Home History She Was a Hard-Partying Socialite. She Used Her Money and Wiles to Save Refugees

She Was a Hard-Partying Socialite. She Used Her Money and Wiles to Save Refugees

by Enochadmin

There have been phrases for wealthy younger girls like Mary Jayne Gold in the US of the Thirties. Newspapers routinely derided her sort as “Lisping Lulus” or “Good Nellies,” the proper companions for the “Lounge Lizard” younger males who appeared the antithesis of the robust Doughboys of the First World Conflict.

Born in Chicago in 1909, Gold was the granddaughter of the person who invented the primary cast-iron radiator, and the household grew rich from manufacturing steam heating methods. She got here of age within the late Twenties, the last decade of jazz and “flappers,” the place younger girls loved social freedom unknown to earlier generations. The Nice Crash of 1929 didn’tinhibit the carefree life-style of girls like Gold, who, regardless of her surname, was not Jewish. 

She relocated to Europe within the Thirties, settling in Paris, the town glamorized for People within the Twenties by the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Josephine Baker. Gold purchased a big house within the chicest quarter of the French capital and invested in a Percival Vega Gull plane. A recent recalled that she would “toot round Europe, she would fly to Switzerland for the snowboarding and to the Italian Riviera for the solar.” 

Life was swell for Mary Jayne Gold, however the idyll resulted in September 1939 when France and Britain declared battle on Nazi Germany. “You felt it was the top of the world, that all the things you believed in and all the things that had been constructed up by humanity or decency for hundreds of years was completed,” she mirrored in an interview with the French documentary-maker Pierre Sauvage within the Nineties. “And but, there was one other a part of me that mentioned, “We’re going to beat ’em.”

Shortly after the outbreak of battle, Gold donated her plane to the French air pressure as a contribution to the battle effort. Then, like each different individual in France, Gold skilled eight months of what’s usually described because the “Phoney Conflict,” the interval of eerie calm in Western Europe, which was shattered in Could 1940 when the Germans invaded the Low Nations. Gold joined the exodus out of Paris, one among an estimated two million refugees who fled the capital for the assumed security of the countryside. Gold’s intention was to go 500 miles south to the Mediterranean port of Marseille and from there catch a ship dwelling. “There didn’t appear a lot level in staying on,” she mirrored.

However en path to Marseille, Gold had an encounter that will change her thoughts, and her life. Within the southern French metropolis of Toulouse, which was an meeting level for European refugees, Gold was launched by a mutual acquaintance to Miriam Davenport, a local of Boston who had been learning in Paris. Davenport and Gold hit it off without delay. Davenport appreciated her new buddy’s “splendidly relaxed, no-nonsense air,” and he or she recalled what Gold instructed her on that first encounter: “That she was a wealthy lady and that ought to I run wanting money, she would love to assist out. She was planning to go fetch her little canine from the place she had left him on the flight south, then go on to Marseille the place she would cable dwelling for cash and return to the States.”

Neither Gold nor Davenport left France. They reached Marseille, however as soon as there they determined towards returning to the States and as an alternative joined a trigger that was virtuous however harmful, and wildly at odds with their earlier privileged and untroubled existence.

Davenport (middle left) and Gold (middle proper) take pleasure in a meal in Marseille. Subsequent to Gold is Raymond Couraud, nicknamed “Killer,” a deserter from the French International Legion with whom she began a romance. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, present of Miriam Davenport Ebel)

Mary Jayne Gold was within the behavior of attracting consideration together with her trendy confidence. Ladies like Miriam Davenport have been struck by her sartorial magnificence, and males by her lovely blonde appears. In Marseille, Gold quickly encountered a younger Frenchman named Raymond Couraud. It was love at first sight. “I instantly grew to become concerned with a younger deserter from the International Legion,” recalled Gold. “He and I began a bit flirtation for one another, we have been eager on one another.”

Couraud was, actually, half-American, the fruit of a union between a Frenchman and an American lady. They’d married in New York in 1919, and Raymond was born in France the next yr. Shortly after he turned 18, Couraud enlisted within the International Legion, and in April 1940 his brigade was shipped to Norway to struggle the invading Germans. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre for his braveness and initiative through the preventing. 

After the autumn of France, Couraud had been posted to a Legionnaire camp simply exterior Marseille, however he was disgruntled with the prospect of serving the Vichy regime. “He mentioned he wasn’t going to return to Algeria [the main Legion base] to make roads for the bloody Vichy,” remembered Gold. “He persuaded me that I should purchase a small trawler that he might sail to Gibraltar with twelve different Legionnaires, who additionally wished to abandon, and proceed the struggle from England.” Gold had by now endowed Couraud with a nickname: “Killer,” on account of the best way “he murdered the English language.”

