Nazi Germany launched the Spring Offensive against France, Belgium, and the Netherlands in May 1940. Within six weeks it had achieved complete military dominance. The French government agreed to sign the Second Armistice agreement, whereby France was divided into two parts: the North was occupied by the Germans, while Vichy France was nominally independent.
During this time, the American Embassy moved to Vichy and American consulates continued operations. Following the Allied landings in North Africa in November 1942, Germany decided to occupy the South as well. American diplomatic personnel in Vichy France were arrested and held in Baden-Baden, Germany until they were exchanged for German personnel.
Paul Du Vivier, who was posted to the Marseilles Consulate in 1942, describes a not-unpleasant 16-month stay of long hikes, long conversations, and tracking German military movements in Baden Baden. He was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in 1990. Constance Ray Harvey, transferred from the Bern Consulate to the Lyon Consulate in 1941, had a more difficult experience yet notes that the Gestapo treated them better than the German army did and relates the story of one timid man who became a true hero. She was interviewed by Dr. Milton Colvin beginning in 1988.
You can read about U.S. embassy operations after the Nazi invasion and other stories about World War II. Go here to read about life at Embassy Tokyo after Pearl Harbor.
Long Hikes, a Little Wine, and a Show
Paul Du Vivier
DU VIVIER: The French knew we were going to do [burn all the documents], and they didn’t interfere, and we had a good system…of never keeping our files.
Every two months one of these auxiliary vice-consuls would go by car to Geneva and take with him the office copies of anything we had written…and so we worked from memory as to what we … The last time Bradford was held up at the border, he broke the… gate with his Buick … and he …stayed in Switzerland until the end of the war….
We were ordered to meet on a Sunday afternoon, at the Marseilles suburban station. We…went overnight in a sealed train to Lourdes. There we got off the train and went to one of four hotels where we …[could move]…around the town and countryside freely without escort at first.
Then, little by little, they insisted on having a French police inspector…as escort. Later on we were confined to the hotel except for specific things…
We had broken diplomatic relations [with Vichy France], but we were not at war… Kippy (S. Pinckney) Tuck, the Chargé d’Affaires in Vichy, [said] that when he went…to call on Marshal Petain [World War I hero and Prime Minister of Vichy France] and explain that we had landed in French North Africa, Marshal Petain, very alert, said, “I know.”
Kippy added…we can no longer have diplomatic relations, and Marshal Petain said, “I know.” And then Marshal Petain got up…he was 86 at the time…and turned over to the window and looked out the window of his office at the Hotel du Parc and began whistling to himself, “It’s a long way to Tipperary.”
He whistled that World War One tune soulfully to himself, and then he came back and he said, “I consider the interview closed.”
They did not shake hands, and Kippy Tuck withdrew… Kippy…said that that signal showed Petain was secretly hoping for an Anglo-American victory and he was delighted that the break in relations would be a prelude to the liberation of France. He was a very patriotic man, and I think quite misunderstood at home and over here. My father felt the same way and wrote about it at the time….
Two months later…The whole group went up….But at Lourdes we did next to nothing except walk and keep healthy. Ate well on the black market, even oysters and lamb chops. There was an abundance of cognac available at a high price from a bar called St. Laurence O’Toole. The bootlegger there would drink a toast to the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Then we’d start chatting and bargaining over what we would have to pay for a supply of liquor.
But we were cut off as far as newspapers and people were concerned. One or two people slipped in and invited me to walk over the Pyrenees into Spain. Others from Paris or Vichy…and brought messages. I had two chances to escape on foot, one with a very good friend from Marseilles, but he never spoke to me again because he thought I was chicken not to go with him. He escaped safely and…in retrospect, I made a mistake, but I felt that I was ordered to stay….
The Germans came in abruptly, four days after New Year’s 1943…We were then confined to our bedrooms… They put us in one sealed train directly from Lourdes to Baden-Baden…There we were much better heated and much worse fed than in Lourdes. We were kept under the custody of eight German police. Four or five were clearly Gestapo in civilian clothes. The others were state and foreign office police–Staatspolizei. Our official “host” was a career foreign service embassy counselor from the Wilhelm-Strasse, Dr. Schlehman…He made sure that everybody knew their place and didn’t fraternize.
