WHO: Coco Chanel
WHAT: SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY
WHEN: During and after World War II
WHERE: Nazi-occupied France
Chanel repeatedly denied her Nazi collaborations during World War II in occupied Paris; also unclear is her long exile in Switzerland after the war with her German lover, Abwehr spy Baron Hans Gunther von Dinklage. Now, backed by facts drawn from American and European archives, Hal Vaughan tells us the true story of Chanel’s involvement with the Germans—providing a detailed narrative of her wartime activities:
CHANEL WAS A REGISTERED GERMAN SPY: in 1940, Chanel was recruited into the German military intelligence organization known as the Abwehr, becoming Agent F-7124. Her code name was Westminster, borrowed from Chanel’s lifetime friend and sometime lover, Duke of Westminster (himself pro-German).
TRADED MISSIONS FOR FAVORS: in 1941, Chanel went to Spain on an Abwehr spy mission on condition that the Nazis release her nephew from a military internment camp.
KNEW GOERING AND GOEBBELS: during the occupation, she lived in the Ritz Hotel in Paris, which was Nazi-controlled, sharing close quarters with Nazi general officers, agents, and spies, including Hermann Goering and Joseph Goebbels.
ACTED AS COVER FOR OTHER AGENTS: in August of 1941, aided by the Gestapo, she went to Madrid with Baron Louis de Vaufreland-Piscatory, another Nazi spy. There, they met with British diplomats, and Vaufreland recruited other agents for the Nazis.
TRIED TO STEAL FROM HER JEWISH PARTNERS: after she gained the confidence of the Germans, she made a failed attempt with Dr. Kurt Blanke—a senior Nazi officer in Paris in charge of the Aryanization of Jewish Property—to gain control of the Chanel perfume empire from the Wertheimer brothers, who had made her perfume an international sensation.
APPEARED ON RESISTANCE DEATH ROSTERS: along with her friends Jean Cocteau, Rene de Chambrun, and dancer Serge Lifar, Chanel was considered a collaborator by the French Resistance.
WORKED FOR THE GERMANS EVEN AS FRANCE WAS BEING LIBERATED: while Resistance fighters worked to liberate France, Chanel and von Dincklage traveled to Berlin on orders from SS General Walter Schellenberg, Himmler’s right-hand man. In 1944, Schellenberg launched Operation Modellhut and sent Chanel to Madrid to contact British authorities and even Winston Churchill himself. While there, Chanel received large sums of money from Gestapo officer Walter Kitchmann.
RESCUED BY CHURCHILL: When Paris was liberated, Chanel was arrested but then freed through the intervention of her old friend Winston Churchill, and fled to Switzerland.
REMAINED A NAZI SYMPATHIZER: In 1952, Chanel went to Italy to bring the then-convicted war criminal Walter Schellenberg a large sum of money. She later arranged to keep her name out of his memoirs, entitled The Labyrinth.
THE FRENCH NEVER KNEW: Though Chanel was brought to Paris by warrant in 1946 to answer questions about her 1941 trip to Madrid with Nazi agent Vaufreland, she was never charged with being a Nazi spy. The Court of Justice determined that Chanel’s answers were “unclear” and never deliberated her collaboration or her work with SS General Schellenberg. Vaufreland, for his part, was sentenced to six years in prison.