Enemy Aliens

GERMANY DECLARED WAR ON THE UNITED STATES on 11 December 1941, four days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The Germans ordered all American citizens in the Occupied Zone to register with the nearest German Kommandatur by 6 p.m. on 17 December. As the deadline passed, the Nazis arrested 340 American men under the age of 60. Among them were the American Cathedral’s organist, Lawrence K. Whipp, and Dr Morris Sanders of the American Hospital. Dr Sumner Jackson, although liable to internment at age 56, ‘was permitted to remain at liberty’. Ninety-five of the internees were Jewish, whose American citizenship was respected by the Germans. The men were installed at Besançon in crude wooden shacks without heat or plumbing. Like the British internees in 1940, they were soon moved to better quarters at Frontstalag 122 near Compiègne. Compiègne, where Germany and France had signed the Armistices of 1918 and 1940, lay in a forest 50 miles north of Paris. Frontstalag 122, also called the Royallieu Camp, had been the barracks of a Moroccan Spahi regiment. It had heat, running water and kitchens. The Germans divided the camp into sections for enemy aliens, political prisoners, Africans, gypsies, Freemasons and European Jews.

The first American to be released was Gething C. Miller, a friend of René de Chambrun and the lawyer who had represented the defendants in the Teapot Dome oil scandal of the 1920s. ‘He came to tell me all the requirements of his compatriots who needed practically everything, ’ René recalled. ‘Josée visited the managers of two or three Paris Department Stores and was able to buy a great amount of supplies which had been concealed from the French public and the Germans and these we had delivered to the camp in Compiègne through the Red Cross.’

The Germans held the Americans while they determined how Washington treated Axis citizens in the United States. Charles Bedaux was not interned, but the Germans put him and Fern under house arrest at the Château de Candé. They cancelled his ‘equivalism’ experiment at Roquefort, and they seized his company files and other assets in France and the Netherlands. His friends in the German administration, Dr Franz Medicus and Ambassador Otto Abetz, were powerless to protect him. One week after the Nazis interned the 340 Americans, they deported the last American journalists in Paris, Edward Haffell of the New York Herald Tribune, Louis Harl of the International News Service and Philip Whitcomb of the Associated Press, to southern Germany. There, the reporters were interned with other American correspondents to await repatriation to the United States. The Germans did not disturb the rest of the Americans in Paris.

A distinguished, 70-year-old English gentleman walked into Shakespeare and Company on 17 December, ten days after Pearl Harbor and the final day for Americans to register at the Kommandatur. Sylvia Beach had known him since 1920 and had sold his books and magazines. The sudden appearance of Edward Gordon Craig, who had been an actor and director before he became a writer, could not have been more welcome. Sylvia had last seen him before his internment with his wife, their child and the rest of the British community in June 1940. Her persistence with the Gestapo brought his release, as the Gestapo officer had promised her, before Christmas. Craig was grateful and gave her a copy of Enid Rose’s Gordon Craig and the Theatre: A Record and an Interpretation that he signed ‘to Sylvia from E.G.C. December 17th, 1941’. The German who kept his promise to release the Craigs sent them coal for the fireplace in their hotel room, as well as winter clothing and a Christmas tree. Not all Germans were as obliging.

‘My German customers were always rare, but of course after I was classified as “the enemy,” they stopped coming altogether–until a last outstanding visit ended the series,’ Sylvia wrote in her memoir. ‘A high-ranking German officer, who had got out of a huge grey military car, stopped to look at a copy of Finnegans Wake that was in the window.’ The officer came into the shop and said to Sylvia in fluent English, ‘I want that copy of Finnegans Wake you’ve got in the window.’ She recalled the encounter in an interview: ‘“Well,” I said, “that’s the only copy left in Paris, and you can’t have it … You don’t understand that anyhow. You don’t know Joyce.” And he said, “But we admire James Joyce very much in Germany.” He was very angry, and he went out and got into his great car, his great military car, surrounded with other fellows in helmets and drove away.’

At Christmas, Sylvia was unable to communicate with her family in the United States. For friends in Paris, she made a list of Christmas presents: chocolates, which rationing had turned into luxuries, for Adrienne and her assistant, an aspiring young writer named Maurice Saillet, as well as to Adrienne’s mother and Paul Valéry’s wife, Jeannie Gobillard. Françoise Bernheim, the 29-year-old Jewish volunteer at Shakespeare and Company, received from Sylvia a bound copy of Ulysses. Then, just after Christmas, the Wehrmacht officer who had demanded Sylvia’s only copy ofFinnegans Wake returned.

