The papers of French diplomat Jacques Leprette (1920–2004), acquired in 2005 and newly processed and available for research use in the Hoover Institution Archives, document the life and distinguished diplomatic career of a man who proudly served the French government yet was an equally ardent citizen of Europe and friend of the United States. Beginning with his role as a soldier in the battle for the liberation of France during World War II, Leprette’s papers document a number of milestones in the political and diplomatic history of the succeeding decades that he observed firsthand, from the tense cold war standoff between the Allied powers of the West and the Soviet Union in Berlin during the 1950s to the independence of French colonies in Africa in the 1950s and 1960s, the assertive foreign policy of French president Charles de Gaulle during the 1960s, his country’s participation in the expansion of United Nations peacekeeping operations in the 1970s, and the rise of the European Union in the 1980s and 1990s.
Born to French parents in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1920, Leprette was a member of the generation that took part in the fight against Nazi Germany, first during the German invasion of France in 1940, and then following his exile to Algeria, with the Foreign Legion, which he joined in 1943. Returning to France with the Allied forces the following year, he was wounded in the Battle of Belfort, yet served in subsequent campaigns in Germany and Austria through the end of the war. Upon graduating from the Ecole Nationale d'Administration in Paris in 1947, he embarked that same year on a lengthy and distinguished diplomatic career in the French Foreign Ministry. One of his earliest assignments was as a counselor at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, an organization that prefigured the European Union and that continues to exist to this day; he was present at the signing of the treaty of the Council of Europe in London in 1949.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Leprette served his country in a variety of diplomatic postings, ranging from occupied Berlin, where he was head of the political division of the French military government, to repeated stints at the Foreign Ministry in Paris and eventually to his first ambassadorial post, in the newly independent West African country of Mauritania. Yet during these decades, repeated assignments brought him to Washington, D.C., where he served in his country’s embassy and began developing the close ties that led to the strong affection that he felt toward the United States throughout the remainder of his life. He moved with his family to New York in 1976, when he was appointed French ambassador to the United Nations, a post that he held until 1982, when he was transferred to Brussels to serve as his country’s ambassador to the European Community. In the last decades of his life, in addition to serving as France’s representative to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva and attaining the rank of Ambassadeur de France, he continued to advocate for the cause of European unification, seeing this as a lasting route to peace and stability for a continent that had suffered greatly from wars—both of the “hot” and “cold” variety—over the previous century.
The voluminous collection of Ambassador Leprette’s papers at the Hoover Institution Archives, which number more than two hundred boxes, contains material from each of the various phases of his life and career. Along with a copy of the Treaty of the Council of Europe from 1949—signed by Robert Schuman and Ernest Bevin—are diary notes from his visit to Spandau Prison in Berlin in 1952, where he recorded his observations of imprisoned Nazi war criminals including Rudolf Hess, as well as notes taken during the workers’ uprising in East Berlin of June 17, 1953, which he monitored from the French Zone in the western part of the city. Flyers, posters, and leaflets from the 1965 presidential re-election campaign of Charles de Gaulle attest to his involvement in French domestic politics during the mid-1960s; extensive files of his speeches, articles, and other writings document his role as an interpreter of French foreign policy abroad, from the 1960s onward, particularly during his years of service in Washington and New York.
The Hoover Institution is pleased to be able to add to its archives this collection of papers, which provides an extensive record of a rich and varied life in public service, and is grateful to the family of Ambassador Leprette for sharing them with the present and future students and scholars who will use them at the Hoover Institution Archives.
A finding aid and further description of these papers can be found at the website of the Online Archive of California at http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/kt0779q6tw