David P. Boder Interviews Louis Kahn; August 21, 1946; Paris, France

var transcription = { interview: [ David Boder

[In English] We are asking now, the Admiral, to conclude this nice family and household report. Will you tell us, when did you return to France?

Louis Kahn

[In French] Eh bien, Monsieur, puisque, grÃce au Professeur Boder, vous pouvez assister à une scÃne de famille à Paris, j'en donnerais à sa demande la conclusion. Vous avez vu comment une famille franÃaise, dispersÃe, s'est trouvÃe rÃunie parce qu'ils ont eu confiance dans la victoire depuis le premier jour et qu'ils n'ont jamais dÃsespÃrà du sort de leurs pays. Finalement, c'est leur volontà qui les a rassemblÃs, comme c'est la volontà de vous tous qui avait finalement eu raison de l'envahisseur et des tyrans du continent.

David Boder

[In English] What do you think, Admiral? When will it be possible for . . . that the French ships will begin to carry American guests and tourists again to France? We are all very eager to start it.

Louis Kahn

[In French] Eh bien, mais je pense que Ãa viendra bientÃt. Moi-mÃme, avec le concours de l'ingÃnieur et des ouvriers de la Marine franÃaise, j'ai rÃussi à remettre en condition les trois cents milles tonnes de bÃtiments de guerre qui, au milieu des flottes alliÃes, ont contribuà au DÃbarquement. Et depuis que nous sommes rentrÃs en France, nous avons repris le travail dans nos ports dÃtruits et rÃussi à remettre en action nos ateliers de faÃon qu'actuellement nous pouvons espÃrer, à brefs dÃlais, voir les navires franÃais reprendre leur trafic d'autrefois, ce qui vous permettra de venir nous voir avec le concours aussi de votre magnifique flotte de commerce. J'espÃre que vous viendrez nombreux et que vous verrez le travail de mon pays dans son effort pour reprendre son actività d'autrefois.

David Boder

[In English] Now let me ask you a more serious question that was so much on the mind of Americans. I hope you can answer it, if you can. In America, there has been a tremendous propaganda from certain quarters that the war at the beginning has ended so badly for France because the workers were not working. They were striking and were not cooperating for national defense.

Louis Kahn

[In French] C'est une question trÃs importante, en effet, à laquelle je dÃsire rÃpondre. Je crois que le grand problÃme qui a causà les difficultÃs de la guerre dans ses dÃbuts et qui a si gravement compromis pendant des annÃes l'essor mÃme du monde, ne peut Ãtre analysà simplement dans le cadre de ce qui s'est passà en France. Il est malheureusement vrai que le monde entier a laissà sur les Ãpaules de la France, entre les deux guerres, un fardeau trop important. Lorsque la guerre s'est terminÃe, chacun est rentrà chez lui et nous les FranÃais, nous sommes restÃs face à face avec la puissance de l'Allemagne qui se reconstituait. Et qui se reconstituait quelquefois avec l'aide de ses anciens adversaires. Cependant, nous qui Ãtions beaucoup plus prÃs, beaucoup plus exposÃs, nous essayions de faire entendre la voix de la raison. Et ce n'est que plus tard que cette voix de la raison a Ãtà utilement comprise lorsque le danger est devenu menaÃant pour le monde entier. Voilà la vÃritable raison des Ãchecs que, à travers la France, le monde libre tout entier a connus dans la premiÃre partie de la guerre. Et il n'est pas exact d'en faire reporter la responsabilità sur tout ou partie de la population franÃaise. Chacun a fait de son mieux, dans un trouble Ãconomique grandissant, à cause prÃcisÃment des menaces de la guerre qui, à tout instant, interrompait le travail politique, le travail, euh . . . pratique. Et à cause aussi des tentatives constantes que les Allemands et leurs agents en France essayaient de semer pour se rendre à eux-mÃmes la tÃche plus facile le jour venu. De sorte que je ne suis pas surpris vous ayez Ãtà soumis à cette propagande. On a reprÃsentà la France comme affaiblie pour dÃcourager toutes les puissances qui auraient dà Ãtre à ses cÃtÃs dÃs le premier jour, en reprÃsentant sa cause comme insuffisamment dÃfendue par elle-mÃme. Et comme je voulais dire en commenÃant, ce n'Ãtait pas sur elle qu'il fallait laisser porter tout le poids grandissant de la menace allemande. Un pays pacifique sera toujours victime d'un pays d'assassins. Car il sera pris, lui, dans ses occupations de paix, pendant que l'autre prÃpare librement son entreprise de guerre en choisissant le jour le plus favorable, aussi bien dans la conjoncture politique gÃnÃrale que dans la conjoncture militaire particuliÃre au pays qu'il veut attaquer le premier. Voilà quelle est la vÃritable cause des difficultÃs que le monde entier a connues, et il faut espÃrer que, Ãclairà une fois de plus par cette nouvelle menace de catastrophe, qu'il comprendra que ces catastrophes-là ne se prÃviennent pas au dernier instant, qu'elles peuvent Ãtre prÃvues de loin par des hommes compÃtents et qu'il faut avoir le courage que ceux-là disent à leurs peuples la vÃrità pour qu'ils se prÃparent pour les temps critiques.

