Charles Emile was with him in France, he wrote, working ‘in a remote village of occupied France, la Haye Descartes’. His son did not know until 4 December that the US consuls had left the Occupied Zone. ‘He wishes to return to the United States and asks your advice on how he should proceed.’
Bedaux wrote the letter on Saturday, 6 December 1941. On Sunday the 7th, he and Fern set out on the road to Roquefort. She was going to stay with him at his rented villa in Lencouacq to see his utopian experiment in ‘equivalism’ at work. They stopped for the night in Bordeaux, which, like Candé, was in the Occupied Zone. They went to Les Landes, where Bedaux mailed the letter to Hagerman. On Sunday morning, when Bedaux mailed the letter, the Empire of Japan bombed the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. What President Roosevelt would shortly call the ‘day that will live in infamy’ was about to transform Americans in Paris from protected neutrals into enemies of the Third Reich. Even if Bedaux had obeyed Hagerman’s request to return home to the United States, it was now–as for the rest of the Americans in occupied France–too late.