SUMNER JACKSON HAD A PREMONITION that the Germans would take him in. On a weekend break at Enghien in early September 1942, he told his son, Phillip, that he expected the ‘Boches’ to lock up Americans like himself to trade for Germans detained in the United States. A few weeks later, Brazil, which had declared war on the Axis after the United States did, interned German citizens within its borders. The German authorities in Paris responded on Thursday morning, 24 September, by rounding up 1,400 American citizens.
Dr Jackson’s bags were packed when the Germans swept through Paris that Thursday morning. Luckily, no escaped prisoners or British airmen were in sight at the American Hospital when the German troops arrived. Dr Jackson was examining a patient, but the soldiers ordered him to come with them immediately. Hospital staff, seeing the Germans leading their beloved ‘Dr Jack’ out of the hospital, mobbed him with presents. ‘Before leaving,’ Jackson later told Clemence Bock, his friend and former French tutor, ‘I was given food packages, a few good bottles, and I stuffed it all in my pockets. I really didn’t know what to do with it all.’ He was driven to a police station, where, ‘I ran into friends. We all had tags hung around our necks. They made me sign my name, and then we were shipped to the Gare du Nord, where I had the good fortune to come across a worker who had been one of my patients.’ The worker would have been one of the SNCF employees on Dr Carrel’s research and treatment programme. ‘He was good enough to tell Toquette where I was.’ The internees’ next stop was the camp for British men at Saint-Denis, on the northern outskirts of Paris. It was lunchtime, ‘and the English were getting aid packages from the King and Queen. So we had an hour and a half lunch that was better than we had at the hospital and at home. I also bought a pair of suspenders, the kind I never found in the Paris shops. And a reamer to clean out my pipe.’ The men were taken by train to Compiègne. Clemence Bock recorded Jackson’s words: ‘That evening we were at Compiègne, the food was far inferior to the Saint Denis camp, but friends surrounded me and they gave me a small room with a small rug. Nearby was a camp where Jews were held.’
Some of the other internees were sons of American doughboys, Teddies, who had abandoned their mothers when they went home in 1918. Although legally American, many spoke no English and few had visited the United States. Some chose American citizenship over French solely to avoid French military conscription. They had little in common with the American-born captives, and there was occasional hostility between the two groups.
Sumner met Americans he knew. Some had been his patients at the hospital. One was the architect who designed the American Hospital’s Memorial Building, Charles Knight. Another was the organist of the American Cathedral, Lawrence K. Whipp. Whipp had been in the camp, where he gave occasional organ concerts, since the first round-up in January. In another barracks were Charles Bedaux and his son, Charles Emile.
While Dr Jackson had been ready with his baggage for internment, the 5 a.m. knock on the door of his Ritz Hotel suite came as a shock to Charles Bedaux. Bedaux, who usually slept with the aid of sleeping pills, opened his door to Gestapo officers who informed him he was under arrest. He produced documents, including a cadre de mission issued by Pierre Laval on 25 August, to show that he was directing a German-approved project in French Africa. They left him and Fern to sleep. Less than an hour later, more Germans arrived with an order to take Mrs Bedaux. Again, Charles brought out the papers to prove that he was in favour with high-ranking German officials. Again, the Gestapo withdrew.
Instead of going back to sleep, Bedaux drove across the Seine to the Hôtel Lutetia to confer with friendly Wehrmacht officers. They knew of no order for his arrest, but they promised to make inquiries. Bedaux returned to the Ritz to await word. Later, the officers arrived to tell him that, because all Americans were being interned, they could not help him. The Gestapo took Bedaux and his son to a German police station near the avenue Foch and locked them into the lavatory along with fifteen other American men. The degradation of confinement in a police lavatory worried Bedaux less than what might be happening to Fern. The Germans had taken her as well, and he did not know where she was. He waited with his son and countrymen all day in the lavatory, until at nightfall a bus transported them to the camp for British internees at Saint-Denis. The French driver of the bus, Charles Junior recalled, thoughtfully drove a long route via Paris’s more beautiful monuments. The driver told young Bedaux he wanted them to have a last look at the city.