David Boder

[In English] [aside] As I said before, I have to translate. I did not get the full statement, but I will have that translated. Could you think . . . ? Here is another question. Do you have a large number of refugees? Among them, Jewish refugees. Do you think they will be absorbed and given the opportunity to stay in France if they want to?

Louis Kahn

[In French] C'est en effet une question trÃs importante que vous posez lÃ. Vous savez que, en France, nous avons accueilli toujours trÃs libÃralement les rÃfugiÃs. Et il faut reconnaÃtre que si d'autres pays ont Ãtà beaucoup plus rÃservÃs dans cette action philanthropique, la France, elle, a toujours considÃrà qu'il appartenait à ses devoirs, comme à sa tradition, d'Ãtre trÃs libÃrale dans l'accueil. Vous devez savoir que les premiers enfants qui ont Ãtà tirÃs des camps allemands, aprÃs bien des hÃsitations de nombreuses nations, c'est la France qui les a accueillis la premiÃre. Elle a su le faire malgrà les extrÃmes difficultÃs oà se trouvait son Ãconomie immÃdiatement aprÃs la LibÃration, non pas seulement par son aide à elle-mÃme mais aussi grÃce aux concours financiers trÃs gÃnÃreux de nombreux pays parmi lesquels il faut citer en premiÃre ligne l'aide trÃs gÃnÃreuse qui a Ãtà apportÃe par les Etats-Unis d'AmÃrique. Jamais on n'oubliera en France l'action qui a Ãtà poursuivie par les reprÃsentants d'AmÃrique. Les envois qu'ils ont fait de vivres, d'argent, de matÃriel. Le dÃvouement avec lequel les reprÃsentants de l'armÃe amÃricaine, les reprÃsentants de l'UNRRA, les reprÃsentants du Joint Committee et de nombreuses associations constituaient libÃralement par la bonne volontà de votre pays. Non, jamais ceci ne sera oublià en France. La gÃnÃrosità amÃricaine, associÃe au libÃralisme franÃais, ont en rÃalità fait de leur mieux dans des circonstances effrayantes que le monde n'avait jamais connues à cause de vÃritables migrations forcÃes d'hommes, de femmes et d'enfants, et cette tÃche, elle est loin d'Ãtre encore achevÃe. Nous espÃrons bien qu'avec votre aide et avec notre bonne volontÃ, nous finirons par avoir raison de cette inconcevable misÃre d'Ãtres humains, innocents et impuissants par eux-mÃmes. Mais nous sommes tout à fait sÃrs que quand nous leur aurons rendu avec leur dignità les possibilitÃs de travailler, ils deviendront non pas un poids mort pour l'humanità mais au contraire un ensemble actif, intelligent, forgà par sa propre misÃre et ses propres rÃflexions, à remplir complÃtement leurs destinÃes d'hommes.

David Boder

[In English] Now going from this to a more general question. Give us a little picture . . . you know, we know in America very little about it and only from the interviews here, I get the idea that the peaceful population in France has suffered a great deal from the Germans. Now can you tell me, how was this done? This completion of people, this selection of people for forced labor to Germany. How were they taken? How were they selected? Were they paid for their work? And are they repatriated now?

Louis Kahn

[In French] Eh bien, pour vous donner une simple idÃe . . .

David Boder

[In English] [interrupts] Think of the French people.

Louis Kahn

[In French] Yes. Pour vous donner une simple idÃe des malheurs endurÃs par les FranÃais, je voudrais vous donner un chiffre. Parmi mes amis, il y a soixante-sept personnes qui Ãtaient ou mes parents ou des hommes chez lesquels j'avais l'habitude de passer la soirÃe ou qui venaient s'asseoir à ma table, qui ont Ãtà dÃportÃs par les Allemands et que je n'ai jamais revus parce qu'ils les ont assassinÃs. Pour vous donner une idÃe des procÃdÃs allemands, je vous parlerai d'un autre amiral du gÃnie maritime qui a Ãtà dÃportà avec sa femme, avec la mÃre de sa femme et avec son fils Ãgà de quinze ans. Quand les Allemands les ont arrÃtÃs . . .