We could not go outside the hotel and the hotel grounds without one or two guards….aside from shopping and churches….We partook of a great many hikes….There were the fast walkers, the medium walkers, the slow walkers. I walked up to about twelve miles a day with the eight “fast walkers,” taking picnics but no photographs….We sometimes would look down over the Siegfried Line on the German-French frontier or …go into a little inn….
One time at the inn,…we went in from the snow to eat our sandwiches, and the innkeeper was delighted to see us, and said, “Would you like to buy a little white wine?” and we said, “Ja wohl.” We had some Marks…or cigarettes for currency…
He said, “My daughter sings very well,” and so the daughter…began singing “Lorelei” and a few German Lieder, and then somebody produced an accordion and we all got pretty drunk, especially the Gestapo guard. Then they began playing war songs, Lily Marlene.
After awhile they played…[“Roll out the Barrels”]…I said, “I think I’ve heard that.” The innkeeper said, “Oh, yes, it’s a very famous German song.” And I said, “It must be very well-known,” and he said, “Oh, yes. It’s called ‘Marshal Rommel’s Victory March.’” So they’d simply taken it over…and rechristened it….
Henry J. Taylor, the Associate Press correspondent in Vichy, disappeared in the woods…[very drunk]…and it was rather pathetic to see the poor Gestapo…calling out, “Herr Heinrich, Herr Heinrich, Wo bist du denn? Bitte kommen Sie mal zurück.” [Where are you? Please come back] And we never did find Henry-Henry, but he somehow managed to stagger back to the hotel alone. He knew…that he would be starved to death if he stayed…overnight in the snow….
On the whole, we were very disciplined, we wasted a lot of time giving each other courses…I gave a course on geopolitics which I knew nothing about….We also put on dramatic shows, and I read [German newspapers].
Furthermore, we would listen [to a] radio set…to the Oberkommandor der Wehrmacht Communique at 2 p.m. followed by the news interpretation by Dr. Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry. We took notes and lists. The second broadcast was elaborate…and totally misleading. Afterwards …[several of us]…would discuss the news.
Since we had excellent German maps…we would find that when they wanted to announce the evacuation of a big city they justified it as a shortening of their lines of communications. Or else it was to reinforce their lines ready for the spring offensive. And actually the little hamlet or mentioned village was about five or ten miles west of the big city on the Russian front (like Orel or Smolensk) which they would only mention days later…
I kept my map marked up properly by crayons behind my coat closet and it was never disturbed. I brought it home and then I checked the dates with people in the Pentagon and found we were within four or five days of the actual changes in the Russian front. The same was true with the Pacific theater….
All 145 of us were released on Saturday February 19, 1944 after 478 days…We were told to have breakfast at 3:30 a.m. at the hotel … We left at daybreak on the train, and it took about six hours to go from Baden-Baden to Paris via Strasbourg…
There was a tussle with the police because some…French relatives [of our group]…tried to break the police cordon on the outskirts of Paris. One young boy did greet his grandmother before the police drew him back on board. But with pistols and truncheons they made sure that there was no contact. And then from…Paris, it took us…eleven hours…to Biarritz where we spent four days waiting. The trip across France took us twenty-four hours…and it was very cold.
Years later…I learned from an assistant air attaché that he had been ordered not to bomb a certain train leaving at daybreak on a certain day, and he watched this little train zigzagging across all the byways of France because eighty percent of the bridges were blown up. And he said it would have been a perfect target.
He said, “I really had my X right there on the bomb release and I just hated not to pull the lever.” Thank God he didn’t…Finally when the Germans heard that their own people had landed safely in Lisbon from the SS Gripsholm, we were allowed to go over the frontier into Spain, again at daybreak. Somebody waved the Gestapo goodbye. I didn’t want to see them again.
