IN MID-JANUARY, THE GERMANS relaxed the requirement for the Americans in Occupied France to report weekly to the German military. Instead, they could go to the local French police. The American Legation in Switzerland notified the State Department in February that, while a few hundred American men were being held in camps, ‘no women yet interned, men over sixty and needing medical care liberated and Americans form separate group from other foreigners’. The Swiss Consulate, representing American interests in Paris, relayed a message from the German authorities to the American Legation in Berne that the internments ‘should be considered exclusively as a provisional measure and that each case will be examined separately’.
‘The German authorities eased restrictions on 340 American hostages held at Compiègne,’ United Press reported from Vichy on 29 January 1942, ‘and indicated some physicians needed in American hospitals in Paris may be released if the hostage quota is maintained by internment of other Americans in their places, it was learned today.’ The dispatch added that the Germans, who allowed the men to keep radios and receive family visits, had improved conditions ‘to insure good treatment of German nationals in the United States’.
Mme Edmond Gillet, director of social services for the French Red Cross, was the first official to send a full report on Frontstalag 122 to the American Embassy in Vichy. On 27 January, she wrote to diplomat S. Pinckney Tuck, requesting that he ‘consider this information confidential, in other words to use it only in so far as concerns the assistance to be given to the Americans’. Frontstalag 122 was not one camp, but several. Mme Gillet listed Sector A for 1,200 French communists and other political internees, 300 Russians and sixty Yugoslavs. The Americans were in Sector B with other civilians whose countries were at war with Germany. Sector C was for 1,200 Jews, who had been ‘arrested in Paris [and] were interned in the camp as a measure of retaliation. They are subject to particularly harsh treatment.’ She added, ‘They are not allowed to receive packages, letters or visits. But, among the interned Americans are a few Jews who are allowed to benefit from the treatment granted to Americans. This creates a very delicate situation.’
The Germans, who directed the camp from the Militärbefehlshaber in Frankreich (Military Governor in France) Headquarters at the Hôtel Majestic in Paris, informed Mme Gillet that the Americans were given ‘preferential treatment’. They, unlike the other prisoners, were allowed to receive two family visits, two letters and three postcards each month and parcels of food from the Red Cross. ‘At the same time,’ she wrote, ‘the French Red Cross, in cooperation with the American Hospital and the American Library, made a shipment of books, armchairs, tables, chairs and various other articles for the creation of a Camp Recreation Center.’ Clara Longworth de Chambrun opened a branch of the American Library in the camp, and one of the prisoners was made camp librarian. The French Red Cross was assiduous in providing care to the Americans, shipping them ‘three tons of sanitary products and foodstuffs’ in the first week.
Vichy was not at war with the United States, and the two governments retained diplomatic relations. No Americans were interned in the Unoccupied Zone. French police in Paris did not assist the Germans, as they had with the Jews, in incarcerating American citizens. The Vichy authorities extended the licences of the three American banks still doing business in France, Chase Bank, J. P. Morgan and Guaranty Trust. The Germans allowed them to keep branches staffed by French employees in Paris. Chase had already appointed Carlos Niedermann, who was Swiss, to replace its American manager in Paris in February 1941. In 1942, its Parisian deposits, including those of German nationals, increased despite the war between Germany and the United States. Meanwhile, the American Club, American Express and the American private schools in Paris closed. ‘Institutions such as the American Hospital and the American Library,’ the New York Times reported from Vichy on 29 January, ‘operated by foundations and open to the French as well as Americans, have not been confiscated, although the Germans hesitated a long time before abandoning claims to the hospital, which is one of the most modern and best equipped in Europe.’ The American Chamber of Commerce stayed open to protect American businesses under the direction of acting secretary George Verité.
Mme Gillet of the French Red Cross contacted General de Chambrun at the American Hospital, and he donated medical supplies to Frontstalag 122. The hospital had no linen or blankets to spare, but it sent medical teams to the camp. Some internees were brought to Neuilly for treatment. Otto Gresser recalled, ‘These patients were not at all eager to get well very fast. As soon as they were cured, we had to promise the Germans that they had to return to the civilian camps until the war was over.’ Jackson and Gresser put some of the internees on a prolonged ‘unwell’ list in a ward for the elderly. This kept beds full and internees out of the detention camps. Many of the 340 men interned in January were released within a few weeks. Dr Morris Sanders was not released until the end of April, when he was allowed to resume work at the American Hospital.
