Résistants Unmasked

GENERAL KARL OBERG intensified the hunt for the networks sending information to the Allies. If losing the secret plans for the V-1 was a defeat for German intelligence, the Gestapo had successes to offset it. Oberg’s agents had captured Jean Moulin, the incorruptible leader of Charles de Gaulle’s Mouvements Unis de la Résistance. In June 1943, Moulin was betrayed, tortured and executed. Oberg had decapitated not one Resistance network, but the umbrella under which almost every network was fighting. Immediately after Moulin’s capture, the OSS was forced to order that ‘all general meetings even among [Resistance] section groups should be forbidden’. German penetration was disrupting the Resistance and reducing its usefulness to the Allies. A month after Moulin’s execution, the Germans broke up the Oaktree escape network that had delivered 175 downed airmen to England. Another of Oberg’s achievements came in early May 1944, when his men captured three active résistants in Paris, the Englishwoman Gladys Marchal, Gilbert Asselin and his mistress, Lise Russ. All three belonged to the Libération network and had helped the Jacksons in the escape of American tail-gunner Joe Manos the year before. The Gestapo tortured and interrogated them, although no record of what they said survived. A day later, the Germans released Gladys Marchal. Renaudot and the Jacksons remained free, but the Goélette-Frégate network had been compromised. Life was clearly becoming too dangerous for the Jacksons to use their flat for Resistance meetings or as a mail drop. But they continued to do both. A simple code alerted couriers and other Goélette-Frégate visitors: if the curtains were arranged in a certain way, come in; if not, stay away.

General Oberg’s security services and their allies in the French Milice placed many résistants under surveillance. The Milice, established by Pétain’s Decree Number 63 of January 1943 and commanded by First World War hero turned fascist Joseph Darnand, was composed solely of volunteers born in France of French parents. Jews, North Africans and Freemasons were excluded. Most of its 45,000 members were street toughs, although a few were conscientious fascists who wanted to mould France in the image of Hitler’s Germany. The miliciens knew their society better than the Germans, and they could eavesdrop on fellow Frenchmen more easily than German soldiers. Vichy and the Germans gave the miliciens licence to arrest, torture and kill. Not long after the Gestapo arrested Marchal, Asselin and Russ, the Milice raided a Goélette-Frégate cell at La Bourboule in the mountains near Vichy and discovered ‘compromising letters addressed to Mrs. Jackson’. Whether the Milice passed along this information to General Oberg is unclear, but the miliciens took it upon themselves to please their Nazi masters by taking care of the Goélette-Frégate network.

Hints that something was wrong multiplied in the spring of 1944. An anonymous letter to Clemence Bock, who had tutored Sumner for his French exams in 1921 and been an intimate friend of both Sumner and Toquette ever since, advised her to stop visiting the people she knew in the avenue Foch. A local policeman warned Sumner, ‘Look out, sir, you’re being watched.’ In what the French called la guerre des ombres, the war of shadows, between the underground and German counter-intelligence, no one was certain who was telling the truth and who was denouncing whom. As for warnings, Sumner ignored them.

The daily routine of treating American civilians from Paris and the internment camps, as well as the railway cheminots and Allied prisoners of war, was in its way reassuring to Dr Jackson. General de Chambrun had managed to keep the hospital open without, so far, admitting German patients. Elisabeth Comte and Otto Gresser, the two efficient and able Swiss managers of the hospital, made certain the patients were fed and their rooms comfortable. No one believed liberation was far off, not even the Germans over the road in the Neuilly Kommandatur. All Dr Jackson had to do was to keep safe at work until Paris was free. Then, he and General de Chambrun could turn the hospital over to the American army.

On the morning of 24 May, Dr Jackson was doing his usual rounds of patients at the American Hospital, when two French ‘policemen’ in Milice black shirts and berets suddenly entered the hospital looking for him. The Milice agents forced him into their car and drove full-speed to the avenue Foch, where both the Gestapo and the Sicherheitsdienst had bureaus. But they did not stop at either. They took Dr Jackson to the corner of avenue Foch and rue Traktir, his own house. Inside, other miliciens were holding his wife and son at gunpoint. Black-shirted gunmen took the family outside to the garden, while the others ransacked the apartment. Toquette could not tell Sumner that she had already disposed of the incriminating documents in the house. When the Milice officers were distracted, she had given her Resistance papers to her maid, Louise, to take away on a household errand.

At lunchtime, the Jacksons invited the miliciens to eat with them. Afterwards, Sumner and the Milice commander smoked cigars in the garden. Phillip used the opportunity to arrange the curtains onto the side street, rue Traktir, to indicate to anyone from Goélette-Frégate that a meeting scheduled for that evening was cancelled. The Jacksons were not allowed to use the telephone and remained under Milice guard all night.

