1947.06.13.De Hypolite Worms.A Georges Doriot
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13th June 1947
My dear Georges,
Do you know a gentleman called William L. Langer, Professor of history at Harvard University? Who is he? Have his writings any following in the States? I was stupefied, in reading his latest book called "Our Vichy Gamble", which has been sent to me from America, to see that for some unknown reasons, he pursues me, personally, and my Firm with his vindictiveness in four different part; of his volume (pages 168 to 171, 191, 229 and 385). Indeed, the Firm of Worms & Cie., whom he calls the "Banque Worms", are apparently through the 398 pages of his supposedly historical book, but in reality a second-class thriller, the only private French citizens attacked by him. These attacks are so fantastically false and michievous that, had they been printed in England I should immediately have started a libel suit against its author, but I am advised by legal American gentlemen whom I consulted a year ago after a similar attack in an American magazine, that it would be useless doing so, the liberty of the press being such that anybody can print anything they like and I am told that I could hope no redress from the Courts; the only result would be to enable daily newspapers to take the matter up in turn and with all sorts of articles to which, however libellous they were, I could not even reply.
What grieves he most about it is that I have been told by a friend of mine that Professor Langer's book represented, generally speaking, the views of the State Department. If so, what can I do about it? Can you give me an advice?
If it was not for that I would not even lower myself to bother about it, but nevertheless to show you how absurdly far it has gone I will give you a few points:
I. Page 169 - Professor Langer gives a practically complete list of the members of the 1941 French Government, stating that they all belonged to the "Worms group"! And as apparently he does not think he has gone far enough, his inventive mood goes on to give, several lines further, a second list, this time, of high Government officials who he states belonged to the "Worms group".
As it is and besides such statement being devoid of all possible common sense, I should just like to say that more than 9/10ths, if not 19/20ths, of the total list of these individuals were political men or Government officials who had nothing whatever to do, directly or indirectly, with Worms & Co. Most of them were, and are still, utterly and completely unknown to me and my associates. It is true that one person mentioned in Professor Langer's book, and one person only, that is Jacques Barnaud, who was directly connected with my firm, has acted in an official capacity in the French Government between the end of 1940 and November 1942. Jacques Barnaud had nothing to do with the management of Worms & Co. during the war, he has retired from the Firm, and I venture to suggest that if he has acted in a criticable way, which remains to be proved, it is his responsibility, but all fair minded people could not refuse him the right to accept at any time a responsible Government job, without the Firm he once belonged to bearing any responsibility thereof, exactly as I would say that nobody could deny Jesse Strauss, once Ambassador in Paris, or Averell Harriman while he was in Moscow or now as a Cabinet Minister, the right to accept an official post without Messrs R.C. Macy & Co. or Messrs Brown Harriman & Co. respectively being involved.
2. Page 229 - Describing Mr. Lemaigre Dubreuil, Professor Langer states that he "became a partner of the Banque Worms". Well, my dear Georges, I suppose that if the gentleman in question had been at any time, or was now, a partner in the Firm of Worms & Cie, I should know something about it, but I can assure you that this is not the case? Mr. Lemaigre Dubreuil is a partner in the Firm of Georges Lesieur & fils, vegetable oil refiners, of which Worms & Co. do not own a single share, and I have never in my life as much as seen the man. Far from my mind the idea of disowning him because strange to see that after running him down, apparently Professor Langer hails Mr. Lemaigre Dubreuil as something of a hero, when he describes his activities with the American agents in connection with the 1942 landing in North Africa, and mentions at length the help he brought to the Allies.
3 Page 385 - Professor Langer states that "the only sincere collaborationists in France were the industrial interests like the Banque
Worms group [...] they did a thriving business and came off extremely well".
This is libel of the worst nature? Is it true that in the United States of America one can print any such libel in newspapers or tooks without incurring the rigors of the law?
In this connection I should indeed like to give you the following facts:
All business firms in France have been, after liberation, subjected to examination by special committees founded by law all over France and called "Commissions des profits illicites", to trace and seize any profits French companies, industrial or commercial, could have made through the German occupation. The tax on such profits to be 100%, in addition to which fines amounting to several times the amount of profit could be inflicted in such cases where it was proved that there had been collaboration or offer of services by the French firms. Well, to come to the point, Worms & Cie were amongst the first parties to come up for investigation. That investigation lasted more than a year, after which the special Committee appointed have given their verdict; no fine, indeed, no tax of any kind was due by Worms & Cie, proof having been found that far from making money, they had lost a great deal through the German occupation.
