‘Monocled Baron Charged’

David Coward

  • Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family and Fatherland by Carmen Callil
    Cape, 614 pp, £20.00, April 2006, ISBN 0 224 07810 0

The seed for this book was planted in 1972, when Carmen Callil saw Le Chagrin et la pitié, Marcel Ophuls’s stunning documentary of life in Clermont-Ferrand during World War Two. Her attention was caught by a clip showing Reinhard Heydrich, architect of the Final Solution and Himmler’s deputy, shaking hands in May 1942 with Darquier de Pellepoix, charged by the German occupiers and the Vichy government with delivering France’s quota of Jews for deportation. The name was familiar. Between 1963 and 1970, she had been treated three times a week by a psychoanalyst named Anne Darquier, to whom she had become very close, and who had probably committed suicide. Were they related? They were, and for more than three decades Callil, conscious of a need to discharge a debt as both a patient and a friend, pursued Darquier, Vichy’s commissioner for Jewish affairs, whose role was to eliminate and despoliate all the Jews who lived in France.

He was born plain Louis Darquier in Cahors in 1897. His forebears were peasants and artisans, though he later claimed descent from the dukes of Gascony, assorted minor nobles and even, possibly, Joan of Arc. He called himself baron and appropriated ‘de Pellepoix’ from a distinguished but unrelated 18th-century astronomer. His father was a doctor and both a German governess and an English one were employed for the family’s three sons. Louis grew up fluent in both languages. His older brother, Jean, qualified as a neurologist and René, the youngest son, became a successful businessman on whom Louis would sponge shamelessly.

He left school in 1914 and began to study medicine, which he abandoned the following year to enlist. At school, he had been considered unpredictable and not a team player. He did better in the army. He was mentioned in despatches and was cited for ‘unshakeable bravery’ and ‘superb disregard for danger’. But he was also charged with indiscipline and left the service under a cloud in 1919.

Having no useful qualifications, he took a job selling advertising, until family connections found him work in the Alsace wheat trade, then run by Jewish businessmen. His work took him to various European cities. When in London, he stayed at Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair. He acquired a reputation as a rake, got into debt and in 1926 was quietly ‘resigned’ for using his company’s money for his own purposes. Two years later, still with no prospects, he married.

Myrtle Jones was born into a farming family in Tasmania in 1893. In 1916, she left home to go on the stage, though neither as ‘Sandra Lindsay’ nor under her own name did she leave any trace in Australia’s theatrical history. In 1923, she married a British-born Gilbert and Sullivan trouper, Roy Workman, and late in 1926 they set out for Europe calling themselves Lord and Lady Workman-Macnaghten of Belfast. How Louis met Myrtle is not clear, but he quickly detached her from Roy, whom she never divorced. In 1928, in a London Register Office, Myrtle Jones bigamously became Mme Darquier de Pellepoix, despised by Louis’s family and as addicted to fancy titles as her new husband.

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