In retrospect my two greatest personal hardships were the lack of a date for sixteen months and the paucity of mail. For the first six months none of us received or were able to send out a letter. After that mail came once a month, heavily censored by three governments and only after taking six weeks in transit. It is a miracle my girl in Baltimore waited so long for my return. All the 14 packages of food she sent me were confiscated.
Three hours into Spain somebody staggered down the railway cars, they were not sleepers, and came back after an hour to say, “We’ve had deviled eggs,” and we said, “Oh, go away… ”
“No, we’ve really had eggs.” We’d had two eggs in two years. We were craving for anything like cream and butter. So we all went tearing down to the dining car, and we ate…eggs Benedict or something, and we got sick as dogs because it took us a long time to get our stomach back to normal.
I was fifteen pounds underweight and weighed 130 or so when I went in, so I was skinny. [At] Lisbon, we got a chance to spend ten days or so getting readjusted…By the time we got on shipboard we were practically back to normal….
“People started to do things they’d never had the courage to do before”
Constance Ray Harvey
HARVEY: Our French friends…were delighted that America was in the war. They’d been waiting for this moment as their real hope of salvation…
Well, the [Germans] didn’t get us until the landings in North Africa took place on the seventh of November, a Sunday. We had had a slight indication [the day before] that we had to be ready to burn documents and possibly…[leave], so I [burned everything that had the names of contacts].
I remember that I went home to get my coffee which I’d left, when the message came over the radio early on the Sunday morning, which made me rush back to the office immediately: “The Americans are landing. No news from Vichy.” And we wondered where they were landing. Where? We had no idea!…We thought it was…the coast of France. I certainly got over there to the office to start my burning as fast as I could….
My Belgian clerk…had been already arrested and was in Montluc prison [hospital]…because he was ill. He’d been there for about ten days. I got news on Monday that he had disappeared from the prison…
He’d been put on a train to go to the south of France, to an assembly point [for people about to be shipped to concentration camps]. I said to my chief, “I’m going to the prefet de police immediately.” We couldn’t stand this man….
I stayed in that man’s office over an hour, an hour and a half, and …I kicked and screamed and cried, and I said, “Never, never will I go to a diplomatic internment…and let this man go to a concentration camp. I went to school in France, France has been my second country for all these years. I will spent the rest of my life fighting against France if this occurs.”
Finally, he said, “I’ll telephone…” We got him off the train…ten minutes before [it] left, and he was put back in an ambulance and rushed back to the hospital. His wife and I trailed after the ambulance, and we got in and sat down on his bed,…and laughed and laughed and laughed. We could hardly believe what was going on.
Then after we were interned, everything in that part of France changed. I mean, the day it was occupied. People who had been very reluctant to do very much started to do things they’d never had the courage to do before….It was…the occupation that did it. You see, now they’d lost everything, and now they weren’t afraid in the same way….
So the nuns who were running the hospital in the prison got Jack…dressed up … nun’s garments, whisked him across to the Archbishop’s palace across the road…[until] friends came and…smuggled him [and his wife] out of France…into Switzerland, where he spent the rest of the war…working for Allen Dulles [then Swiss Director for the Office of Strategic Services, OSS, the predecessor to the CIA].…
We were put on the train…the very day that the German Army passed through Lyon on the way to the Mediterranean. …We got there and… there were only three of us, the consul general and I and our non-career vice consul….When the time for the train to start came, none of our luggage had arrived. We were allowed a couple of suitcases, and I said, “I will not go into internment without my suitcases. I’ll never see them again. I’m going to get off this train.”
So they both got off with me, because they hadn’t got theirs either, and the train just left without us. And there we were, completely unchaperoned. All the officials had gone away… One very crazy man who was the president of the Strasbourg Chamber of Commerce, a Monsieur Jacquel,…was there with a great bouquet of flowers for me. I said, “Get Mr. Jacquel and his flowers off this platform and don’t let him come near me.” It was the craziest thing I had ever heard of, to have these people coming to say goodbye to me….
