A new film that appeared on French TV earlier this year alleges that the woman who created one of the world's most perfume brands was an active collborator with the Nazi conquerors of France during the Second World War. Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel -- better known as Coco Chanel -- released her signature france in 1922 and became one of the richest women on the world. The new French documentary, The No. 5 War – a reference to the famed Chanel No. 5 fragrance – claims that Chanel worked with Nazis and took a Nazi army officer as a lover. Moreover, she used the anti-Semitic racist laws imposed on France to rid herself of her Jewish associates, brothers Pierre and Paul Wertheimer.
Director Stéphane Benhamou is slated to attend one of the screenings of the film this week at the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival.
The filmmakers called Chanel “the most celebrated woman of the day – who would stop at nothing to achieve her ends.”
According to the film’s producers, in 1940, Chanel, “with the help of the Nazis occupying France, went to great lengths to get rid of her Jewish associates, the Wertheimer brothers.” The battle between them for control of the famed perfume “involved the Parisian who’s who, Nazi spies, those in charge of Aryanizing the French economy, unscrupulous businessmen, double agents and brilliant perfume designers.”
Chanel’s virulent antisemitic sentiments and dealings with Nazis have already been the subject of several books and films.
In 2014, a French documentary titled L’Ombre d’un Doute (The Shadow of a Doubt), claimed that she had an affair with a senior Nazi official, Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage. According to the documentary, created by historian Franck Ferrand, Chanel spied for the Nazis and even had her own code name given to her by the Nazi intelligence agency.
In 2011, Hal Vaughan published Sleeping With The Enemy, an explosive account of Chanel’s antisemitic views and her work with Adolf Hitler. In the book he wrote how a judge in post-war France “had discovered that Chanel had cooperated with German military intelligence and had been teamed with a French traitor, Baron Louis de Vaufreland.” The new documentary largely follows Vaughn's work.
But Vaughan learned far more than that judge ever did, including that “while French Resistance fighters were shooting Germans in the summer of 1941, Chanel was recruited as an agent by the Abwehr [German military intelligence service]... Chanel and Baron von Dincklage traveled to bombed-out Berlin in 1943 to offer Chanel’s services as an agent to SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler.”
The Wertheimers were able to escape to New York and avoid extermination. Before leaving, they conveyed the intellectual rights to Chanel's perfumes to a Christian associate, who happened to be an industrialist who made war materiel essential to the Nazi war effort. When Chanel pressed her claim against them, the Nazis demurred because they needed the manufacturer's cooperation. She would have to wait until after the war, despite her cooperation with the Nazi cause.
She was investigated by allied forces after the war, but collaboration charges were dismissed due to lack of evidence. One of her friends, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who she met through the Duke of Westminister in the 1930s, is rumoured to have saved her.
Chanel moved to Switzerland with her German lover and decided to settle with the Wertheimers, which resulted in a $9 million (£6.75m) payout for her share of perfume sales during the Second World War. The Wertheimers didn't want to sue her over the ordeal so as not to damage the brand.