Apart from auditing the American Hospital’s annual accounts, there was ‘no other interference by the German authorities’. This left Otto Gresser free to scavenge necessary but contraband supplies and allowed Sumner Jackson to hide the British, and later American, flyers whose planes had been downed in France. The escape network was becoming more sophisticated, as the Resistance developed skills in forging papers, keeping safe houses, crossing the Line of Demarcation and deceiving the Germans. Routes that took Allied soldiers to safety also served to deliver photographs of German military installations and other intelligence to London. The Germans penetrated some of the networks and arrested their members. By the spring of 1942, they had not captured any Allied soldiers, whether escaped prisoners or downed airmen, on routes that began in the American Hospital of Paris. When the men reached England, they told their commanders about a patriot named Sumner Waldron Jackson.
With fewer Americans in Paris and most French prisoners of war in Germany, Aldebert de Chambrun sought new ways to fill the hospital with non-German patients. A proposal came in January 1942 from Dr Alexis Carrel, a Nobel Prize-winning French physician who had conducted research in America in 1906 at the then-new Rockefeller Institute. Carrel was a friend and mentor of Charles Lindbergh, who had moved to Paris for a time after the kidnapping and murder of his baby son in New Jersey in 1932. The two men had designed a blood profusion pump that allowed human organs to survive outside the body, an early aid to organ transplants. Time magazine had pictured the two with their pump on its cover of 13 June 1938. Carrel’s medical talent was undisputed, but his views on race and eugenics mirrored the Nazis’. His L’Homme, cet inconnu (Man, This Unknown) in 1935 recommended that the criminally insane and other undesirables ‘should be humanely and economically disposed of in small euthanistic institutions supplied with gases’. Carrel had no objections to Nazi euthanasia of ‘defectives’, but attacking France was another matter. From the beginning of the war in 1939 to the fall of France, Dr Carrel took an active part in the struggle against Germany, directing the French army’s Commission for Oxygen Therapy. He warned Lindbergh, who fronted the largest anti-war movement in the United States, American First, ‘It’s the Nazis who are destroying western civilization. It’s the Nazis!’
Dr Carrel requested the use of a laboratory in the American Hospital for his French Institute for the Study of Human Problems to research workplace injuries and establish standard first aid treatments. Its goal of sending injured men back to work quickly and efficiently would have appealed to Charles Bedaux. De Chambrun accepted Carrel’s proposal and approached the French state railway company, Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer, to send its workers to the American Hospital. In March, the hospital designated forty beds for SNCF labourers suffering industrial accidents or wounded in trains bombed by the Allies or sabotaged by the Resistance. ‘From this time on our 250 beds were nearly always occupied,’ de Chambrun wrote. Occupied beds meant no space for German troops and independence for the hospital. Dr Jackson cared for many of the cheminots, railway-men, who were among the first groups of workers to organize resistance to the occupation.
Along with the other Americans in Paris, Sylvia Beach reported each week to her local police station. ‘There were so few Americans [in the 6th Arrondissement] that our names were in a sort of scrapbook that was always getting mislaid,’ she wrote. ‘I used to find it for the Commissaire. Opposite my name and antecedents was the notation: “has no horse”. I could never find out why.’ From then on, ‘the Gestapo kept track of me, and they’d come to see me all the time’.
In January 1942, freezing weather proved more of a problem than the time-consuming search for food. Adrienne wrote, ‘Hardest to put up with, we are all of the same opinion, is the cold. In the bookshop, where I have had a wood stove installed, it is livable, but my apartment, like those of most people, is glacial; I can neither read nor write.’ Sylvia, in her solitary flat above the now-empty bookshop, was finding winter equally bleak: ‘I shared the strange occupied life of my French friends, without heat and food dwindling. Electricity was limited, we gave up any ration of coal for a little gas an hour at noon, finally none at all as we combined rations with whoever cooked a meal at noon. I took my lunch at Adrienne’s. I had a quarter of a litre of milk a day as I didn’t eat meat, and extra macaroni.’ Women were not given rations for tobacco, as men were, and there was no longer any chocolate, sugar or coffee for anyone–except on the black market. Contraband coffee cost $8 a pound, eggs $2 a dozen, chickens $5 each and cigarettes about $2 a pack–almost ten times their pre-war prices. ‘An average bottle of wine, which before the war cost 8 or 10 cents, now costs 60 cents,’ reported the New York Times in April 1942. When Adrienne realized one day that she had no cooking fat left, Sylvia watched her burst into tears.