David Boder

[interrupts off mic]

Louis Kahn

[In French] Ils Ãtaient juifs, oui. Quand les Allemands les ont arrÃtÃs, quelques amis du mÃme Corps, je veux dire, ce que vous appelez le Construction Corps, ce que nous appelons en France le GÃnie Maritime, ont tentà la dÃmarche courageuse d'aller demander à la Gestapo de ne pas les dÃporter. Et ils sont tombÃs sur le chef de la Gestapo à Paris, qui Ãtait un homme qui ressemblait à un autre homme, et qui mÃme paraissait encore plus poli qu'on ne l'attendait de ce chef d'une besogne cruelle. Et lorsqu'ils ont vu qu'il refusait de rendre ces prisonniers, ils lui ont dit "eh bien, puisque vous voulez emmener l'amiral, et comme nous ne pouvons pas aller au plus haut niveau vous y opposer, est-ce que vous ne pourriez pas rendre la libertà à cette vieille femme de quatre-vingt-quatre ans que vous avez prise avec lui et avec cet enfant de quinze ans, que vous Ãtes allà chercher au lycÃe?" Et alors, l'Allemand a pris son sourire le plus doux et il leur a rÃpondu ceci: "voyez vous, en ce moment, on fait une propagande trÃs grave contre l'Allemand. On prÃtend qu'il sÃpare les femmes et les enfants. Eh bien, nous ne sÃparerons pas les femmes, les enfants, du pÃre et du mari. Ils partiront tous les quatre." Et effectivement, ils les ont tuÃs tous les quatre. Voilà un tableau vÃcu qui peut Ãtre prouvà par toutes les piÃces de ce qu'ont Ãtà les Allemands en France. Comment ils s'y sont pris? Eh bien, ils avaient dÃjà envoyà beaucoup d'agents avant la guerre en France. Et ils connaissaient les personnes qui pouvaient s'opposer à leurs actions. Et par tous les moyens, saisissant les listes d'habitants, des annuaires du tÃlÃphone, se servant de traÃtres payÃs par eux, aidÃs souvent par les listes administratives qu'ils ont vidà de proche en proche par procÃdà à toute cette action effroyable dont je ne vous ai cità qu'une toute petite partie. Quant au travail, c'Ãtait bien simple. Pour avoir le travail obligatoire, ils ont d'abord essayà de la propagande. Ils ont fait croire aux FranÃais que si des ouvriers partaient en Allemagne, ils seraient ÃchangÃs contre des prisonniers et que ainsi la charge et les peines seraient plus Ãgalement rÃparties entre toutes les parties de la population. Et au dÃbut, avec le concours des discours de Laval, ils auraient pu avoir quelques succÃs. Mais trÃs rapidement, le peuple franÃais s'est aperÃu qu'on lui faisait jouer un rÃle effrayant, celui d'aider purement et simplement le travail de guerre de son effroyable ennemi. Et c'est de là qu'est venue la rÃsistance organisÃe au travail obligatoire. C'est de là qu'est sortie la premiÃre organisation des maquis. C'est de là qu'est sortie Ãgalement toute cette organisation de la dissimulation des personnes qui a permis aux Allemands . . . qui a empÃchà les Allemands de rÃussir leur entreprise. Alors, quand ils ont vu cela, ils ont organisà les rafles. C'est-Ã-dire qu'ils cernaient un quartier et là indistinctement ils faisaient prisonniers tous les hommes qui leur tombaient sous la main. Ils les chargeaient dans les camions et ils les emmenaient de force en Allemagne. Voilà comment s'est faite cette terrible opÃration.

David Boder

[In English] Well, it's late. I could be listening and listening in spite of the fact that I don't understand now. First of all, it's in beautiful French and everything seems to be spoken with very great sentiment. Thank you very much for your hospitality and for your cooperation and I hope to be able through you to contact other people here in France, big and small ones whose stories have to be preserved. If I can get a larger amount of people here, maybe children, I think I will send the spools later to the Sorbonne to your French psychologists, Dr. [unintelligible] and others. And let them use it as a start and maybe start their own study which they certainly could do better than I can.

