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Double Agent or Bad Neighbor

The Germans marched into the open city of Paris during the early morning hours on 14 June 1940. By the end of the day, almost all of the ranking Nazi officers, their troops, and administrative departments were entrenched in Paris buildings appropriated from the governments of France and other countries, French citizen’s private residences, and properties owned by French Jews. It was almost as if the Nazis knew in advance where each of them would set up shop and live during the Occupation of Paris. It was clearly a model of German efficiency. That is, except for a member of the French Resistance who ultimately chose an apartment next to the living quarters of one of the top Nazi spies in Paris. Was this a coincidence, an accident, or something planned?


Our Paris Trip

Sandy and I are back from Paris and exhausted (but in far better physical shape than when we arrived). The final numbers are in and we walked an average of 10.4 miles per day and Sandy snapped 1,868 photos. We followed all nine walks of the two volumes of our new book, Where Did They Put the Gestapo Headquarters? I don’t want to spill the beans but the Gestapo had offices all over the city. Our friend, Raphaëlle, introduced us to many interesting people, some of whom have dedicated their lives to preserving the memory of the Holocaust and Nazi crimes.


I first ran across the name of Henri Déricourt during my research into the British run spy organization called Special Operations Executive (SOE). Several of my prior blogs were about the women agents working for F Section (i.e., France) of the SOE and individual SOE agents (e.g., Nancy Wake). At the time, I didn’t really dig into Déricourt’s involvement with the SOE. However, I recently ran across a short story (“The Spy Who Chose the Wrong House”) about how he came to live next door to the Nazi officer whose job it was to capture foreign agents and French Resistance members (e.g., Déricourt). The author ends the story by mentioning what a “weird happenstance” it was that this occurred—or was it? Read more about the SOE.

Let’s Meet Henri Déricourt

Henri Déricourt. Photo by anonymous (date unknown).
Henri Déricourt. Photo by anonymous (date unknown).

Henri Déricourt (1909−1962) was a French citizen who as an adult became a trick aviator working for the French Air Force as a test pilot and later a commercial pilot. However, it would be his exploits in 1943 and 1944 as a member of the French Resistance that earned him his infamous reputation.

SOE Recruitment

Déricourt managed to get to England in the summer of 1942 where he was investigated by MI5 or the Security Service division of Britain’s intelligence service (akin to the CIA). The MI5 agents in charge of his case were skeptical of Déricourt and his trustworthiness. Yet, he was subsequently turned over to MI6 (Secret Intelligence Service—you know, James Bond) which despite its concerns, recruited Déricourt as one of their agents. By early 1943, Déricourt was passed on once again but this time to Maurice Buckmaster (1902−1992), head of F Section for SOE who enthusiastically recruited Déricourt as an undercover agent.

Maurice Buckmaster. Photo by anonymous (date unknown).
Maurice Buckmaster. Photo by anonymous (date unknown).

The SOE began its existence in July 1940 as a secret sabotage organization under orders from Winston Churchill who admonished its agents to “set Europe ablaze.” Its primary function was to train and drop agents into the occupied countries to support the activities of the resistance and gather information. Individual “sections” were established for each country. France was given two sections: F and RF. The RF Section was linked to Charles de Gaulle’s Free French Government in London. Its agents were French citizens. However, the knowledge and existence of the British-led F Section was deliberately kept from de Gaulle.

Circuits or networks were established within each section. The first SOE agent to be dropped into France was Pierre de Vomécourt (1906−1986). More agents began to arrive once de Vomécourt reported back to London about the French willingness to form resistance networks. The largest circuit in France was known as “Prosper.” Formed in 1942 by François Suttill (1910−1945), this circuit was centered in Paris.

The Prosper Circuit

The circuits were divided into groups of three individuals: the leader, the assistant, and the radio operator. The first Prosper cell consisted of Suttill (aka Prosper), J.F. Amps, and the radio operator, Gilbert Norman (aka Archambaud).

François Suttill. Photo by anonymous (date unknown).
François Suttill. Photo by anonymous (date unknown).

