Sleeping with the enemy: How 'horizontal collaborators' in Paris brothels enjoyed a golden age entertaining Hitler's troops
By PETER ALLEN
UPDATED: 09:09 GMT, 1 May 2009
Doffing his peaked cap, Hermann Goering accepted a flute of vintage champagne from his beaming hostess and complimented her on her impeccable taste.
The Luftwaffe commander knew good art when he saw it and was hugely impressed by the original Toulouse-Lautrec murals lining the walls of the elegant townhouse next door to the Louvre Museum.
Bow-tied musicians filled the high-ceilinged reception room with the strains of a Mozart quartet, as delicate petits fours were served on silver trays.
Call me madam: Women at a 'closed house' club in Paris. Such brothels flourished under Nazi patronage
There might have been a war on, but a visit to Le Chabanais, the most elegant brothel in Paris, always restored a senior Nazi's faith in Gallic civility.
Humiliating as it might sound, crushing military defeat heralded a golden age for the French capital's maisons closes - 'closed houses' devoted to sensual pleasure.
Renowned French social commentator Patrick Buisson has cited the establishments' ascendancy as the most blatant examples of the widespread 'horizontal collaboration' which shamed his country during World War II.
In a new book, 1940-1945 Années Erotiques (Erotic Years), Buisson certainly undermines the popular myth that Paris's time as a German garrison was a grim period of relentless deprivation, persecution and resistance.
Rather than brothel staff suffering the numerous horrors usually associated with the Occupation, they were patronised by many of the most important figures in the Third Reich, as well as hundreds of more junior officers.
This meant huge injections of cash, almost unlimited amounts of black market goods and even donations of art treasures plundered from more blighted outposts of Adolf Hitler's sprawling empire.
High-class prostitution flourished, with compliant madames and mademoiselles helping to turn Paris into the most sexually charged city in Europe.
Every kind of vice was on offer
Most girls were so enamoured with the Aryan invaders that they went to great lengths to make them feel at home, including learning German, putting on performances of their favourite classical music, even dyeing their hair black to provide an exotic contrast to their predominantly blond customers.
Almost every night of the week was party night, with alcohol-fuelled orgies dominating social life at a time when the majority of the population had to abide by an 11pm to 5am curfew.
Even while the Holocaust was being extended to France's sizeable Jewish community and Allied bombs rained down on suburban factories, the debauchery carried on.
'It was a golden age for French brothels,' says Buisson. 'Many had been threatened with being shut down in less liberated days, but under the Nazis they were completely revived.'
After conquering France in the summer of 1940, the invaders turned out to be insatiable customers.
Wermacht and SS units commandeered no fewer than 22 well known brothels, turning them into establishments for the exclusive use of military staff and a few compliant French officials.
Patron: Hermann Goering, pictured right with Hitler, was a regular at French brothels
Military commanders set rates for the brothels, with nominal taxes being paid to the collaborating French authorities.
German medics examined the prostitutes three times each week to ensure there were no illnesses, with any outbreak of venereal disease considered an 'act of sabotage'.
This followed in a Napoleonic tradition, as the French Emperor had ordered the registration and bi-weekly health inspection of all prostitutes in the early 19th century.
Napoleon, who was hugely admired by Hitler, had much to do with the early maisons closes which started to appear in Paris and other major cities at about the same time.
They had to be run by a woman, typically a former prostitute-turned-madam, and their outer appearance had to be 'discreet'.
The Nazis published an official guide to the houses, with guards posted outside the major ones when senior Nazis such as Goering were visiting.
Fees paid to the madams in charge were some of the highest in the history of the sex industry, with single visits often costing the equivalent of a senior officer's weekly pay.
More than that, all visitors were encouraged to bring champagne, chocolates and cigarettes for their favourite girls, to maintain a sense of decorum in places which, on the surface at least, could project the image of a gentlemen's club.
Queen Victoria's son Bertie was a regular
Private rooms, meanwhile, offered every kind of vice. 'The houses were temples of aristocratic eroticism,' says Buisson.
'They were a break from economic stagnation and the boredom of day-to-day existence - a distraction and a chance to heighten the senses, a shelter from the troubles, a festive break from the frustrations of everyday life.'
Highlighting the luxury on offer, Buisson says: 'They were islands of abundance in an ocean of austerity, vast caverns full of all kinds of things which you couldn't find outside.'
Although quaintly named after a village in the western Charente department, Le Chabanais, for example, suffered none of the shortages that brought many living in the countryside during the war to the edge of starvation.
Instead, men such as Goering joined a succession of famous historical figures who had regularly trooped through its front door to pay for illicit sex.
Queen Victoria's son Bertie, the Prince of Wales and future King Edward VII, had been a Chabanais regular in the 1890s.
It was claimed that he particularly enjoyed the exotic Hindu Chamber, along with the Champagne Bath and a custom-made seat designed for maximum sexual pleasure.
War-torn Paris: For the prostitutes at Paris' upmarket brothels it was a time of indulgence not suffering
The seat was to become a particular favourite of a number of Nazis, who allowed the Prince's coat of arms to remain in place above a velvet divan 'because he had a German mother', according to one observer of the period.
The artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec had also enjoyed all that was on offer at Le Chabanais, scrawling his wall tableaux as a 'thank you' to his favourite madams for years of service.
Guy de Maupassant, the writer, built a copy of the brothel's Moorish Room at his seaside mansion so that he wouldn't miss it while out of Paris.
Other establishments commandeered by the Germans included Le Sphinx, which dated back to the 17th century, and the One Two Two at 122 Rue de Provence.
The fabulously decorated One Two Two was regularly updated, with two gardeners working round the clock on its lavish flower grotto.
It contained solid marble pedestals, designed for voluptuous prostitutes dressed as Greek goddesses to show off their wares. Opulent if kitsch theme rooms were made to look like cabins on ocean-going liners or carriages on the Orient Express.
Women often preferred Nazi invaders to their countrymen
The latter were 'staffed' with ticket collectors who accepted 'fares' for all kinds of titillating services.
Despite the vast profits involved, Buisson suggests that it was not just the financial incentive that made the French women welcome the Germans with such warmth.
They were genuinely impressed by the charm and gentlemanly behaviour of many of the Teutonic officers.
Buisson says: 'Everything indicates that the new clients who arrived in the summer of 1940 were given a favourable form of treatment that the seductive power of the Reichsmark alone could not entirely account for.'
In short, the women often preferred the German invaders to their own countrymen.
Although they were predominantly concerned with sex, the brothels always maintained a relaxed atmosphere in so-called 'club rooms'.
'They were a substitute for the warmth of a distant hearth,' says Buisson. 'They were convivial places where you would go for a drink, to listen to music, to dance with the women without necessarily going upstairs with one at the end of the evening.'
It was Fabienne Jamet, a well known Paris madam of the era who ran the One Two Two, who had insisted that senior officers brought luxury gifts such as champagne and fresh flowers for her girls.
She had nothing but good memories of the gallant and handsome soldiers, especially members of elite Nazi units such as the SS.
American soldiers march along the Champs Elysees to liberate Paris: The end of the occupation began a backlash against brothels
Sexual activity would often reach a frenzy before the start of a military offensive, as happened in the summer of 1941 before the invasion of Russia, when troops enjoying a comfortable life in Paris knew that their next stop would be the Eastern Front.
Recalling some of her favourite clients, Madame Jamet said: 'I remember these SS, all in black, so young, so beautiful, often of extraordinary intelligence, who spoke perfect French and English.'
As they prepared to board lorries heading out of Paris, Madame Jamet said she shouted at them: 'You're mad, you're going to kill yourself. All you have to do is send your Hitler to take your place on the front line.'
Notwithstanding such dramatic brushes with the reality of military conflict, hedonistic nights were all that concerned most visitors.
'I'm almost ashamed to say it, but I've never had so much fun in my life,' said Madame Jamet. 'Those nights of the Occupation were fantastic. The brothels of France were never better looked after than when the Germans were here.'
Sleeping with the enemy for cash was not the exclusive preserve of a decadent elite, either.
Tens of thousands of comely women, from nominally respectable housewives to schoolteachers, forged relationships with the 'blond Aryan barbarians', says Buisson.
With more than two million husbands and fiancés locked away in prisoner-of-war or concentration camps, many were forced to offer sex to try and make up for their lack of money.
Many ended up in less salubrious brothels, with Buisson saying: 'In less than an hour, a girl who sold her charms to the occupier could earn up to three times the daily allowance that was given to the wives of French prisoners of war in 1941.'
'Those nights of the occupation were fantastic'
In all, there were thought to be at least 10,000 occasional prostitutes working in Paris, with about six times more full-time ones than before the war.
Following the Nazi invasion in the summer of 1940, Teutonic military superiority left the humiliated French in a state of 'erotic shock', says Buisson.
Whatever the real reason for the promiscuous abandon, it intensified as the Liberation approached, before many of the consorts finally became victims of Nazi-style persecution themselves at the hands of Parisienne mobs.
The so-called femmes tondues ('shaved women') were dragged into city squares and had their hair cut off in front of baying crowds.
Stripped naked, they would often have swastikas carved on to their foreheads before being beaten up.
As far as the newly revived brothels were concerned, a backlash also began.
Yvonne de Gaulle, the Roman Catholic wife of the wartime leader and new president, Charles de Gaulle, publicly announced her hatred for the maison closes.
She was supported by Marthe Richard, a Paris councillor and former prostitute, who said the brothels were too closely associated with the Nazis to remain active.
The 'loi de Marthe Richard' was finally passed on April 13, 1946, officially putting an end to the closed houses and ending the erotic war years.
Within a few months, the stunning interiors of the brothels were smashed to pieces, with not even Toulouse-Lautrec's murals surviving.
The One Two Two is now an office complex housing, among other companies, a firm of accountants.
The six-storey building which housed Le Chabanais, where men such as Goering spent some of their happiest hours of the war, is now a collection of exclusive apartments.
Even its 'Prince Edward' love seat has since been stripped out, although it can now be seen at the Erotic Museum near the Moulin Rouge in the red-light district of Pigalle, some two miles away.