Louis Kahn

[In French] Eh bien, je suis ravi de vous avoir entendu, Professeur Boder, et d'avoir par vous la possibilità de communiquer avec . . . [ends abruptly]

var english_translation = { interview: [ David Boder

[In English] We are asking now, the Admiral, to conclude this nice family and household report. Will you tell us, when did you return to France?

Louis Kahn

[In French] Well, Sir, since, thanks to Professor Boder, you are able to take part in this family evening in Paris, I would be happy to provide the closing remarks. You have seen how a French family, whose members were separated, was reunited because they were confident there would be a victory, from the very first day, and they never gave up hope for the fate of their country. In the end, it was their determination that brought them together, just as the determination of all of you overcame the invader and the tyrants on the continent.

David Boder

[In English] What do you think, Admiral? When will it be possible for . . . that the French ships will begin to carry American guests and tourists again to France? We are all very eager to start it.

Louis Kahn

[In French] Well, I think that day is coming soon. I myself, with the aid of Engineering and the workers in the French navy, I succeeded in refitting three hundred thousand tons of battleships that, among the Allied fleets, contributed to the Normandy landings. And since we returned to France, we have started working on our ports which were destroyed and we succeeded in getting our shipyards active so that, currently, we are hopeful that very soon we will see French ships resuming their former routes, which will enable you to come see us, with the help of your magnificent commercial fleet. I hope a great many of you will come and see the work my country has done in its effort to resume its former activity.

David Boder

[In English] Now let me ask you a more serious question that was so much on the mind of Americans. I hope you can answer it, if you can. In America, there has been a tremendous propaganda from certain quarters that the war at the beginning has ended so badly for France because the workers were not working. They were striking and were not cooperating for national defense.

Louis Kahn

[In French] This is a very important question, in fact, and I would like to respond. I believe that the big problem that caused the difficulties of the war in the beginning and which for years so gravely compromised the world's development, cannot be analyzed simply with the framework of what happened in France. It is unfortunately true that the world community left too large of a burden on the shoulders of the French, in the period between the two wars. When the war ended, everyone went back home and we, the French, we were left face to face with the strength of Germany which was being built up again. And which was being reconstituted sometimes with the help of its former adversaries. However, we were much nearer to them, much more exposed. We tried to make the voice of reason be heard. And it wasn't until later that this voice of reason was heard in a useful way, when the danger became a threat for the entire world. This is the real reason for the failures that, through France, the whole world experienced in the first part of the war. And it isn't accurate to place responsibility for them on all or part of the French population. Everyone did the best that they could, in a growing economic crisis, precisely because of the threats of war that, at any given time, would interrupt [corrects himself from saying "political"] the practical work being done. And because of constant attempted attacks that the Germans and their agents in France were trying to spread around in order to make things easier for themselves when the time was right. So I'm not surprised that you encountered this propaganda. France was represented as weakened in order to discourage all the powers who would have aligned with her from the very first day, by representing her cause as insufficiently defended by the country herself. And as I meant to say at the beginning, it shouldn't have been France's responsibility alone to carry all the growing weight of the German threat. A peaceful country will always be victimized by a country of murderers. Because the peaceful country will be involved in its peaceful endeavors, while the other freely prepares itself for the business of war, picking the most favorable time to attack, choosing both the most favorable general political circumstances as well as the military circumstances which are particularly favorable to the country who wants to make the first strike. So that is the true cause of the difficulties that the whole world experienced, and we must hope that, enlightened once more by this new threat of a catastrophe, that the world will understand that these catastrophes don't wait until the last minute to give any warning. They can be seen early on by men in positions of authority and they have to have the courage to tell their people the truth so that they can prepare for the crucial moments.

David Boder

[In English] [aside] As I said before, I have to translate. I did not get the full statement, but I will have that translated. Could you think . . . ? Here is another question. Do you have a large number of refugees? Among them, Jewish refugees. Do you think they will be absorbed and given the opportunity to stay in France if they want to?