The next day, the Americans at Saint-Denis were put on a train to Compiègne, where Charles and his son were strip-searched and given a medical examination. Bedaux father and son settled into Barracks 13, either for the duration of hostilities or until Charles’s influence produced their release. In the evenings, Charles Junior played Monopoly with other internees on a board he made. Charles Senior made up his mind to help obtain the release of other prisoners, mainly those in poor health or who were young. Among the names on a list he compiled, he told Charles Emile, was Dr Sumner Jackson. Bedaux liked Jackson, whose medical unit had ministered to the Americans at the Château de Candé in 1940.
On 28 September, the French Foreign Ministry in Vichy confirmed to the American Embassy that the Americans had been seized. The embassy cabled the Secretary of State the same day: ‘On the grounds of reprisals for alleged arrests of Germans in the United States on September 24, about one thousand Americans (men) and four hundred American women were arrested in Paris … The men arrested were sent to St. Denis. They will be eventually sent to Compiègne where other Americans are now interned. Americans over 65 years of age and children under sixteen have not been taken.’ The embassy said it had previously sent ‘circular letters urging the Americans to go home’. Some had ignored the letters, while family, professional or personal commitments made it impossible for the others to leave.
Frontstalag 122’s Section B, an American internment camp since the previous January, had improved with regular Red Cross visits and the efforts of long-term inmates to make it habitable. Donald Lowrie of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), which shared with the Red Cross the privilege of access to camps during the war, visited Frontstalag 122 in October, shortly after the latest influx of internees. His inspection report stated,
The new arrivals have been well received and rapidly accustomed themselves to the camp. There are among them several talented artists who are improving the evening entertainments and the concerts. With regard to the food there is nothing to be desired. They [the internees] even use the word ‘perfect’ when discussing this matter. As for the heating there are enough stoves and the supply of coal is the envy of the local Parisians. All the foregoing obviously has an influence on the general morale, but that also is very good. We have never found in a camp such a pleasant atmosphere.
Two other YMCA officials, Auguste Senaud and Hemming Andermo, heard from the internees’ representatives ‘that there was a fine spirit in the camp, that the new arrivals had quickly adapted themselves to the conditions, and that there was no lack of food’. Their report continued,
The kitchen was ‘excellent.’ They received sufficient Red Cross parcels and were able to devide [sic] them up amongst themselves regularly. In the Canteen fruit and vegetables are available. The German authorities of the camp had now permitted to serve warm drinks to the relatives of the interned men on visiting days. This was received with great satisfaction as the camp is 3 km distant from the railway station, and in bad weather the visitors need something to restore them after the long walk.
One of the earliest visitors was Gaston Bedaux, who obtained the permission of the Feldkommandatur in Beauvais to visit the camp during Charles’s first week there. He brought bedclothes and what he called some ‘pitiful food’ for his two relatives. He recalled,
The visit was passionate. They would not let us be alone, a guard was present. We met in one of the barracks of the famous camp, which comprised a patrol-way and observation towers with armed sentries and guard dogs with restless characters.
Charles was as cool and cheerful as usual despite the bizarre uniform in which he had been ridiculously dressed, and he had the audacity in front of everyone to criticize the organization of the camp and to give very wise advice in the calmest tone and the most persuasive way to the chief guard who was watching him, emphasizing that the terrible hygiene of the camp was repugnant to men from the New World.
Charles had two ideas in his mind: to free his wife whose situation he did not exactly know and to attend to the common conditions [in the camp].