By mid-1943, the Germans had penetrated the Prosper Circuit with the assistance of Henri Déricourt. As agents parachuted into the fields outside Paris, the Nazis would be there to greet them. Agents were also arrested in Paris based on information given by other captured agents under extreme torture. Henri Déricourt by this time, had returned to Paris from London. The Germans were enabled because of the information given to them by Déricourt. You see, Buckmaster and his assistant, Vera Atkins, had given Déricourt the job of meeting the agents at the drop zones so he was able to pass the dates, times, and places on to his Nazi handler. Ultimately, the Germans captured the radios and codes used by the SOE to report back to London. They managed to send misleading reports masquerading as the SOE radio operator.

Vera Atkins, WAAF squadron officer. Photo by United Kingdom (1946). PD-Britishgov. Wikimedia Commons.
Vera Atkins, WAAF squadron officer. Photo by United Kingdom (1946). PD-Britishgov. Wikimedia Commons.

Eventually, the Prosper network was destroyed. Approximately 70% of the original agents never returned alive. After being captured, they were brutally interrogated, tortured, and either shot or sent to a concentration camp to die.

One of the historians commenting on the role of the SOE during the war felt as though the SOE was ineffective and did not contribute much to the Allied success. I couldn’t disagree any stronger. It seems that I run into the SOE and its brave agents every time I turn a page. Sure, some networks like Prosper were compromised but the majority of the eighty or so SOE réseaux (espionage networks) provided valuable information to London as well as distributing money, guns, and ammunition to the resistance fighters, in particular the Maquis (e.g., Nancy Wake, the White Mouse). The role of SOE agents in working with the Maquis contributed to the success of the Allies during D-Day.

Hugo Bleicher

Hugo Bleicher (1899−1982) was a ruthless agent for the Abwehr (Nazi intelligence organization) assigned to identify, pursue, arrest, and turn over to the Gestapo those French resistance members and foreign agents he caught. Additionally, Bleicher was empowered to turn the arrested into double agents. He was likely Déricourt’s Nazi contact. Bleicher was extremely successful and his reputation was that he could spot an Allied spy from fifty yards.

When Déricourt returned to Paris in mid-1943, he found an apartment located at 58, rue Pergolèse. It was steps from where the Gestapo had set up their main offices, interrogation cells, and torture rooms at 84, avenue Foch. His apartment was also next door to Hugo Bleicher’s apartment. Coincidence or not?

Exterior of Henri Déricourt’s apartment building: 58, rue Pergolèse. Photo by Sandy Ross (2017).
Exterior of Henri Déricourt’s apartment building: 58, rue Pergolèse. Photo by Sandy Ross (2017).

Trial, Acquittal, and Death

Déricourt was arrested in November 1946. He did not come to trial until two years later. However, by then, key prosecution witnesses were missing. A senior SEO officer was called to testify on behalf of Déricourt. The court was shocked when Nicholas Bodington testified that he had ordered Déricourt to work with the Germans. Based on Bodington’s comments, Déricourt was acquitted much to the disdain of former SEO agents who knew the truth. But what really was or is the truth?

Nicholas Boddington. Photo by anonymous (date unknown).
Nicholas Boddington. Photo by anonymous (date unknown).

After the war, key Nazi officials were interrogated and documented evidence indicates that Déricourt and Bodington were pre-war friends of Karl Böemelburg (1885−1946), head of the Gestapo in France. During the 1930s, Böemelburg was stationed in Paris at the German Embassy as part of the Abwehr and frequently accompanied Déricourt and Bodington to the horse races. After the occupation, he resided at 43, avenue Victor-Hugo which became known as Villa Böemelburg—where “guests” were tortured. There he recruited agents to use against the SOE. Henri Déricourt became Agent BOE−48.

New information indicates that it was highly likely Déricourt was under orders from the British intelligence agency, MI6, to work as a double agent. Perhaps Déricourt’s post-war claims that SOE agents were deliberately sacrificed might have some merit. The spy business is very secretive and deliberately misleading at times. This is a story that we will really never know the real truth. That is until some declassified information gets into the hands of historians and clears up the mystery.

Henri Déricourt during his trial. Photo by anonymous (1948).
Henri Déricourt during his trial. Photo by anonymous (1948).