The Milice roused the family early in the morning and crammed them into the back of a police Citroën. They headed into the countryside south of Paris and did not stop until they reached Vichy. The miliciens deposited Phillip at their headquarters in the Petit Casino. They took Sumner and Toquette onto another interrogation centre in the Château des Brosses. This mid-nineteenth-century folly had two great turrets and a double exterior staircase up to the main door. Sumner and Toquette were led inside and taken upstairs, where they were locked in separate rooms for the night. The miliciens kept them apart until the next evening, when they permitted them to have dinner together on a terrace outside. The treatment of the doctor and his wife was strangely courteous. They were even allowed to speak English, something they took advantage of to agree what to say under interrogation.

Toquette wrote, ‘We were all arrested on May 25th [the day they were taken from Paris], not because we were Americans, but because we were working for the underground liberation movements, what we call the “Resistance”, we were therefore political prisoners and much worse off than regular prisoners of war.’

After two nights at the Château des Brosses, Sumner and Toquette were taken back to Vichy and locked up in the Petit Casino. The Milice headquarters in the casino had evolved into a centre of secret confinement, interrogation and torture. The Vichy government had also authorized the Milice to hold trials and execute defendants. The Milice put Sumner in a cell on the first second floor with his son, and they installed Toquette alone on the one above. Phillip had spent the three previous days without food in the chateau’s dungeon, fearful, hungry and occasionally hysterical. The 16-year-old boy was under intense strain, but his father’s arrival was comforting. Then, the interrogations began. The Milice questioned the Jacksons separately, a standard police tactic to uncover contradictions and lies. Toquette managed to send a letter to her sister, Tat, on Wednesday, 31 May, which referred to two previous letters she had written. ‘Today is the day Pete should have taken his examinations for the Baccalaureate,’ she wrote, ‘and I haven’t seen him since Friday.’ She complained that she had not been able to change her clothes or wash since she left Paris six days earlier, but she was relieved to be wearing a tartan skirt ‘that doesn’t get crumpled and a gray sweater, flexible and comfortable.’ She asked her sister to tell Elisabeth Comte at the American Hospital where they were and to deal with various household matters. She added, ‘My courage is being tested to the extreme not so much for me as for Pete and also for Jack; if I knew that he was free my particular fate would be less painful.’

On 6 June, the Allies assaulted the Normandy coast and fought one of history’s greatest battles for a foothold in France. Many of the young airmen flying over the beaches, as well as some of the soldiers fighting on the ground, made it to D-Day only because Dr Sumner Jackson had helped them to escape from France. They had been spared prison, but Jackson had not. Sumner, Toquette and Pete Jackson, enduring Milice interrogation in the Petit Casino, were unaware that the liberation they longed for was underway. The Milice turned them over to the Gestapo on 7 June, twenty-four hours after the invasion. ‘We had spent 8 days at the Militia (in the cellars) at Vichy, then 16 days at the Gestapo, also at Vichy, the Militia having handed us over to the Germans, being unable to settle the affair,’ Phillip Jackson wrote later to friends. The Milice may have been seeking to dissociate themselves from the Jacksons’ arrest after the sudden appearance of the American army in France. The victorious Americans would hold them responsible for the Jacksons. It is also possible that the Germans, learning of the Jacksons’ role in an espionage ring, seized them from the Milice in order to learn the names of their co-conspirators. The Gestapo transferred the family to the Hôtel du Portugal, another notorious torture chamber in Vichy. To hide their victims’ cries from neighbours in the boulevard des États-Unis, the Gestapo played loud music day and night. Phillip Jackson wrote,

We were then separated, my father and myself in different cells, where, however, we were able to communicate. My mother [was] in another building.

We were not badly treated, that is to say, we were not beaten by the French inspectors of the Gestapo who assured us we should shortly be released. (I have learnt to know them better, by now.)

Phillip stayed in a cell with three other men. His daily ration of three small pieces of bread and a flat plate of ‘so-called soup’ barely sustained him, and the boy lost weight. He later gave an interview to his father’s biographer, Hal Vaughan, about the Gestapo prison:

As I was an American citizen they treated my family and me decently during questioning, which in my case was extremely summary. I told them I knew nothing and I was informed I should be released in a very short time. The man who questioned me was a French inspector of the Gestapo whose name or nickname was Nerou … The jailers were uniformed members of the German SD: Sicherheitsdienst … I knew and spoke to people, particularly those in my cell, who were whipped and tortured during questioning, and I saw a jailer whip one of my fellow prisoners about 25 times in my cell. I was also whipped by jailers if I was not standing to attention or for any minor pretext … One man in my cell, a Frenchman whose name I have forgotten, he came from Clermont-Ferrand, told me he had been whipped and beaten by … Nerou. I saw evidence of this beating, as the man’s back was covered with different colors and bleeding.