Gaston attempted to assure his brother that the Germans would not treat Americans harshly, while about two million Germans in the United States might suffer as a result. ‘My brother,’ Gaston wrote, ‘spoke to me of his future African expedition, which worried me even more. I tried, by teasing him, to make him abandon the project that really seemed to me impossible under the circumstances.’ He enumerated the obstacles: obtaining permits to travel, overcoming the red tape and acquiring equipment and materials to build a pipeline across the Sahara. But Charles was adamant that he would succeed. He already had Laval’s cadre de mission authorizing him to ‘undertake a study of the means for the improvement of the manufacture of oil in French West Africa and the transport of oil to Metropolitan France’. Dr Franz Medicus was hopeful that the Wehrmacht would provide steel and construction equipment. Gaston counselled his older brother, ‘You are comfortably lodged at Compiègne. You have soldiers to guard you, dogs that do the rounds for you all night, no one dreams of robbing you, and I who have kept your accounts for a long time notice that this is the first time you’ve made some economies.’ Charles laughed. Gaston, knowing his brother would return to the pipeline as soon as he was released, feared no good would come of it.
The camp commander permitted Dr Sumner Jackson to offer medical care to African colonial troops of the French army in an adjoining camp. The Germans’ treatment of the black, mostly French West African, soldiers disgusted him. He witnessed guards beating an African soldier and forcing him to drink urine from a chamber pot used by the whole barracks. Jackson was not allowed into Sector C, the Jewish camp, where he correctly surmised conditions were worse.
‘The Boches continued to annoy me with their paperwork,’ Jackson told Clemence Bock. ‘I had to sign and re-sign their papers. I’ve never written my name so often.’ The Germans never asked him whether he had helped British or French soldiers to escape to England, apparently suspecting nothing about his work for the Allies. Negotiations for the release or repatriation of some of the Americans were taking place in Paris and Vichy, while the internees awaited news of their fate. On Jackson’s behalf, General Aldebert de Chambrun lobbied powerful friends in the French administration. Jackson lingered in the camp for a week, until General de Chambrun ‘came to get me in a Red Cross car with a chauffeur. He handed me copies of press clippings. We were famous!’
‘Several Americans Released in France’, ran the headline in the New York Times on 3 October, ‘Dr. Jackson of Hospital at Neuilly Is Among Those Freed.’ Fame was unwelcome to Sumner Jackson. He had every reason to avoid drawing attention to the hospital, while Allied soldiers waited there to rejoin their units in England.
With Dr Jackson’s release, General Karl Oberg unknowingly forfeited a key operative in one of the largest escape networks in occupied Paris. It would not have been difficult to put Dr Jackson under surveillance. He lived in a street with bureaus of both the Nazi Party’s Sicherheitsdienst (SD) at 19 avenue Foch and the Gestapo at Number 43. The American Hospital where Jackson worked was directly opposite the Germans’ Neuilly Kommandatur. In failing to notice the physician’s importance, the ‘Butcher of Paris’ missed an opportunity to shut down an important Allied escape route. But Jackson, rather than count himself lucky and avoid suspicion, looked for means to do more, not less, to resist. He sent ambulances to bring seriously ill Jews from the transit camps to the American Hospital. Tragically, when the patients recovered, the Germans sent them to their deaths.
Sumner and Toquette joined one of the many Resistance groups under the umbrella of Charles de Gaulle’s Free French in London. Through trusted friends, they had contacted the Goélette-Frégate network established in 1941 by Georges Combeau, code-named Chaloupe. Combeau worked for Maurice Duclos, one of de Gaulle’s staff officers whose nom de guerre was Saint-Jacques. Goélette-Frégate included many railway labourers, who for the most part supported active resistance to the Nazis, at Issoudun in Berry. Their primary objective was to send intelligence to de Gaulle and the Allies in London. The Jacksons’ apartment in avenue Foch became one of their mail drops. A courier using the code name Verdier (Greenfinch) picked up and stored papers there. This work was perhaps more dangerous than aiding the escape of soldiers. At the hospital, people came and went without question. Bringing résistants and compromising documents into their apartment exposed Sumner and Toquette to denunciation from watchful eyes in a quarter of Paris filled with Pétainist Frenchmen and Nazi intelligence offices.
Charles Bedaux, meanwhile, turned down a German offer of release. He insisted on a renewed French commitment to support the construction of his consummate ambition: the Trans-Sahara Pipeline. Without it, he would remain with his son in Frontstalag 122.