Industrialist Charles Bedaux Is Arrested for Nazi Collaboration Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Charles Bedaux and his wife, Fern Bedaux, were arrested in Algiers by occupying U.S. troops and charged with treason for collaborating with the Nazis before and during World War II. His arrest brought an end to his remarkable rise from the red light district of Paris to the halls of industry and government on two continents. He was found dead from an apparent suicide before the start of his trial.

Summary of Event

A year after his arrest in Algiers, Algeria, on December 5, 1942, Charles Bedaux was sent for trial to a border-patrol station in Miami, Florida. The morning after he was told that he would be tried for treason, he was found dead from an overdose of sleeping medication in an apparent suicide. The note found with his body included the unexpected explanation of how he had come into possession of so much medication. Skeptics question the suicide and claimed his death was a murder, pointing out that many of Bedaux’s important and powerful friends in government and industry would have welcomed his death out of fear they would be implicated had he testified in his own defense. [kw]Bedaux Is Arrested for Nazi Collaboration, Industrialist Charles (Dec. 5, 1942) [kw]Nazi Collaboration, Industrialist Charles Bedaux Is Arrested for (Dec. 5, 1942) Bedaux, Charles World War II[World War 02];Nazi collaborators Nazi collaborators and sympathizers;Charles Bedaux[Bedaux] Treason;Charles and Fern Bedaux[Bedaux] Algeria Bedaux, Charles World War II[World War 02];Nazi collaborators Nazi collaborators and sympathizers;Charles Bedaux[Bedaux] Treason;Charles and Fern Bedaux[Bedaux] Algeria [g]Africa;Dec. 5, 1942: Industrialist Charles Bedaux Is Arrested for Nazi Collaboration[00700] [g]Algeria;Dec. 5, 1942: Industrialist Charles Bedaux Is Arrested for Nazi Collaboration[00700] [c]Atrocities and war crimes;Dec. 5, 1942: Industrialist Charles Bedaux Is Arrested for Nazi Collaboration[00700] [c]Business;Dec. 5, 1942: Industrialist Charles Bedaux Is Arrested for Nazi Collaboration[00700] [c]Government;Dec. 5, 1942: Industrialist Charles Bedaux Is Arrested for Nazi Collaboration[00700] [c]Murder and suicide;Dec. 5, 1942: Industrialist Charles Bedaux Is Arrested for Nazi Collaboration[00700] [c]Law and the courts;Dec. 5, 1942: Industrialist Charles Bedaux Is Arrested for Nazi Collaboration[00700] Bedaux, Fern

Bedaux was born in 1886 to a middle-class family in Charenton, a Paris suburb. As a young dropout, he drifted into the employ of a pimp in the Pigalle district of Paris and quickly discovered his remarkable talents for persuasion. He began to recruit young ladies for his mentor, Henri Ledoux, after Ledoux was murdered in 1906. Feeling unsafe in Paris, Bedaux quickly emigrated to the United States. He was nineteen years old.

Penniless and speaking no English, Bedaux worked as a laborer and salesperson in New York City. He became a U.S. citizen, got married, and had a son, but he left his new family for the midwestern United States. He taught French and worked at various jobs while he learned English and sharpened his salesmanship. He then worked as a lab assistant for a St. Louis, Missouri, chemical manufacturer, who implemented his suggestions for improving efficiency at the company. The experience showed him a way to capitalize on the inefficiencies of the manufacturing process, and he set out to become a management consultant.

By 1917, Bedaux had been working as a management consultant in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he met Lombard, Fern Fern Lombard, the daughter of an attorney. They were married on July 13, and Fern remained at his side until 1942, when they were both arrested in France as enemy aliens by the occupying Germans.

After their marriage, Bedaux and Lombard moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where Bedaux became one of the founders of the management consultancy industry in the United States by establishing the Charles E. Bedaux Company. By 1925, he was a millionaire, and at his peak in 1934, he had one of the top five incomes in the United States, his company had offices in eighteen countries, and he counted companies such as Campbell’s Soup, Du Pont, General Electric, B. F. Goodrich, and Kodak among his six hundred clients. Bedaux’s name shares company with seminal management and industrial-engineering figures such as Frederick Winslow Taylor and Frank Gilbreth.

After the Nazis shut down his company in Germany in 1934, Bedaux immediately traveled there to restore its operation. His efforts were unsuccessful, but he did manage to establish ties with some highly placed Nazi officials. When the Nazis asked his opinion on Adolf Hitler Hitler, Adolf and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, Benito Mussolini, he called them both great leaders. He also did Hitler a personal service when he learned that Hitler was embarrassed by the presence in Germany of his Jewish World War I superior. Bedaux removed the man from Germany by opening a Bedaux company office in Turkey and hiring him as its director.

