Charles Glass

When war broke out in Europe on 1 September 1939 nearly 5,000 US citizens in Paris ignored the American Ambassador William C. Bullitt’s warning to leave and were there when the Germans marched into France on 14 June 1940. Journalist Charles Glass recounts their story in a richly researched narrative.



TG: Much of your career has centered on the Middle East. Why this book and why now?

CG: I was living in Paris, writing a book on Palestine and Israel when questions about military occupation and popular response to it were on my mind. Shortly afterwards, the US invaded Iraq – and, again, the responses to military occupation were primary in any discussion of the issue. As an American, I had not been occupied. But I was living in Paris, and many Americans must have lived in Paris under the German occupation. I wondered how they reacted. The archives turned out to be full of material on these few thousand Americans who endured the occupation with their French neighbors. It turned out to make a fascinating story.

TG: Were you able to access previously unavailable materials?

CG: Most of the materials were available, but no one had looked at them. The American, French and British national archives contained much data, and many of the Americans from that era left their correspondence and diaries to their university libraries. It took many Freedom of Information Act appeals, however, to prise documents on Charles Bedaux from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FB is still withholding documents on Bedaux sixty-five years after his death. This is unusual, but I am still pursuing the case for subsequent editions of the book.

TG: Set the American expatriate scene in Paris as the Nazis approached in June of 1940.

CG: By June of 1940, the war appeared to most people in Paris to have reached a stalemate. The drole de guerre had claimed few casualties, and life was more or less normal. Some people who had left Paris at the beginning of the war in 1939 had returned. Josephine Baker and Maurice Chevalier were playing together on the Champs Elysees. The nightclubs in Montmartre were thriving, as were the horse races at Longchamps. Then, with the blitzkrieg through Scandinavia, Holland and Belgium, Parisians saw refugees coming into the city with all the belongings they could carry. Soon, the Parisians followed them on the road south.

TG: Sylvia Beach and Sumner Jackson, the good doctor of the American Hospital in Neuilly play significant roles in the story. How did Sylvia survive and how did Jackson keep the hospital going?

CG: Sylvia survived on the same rations everyone else in Paris did. She kept her bookshop, Shakespeare and Company, open until December 1941. Only the insistence of a German officer, who wanted to buy her only copy of Finnegan’s Wake, led her to close. Then she was interned at Vittel, along with most of the other American women in Paris. Through the offices of a friend at Vichy, she was released months later and returned to Paris. Sumner Jackson kept the American Hospital open with the help of a fascinating Franco-American, Count Aldebert de Chambrun, by keeping the hospital full of wounded Allied prisoners, American civilians and some French civilians. The Germans, who originally intended to seize the hospital, said it could keep going as long as it was full. Jackson, meanwhile, used it as a base for a network to help Allied pilots escape to Spain.

TG: I had never heard of Charles Bedaux before reading your book but he is the most compelling figure in the narrative.  Describe him for my readers.

CG: Charles Eugene Bedaux was a flamboyant millionaire who made his fortune as an efficiency engineer in the United States. Born in France, he emigrated to the US as a teenager, worked as a sandhog on the Holland Tunnel and eventually advised major industrialists like Ford and Goodyear Rubber how to save money by extracting more production out of their workers. The American labor movement detested him, but the capitalists admired his work. He bought the Chateau de Candé in the Loire Valley in 1927, and this is where he hosted the wedding of the Duke of Windsor to Wallis Simpson. He improved French arms production at the beginning of the war, but he went on with his major projects under Vichy and the Germans.

TG: You acknowledge a literary debt to Joseph Roth who fled the Nazis in Germany and came to Paris in the late twenties and wrote about her with great insight and passion in the collection of articles: Report from a Parisian Paradise. How did his work and career inspire and influence you?

CG: I love Joseph Roth’s novels, and I admire the man for his writing, his sensitivity and the hardships he endured to go on writing. Unfortunately, he drank himself to death in Paris just before the war began. I wish he had survived to carry on writing, although he would have had to flee to America to do it.

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