Louis Kahn

[In French] That is, in fact, a very important issue that you bring up. You know that, in France, we have always very liberally welcomed refugees into our country. And it should be acknowledged that if other countries showed themselves to be much more reserved in this type of philanthropic action, France, on the other hand, always considered that it was her duty, as well as her tradition, to be openly welcoming. You should know that the first children who were taken out of the German camps, after much hesitation from other countries, it was France that was first to take them in. France managed to do it despite the extreme difficulties in which she found her economy immediately after Liberation, not only through her own help, but also thanks to the very generous financial aid from numerous countries, among which we must recognize the very generous aid from the United States of America at the top of the list. Never will we forget in France the action taken by the American representatives. The supplies, money and materials that they sent. The devotion with which the representatives of the American armed forces, the UNRRA representatives, the representatives of the Joint Committee and of numerous other associations freely put together by the good will of your country. No, never will that be forgotten in France. The American generosity, associated with French liberalism, in reality did everything possible in the face of the frightening circumstances the world had never known before, experienced because of veritable forced migrations of men, women and children. And this work is still far from being accomplished. We hope that with your help and our strong determination, we will succeed in overcoming this inconceivable misery suffered by innocent humans who are powerless to help themselves. But we are absolutely sure that when we will have returned to them, with their dignity, the chance to work, they will become not a dead weight for humanity but, on the contrary, an active, intelligent group, molded by the misery they themselves suffered and their own insight, to completely fulfill their human destinies.

David Boder

[In English] Now going from this to a more general question. Give us a little picture . . . you know, we know in America very little about it and only from the interviews here, I get the idea that the peaceful population in France has suffered a great deal from the Germans. Now can you tell me, how was this done? This completion of people, this selection of people for forced labor to Germany. How were they taken? How were they selected? Were they paid for their work? And are they repatriated now?

Louis Kahn

[In French] Well, to give you a very simple idea . . .

David Boder

[In English] [interrupts] Think of the French people.

Louis Kahn

[In French] Yes. To give you an idea of the hardships endured by the French, I would like to give you a figure. Among my friends, there are sixty-seven individuals who were either relatives or people in whose homes I would spend an evening, or who came and sat at my table, who were deported by the Germans and that I never saw again because they killed them. To give you an idea of German prcedures, I'll tell you about another admiral with the naval engineers who was deported with his wife, with his mother-in-law and with his fifteen year old son. When the Germans arrested them . . .

David Boder

[interrupts off mic]

Louis Kahn

[In French] They were Jewish, yes. When the Germans arrested them, some friends from the same Corps, I mean what you call the Construction Corps, what we call in France the Naval Engineers, made the courageous attempt to go ask the Gestapo not to deport them. And they came upon the head of the Gestapo in Paris, who was a man who looked like any other, and who appeared even more well-mannered than one would expect from someone in charge of this cruel work. When they saw that he was refusing to free these prisoners, they told him "Well, since you want to take the admiral, and since we can't go to anyone higher to override your decision, wouldn't you be able to free this old eighty-four year old woman that you captured with him, along with this fifteen year old child that you pulled out of high school?" And the German smiled his sweetest smile and answered them with: "you see, at this time, there is a lot of serious propaganda against the Germans. They're claiming that the Germans are separating women and children. Well, we will not separate the women, the children, from their father and their husband. The four of them will leave together." And indeed, they killed all four of them. This is a depiction, that can be proven by all the evidence, of what the Germans were like in France. How did they take these people? Well, they had already sent many agents to France before the war. And they knew which individuals would oppose their actions. And by any means available, confiscating lists of residents, phone books, using paid traitors. They often used government lists from which they gradually eliminated people using these horrifying procedures of which I only described one small part. As for labor, it was really simple. To have forced labor, they first tried propaganda. They made the French believe that if workers were to leave for Germany, they would be exchanged for prisoners, and thereby the charges and the sentences would be more equally divided between all segments of the population. And in the beginning, with the help of Laval's speech, they were somewhat successful. But very quickly, the French people realized that they had been made to play a frightening role, by purely and simply aiding their horrifying enemy in its war effort. And out of that came the organized resistance to forced labor. From there also came this whole organization to hide people which enabled [speaker corrects himself], which kept the Germans from succeeding in their business. So, when they saw that happening, they organized the raids. This meant that they would target a neighborhood and then would indiscriminately take as prisoners any persons they could get their hands on. They would load them up in trucks and send them off by force to Germany. That is how those terrible operations were carried out.

David Boder

[In English] Well, it's late. I could be listening and listening in spite of the fact that I don't understand now. First of all, it's in beautiful French and everything seems to be spoken with very great sentiment. Thank you very much for your hospitality and for your cooperation and I hope to be able through you to contact other people here in France, big and small ones whose stories have to be preserved. If I can get a larger amount of people here, maybe children, I think I will send the spools later to the Sorbonne to your French psychologists, Dr. [unintelligible] and others. And let them use it as a start and maybe start their own study which they certainly could do better than I can.

Louis Kahn

[In French] Well, I am delighted to have heard you, Professor Boder, and to have the possibility, through you, to communicate with . . . [ends abruptly]