Resistance to the Bedaux system in the United States came from American labor. Strikes were called against his clients, and his system was often attacked as an inhuman speed-up system. While he was faced with these problems in Germany and the United States, he thought of a way to elevate his reputation and the worldwide prestige of his company: He would host the wedding of the century.

Bedaux owned the luxurious ChÂteau de Candé in the Loire Valley of France. He had modernized the chÂteau and made it a playground for the rich and famous, placing himself and Fern in the very center of European society, where they met industrial and political leaders, film stars, and the royalty of Europe. When King Edward VIII of Great Britain Windsor, Duke of Simpson, Wallis abdicated his throne in 1936 to marry an American, Wallis Simpson, Bedaux persuaded Edward to have the wedding at Candé.

Shortly after the 1937 Marriage;Edward VIII marriage of the former monarch, Bedaux organized a twelve-day tour for him of working conditions in Germany. Now known as Prince Edward, duke of Windsor, he was warmly received by the German people and by the government of the Third Reich. Apparently as a direct result of the tour, Bedaux’s company in Germany was restored, and the Nazis were so pleased with Edward’s performance that they paid the expenses for the entire tour.

Flushed with the success of the tour in Germany, Bedaux organized a similar tour of the United States for Edward. Because of resistance from labor and a cool reception by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, however, the American tour was canceled. In addition, because of his publicized Nazi connections, Bedaux was forced to sever his connection with the company he had founded. In 1937, pursued by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service Internal Revenue Service for back taxes and facing a lawsuit by a former mistress, Bedaux and his wife returned to Europe under assumed names.

German troops entered Paris in 1940, and Bedaux agreed to staff the Paris office of Nazi interior ministry officer General Franz Medicus. A short time later, the Germans asked Bedaux to oversee the installation of the Bedaux management system in the French coal mines. Bedaux was credited with convincing German and French Vichy government officials in early 1941 to build a trans-Sahara railroad. He proposed that they build a pipeline alongside the railroad, which would supply water during construction and could be used to move inexpensive peanut oil across the desert to Europe after the railroad’s completion, thereby aiding the war effort of the Axis powers.

Bedaux’s fortunes fell when the United States entered World War II. He and his wife refused a chance to return to the United States, choosing instead to remain in occupied France. In September, 1942, they were arrested by the Germans as enemy aliens. Bedaux’s friend in the interior ministry, General Medicus, arranged their release, and Bedaux left immediately for North Africa. He was forced to leave his wife, who was placed under house arrest, in France.

Following the allied invasion of North Africa and the subsequent occupation of Algiers, U.S. military intelligence traced the railroad and pipeline projects directly to Bedaux. He was arrested on December 5 and held in a suburb of Algiers for one year before being sent to Miami to stand trial. On February 17, 1944, Bedaux was informed that he would be tried for treason. The next morning, he was found dead from an apparent suicide.

Impact

Debate remains as to whether Bedaux was a dedicated altruist or an unscrupulous egoist dedicated to his own self-interest. He certainly was one of the most colorful characters in the first half of the twentieth century. His arrest ended a critical relationship between Bedaux the industrial genius and Hitler the dictator. Hitler’s plans for world domination relied on the expertise of major industrialists, such as Bedaux, and wealthy financiers, all willing to help him succeed. Bedaux’s management system would have been a significant element in Hitler’s rise to power. Algeria Bedaux, Charles World War II[World War 02];Nazi collaborators Nazi collaborators and sympathizers;Charles Bedaux[Bedaux] Treason;Charles and Fern Bedaux[Bedaux]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Allen, Martin. Hidden Agenda: How the Duke of Windsor Betrayed the Allies. New York: Macmillan, 2000. This books argues that Britain’s duke of Windsor used Charles Bedaux to pass secrets to Hitler during World War II.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Christy, Jim. The Price of Power: A Biography of Charles Eugene Bedaux. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1984. A biography favorable to Bedaux, casting some doubt on his pro-Nazi reputation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nasan, David. “Remembering a Life That Read Like a Movie Script.” The New York Times, November 3, 1996. A review of the excellent 1995 biographical film about Bedaux, The Champagne Safari.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pool, James. Hitler and His Secret Partners: Contributions, Loot, and Rewards, 1933-1945. New York: Pocket Books, 1997. Pool focuses on the sociopsychological and cultural aspects of Hitler’s rise to power. Discusses Hitler’s connections with major industrialists and financiers in Germany, including a brief mention of Bedaux.

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