He came back again in about ten days, and he said, ‘Your copy of Finnegans Wake is gone from the window. What did you do with it?’ I said, ‘I’ve put it away. It’s for me.’ He was so furious. He said, ‘Well, you know, we’re coming this afternoon to confiscate all your goods.’ I said, ‘Very well. Do so.’ And he said, ‘Now, will you sell Finnegans Wake?’ And I said, ‘Not at all. Come along.’ So, he disappeared in a rage, booming down the street. The only people who had cars in Paris were the Germans. I immediately had everything removed from my shop. In about two hours, there wasn’t a book left in it, not only Finnegans Wake but everything else disappeared. And the concierge [Mme Allier] told me to put everything in an empty apartment in that house. So, we piled up the stairs with all these things in clothes baskets. All my friends came rushing to the rescue, all my French friends, the ones who were left. And we hid everything upstairs.

When the Germans came that afternoon, I peered out the windows. They were all shuttered up. I had the name Shakespeare and Company painted off the front by the house painters, who lived in the house. And the carpenters took down the shelves even. Everything was removed. And the shutters were up. The Germans must have come and saw nothing, nothing left at all. And I retired upstairs.

The entire contents of Shakespeare and Company were stored on the fourth floor, where no one could find them. Sylvia hid the rarest documents, including James Joyce’s original manuscripts, at Adrienne’s. Adrienne wrote in ‘A Letter to Friends in the Free Zone’, published in February 1942, ‘You ask me how Sylvia Beach is doing. She is still in Paris, which she never left. She had to shut her bookshop a few days ago. Now that she has leisure she is going to start her memoirs.’

Shakespeare and Company had been Sylvia’s life for twenty-two years. The occupation had now taken it away, as it had contact with her family and her friends outside France. ‘After escaping from what I feared more than emprisonment [sic]: the confiscation of the Shakespeare and Company library … I settled down in the little rooms above my former bookshop to wait for whatever might happen.’

In 1941, the American Library and the American Hospital celebrated their first Christmas without the protection granted to neutrals in German-ruled Grossparis. The library’s staff together with wives, children, aunts and cousins exchanged presents in the rue de Téhèran beside a modest Christmas tree. Boris Netchaeff, the flamboyant White Russian who had worked at the library for almost twenty years, boiled up hot rum punch and mulled wine. The fireplace smouldered with the aroma of roasted chestnuts. A basket of oranges appeared, somehow smuggled up from the Vichy zone. General de Chambrun and some of the hospital’s personnel came along to help the library’s smaller staff enjoy the occasion. Netchaeff obliged Aldebert by telling him fabulous tales of the Russian czars and their courts. Clara thought the party ‘succeeded in stirring up enough gaiety to forget our pains, troubles and anxieties for a brief while’.

One of their anxieties was whether the library, which had grown out of the collection of books donated to the doughboys of the American Expeditionary Force in France in 1917 and 1918, would survive at all. The American Library of Paris held the largest collection of English books on the European continent, and it promoted democracy through American literature. As soon as the United States and Germany were at war, the Rockefeller Foundation in New York withdrew its funding to the library ‘under prevailing conditions’. When Edward A. Sumner read the Rockefeller decision, he wrote to its board that ‘the Library is being operated by its First Vice President of American birth and, we are confident, without interference from either the German or French authorities … I personally would rather recognize and confirm this action than have the Library closed or its book collection expropriated or seized.’ He asked the foundation to ‘keep an open mind on the efforts we are making to keep the Library operating as an independent American institution’. The Carnegie Endowment cancelled its subsidy as well, fearing the library ‘might become a tool of the German Occupation Forces or of the collaboration’. Communication with Clara in Paris had become almost impossible since the United States declared war on Germany, but Sumner and the board trusted her to keep it open and to protect its valuable collection. Clara was assisted in her task by the French Information Centre’s grant of 600,000 French francs to tide the library over the following three years.

The Christmas celebrations at the American Hospital in Neuilly were far more elaborate than those at the library. Clara recorded a repast unknown to most Parisians, who were losing weight on the starvation diet caused by rationing:

The hospital feast took the chef and his satellites months to prepare. Under the Germans’ very noses, clandestine pigs were raised and fattened, and the menu always included ham, bacon and sausage. The songs ran the musical gamut from ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ to ‘My Country, ’Tis of Thee.’ The entire staff, who were present, included French, Swiss, Danes, Swedes, and Russians, but on that particular evening all were typical Americans.

Clara recalled that ‘we encouraged one another by saying “this time it really is the last; next Christmas we shall be free”’. The hospital auctioned the chef’s hand-written Christmas menus to benefit wounded British and French soldiers, whom the hospital cared for under agreements with their two governments. Vichy paid the hospital directly for French servicemen, and the British Embassy in Spain reimbursed the hospital via American banks. The Germans approved the arrangement, one instance in which enemies cooperated while their armies savaged each other on the battlefield. The hospital usually cared for about one hundred French and thirty to forty British casualties at a time. When the soldiers’ wounds healed, most of them could look forward only to German prison camps, Oflags for the officers and Stalags for the men. A fortunate minority disappeared via the underground railway to Britain, sent secretly in civilian clothes by Dr Jackson. He accomplished this ‘under the Germans’ very noses’, as well as the nose of General de Chambrun.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!