Sylvia, Adrienne and the other women of Paris coped with privation and German decrees, but they did not give up everything. ‘Even the electricity restrictions did not prevent women from going to the hairdresser, ’ wrote Ninetta Jucker, an Englishwoman who remained in Paris throughout the occupation and had many American friends, ‘though we often had to come away with damp heads.’ Night was the worst time. Mrs Jucker recalled, ‘After eight o’clock the centre of the city was almost deserted, and though many people risked boarding the last train for the pleasure of a few hours’ “escape” at the theatre or cinema–never have places of entertainment been so full as they were during the Occupation–as soon as the little crowd dispersed from the entrance to the metro, the city recovered its deathly silence, broken only by the occasional tramp of nailed boots.’ She and many other Parisians lived in dread of la botte allemande, the German boot:
No one who has not lived in German-occupied territory can fully realize all that was conveyed by the sound of those five pairs of booted and perfectly synchronized feet: La patrouille allemande [the German patrol]. Ein, zwei, drei. Halt! They never moved but to command. Even the sentries gave each other an almost imperceptible whistle in order to be sure of synchronizing as they marched back and forth from their boxes. There were other night sounds peculiar to the Occupation. Rifle shots; the sudden pepper of a machine-gun–or could it be the firing squad?–the rush past of a powerful car (someone being swept away by the Gestapo perhaps).
After two months of house arrest, which in the opulent Château de Candé’s 1,200 hectares would not have been intolerable, Charles and Fern Bedaux were told they could travel again. They immediately requested permission to return to the United States. France must have seemed less attractive than before, now that their country was at war with Germany and their influence with German and Vichy officials had proved inadequate to prevent their detention. The Germans denied the request, given Charles’s knowledge of their military and industrial production. Moreover, Nazi officials suspected Fern’s adherence to the Christian Science Church, which they rightly accused of involvement with British military intelligence. A condition of their release was that one of them must remain in France at all times, effectively as hostage for the return of the other. Bedaux immediately took advantage of his liberty to lobby for restoration of the property and files that the Germans had seized from him as an enemy alien after Pearl Harbor. At just the right moment, an ally emerged within the German administration.
In February 1942, Rittmeister Joseph von Ledebur, Bedaux’s friend and former employee, returned to Paris. It seemed that Bedaux’s appeals had succeeded in saving Ledebur from further combat in the Soviet Union. The timing of his deployment to France, as well as his appointment as a custodian of enemy property, could not have worked more to Bedaux’s advantage. Colluding with Bedaux’s other close friend in the German administration, Dr Franz Medicus, Ledebur arranged for German officers to accompany Bedaux to Holland to reclaim the International Bedaux Company’s files on more than two hundred of the most important industrial concerns in German-occupied Europe. Charles returned to Paris with all his dossiers and with his Amsterdam office manager, Alexandra Ter Hart. The former Miss Lebowski feared denunciation in Holland as a Jew. Bedaux gave her a false Aryan identity to work for him in Paris, where no one knew her or her family history.
As an American citizen, Bedaux was no longer permitted to run a company in any of the lands of the Third Reich. His brother Gaston, with his French citizenship, could. He wrote later that Charles was not permitted to sign contracts with belligerent powers: ‘I was therefore authorized by the Minister of Public Works to administer my brother’s company.’ Charles made Gaston promise to return the company to him at the end of the war and, if anything happened to Charles, to provide for Fern.
Gaston was not surprised that Charles’s first concern was his wife’s welfare. He recalled a conversation with his brother, when ‘Charles told me one day, at the beginning of the war, that if he were separated by events from Fern or if his wife disappeared he would have no reason to live.’ With no company responsibilities, Charles was free to pursue a scheme that had been germinating in his imagination for more than a year. ‘In 1941,’ Gaston wrote, ‘he adopted the idea of the pipeline.’ The ‘pipeline’ was to be a bridge between the French territories in black Africa and those in the Arab north. Its functions were to carry water from the fertile areas of Algeria into the desert and to funnel food oil in the opposite direction from the Niger Valley over the inhospitable Sahara to the Mediterranean. Dual-use efficiency appealed to his engineer’s instincts. The Trans-Sahara Railway, on which he had already been working, would run beside the pipeline. The railway and pipeline companies, both to be owned by the French state, would share the costs. Bedaux would assume an interest in the peanut oil refineries he planned to construct on the River Niger. The refineries would have a ready market in a Europe starved of edible oils. Gaston commented, ‘This idea crystallized one day in his soul, and he became obsessed with it.’ The Trans-Sahara Pipeline was undoubtedly Charles Bedaux’s most ambitious undertaking, which, if realized, would make him the French Cecil Rhodes.
Gaston was involved from the beginning, as he wrote,
One day, my brother declared firmly, ‘It’s necessary to put flowing water in the Sahara,’ and he exposed me, slowly, patiently, as was his habit, to the solution he envisaged, and for which common mortals tended to take him for a fool. Not only, he explained to me, was it necessary to create this aqueduct to bring the water needed on the future Trans-Saharan [Railway], but also that this pipe must permit simultaneously the provision of oil in Africa and France, given that the Niger basin must furnish the necessary peanuts, that we must establish at the beginning of the operation the refineries and that the oil and the water perfectly use the same channel.
