The Bedaux Dossier

IN ALGIERS, EDMOND TAYLOR, the former Chicago Tribune correspondent, was working for the OSS and the US army’s Psychological Warfare Branch. His memoirs, Awakening from History, contain his account of the decisive role he played in Charles Bedaux’s life:

From acquaintances in the Deuxième Bureau [French military intelligence], responsible at the time for counterespionage activities in Algeria, I had learned that Bedaux had been stranded in Algiers while on an economic mission to West Africa on behalf of the German High Command in France. Since he was a naturalized U.S. citizen–though a Frenchman in every other respect–there appeared to be a prima facie case of treason against him. The Deuxième Bureau professed to be mildly surprised that the American authorities were uninterested in the matter. Its own interest, however, was no more than tepid, mainly, I gathered, because Bedaux was a frequent dinner guest at tables of several influential and politically conservative French hostesses who were currently launching the post-invasion social season in Algiers; several of my superiors on Gen. Eisenhower’s staff, it was intimated, were on occasion his fellow guests. That, as far as I was concerned, made Bedaux a convenient symbol of the unwholesome political promiscuities and of the collusion between defeatism and resistance that the Murphy-Darlan accords had inevitably encouraged … Without looking deeper into the affair, I made up my mind to have him put behind bars, and eventually, by grossly misrepresenting the French feelings about him to the Americans, and the American attitude to the French, thus making each side feel its good faith was being questioned by the other, I succeeded.

Taylor’s memoirs made no mention of the fact that he met Bedaux with journalist John MacVane at the Hôtel Aletti two weeks earlier during a Luftwaffe attack.

On 5 December, a French officer of the Brigade of Surveillance drove to Bedaux’s hotel and announced, ‘I’m very sorry, Mr Bedaux, but you and your son will have to come with me.’ The Bedauxs were under arrest. The French locked them up in a police station overnight and took them to the Italian Club, which had been converted into a filthy and overcrowded prison. The Bedauxs were crammed into a makeshift cell with twenty other inmates, who had shared an open lavatory in a corner. Charles Bedaux, lord of the Château de Candé, slept on a hard concrete floor beside his cellmates from all corners of French Africa and waited for charges to be brought against him.

Eisenhower’s confidant and aide, Commander Harry C. Butcher, wrote in his diary for 8 December 1942, ‘Charles Bedaux, the stretch-out promoter with whom American labor leaders raised hell when he was discovered as the advance man for the Prince of Wales and the Duchess’ visit to US, has been arrested here by the French on charges of being a Nazi agent … They have photostats of certain letters appointing him as an industrial agent by the Germans … may be hung.’ The photostatic evidence had been given by Bedaux himself to Robert Murphy. Murphy did not reveal who gave it to the French.

The press did not report Bedaux’s arrest, although journalists in Algiers who learned of it attempted to. ‘I tried to broadcast the story,’ John MacVane wrote. ‘The censor stopped it. After submitting the story every day for ten days, I brought it up at an open conference with a high American authority. He said that not all the evidence had been collected and it was thought better not to break the story just yet. Other reporters then tried to write the story but could not get it passed.’

The affairs of Charles Bedaux had been under scrutiny in the United States for some time, however, before Edmond Taylor came upon Bedaux in Algiers. Percy E. Foxworth, the FBI’s assistant director in New York, was running the investigation into the case of Charles Eugene Bedaux. It had begun for him in February 1942 when he received a register of suspected Axis sympathizers in the United States from the Office of Naval Intelligence. The suspects were to be investigated and, if judged security threats, detained without trial. On 18 February, Foxworth forwarded the names of the ‘German, Italian, French, Spanish and miscellaneous suspected sympathizers to be considered for custodial detention’ to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. One of the ‘miscellaneous’ was ‘Bedaux, Charles Eugen [sic]’. Bedaux’s name–or variants of it, including Henri Bidaux–had been circulating in the intelligence community since September 1941, when the State Department received the cable from Vichy in which Bedaux disclosed his intention to develop the trans-Saharan Railway and gave his opinion that Germany would win the war.