You know that Worms & Cie have four main activities: coal, shipping, shipbuilding and banking. As coal Importers Worms & Cie, lost money during the occupation.
As Shipowners Worms & Cie, lost money during the occupation.
As shipbuilders Worms & Cie, lost money during the occupation.
As bankers Worms & Cie, lost money during the occupation.
And the losses amount to tens of millions of francs. I venture to think that there are very few industrials in France, indeed, few industrials in the world, including the USA, who can say that they have not made money out of the war. It is the pride of my life.
The above is a short reply to Professor Langer's attacks, but I would like to make a few more remarks and give a few more facts:
A. It might be of interest to know that I personally was in London at the beginning of the war as Diplomatic Shipping representative of the French Government. I signed on my own accord and without proper and official authority, on the 4th July 1940, the transfer to the British Government of the two million tons of neutral tonnage which the French Government had then on charter, with all war material aboard the loaded ships. I venture to think there are few living individuals who would have been ready to take such responsibility
and run such risk, which was in fact the German firing squad, the Armistice terms providing that no negotiations were allowed between the French Government and the Governments of countries at war with Germany.
Is this compatible with Professor Langer's statements that the banque Worms were the pioneers of collaboration?
B. It is a matter of surprise to find that the criticisms put forward by Professor Langer are practically the same as those which we had to meet during the occupation from the German newspapers or the French press controlled by them. What can that all mean?
C. In October 1940 the French Government ordered that a German "Commissaire" be appointed to our firm with full powers, in order to check our activities as we were suspected of working for British interests. No French coal factor, no French ship-owner, no French shipbuilder, no French banker received a similar harsh treatment at the hands of the enemy. But notwithstanding the presence of this controller for more than 4 years, the firm of Worms & Co. did not trade with the Germans nor brought them any help in their war effort, which fact has been recognised by all the experts and judicial parties who had to deal with the matter.
D. But this is not all; after being cleared by the judicial authorities of all blame, the firm of Worms, and I personally, together with Le Roy Ladurie, were subjected, like many French industrialists, to what is called the "Commission nationale interprofessionelle d'épuration", created after liberation by the Government to ascertain whether those Industrialists, bankers, or indeed private individuals, had not performed actions which, if not condemnable by law, might still be considered blamable from the professional point of view, the jury of such "Commission d'épuration" being composed mostly of Government officials and members appointed by Trade Union organisations (CGT) and the Resistance.
The work of that Committee, in the case of my Firm, ended in January last, when they decided that no blame could be attached to our activities and to my own personal action. In this connection I cannot do better than to send you, herewith, copy of the document issued by the "rapporteurs", appointed by the Committee, which led to that decision. Is it possible to be more "elogieux"?
This is only one document amongst others that I could produce, all of which, and in particular the report drawn up by the experts appointed by the Court of Justice, have led to the withdrawal of all charges against me and my firm.
E. All the above are facts, but may I be allowed to bring in a personal note. As you are aware, the Firm of Worms & Co. has 99 years of existence (having been created in 1848). 90%, if not 99%, of their activities during that century has been based on trade with Great Britain, or British controlled territories. I, the head of the Firm bearing its name, am married to an English woman, my only child, a daughter, is married to an Englishman, son of a retired British Ambassador, my three grandchildren are British subjects, so that after my death, my side of the Worms family will be British. Is it thus conceivable that I would have been foolish enough to "compromise" my Firm and its future, my wife, my daughter and my grandchildren for some temporary satisfactions, political or mercenary? It is a question of common sense.
Well, my dear George, I have now finished this letter for the length of which I apologise. I don't know if you can do anything about it, but nevertheless it is a relief for me to be able to give these few facts to a friend in America. You can make any use you choose of them.
Yours very sincerely,
PS. Since writing this letter I have seen Gregory on his return from the States. He has given me your message, I am thinking the matter over. Meantime I understand that we shall be seeing you in a month's time so that I take it nothing can be done until then.
Georges F.Doriot Esq. 12, Line Street, Boston 3,