Fearing his brother’s dream may not have corresponded to reality, Gaston invited ‘the most qualified’ engineer in France, Monsieur Rouelle, to speak with Charles. Rouelle, Gaston’s colleague at the Department of Highways and Dams in Beauvais, listened to the elder Bedaux expound his proposal. Charles, an accomplished salesman more than anything else, specified the pipeline’s measurements, distances between pumping stations and materials that could withstand the desert heat. Rouelle left to study the project in detail. Gaston wrote, ‘My friend returned to see me fifteen days later. “It’s fantastic,” he told me, smiling, “but you know your brother is no fool at all. I’ve done the calculations. And I find them as sensible as he does. He’s right. It’s possible. All that remains is to set the means for its realization.” ’
Bedaux faced two immediate challenges. The first was to persuade Vichy and the Germans to commit money, material, labour and the permits necessary for regular travel between France and French Africa. The second was to organize an accurate survey of the pipeline’s route. The reconnaissance mission was the kind of adventure across deserts and through jungles that Bedaux relished, but this would be his first without Fern. To guarantee he would not escape, she had to remain at Candé. An old friend from past transcontinental treks, however, would be welcome. Charles sent an invitation to the Austrian whom he had said was more like a son to him than his son, Friedrich von Ledebur. Ledebur had organized his previous African expeditions, taking care of the rifles and managing the many native porters. Needing him again, Bedaux wrote to Ledebur on 23 March. The letter was enclosed in an envelope, postmarked Lisbon, to his New York secretary, Mrs Isabella Waite. He wrote,
My dear Frederic,
It is time that you should return and work by my side. If you need it, get the necessary money from Mrs. Waite. Come any way you can, but come alone. With some good luck your brother Joseph will be working with me in a few weeks. I want you to return while there is still time for the peace of your Soul.
Working with me for a just cause I can promise you that you will have nothing to fear from anyone. You have our deepest affection.
Mrs. Waite. See to it that he does come back.
C. E. B.
Frederic, as Friedrich called himself in the United States, was living with wealthy friends in southern California. He and the actress Iris Tree had recently divorced. A ranch outside Burlingame, near San Francisco, occasionally employed him to care for its horses. He spent part of each year in New York, sleeping in reduced rate servants’ quarters at the Gladstone Hotel on East 52nd Street. If the offer of another adventure with Charles Bedaux tempted the penniless aristocrat, he managed to resist. Bedaux’s allusion to his brother Joseph, with whom he had had a falling out in 1939 over Joseph’s dedication to the Nazis, may have deterred him. The FBI read the letter before Frederic did, and its forensics laboratory determined it had been ‘written on a typewriter with Continental Pica Type … of German manufacture’. Frederic did not write back.
America’s entry into the war made no immediate impression on the French. American soldiers were not invading France, and no American planes were bombing the Germans. Having lost much of its fleet at Pearl Harbor and training an inexperienced army to fight in both the Asian and European theatres of the global war, the United States needed time. In early February 1942, the Royal Air Force dropped three million leaflets over occupied France stamped with three Victory Vs, one each in red, white and blue. The pamphlets quoted Franklin Roosevelt’s goals for America’s first year of war: to produce 185,000 planes, 120,000 tanks and eighteen million tons of shipping, quantities of arms unprecedented in the history of warfare. Roosevelt’s words were designed to encourage all peoples under Axis occupation: ‘Our overwhelming superiority in armament must be adequate to put weapons of war into the hands of those men in the conquered nations who stand ready to seize the first opportunity to revolt against their German and Japanese oppressors and against the traitors in their own ranks, known by the already famous name of Quislings. As we get guns to the patriots in those lands, they too will fire shots “heard round the world”.’ Roosevelt was promising to help the partisans in German-occupied Europe to liberate themselves. Slowly and cautiously, the French were listening. But convincing the majority that resistance was not hopeless called for more than American leaflets dropped from British planes. The French had to know that, as in 1917, the Yanks really were coming.
The RAF opened its air offensive against occupied Paris on the night of 3 March 1942, when 200 bombers demolished factories in the suburbs. Bombs weighing 2,000 pounds hit the plants, some of which supplied the Nazis with weaponry, and killed 400 people. Maréchal Pétain called the bombardment ‘a national catastrophe’. When Vichy Ambassador Gaston Henry-Haye protested to Washington, Under-Secretary of State Sumner Welles called it ‘an entirely legitimate bombing’. Despite Allied attacks on French soil, Washington and Vichy preserved their diplomatic relations.Life magazine offered a succinct explanation: ‘The U.S. is polite because Vichy owns some very strategic colonies and a vital fleet. Vichy is polite because the U.S. may win the war and Vichy may lose the rest of her empire.’ Vichy politesse extended to American citizens in the Unoccupied Zone, who were still not interned like some of their compatriots in Paris.