By summer 1944 the Allies were powering through occupied France. The military commander of Paris, General Dietrich von Choltitz, had orders to destroy the city if the Allies got close. Dynamite was packed under every monument.
Locals suspected of contacts with the resistance disappeared daily. The concierge would force the door to find an empty apartment with two chairs close together in the hallway and German cigarette butts on the tiled floor. Family and friends could do nothing but queue daily at the Gestapo headquarters on avenue Foch to beg for information.
A woman with green eyes, high-cheek bones, and a bun of dark hair spent a lot of time standing in line that summer. Marguerite Donnadieu was child-faced thirty-year-old born to French teachers working near Saigon. In early June 1944 her days were spent working as a Vichy civil servant, her evenings plotting with a hard-left resistance group led by fellow bureaucrat François Mitterrand. Any spare time went towards writing novels under the name Marguerite Duras.
In August 1941 the men of Einsatzgruppe B put on a show for their boss in a field outside Minsk. Pits had been dug. It was 07:00 in the morning.
Scared-looking locals climbed out of lorries and lined up. Men in feldgrau uniforms stood around with carbines. Important men from Berlin peered into the pits and made jokes with each other.
The Einsatzgruppe were SS units that followed behind the front line and killed anyone the Nazi leadership regarded as subversive: Jews, Roma, Slavs, Communists, hostages of all kinds. Today SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler had driven out to see his first mass execution. Einsatzgruppe B wanted to impress.
They stood the locals in the pits and shot them in batches. Carbines cracking, bodies falling, death coughs. Depending who told the story and in which court room, Himmler either came close to fainting or pointed out survivors to be shot again. Everyone agreed that when it was over the Reichsführer told the men of Einsatzgruppe B they were doing good and necessary work. He understood how psychologically difficult it was for them to murder unarmed people.
We’re in a funeral parlour in Belgrade and it’s July 2005. A bald man with a beard and glasses is signing a false name. He’s stealing a body.
The man is a film director, writer, paramilitary leader, and political figure. He’s a devout Orthodox Christian. The man whose corpse he’s stealing was not.
Dragoš Kalajić was a painter and full-time conspiracy theorist whose journey into Serbian nationalism turned him pagan. He was a familiar face in the media of both Serbia and Italy, a noticeable presence on art gallery walls. Cancer ate up his throat and put him in a pine box at the age of sixty-two.
He might appreciate this bit of grave robbery by a former political disciple. But probably not.
He’s a foul-mouthed, crevice-faced Scotsman and one of the best chefs in the world. Back in 2004 Gordon Ramsay had three Michelin stars and a fistful of accolades. It was time to move into television.
Ramsay had been on the box a few times before. Two fly-on-the-wall documentaries, a judging role on a show about catering students, and bit of what passed for reality tv at the turn of the century. But it was Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares that made him a celebrity.
It was a simple formula. Ramsay goes to a failing restaurant, looks appalled, swears a lot, and helps the owner get the place back on its feet. There was some good advice and a few decent recipes but producers soon realised viewers mostly liked to watch Ramsay become foul-mouthingly furious at dirty kitchens, uncooked prawns, and chefs too obliviously incompetent to take his advice. A ratings hit.
In 2007 the programme went stateside as Kitchen Nightmares. American producers preferred sentimental stories of family heartbreak over business strategy discussions but the core of the show remained the same. Gordon Ramsay. Food. Swearing.
Turns out restaurant owners in America are a lot more interesting than their British counterparts. At least three had connections to some kind of organised crime.
It was 6 September 1944. A group of Maquis fighters was patrolling an area near the Swiss border, watchful and alert. The Allies were powering through France but this part of the country was still behind enemy lines.
A tall man with blue eyes and thin blond hair slicked into a combover came walking along the road that led back to Switzerland. He was carrying a suitcase and had clearly just crossed the border.
The Maquis stopped him, discovered he was English, and didn’t like the way he answered their questions. They took him for interrogation by a British SOE major called Johnston who had been parachuted in to help the fight against the Germans.
Faced with a fellow countryman, the man with the suitcase cracked. His name was Gerald Percy Hewitt and he’d been collaborating with the Nazis for the last two years.
The French resistance opened hunting season on collaborators in the spring. On 26 April 1944 they machine-gunned Violette Morris to death as she stepped out of her Citroën Traction Avant on a Normandy country road between Épaignes and Lieurey.
Morris was chauffeuring a local pork butcher called Bailleul, his wife, and their two young children. A carriage blocked the road. The Citroën stopped and Morris got out with a pistol in her hand.
Submachineguns opened fire from the treeline. Violette Morris and her four passengers died.
The attackers knew her as a cross-dressing traitor responsible for the deaths of their comrades. Morris’ friends remembered a bisexual race car driver, interwar celebrity, and champion weight-lifter who was friends with Jean Cocteau. It was complicated.
The house at rue Defacqz 71 is thin as a bread stick and pretty as that girl you used to love. Planted four storeys high on a wide side street branching off Brussels’ prestigious avenue Louise, it has a red brick frontage and decorative graphic panels courtesy of Adolphe Crespin.
This tall drink of art nouveau was designed by famed Belgian architect Paul Hankar back in 1893 and served as his private home until he passed through the veil of death at the turn of the twentieth century. These days number 71 looks shabbier than in its prime, but is still a fine example of what a Belgian architect can do with money and imagination to spare.
In the morning of 1 September 1944 the locals found two Russian men dead on the pavement outside. They’d been shot with a submachine gun. We’re still not sure who killed them.