The cable also said that Bedaux had asked the embassy for a copy of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, adding the accusation that ‘he was perhaps trying to magnify the social problems which face the United States’. (Or he may have wanted to read a book that the Nazis had banned in Paris.) The case against Bedaux gained momentum in November 1941, when the American Consulate in Lisbon reported the allegations of Fern’s old friend, Katherine Rogers, about Bedaux’s work for the Germans. Additional information originated with Bedaux himself during his many candid conversations with American diplomats in Vichy and Algiers. Everything he told Robert Murphy and his colleagues ended up in cables to Washington, where his activities excited increasing suspicion.

In April 1942, Percy Foxworth thought he could close the Bedaux file. He wrote to Hoover from the New York office that, as Bedaux was not in the United States, ‘no further action is being taken relative to this matter’. However, on 4 May, S. Pinckney Tuck, American chargé d’affaires in Vichy, wrote to the secretary of state, ‘Mr. Charles Bedaux, who is now in the United States, remains on the best of terms with Marshal Goering.’ Bedaux was not in the United States, but in France. Tuck saw him there shortly after he sent the cable. Nor was it likely Bedaux was ‘on the best of terms’ with Goering. When Bedaux had bragged that he knew the Luftwaffe chief, he was probably bluffing. The Bedaux file stayed open and grew thicker. Worthington E. Hagerman, Consul General in Lisbon, relayed a denunciation of Bedaux from Russell M. Porter, an American who had left Paris on his way to the United States. Porter told Hagerman that Charles and Fern lived at the Ritz, ‘where they frequented German officers, many such being regular clients of the hotel’. Hagerman, who had lived at the Château de Candé in 1940 and was on amicable terms with Bedaux, added his own observation about Charles’s brother, Gaston: ‘Mr. Bedaux’s brother, of whom I do not know the first name, had the reputation of being a Gestapo agent.’

On 10 July 1942, J. Edgar Hoover sent Percy Foxworth an urgent directive: ‘I desire that an appropriate investigation be instituted to ascertain the present whereabouts of Charles Eugene Bedaux, and whether he is engaged in any activity inimical to the interests of the United States.’ Foxworth devoted more and more man-hours to the investigation of ‘Bedaux, Charles E.–Espionage–G[erman]’. All letters from Charles Bedaux to the United States were subjected to censorship. Bedaux’s friend, Frederic Ledebur, and his secretary, Isabella Waite, were also put on the Watch List for varying periods so the FBI could read their mail to assess their involvement with Bedaux. Foxworth read with interest Bedaux’s letter to Frederic Ledebur, inviting him to join the North African expedition. Hoover wrote to the New York office on 1 August 1942, asking to know where ‘Fred’ Ledebur was. He added, ‘It is also requested that the identity and activities of Mrs. Waite be ascertained inasmuch as she may be acting as a mail drop for enemy agents.’

While Frenchmen were denouncing one another to the Germans and to Vichy, it seemed Americans were imitating them. Not only was Gaston Bedaux falsely accused by an American diplomat of working for the Gestapo, wild charges about Frederic Ledebur and Isabella Waite were stacking up in the FBI’s files. The Bureau’s San Francisco office wrote of Ledebur, who hated the Nazis so much he had cut relations with his brother Joseph, ‘He is reported by the person who has his greatest confidence to be definitely pro-German, to have made numerous inquiries regarding ship production of the West Coast, to be interested in plane production, and to carry at all times a moving picture camera equipped with telescopic lenses.’ The New York office added, ‘Fred Ledebur is alleged to have Nazi propaganda in his automobile. ’ Percy Foxworth echoed Hoover’s allegation that Isabella Waite was providing ‘a mail drop for enemy agents in this country’.

On 16 October, matters took a more ominous turn for Bedaux. Assistant Attorney General Wendell Berge wrote to J. Edgar Hoover, ‘Will you please forward to the Criminal Division all data so furnished (by State Department) and any other matter you may have in your files pertaining to the subject [Bedaux].’ The FBI sent the Criminal Division a register of gossip, innuendo, rumour and, also, facts on Charles Eugene Bedaux and those closest to him. No firm evidence of treason had emerged by the time he was arrested on 5 December 1942. In fact, the case appeared so weak that the French police released him and his son on 29 December. Satisfied he had been exonerated, Bedaux–supremely confident as usual–remained in Algiers to begin his desert mission in the New Year.

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