Couraud definitely didn’t resemble a bodily killer. Of slim construct with spectacles and a grave countenance, Couraud seemed extra like one of many many bureaucrats in Marseille attempting to cope with the throngs of refugees arriving every day within the port. There was additionally a extra sinister aspect to Couraud that started to emerge in Marseille as he slowly shed the self-discipline instilled in him by the International Legion. He was useless and egocentric, a thrill-seeker who thrived in a fight theater however who, disadvantaged of motion and pleasure, shortly grew to become stressed and reckless.

Gold agreed to fund her lover’s audacious plan to purchase a ship and sail to the British territory of Gibraltar, on the southern coast of Spain. However earlier than the scheme could possibly be launched, Couraud was arrested by the Legion for desertion and locked up in Marseille’s navy jail in August 1940.

Davenport was relieved. She thought of the Frenchman a malign affect on her buddy, and with out Couraud to steer her astray, Gold could be a heartening companion in a time of stress and uncertainty. The pair met for lunch, and Davenport instructed Gold she had determined to stay in Marseille and check out in a roundabout way to assist the Jewish refugees who have been changing into more and more anxious to flee to America. She knew she might speak in confidence to Gold, who was “passionately anti-Nazi…. Even her poodle, Dagobert, would bark furiously every time one muttered ‘Hitler! Hitler!’”

They wrote to a contact within the U.S. consulate in Marseille, “expressing our curiosity in being useful to refugees. In return we obtained a curt reply; he had all the assistance he wanted, thanks.” The same strategy to the American Pink Cross was additionally unsuccessful. 

Someday in the course of August 1940, Davenport and Gold have been having espresso of their favourite café, the Pelikan, near the U.S. consulate, when, as Davenport recalled, they heard gossip that an American with “cash, entry to visas, and a listing of individuals he was presupposed to rescue” had just lately arrived in Marseille and was staying within the Resort Splendide. The title of the American was Varian Fry. 

Davenport went to see Fry the following day with a listing of artists and intellectuals who had angered the Nazis and have been now in Marseille in search of passage to America. Among the many names talked about by Davenport have been the satirist Walter Mehring, whose political poems have been favorites of the raucous Berlin cabarets so detested by the Nazis; Hitler’s biographer, Konrad Heiden; and the German novelist Heinrich Mann. 

Fry was impressed with Davenport. She was as well-organized as she was well-connected. “Would you be keen to be named Secretary Basic of a committee that we’re planning to arrange?” he inquired. He might pay her 750 francs per week (roughly $17, or $340 immediately), and in return she would assist interview among the lots of of refugees to find out who have been genuinely in danger from the Nazis. 

A married man, the 32-year-old Fry was an ardent anti-Nazi (and in addition anti-Communist) and one of many first American journalists to warn of what was taking root in Germany, having visited Berlin in 1935. On witnessing one anti-Jewish demonstration, he wrote an article for the New York Occasions by which he described the indiscriminate violence meted out to Jews and the indifference of the German police. 

As Germany invaded the Low Nations and France, he anticipated the refugee disaster, and in June 1940 Fry and 200 distinguished People from the world of arts and academia fashioned the Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC). First Girl Eleanor Roosevelt was approached that very same month. She endorsed the ERC and in addition used her affect to acquire a lot of emergency visas for endangered refugees. 

One among Gold’s riskiest assignments was touring to a French focus camp and securing the discharge of 4 German prisoners earlier than the Gestapo found their whereabouts. (Gabriel Hackett/Archive Images/Getty Pictures)

Fry arrived in Marseille in early August 1940 with the visas in addition to $3,000 and a listing of roughly 200 refugees to rescue, most of whom have been Jews. What Fry didn’t possess have been contacts, which was why he jumped on the likelihood to recruit Davenport to his trigger. 

He was much less impressed, nevertheless, the primary time Davenport launched him to her buddy, Mary Jayne Gold. Intense and earnest, Fry initially sized up Gold as a lady with out substance. “She’s simply one other wealthy playgirl, in all probability one with a ardour for dukes and duchesses and whose pals are ultra-reactionary,” he instructed Davenport.

The distaste was mutual. “He was stiff and standoffish…and moderately dry and clipped in his dialog,” recalled Gold. “Miriam had praised him to the heavens. I instructed her he appears like a Salvation Military captain.”

Davenport was decided to discover a function for Gold within the ERC, and finally she persuaded Fry to offer her buddy a second likelihood over a espresso. “I made a number of remarks in regards to the evil of the fascists and Anti-Semitism and all that,” remembered Gold. “I used to be placing my greatest liberal foot ahead to not be this supercilious playgirl who was attempting to infiltrate the committee with cash.” 

