Hopkins Papers

The Ambassador to Turkey (Steinhardt), Temporarily at Cairo, to the Presidents Special Assistant (Hopkins)

Memorandum for: Mr. Hopkins.

I had a talk with Helleu today. I have known him for the past six years quite intimately as he was Minister in Riga and Ambassador in Ankara for some time after I arrived there. He gave me the following version of the recent events in Lebanon1 where he was Governor General at the time they took place.

About three weeks before he left for Algiers the Lebanese authorities began to press him for consent to their proposed independence bill. He gave them every assurance that the matter would receive full and fair consideration. Four days before his departure for Algiers the matter was again urged upon him and he said he would take it up with General De Gaulle in Algiers. He says he was given to understand by the Lebanese authorities that no action would be taken during his absence. In Algiers he discussed the matter with General De Gaulle who instructed him to reiterate on his behalf the assurance already given by Helleu. When Helleu arrived in Cairo on his return from Algiers he heard that the Lebanese authorities intended to pass the bill at once and he telephoned to Beirut “begging that no action be taken pending his return ‘in twenty four hours’”. On his arrival there the next day he found the bill had been passed the night before, but he said he regarded this as a “slap in the face to France” and that he thereupon ordered the arrests on his own initiative. He said no Sen[e]galese troops were used and that the arrests had been made by “white French sailors”. He also said that no violence or indignities had taken place and that of this he was certain. He said he attributed the false reports to “British intrigue”.

Helleu immediately reported the arrests to De Gaulle and received a telegram from him, of which he permitted me to read the original. It is dated November 13th and is De Gaulle’s telegram #3279. It is a fairly long telegram. The substance is as follows: De Gaulle stated that he assumed the action taken by Helleu was necessary or it would not have been taken and that he approved of it. The first paragraph is an unequivocal ratification of Helleu’s action. The second paragraph indicates De Gaulle anticipated a violent British reaction. The concluding paragraph states that he is sending General Catroux to Beirut, [Page 819] not for the purpose of disavowing Helleu’s action but for the purpose of supporting him in the action taken by him.

Helleu said that thereafter Catroux arrived and, as is known, disavowed his action. He added in the strictest confidence that he was thoroughly convinced of Catroux’s disloyalty to De Gaulle and that he was scheming to succeed him. Helleu then showed me a telegram dated November 22 from De Gaulle requesting him to proceed to Algiers immediately and closed with expressions of great friendship and signed himself as “his sincere friend”. Helleu is in Cairo today enroute to Algiers in compliance with De Gaulle’s request.

I am entirely convinced of the truthfulness of Helleu’s statement to me that the arrests were made on his own initiative but that his action was immediately confirmed and ratified by General De Gaulle. Helleu is a man of integrity and has always been entirely truthful and frank in our relations as colleagues. In view of the circumstances and substance of our meeting today it is inconceivable that the two original telegrams which he showed me and which he had carefully folded in his wallet could have been fabricated for the occasion. If the first telegram is genuine, it follows that his statement that he acted on his own in making the arrests and that De Gaulle immediately ratified his action must be true.

L. A. Steinhardt
  1. See ante, p. 84, footnote 2.