I said, “I think we’d better inform the authorities that we’re still here. Otherwise, they’ll make some trouble.” So we telephoned to the préfecture, and they said, “Well, your luggage is on the way. Just take the next train which goes down toward Marseilles [and transfer to Lourdes]. ”
We had had nothing to eat, and there was nothing to eat in the restaurant, there were no taxis, nothing running, of course. By this time, the German Army had gone through with their tanks and everything else. So we decided, “Well, we’ve just got to walk back and see if we can’t find some black [market] restaurant somewhere that will give us some food, because it’s going to be a great many hours before we see food again.”
So we started up the road, along up the Rhone, and we came to a restaurant …where you always had to have a reservation at least two days in advance to be given any food. We stuck our heads in, and they said, “No, no, no…no place to sit down, no food.”
So I went and put my head behind a curtain or something and said, “Do you really want to have the consul general of the United States and his two officers who are on their way to be interned, do you want to turn them away…?”
And they said, “Come in, come in.” They hid us behind a curtain, and we had a champagne lunch…and two [or] three people that we knew…came and joined us…Then we turned around and walked back to the station….
On the way back…we passed two Polish secret service men whom we knew. Of course, we didn’t recognize them, we didn’t say anything…and they looked as if they’d seen ghosts…Then we got on our train and left for internment in Lourdes, with our luggage…We were put in three different hotels.
“None of you must try to escape”
We had a member of the French Foreign Service, a very young man, …staying in one of our hotels. We were guarded…[very gently]. We could go out and go shopping…we were [with] somebody….
[In January] I was with this Frenchman whose name was Pierre Dupuis…he was a very young widower [who] was [in the Vichy Foreign Service]. He had been assigned to go with us…as a [representative] of Vichy. If you ever really have physical contact with somebody who is scared to death, you never forget it…We’d been talking at dinner…about the possibility of…the Germans [taking us]…
As we went back home, in theory, Mr. Dupuis took my arm to try to keep me from stumbling in the dark, but he was shaking like an aspen leaf. I practically had to hold up the little man. We got back to the hotel….a couple of days later, we were interned by the German Army….
[Back at Lourdes, I had a visitor]. A woman from one of the Resistance groups…came with a carte d’identité …to help me escape. I thought, “Well, this would be very fascinating.” But unfortunately, just the night before…”Kippy” Tuck had got everybody together and he said, “Now, no matter what happens, none of you must try to escape. It would be very dangerous for the rest of us….. We have old people and children with us, and we can’t just put people in jeopardy by somebody trying to do some funny business.”
So I had to say…”No, I’m sorry. This is impossible…”
[Dupuis] went with us…as a representative…of Vichy. We had a Swiss diplomat with us, who was a representative of our protecting power…[and] a German diplomat who was delighted to be in Baden-Baden looking after us, instead of being bombed in Berlin.…We were 150 people altogether…They wanted to get for us…the German Military Commission in North Africa which had been captured during the landings…
For 13 months, the governments haggled about this. But our government never gave them up. That group spent the rest of the war in Texas, and we were finally exchanged in February of ’44 for German diplomats held at White Sulphur Springs….
We arrived, having had butter on the train, which to us was extraordinary. We hadn’t seen any butter unless we’d got it out of a black market ourselves. Nobody saw butter in France and hadn’t seen any for a long time…[the food situation] had gotten terrible. The last months of ’42 were awful.
We realized pretty soon that things in internment…weren’t going to be too bad, and we were going to get prisoner of war parcels. Several of us thought that was ridiculous….We were in a nice cushy internment in a good hotel, and the food wasn’t very good, but …we were being fed.
“Kippy” Tuck said, “You are going to take every one of those parcels, and you’re not going to turn them down…” The food got worse quite rapidly, although I know that we were undoubtedly being fed better than the regular civilian German population. We had a [small] amount of meat a week…
One of the things about the parcels was that if you were a non-smoker, cigarettes all came in the parcel….Gold coins or cigarettes were the only “currency.” So for a package of cigarettes, I could get a meat ration for a week…or something like that….