Regardless of the acquittal, Déricourt’s reputation was destroyed in the court of public opinion. He left France, resumed his career as a pilot, and eventually ended up transporting raw opium for the Mafia. On 21 November 1962, Déricourt’s plane ran out of fuel in Laos and crashed. All five people on board died—or did they? Four bodies were found but Déricourt’s body was never found.

Recommended Reading

If you’d like to dig a little deeper into the history of the SEO and Henri Déricourt, I recommend the following books:

Helm, Sarah. A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII. New York: Anchor Books, 2005.

Buckmaster, Maurice. They Fought Alone: The True Story of SOE’s Agents in Wartime France. London: Biteback Publishing, 1958.

Murphy, Christopher J. Security and Special Operations: SOE and MI5 during the Second World War. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Sarah Helm’s book A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII is well-researched and provides the reader with an excellent overview of F Section, its officers, and agents. Christopher J. Murphy’s book Security and Special Operations is a very well-researched book on the SOE and its relationship with the British MI5 (Security Service) and MI6 (Secret Intelligence Service). It is largely based on recently declassified documents and interviews with surviving participants. Maurice Buckmaster (They Fought Alone) was the commander of F Section and exhibited many of the traits of country section leaders outlined in Mr. Murphy’s book. Be aware that Mr. Buckmaster’s book may be somewhat slanted towards the history that he wants you to know and remember.

What’s New With Sandy and Stew?

We’re recovering and took a well-deserved day off after getting back to the States a week ago.

Thanks to all of you who checked in with us because of the hurricane. Fortunately, our place and the boat did not sustain any damage. Our city was very lucky despite being directly in the path of Irma. Sadly, others were not as fortunate. My friend Jim once told me, “It’s not if a hurricane will hit Florida, it’s when.”

Now all Sandy has to do is catalogue all of those photos.

Someone is Commenting On Our Blogs

It’s a coincidence that this blog pertains to the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and simultaneously, we’ve made a new friend who is writing a book about one of its agents. Thank you to Arthur M. who visited our web site—we’ve struck up a dialogue with him. I have my fingers crossed that we can convince Arthur to be a guest blogger in the future.

If there is a topic you’d like to see a blog written about, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I love hearing from you so keep those comments coming.

Why Would You Want To Buy Our “Walks Through History” Books?

Simple.

You like to travel and experience history and historical events. You like to see original buildings that had a significant impact on the people and events of the history you’re engaged with. You want to know the stories behind the brick and mortar in front of you.

The walking tour books are meticulously researched so you can go directly to those sites and learn about the building’s history as well as an introduction to some of the more interesting people associated with it.

Thank You

Sandy and I appreciate you visiting with us. We have some exciting things on the horizon and we’ll keep you updated as we go along.

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Paris Trip

As you read this, Sandy and I are on an airplane returning to the States after spending several weeks (and a lot of money) in Paris. A comment we seem to always receive is “Oh, what a nice place to spend your vacation.” Well, as we have to explain, it’s really not a vacation. We are walking the walks, shooting photos, and interviewing people as part of the research for our next book. I wore my Fitbit and we walked an average of 8.4 miles per day. We take one Sunday off to grab a lunch and sit in the Luxembourg Gardens and watch the kids sail their little bateaux (boats) in the water basin and watch the Gendarmes chase off people who move their chairs too close to the basin.


Hope You’ve Enjoyed the Instagrams!

Sandy and I hope you’ve enjoyed the brief Instagrams that we sent out each day while in Paris the past two weeks. There are a lot of good photos and comments collected in those two weeks. We met some very interesting people while tracking down the significant sites of the Nazi Occupation of Paris.


Les Journées du Patrimoine or The European Heritage Days 

Stew standing in the hallway of the former headquarters of the Gestapo. Cell doors lined the hallway. Photo by Sandy Ross.
Stew standing in the hallway of the former headquarters of the Gestapo. Cell doors lined the hallway. Photo by Sandy Ross.

We planned our trip so we would be in Paris over the weekend that European countries celebrate their culture, history, and heritage. It is a time when government buildings are opened to the public, entrance fees are waived, and otherwise off-limit sites can be visited.

We visited the Le ministère de l’Intérieur or the Ministry of the Interior. Our friend, Annette, came in from Rotterdam for the weekend and accompanied us. Of course, Rapahëlle Crevet was our guide for the day as she worked her magic with all of the bureaucrats and police.

