German soldiers parade on the Champs Élysées on 14 June 1940 (Bundesarchiv)
William C. Bullit served as the American Ambassador to France between 1936–1940. At that time he was a close friend of President Roosevelt with whom he often spoke by telephone when Bullitt was Ambassador to France. The men subsequently had falling-out and FDR blocked Bullit from receiving another appointment from the State Department.
He came from a socially prominent Philadelphia family and had friends at the highest level of American government and society. President Roosevelt appointed him as the first US Ambassador to the Soviet Union where he served from 1933 to 1936.
On 10 May 1940, Nazi Germany attacked France. As the French armies collapsed from incompetent leadership and terrible morale, the Germans moved closer and closer to Paris. The French government declared Paris an open city and evacuated on 10 June 1940. In standard diplomatic practice, the ambassadors accredited to the French government followed that government when it left Paris.
Ambassador Bullit, unlike the other diplomats, chose not to follow the French government and remained in Paris. The Germans occupied Paris on 14 June 1940. The United States was not at war with Germany. Hence, America was a neutral country. Therefore the Germans were not allowed to seize American property of any sort and certainly were prohibited from stealing or tampering with supplies destined for the American Embassy. Doing so was a violation of the Hague Convention of 1907, of which Germany was a signatory.
However, a German officer inspecting the Paris customs house discovered a shipment of 150,000 American cigarettes consigned to Ambassador Bullitt.
“So these are Bullitt’s cigarettes! Well, he won’t get them. I used to live in Philadelphia and I never did like Bullitt. Take them away.”
From: Diplomat Among Warriors by Robert Murphy
Bullitt lighting a visitor’s cigarette
[Image courtesy of Life Magazine.]