Gold received over Fry, who wrote after the battle that she was “a made-to-order charmer…younger, blonde, and exquisite,” and he believed such a vivacious character is likely to be an asset in circumventing the infamous French paperwork together with her “female wiles”—however admitted that the principle purpose he accepted her into the ERC was her cash. 

It hadn’t taken lengthy for Fry to understand that there have been excess of 200 refugees in want of rescue. There have been hundreds milling about Marseille, most with out the monetary means to pay for passage out of France. “As the times wore on I grew to become increasingly depressed by the variety of endangered individuals who deserved assist however have been unknown to the old-boy community,” mentioned Davenport.

Fry needed to broaden the ERC, however to do this required cash: Gold’s cash. She gave the ERC an preliminary sum of $3,000 (roughly $60,000 immediately) to determine what Davenport referred to as the “Gold Listing,” devoted to serving to the poorer refugees. 

Gold’s monetary and ethical dedication to the ERC quickly grew to become invaluable, as Fry defined in a letter to his spouse in 1941. “It will be onerous to discover a higher individual for the job we had in thoughts than Mary Jayne,” he wrote. “She has already given us hundreds, and he or she is extra curious about our work than anybody else I do know.”

Gold joined Davenport within the ERC workplace in downtown Marseille. Every day they interviewed dozens of refugees who have been determined to depart France. “You’d ask if that they had their paperwork after which ask in the event that they have been legitimate, similar with visas,” recalled Gold. “Then you definately needed to ask the 64-dollar query: ‘What have you ever completed to place you in peril with the German authorities?’”

It was the primary time in her life Gold had encountered humanity in its most wretched and susceptible state. “The interviews have been touching in a approach,” she mirrored. “These individuals, some have been quite simple, however they have been very courageous. They hadn’t written books or painted photos…the individuals I interviewed have been rank and file.” They have been German college students who had voiced their opposition in lecture halls to Hitler, Austrian commerce unionists who had given out tracts on the street, or just Jews from any variety of European international locations now underneath the Nazi yoke. However Gold and the opposite interviewers couldn’t let feelings cloud their judgment. Solely these thought of most in danger got visas, and Gold grew to become accustomed to the look of bitter disappointment on the faces of these turned away. 

One of many first distinguished refugees to depart was the satirist Walter Mehring, who set off for Portugal in September 1941 with an American visa and a solid Czech passport—however nonetheless sporting the tattered garments by which he had traveled throughout Europe. As he had a drink in a café in Perpignan, a French metropolis near the Spanish border, Mehring was detained by a plainclothes policeman who thought he seemed suspicious. Unable to supply a safe-conduct move, Mehring was held in an internment camp pending additional inquiries. Fortuitously, he obtained phrase to the ERC, and Fry dispatched a lawyer—paid for by Gold’s cash—to safe Mehring’s launch. “It had been our fault for not seeing to it that Mehring was correctly dressed for his journey to freedom,” mirrored Davenport, who was “instructed to buy groceries with him to guarantee that he was dressed like a gent.” 

Mehring finally made it throughout the border, as did an growing variety of refugees within the fall of 1940. However the Vichy French authorities have been now conscious of the ERC’s exercise and lodged a grievance with the U.S. consulate. Fry was summoned and proven a communication from the State Division, which had been acquired through the embassy in Vichy. Reflecting the truth that America was nonetheless technically impartial, it said: “This authorities can not countenance the actions as reported…in evading the legal guidelines of nations with which the US maintains pleasant relations.”  

The Vichy regime additionally pressured impartial Spain and Portugal to be extra proactive in stopping the regular stream of refugees arriving from France both by boat or foot. In consequence it grew to become tougher for the ERC to acquire visas for these international locations. 

Then Britain got here to the help of the ERC. Scores of British troopers stranded in France after the German Occupation had made their approach south and have been hiding in Marseille and the encompassing countryside, in search of a strategy to get into Spain and finally again dwelling. Sir Samuel Hoare, Britain’s ambassador to Spain, requested for Fry’s help in getting the troopers throughout the border, and in return his authorities donated $10,000 to his group.

The ERC was conscious it was underneath surveillance from the French authorities, so, in October 1940, Gold rented a big villa a number of miles exterior Marseille. The villa was secluded, missing even a phone, and it grew to become a haven for workers and among the refugees. That very same month, Fry accepted onto the employees a Frenchman, Daniel Bénédite, whom Gold hadrecommended to the ERC—a sign of the esteem by which she was now held by Fry. “Danny had labored within the prefecture [so] he knew the officialese language,” remarked Gold. “He might write letters within the correct strategy to any official person who Fry needed to cope with. He knew the lingo and how one can behave.”