The Ministry of the Interior has always been responsible for the police force—even during the Occupation when Vichy was the collaborationist government. Adjoining and connected to the ministry are the offices located at 11, rue des Saussaies. This was the address of the Gestapo headquarters (I guess I just gave away the secret to the next book Where Did They Put the Gestapo Headquarters?).

Hook inside holding cell used to chain prisoner before being led off for interrogation and torture in the former headquarters of the Gestapo. Photo by Sandy Ross.
Hook inside holding cell used to chain prisoner before being led off for interrogation and torture in the former headquarters of the Gestapo. Photo by Sandy Ross.

We were allowed to go through the halls and cells on the floors where the victims were held, interrogated, and tortured. In the cells are the iron eye-hooks where they were chained before being led off for interrogation. Graffiti remains on the walls as they scratched their messages of defiance, their pride in France, and wishes for liberty.

Prisoner’s graffiti from the interior of the holding cell at the former headquarters of the Gestapo. Photo by Sandy Ross.
Prisoner’s graffiti from the interior of the holding cell at the former headquarters of the Gestapo. Photo by Sandy Ross.

Cité de la Muette and Drancy

We spent a morning with Raphaëlle venturing to the city of Drancy, a suburb of Paris where a public housing complex called the Cité de la Muette is located. It was once much larger than the three-sided complex we see today. At the open end is a moving memorial to the deportees and a cattle car used to transport between 90 and 100 people to the extermination camp called Auschwitz.

Drancy bus stop. Photo by Sandy Ross.
Drancy bus stop. Photo by Sandy Ross.

This complex was used as a detention camp to hold Jews who were arrested and then detained before being deported to Auschwitz. It could hold up to 6,000 people so after the two day roundup of July 1942 when approximately 17,000 Jews were arrested, only the men were detained here. The women and children were taken to a detention camp south of Paris.

Railcar used to transport deportees to Auschwitz. Photo by Sandy Ross.
Railcar used to transport deportees to Auschwitz. Photo by Sandy Ross.

Raphaëlle introduced us to Lucien Tinader. Lucien and other volunteers run the non-profit organization called the Association Fonds Mémoire d’Auschwitz (AFMA). It is a small museum on the grounds of the Cité de la Muette. Lucien and the other volunteers welcome groups of school children throughout the year. They teach the children about the Holocaust in the context of the French roundups. Their mission is to ensure no one ever forgets.

Lucien Tinandar holding the Star of David patch that belonged to and worn by his mother during the Occupation. Photo by Sandy Ross.
Lucien Tinandar holding the Star of David patch that belonged to and worn by his mother during the Occupation. Photo by Sandy Ross.

After we returned to Paris, we visited the Vel’ d’Hiv memorial and the site of the Velodrome. You might recall one of my blogs about the July 1942 roundup. It wasn’t until 1995 when President Jacques Chirac gave a speech at the memorial that the French government acknowledged its role as a collaborationist government and the role the police played in the arrests and deportations. Unfortunately, the memorial is in a somewhat obscure location but its message to visitors is to “never forget.”

The Vel' d'Hiv Memorial. Photo by Sandy Ross
The Vel’ d’Hiv Memorial. Photo by Sandy Ross

Mont-Valérien

The Free French symbol outside the Mont-Valérien memorial. Photo by Sandy Ross.
The Free French symbol outside the Mont-Valérien memorial. Photo by Sandy Ross.

Another introduction that came via our time with Raphaëlle was to Antoine Grande. Antoine is the director of three memorials: Mont-Valérien, Memorial of the Deportation, and a small memorial near the Eiffel Tower. We had a wonderful conversation with Antoine before our tour began.

Exterior of chapel at Mont-Valérien where prisoners were taken to await their execution by firing squad in the clearing. Photo by Sandy Ross.
Exterior of chapel at Mont-Valérien where prisoners were taken to await their execution by firing squad in the clearing. Photo by Sandy Ross.

