1918: Bolo Pasha

Add comment April 17th, 2020 Headsman

French adventurer Bolo Pasha (English Wikipedia entry | French) was shot at Fort Vincennes on this date in 1918 as a World War I German agent.

Paul Bolo was his proper name, and a striving, wandering soul was his fatal curse. “A rolling stone that gathered no moss,” says this chronicler of the Great War’s spies, “and for sheer audacity, bold resourcefulness and indifference to fate his career matched, if it did not surpass, the strangest characters depicted by the master pen of Dumas.”

He’d spent his youth in Marseilles, and subsequently Lyon, repeatedly going bust in several attempted businesses — barber, soap-seller, lobsterman, photographer, silk manufacturer. But his charm and enterprise successfully landed him the hand of a wealthy Parisian widow and with the inheritance she eventually left him, he took himself to Cairo and made himself a good chum of the European-friendly Khedive who ruled that place as an Ottoman viceroy.

‘Twas this gentleman who bequeathed upon Paul the Turkish honorary under which he would pass for the balance of his years.

Those years accelerated upon the onset of the Great War in 1914. The Khedive was deposed in Egypt by the British, and his friend the Pasha segued from sharing Nile pleasure cruises to expatriating the former ruler’s wealth.

And upon this financial chicanery he pivoted — as he had formerly done with crustaceans and straight-razors — into a jag as a wartime operative.

What was alleged against him was an attempt to sow “defeatist,” pro-peace editorial lines in French papers via the influence of laundered German money. The evidence in his eventual military tribunal was circumstantial and firmly rejected by the proud Pasha — “I am the master of money, not its slave!” — but he had attracted the attention of Entente spies with his shuttling from Rome to Geneva to Paris and then on to New York. Financial footprints in the U.S., investigated by New York at the behest of France while diligently exonerating the cooperating bank (“so skillful had been the cunning of the German agent that Morgan & Company was utterly innocent of having been made a cat’s-paw of German intrigue”) showed his suspicious manipulation of $1.7 million apparently received from the German ambassador. His defense counterattacked with some effect, contending that his prosecution was a self-interested attack by the proprietor of Le Journal, Senator Charles Humbert, after the latter unsuccessfully tried to buy back Bolo’s own shares in his paper at a wartime discount.

Humbert was subsequently arrested himself on a similar suspicion of fifth-columnist machinations; he defeated the charge. It sounds like the Third Republic basically just had a beef with the inadequate bellicosity of Le Journal.

Wartime Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau had sharp words for any Frenchmen (or their new American allies, just entering the war) similarly disinclined to the fight after the Asiatic schemer stood before his firing squad:

This Bolo Pasha, who had had his way with everybody and in almost every situation, had met a strong man at last! Bolo Pasha was one of those gentlemen who began life by betraying women; he ended it by betraying nations. There is a great difference between betraying women and betraying nations! Women forgive and forget, but nations never, never! And so at the conclusion of their little interview Mr. Clemenceau escorted Bolo Pasha to the Forest of Vincennes, and placing him with his back to a wall, compelled him to face the business end of twelve French rifles. Bolo Pasha will never betray another nation. I want to tell you Americans that that is the only way to treat a traitor!


Sketch of Bolo Pasha being escorted to his firing squad, by Jean-Louis Forain.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Germany,History,Shot,Spies,Treason,Wartime Executions

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