Madame Geneviève Tabouis: A French Thorn in Hitler’s Side

I first came across French columnist Geneviève Tabouis in a letter from Sigrid Schultz, to the Chicago Tribune’s owner and publisher Robert McCormick written on May 17, 1939,* in which she outlined Hitler’s plans for a Nazi-controlled Europe. After outlining how Hitler intended to divide up Europe, she told McCormick “Friends of mine were present when Hitler explained to them how he plans to ‘force England on her knees’ should she try to prevent Germany from taking the land Hitler claims for his people. It sounds phantasmic, yet I feel it my duty to write to you about this. My source has always proved absolutely trustworthy and what seemed phantasmic to us became hard reality much quicker than even Hitler’s aides expected.”

Hitler’s plans for scaring the British into agreeing with his demands included the air bombardment of London. Schultz admitted that she wasn’t the first reporter to have heard about Hitler’s air bombardment plan: “One of the Paris ‘sensation mongers’, Madame Tabouis, wrote about this bombardment plan against London.  She was branded insane.  I did not believe it myself, but I now know that Hitler has repeatedly spoken to his closest aides along these lines.”

I was curious to learn more about this “sensation monger” who had beaten Sigrid to the punch with her “insane” prediction. It was rabbit hole time.

Tabouis was born on February 23, 1892—eleven months prior to Schultz—and like Schultz she was the daughter of an artist. (Her relatives on her mother’s side were French diplomats and senior military officers.) After brief periods in which she raised silkworms and kept a frog, she became obsessed with history and poetry. She studied at the Sorbonne for three years. (I can’t help but wonder if she and Sigrid crossed paths there given their shared interest in history.) She then attended the school of archaeology at the Louvre. (Somewhat earlier than Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt.) She was particularly interested in Egypt and was  proud when she had learned enough hieroglyphics to use them to write a letter to her favorite dance partner.**

Her life took a turn away from ancient history during World War I. *** She was married in 1916 and had two small children thereafter. During this period, she became fascinated by politics and attended political debates in the French Chamber of Deputies the way some women went to afternoon matinees. Her uncle, French diplomat Jules Cambon, recognized writing talent in her letters. With his encouragement, and access to his circle of contacts, she began to write short, amusing articles about people and events for two provincial newspapers.

In the 1930s, Tabouis became first a columnist for L’Oeuvre, a popular left-wing French paper and later its foreign news editor. Her columns were chatty, engaging, and smart. They were soon syndicated throughout Europe.

Tabouis was one of the first French journalists to speak out against Hitler and the Nazis. For week after week through the 1930s, she turned out columns in which she reported on Hitler’s political moves, speculated on his motives, and predicted his actions with uncanny accuracy. Her columns regularly sent him into rages; her predictions occasionally disrupted his plans.

She fled Paris shortly before the German army arrived and took asylum in the United States. She was tried for treason in absentia.

In New York, Tarbois wrote for the Daily Mirror and founded a weekly French-language magazine, Pour La Victoire, which run through the war. After the war, she returned to France , where she was honored as an Officier de la Légion d’honneur and Commandeur de l’order national du Mérite. After her death, she was lauded as the “doyenne of French journalists.”


*Several months before Germany marched into Poland and triggered World War II.

**Which makes me wonder whether he was able to read it. My sources don’t say. And perhaps that wasn’t the point.

***She picked the topic back up after the war. At the same time that she was building a career as an influential journalist, Tarbouis wrote and published popular biographies of Tutankhamen (1929), Nebuchdnezzar (1931), and Solomon (1936) as well as three books on contemporary politics and diplomacy. She once told her readers that she couldn’t remember an evening when she hadn’t worked, including weekends and Christmas. Her only form of relaxation was playing with her cats.

My publisher is giving away 25 copies of The Dragon From Chicago on Goodreads. You can sign up here  through July 4. Good luck!


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