Re: [CR] Bike builders in Paris during the War; Was: Parisian cyclocross footage from 1945

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Date: Thu, 31 Dec 2009 14:11:29 -0800
To: Jerome & Elizabeth Moos <>, <>, <>
From: "Jan Heine" <>
Subject: Re: [CR] Bike builders in Paris during the War; Was: Parisian cyclocross footage from 1945

At 1:17 PM -0800 12/31/09, Jerome & Elizabeth Moos wrote:

France lost the war almost immediately, so afterward, there was little incentive for the French population to contribute to the war effort.

Many things became impossible to obtain, especially fuel and rubber tires. But manufacturing continued, in many cases of things you would not have thought possible. For example, some French industrialists had electric cars built, so they could drive without needing imported fuel... In fact, one company even made a couple of hundred electric cars during the war.

I suspect the Germans turned the large companies over to war production - I have read how resistance cells at Citroen sabotaged the parts they made - but left the small businesses alone. After all, the best way to govern an occupied region is to let the people do what they always do.

Even the bike races went on, often with amused or interested German soldiers looking on. In the end, people live their lives the best they can, even under difficult circumstances. It was a sort of "inner emigration" - there wasn't much you could do in France but wait for times to get better. For a while, it looked pretty hopeless, as if the Germans would prevail. People coped with that however they could...
>What is still surprising is that the constructeurs were able to
>obtain tubesets and components, since one would think seamless alloy
>steel tubing and aluminum alloy would be strategic materials largely
>reserved for military production.

I suspect much of that was stocks on hand. Bicycles were a huge business in the 1930s, and there must have been large stocks at various distributors. Cyclo made something like 600,000 derailleurs a year. Ideale made tens of thousands of alloy-railed saddles every year (numbers from memory, I recall reading 78,000 somewhere. Where are they now?) A lot of that stuff must have been lying around in various warehouses... and many of the smaller companies probably continued to make parts during the war.

Tires were almost impossible to find, and you see many photos of bikes without fenders because they could only find super-wide tires and had to remove the fenders to fit them...
>Maybe the most amazing thing is that Alex Singer, evidently a
>Hungarian-born Jew,

Many people have assumed that Singer was Jewish, but the Csukas don't seem to think so. Ernest's funeral was in a Christian church, by the way. Some builders were Jewish, like Narcisse Manevitch, who built the Narcisse bikes. He fled to the "free zone" governed by Vichy during the war, riding his tandem with his wife, their infant child in a basket on the rack. Paulette Porthault talked about that in the interview in Bicycle Quarterly Volume 3, No. 1.
>was able to conduct a brisk business in Nazi-occupied Paris, even
>after having been arrested and escaped.

Alex Singer was not arrested. He served in the French army, but was captured as a prisoner of war with all the other soldiers in his unit. He escaped - basically just walked away and nobody stopped him. The then grabbed a bike leaning against a wall and rode off. He didn't have ID papers, so he hid in the attic of the shop. After the war, he made the woman whose bike he had stolen (the name was engraved on a brass plate on the stem, as required by law) a new bike to thank her.
>There have been a number of interviews published with Ernest Csuka,
>but I'm not sure I've seen one which dealt primarily with how the
>constructeurs conducted business and obtained materials during the
>war, or how Alex Singer directed the business while evading arrest.
>Hopefully there are some unpublished interviews on this subject or
>some I just haven't seen. I fear that with the passing of Csuka,
>there may be few if any persons still alive who witnessed these
>matters firsthand.

Even Csuka didn't know much about that when I asked, because he was just a young apprentice. Singer died in 1966... Herse died in 1976... and most other constructeurs who were active during the war long are gone. There was a lot of black market trading going on back then, but that is all I know. At one point - I believe after the war - Singer had 20 bikes that were unfinished because they couldn't get some part or other.

Jan Heine
Bicycle Quarterly
2116 Western Ave.
Seattle WA 98121