For a number of months Gold’s cash and her diligence had contributed significantly to the ERC’s success in smuggling lots of of refugees out of France. It had helped that her lover, Raymond Couraud, had been languishing in a navy jail. However he was launched in De-cember 1940, and the infatuated Gold quickly fell underneath his malign affect as soon as extra. 

Couraud had no intention of transport out to Vichy-run Algeria with the International Legion. He abandoned for a second time however, this time, joined a Corsican gang concerned within the Marseille underworld. 

A bunch of refugees sail west from Marseille to freedom throughout the Atlantic. With direct assist from Gold and the ERC, hundreds have been capable of escape the perils of Vichy France. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Dyno Lowenstein)

“For a short time, I hoped he would work within the unlawful actions of the ERC however Killer simply hated all these intellectuals,” mirrored Gold. The antipathy was mutual. Requested to select, Gold selected her coronary heart over her head. “I used to be pressured to withdraw from the extra noble enterprise and so grew to become a gangster’s moll of types,” she admitted.

Gold’s love blinded her to the true character of Couraud till he stole her diamonds. She got here to her senses and dumped the Frenchman. “Realizing that he was now kind of washed up with me…he determined it was time he left for England to proceed the nice struggle,” mentioned Gold. 

The ERC was solely too happy to get Couraud out of France and out of Gold’s life. The committee facilitated his passage into Spain after which on to Britain, the place he joined the commandos and was later commissioned into the Particular Air Service [SAS] regiment, the elite British unit whose experience was in daring raids behind enemy traces. With the SAS he once more demonstrated his Jekyll and Hyde character; he was embellished for gallantry by the British however finally dismissed from the regiment for disobeying orders. 

With Couraud gone, Gold was now not conflicted, and he or she undertook a dangerous mission on behalf of the ERC to a focus camp near the Spanish border. The camp, Le Vernet, held hundreds of “undesirables,” primarily overseas males thought of a risk to public order. Amongst their quantity have been 4 Germans who have been on Fry’s record to obtain American visas, which have been ready for them on the consulate in Marseille. The problem was how one can get the quartet out of the camp. Fry requested Gold to deploy her “female wiles” on the camp commandant, a Frenchman with a popularity as a girls’ man. “I used to be moderately nervous about the entire thing,” admitted Gold, who nonetheless wearing her most trendy outfit and took a prepare to the camp. She captivated the commandant from the primary second, and he readily agreed to launch the prisoners—however on one situation. “He requested me if I might have dinner with him…he mentioned he knew a bit restaurant and he would choose me up.”

this text first appeared in world battle II journal

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Gold accepted the invitation, however the commandant by no means confirmed. Unaccustomed to being stood up, Gold returned to the focus camp and was met by the apologetic Frenchman, who instructed her: “Mademoiselle, I can guarantee you I might moderately have had dinner with you however I needed to dine with the Gestapo.” 

Gold knew that the 4 prisoners have been needed by the Gestapo. She needed to act quick and spring them from the camp earlier than the Nazis started analyzing the prisoners’ information. She feigned disappointment on the canceled date, and the chivalrous commandant, embarrassed that he had upset a woman, ordered the speedy launch of the 4 males as a token of his esteem.

Gold remained with the ERC all through the summer time of 1941. Twice she was arrested, as soon as with Fry, and finally Vichy French authorities expelled the pair, with the tacit assist of the U.S. State Division, in September 1941. They returned to the US, as did Miriam Davenport, who had left Marseille in late 1940 to fetch her sick fiancé from Yugoslavia. The Vichy authorities refused to grant them a visa to return to France, they usually have been pressured to attend in Portugal earlier than finally securing passage throughout the Atlantic in December 1941.

Danny Bénédite and his English spouse, Theodora, took over the committee, shifting its headquarters to the countryside however persevering with to facilitate the escape of refugees from France. In complete an estimated 2,000 refugees escaped the Nazis by means of France due to the work of the ERC. 

Postwar life was anticlimactic for each Fry and Gold. Fry divorced and remarried and divorced once more, shifting to work at a Connecticut highschool the place he taught Latin and Greek. Shortly earlier than his loss of life in 1967, Gold wrote to him and concluded her letter by saying, “Nicely, we shared our most interesting hours, my buddy.”

Gold, who by no means married, died at her dwelling in Saint-Tropez on the French Riviera 30 years later, in her 88th yr, two years earlier than Miriam Davenport, with whom she had stayed in common contact. For the pair, their months in Marseille had been essentially the most significant of their lives. It will be an exaggeration to say that they risked their lives to assist smuggle refugees out of France, however they definitely risked their liberty.In a battle of surprising inhumanity, these two younger girls demonstrated that conflicts are sometimes received by compassion in addition to braveness.

This text initially appeared within the Winter 2023 difficulty of World Conflict II.

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