We sat where we wanted to the first meal we had there, and then we were informed that everyone was to sit [in the exact same seats for the rest of internment]. It was quite logical, so they could check up on us immediately…If we weren’t there, they’d go up in our rooms…and be sure we weren’t somewhere else…
Never in my life–and I think it’s true of the others–had the same four people eaten…three meals a day…for 13 months. Husband and wives hadn’t even done that! (Laughter) And sometimes we wondered whether to feel more sorry for the people without their spouses or the ones with their spouses…It was kind of difficult as the months went by.
Seven Gestapo lived in the hotel with us, and we discovered that the head was the fat, great big, enormous night porter of the hotel…They were quite decent to us. There was one man that I didn’t like the looks of, because when he listened to the Führer on the radio, his eyes would sparkle. He was transferred, and I was glad…
But what is a little strange is that…we were handled with much more gentility by the Gestapo than we were by the German Army. When we were in the hands of the German Army, they were very tough with us…the Gestapo had a whole different section, and they had been trained….on how to manage diplomats….
[During internment, Dupuis] was with us. He didn’t eat with the Americans; he sat with the German diplomats and the Gestapo…One day I saw him crossing the room with tears rolling down his cheeks, shaking. Then a few days later, something very odd occurred. He announced to us that he had become engaged to an Alsatian girl who was there…
I thought this was very peculiar. After all, he was a young widower and had been mourning his wife…. She didn’t live in the hotel with us. You see, being an Alsatian who had not fled Alsace, she was just treated like a German subject…It was no longer foreign territory; it was German territory. With an identification card, she, like any German, could travel all around Germany, no problem….
One Sunday not very long after that…someone … said, “Monsieur Dupuis has been locked into his room. There’s an armed guard standing outside the door. No one can get into him. He’s incommunicado…” Tom Cassidy, who was the attaché for air at Vichy, who was really secret service…had been locked into his room, and there was an armed guard standing outside …
After a couple of days, Kippy did get in to see Cassidy. In the meantime, Dupuis disappeared, and I never saw him again. Then after about a week or so, Cassidy was restored to us. We never dared talk inside the hotel, but when we were out on walks with the Gestapo in the front and back, if you were walking right next to someone…we could talk.
He told me… “I’ve sent that man to his death. It’s just awful, what’s happened.” What he had been doing was that he had been able…to get…information together about the result of British bombings…And Dupuis was taking this out, and the girl was sending the messages….
Then there is a sequel to this grizzly story…Six or eight months after the war had ended, our embassy was back and working in Paris, and in walked Monsieur Dupuis! He had been this timid little man. I didn’t see him. I wasn’t there…But I talked with the people I’d been interned with…[who] were in the Paris embassy, and they said, “Constance, he is a changed man….You remember what a Mr. Milquetoast he was, scared of his shadow and everything, so timid? Well, he’s calm and collected.”
He was taken to the Alexander Platz prison in Berlin under sentence of execution, put in solitary confinement, and he was there until Berlin was liberated. They probably forgot about him. He even survived the bombing. Instead of breaking him, he had become a man. It was absolutely unbelievable…!
Then later on, quite a few years later, when I was stationed in the embassy in Bonn, [one of the French Embassy officials told me], “We told him…we’d give him any position he wanted. We would send him back to Washington.”
He’d been in Washington and knew America well. “We’d make him cultural attaché, and he said, ‘Oh, I don’t think I could do that.’ We said, ‘Nonsense, of course you can do that. We’ll send somebody to teach you just how to do it. Anything you want, anything we can do for you, we will do.'” So he did.
He went to Washington…[as]…cultural attaché, and…he married another American girl. Some friends fixed up a cocktail party for him …but at the last moment, he called and said he had something else, he couldn’t come. I think he just didn’t feel he could see somebody from [that time]…He was really the greatest man I’ve known, because he was scared to death, but he went ahead with it. When Tom asked him to help, he helped…That’s true bravery.