Mont-Valérien continues its role as a military fort. Located outside Paris in a small suburb, it was used by the German Wehrmacht to execute résistants, hostages, or anyone they deemed a threat. Back then, the city had not encroached and the surrounding area was forest. We saw the chapel where they trucked in the victims and held them before marching them—in groups of five—down the path to a clearing where they were shot by a firing squad. As evidenced by a recently discovered photo of a 1944 execution, the clearing has not changed since then. Then we went on to the memorial where the French president holds a very moving ceremony on 18 June of each year.

Interior of the chapel at Mont-Valérien. The five wooden stakes that the victims were tied to lie to the left while several body boxes used to transport the bodies lie to the right—in front of the two windows. Photo by Sandy Ross.
Interior of the chapel at Mont-Valérien. The five wooden stakes that the victims were tied to lie to the left while several body boxes used to transport the bodies lie to the right—in front of the two windows. Photo by Sandy Ross.
Graffiti written by the prisoners inside the Mont-Valérien chapel immediately before being taken to their execution. Photo by Sandy Ross.
Graffiti written by the prisoners inside the Mont-Valérien chapel immediately before being taken to their execution. Photo by Sandy Ross.
The clearing with the monument in the middle. A prisoner was tied to each of the five stakes located on the other side of the monument. The German firing squad lined up in the forefront. Photo by Sandy Ross.
The clearing with the monument in the middle. A prisoner was tied to each of the five stakes located on the other side of the monument. The German firing squad lined up in the foreground. Photo by Sandy Ross.

Antoine’s primary mission includes preserving the memorials to the victims of the Nazi occupiers and to ensure no one ever forgets. 

 

Forgive But Never Forget 

 

Raphaëlle Crevet

Raphaëlle never ceases to amaze me. She is the best guide we’ve ever had and I highly recommend that you consider using her when you’re in Paris or the surrounding area. Her knowledge is excellent and she has an uncanny way of getting us into places no one else can go. You can reach her at raphaellecrevet@yahoo.fr.

Raphaëlle and Stew standing in front of the entrance to the Paris Court of Appeals. This is the courtroom where Pierre Laval and Marshall Pétain were tried (separately). Photo by Sandy Ross.
Raphaëlle and Stew standing in front of the entrance to the Paris Court of Appeals. This is the courtroom where Pierre Laval and Marshall Pétain were tried (separately). Photo by Sandy Ross.

Recommended Reading

We spent some time with Raphaëlle in her apartment looking at the reference books she has used. There were three in particular that I had never seen (they are all in French with no English translation). I couldn’t find any of them on Amazon. However, all three were available on eBay. I love eBay.

Thoraval, Anne. des Resistants à Paris. SPE—BARTHELEMY

Thoraval, Anne. les lieux de la Resistance. Parigramme.

Desprairies, Cécile. Ville Lumière. Années Noires. Denoël.

What’s New With Sandy and Stew?

We must be getting old. We never did close down the bistro with our friend Annette. She came to Paris from Rotterdam for a couple of days to see us but by 9:00 PM each evening, we were all ready to call it a day.

We had some great experiences (as outlined in this special blog post) and almost all of them were a result of Raphaëlle’s doing. So, a big thank you (as always) to Raphaëlle. The highlight was meeting Raphaëlle’s new baby.

Someone Is Commenting On Our Blogs

If there is a topic you’d like to see a blog written about, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I love hearing from you so keep those comments coming.

Why Would You Want To Buy Our “Walks Through History” Books?

Simple.

You like to travel and experience history and historical events. You like to see original buildings that had a significant impact on the people and events of the history you’re engaged with. You want to know the stories behind the brick and mortar in front of you.

The walking tour books are meticulously researched so you can go directly to those sites and learn about the building’s history as well as an introduction to some of the more interesting people associated with it.

Thank You

Sandy and I appreciate you visiting with us. We have some exciting things on the horizon and we’ll keep you updated as we go along.

Follow Stew:

1462420482_Twitter

1462422248_Instagram Screen Shot 2017-10-09 at 10.20.30 AM

Find Stew’s books on Amazon and iBooks.

Blogs I Follow

Book Reviews

Please note that we do not and will not take compensation from individuals or companies mentioned or promoted in the blogs.

Stew_Ross_Logo_CMYK

Walks Through History

 

Copyright © 2017 Stew Ross