Inquiries by the American Hospital, the American Legation in Berne, the Red Cross and the Swiss Consulate in Vichy were turning up only fragmentary details of the Jacksons’ incarceration. Vichy made the search for the Jackson family more difficult by repeatedly lying to the Swiss Consul, insisting it knew nothing. But American diplomats had received accurate information on 6 June, when Toquette’s brother in Switzerland ‘informed U.S. Legation his sister, her husband and son had been arrested on May 26, 1944 by the French authorities and transferred to Vichy.’ Misinformation was clouding the original, reliable report. Leland Harrison, the US Minister in Berne, sent a telegram to Secretary of State Cordell Hull on 13 July 1944, saying that ‘Swiss Legation Vichy reports it has been informed by Secretariat Mainain [sic] Ordre that inquiry made of French Milice Vichy and Paris reveal Americans mentioned arrested by German police and not (repeat not) taken Vichy.’ A later State Department cable reported, ‘On June 27, 1944, the Swiss Legation in Vichy reported that the Secrétariat d’Etat du Maintien de l’Ordre advised that the Jackson family had been arrested by the German authorities and that, to its knowledge, it had never been taken to Vichy.’ Vichy simply lied to the Swiss, no doubt fearing after the D-Day landings the consequences of mistreating American citizens. Since January 1944, Vichy’s secretary for the maintenance of order was Joseph Darnand, founder and chief of the Milice. Darnand, whose own men had arrested the Jacksons, covered up his actions by diverting suspicion to the Germans to whom he had transferred their custody. The State Department turned to other sources, and more evidence emerged. ‘At the same time, however,’ the State Department reported, ‘a letter received by a member of the family in Paris from young [Phillip] Jackson confirmed that the Jacksons had been arrested by the French “Milice”; taken to Vichy; then to Château des Brosses, the headquarters of the “Milice”; and turned over to the Gestapo in Vichy.’

No cables in Allen Dulles’s OSS files from Berne show that he or his agent Max Shoop, who was a governor of the American Hospital, either knew of or took any interest in the Jacksons at this time. The OSS was preoccupied with Resistance support for the Allies during the battle for France. The Wehrmacht and the Allied armies were capturing thousands of each other’s soldiers, and demands for information about prisoners overwhelmed the Swiss Consulate and the Red Cross. The Jacksons were now a humanitarian issue, and the OSS’s priority was to gather intelligence and organize the Resistance to win the war.

Two weeks after the Allies landed, Pierre Laval declared, ‘We are not in the war.’ But the war was in France. The Wehrmacht was forcing the Allies to fight hard for every acre of French ground they conquered. In Paris, freshly painted black and white signs with the words Zür Normandie Frontpointed north where troops headed to stop the Allied invasion of the German-occupied continent. The Resistance did its part, blowing up trains, tracks and bridges to disrupt Wehrmacht supply lines. But, to Parisians, the American and British armies were taking too long.

‘The star of hope was now far above the horizon,’ Clara de Chambrun wrote. ‘The troops of General Eisenhower had obtained firm-footing in Normandy; we knew that the British were on the march towards Rouen while the American contingents were taking an oblique line which skirted Paris in a southerly direction. But progress was slow, and they still seemed desperately far away.’ Neither Clara nor the other inhabitants of the French capital were aware that capturing Paris was not part of General Eisenhower’s strategy. Ike planned to chase the German army from France and defeat it in Germany as rapidly as possible, leaving Paris’s German garrison to surrender later. He needed all his resources, especially fuel for his armoured divisions, to do it. Occupying Paris and feeding its two million inhabitants would only divert the Allied armies from their goal.

Paris, as its supply lines were cut, experienced more hunger and greater danger than at any time during the occupation. The railways and roads out of the city were either cut or blocked by Wehrmacht transports, and the majority of Parisians who normally spent August in the country or by the sea were confined to the city. The Metro stopped running from eleven in the morning until three o’clock every afternoon to conserve electricity. Without electricity and cooking fuel, people made fires with paper balls to boil water and to fry what little food there was. With no meat or vegetables coming in from the countryside, the city became a farm. People grew vegetables in their gardens and on their roofs. Many kept chickens, ducks and rabbits on balconies and in cupboards. The smoke that covered the city when the Germans advanced on it in June 1940 returned. Then, the French government had burned its files and its oil reserves. Now, it was the Germans’ turn.

To the leaders of the Resistance movement that Clara disparaged, Paris had only one option: to liberate itself.

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