Dassault, Madeleine (1901–1992)

views updated

Dassault, Madeleine (1901–1992)

French industrialist who played a crucial role in advancing her husband's career, then controlled their vast business empire after his death. Born in 1901 as Madeleine Minckès in Salonika, Greece; died on July 12, 1992; married Marcel Bloch (name later changed to Marcel Dassault); children: two sons, Claude and Serge.

Madeleine Dassault, who died in 1992 at the age of 91 as one of the richest women in Europe, lived a long and colorful life mostly in the shadow of her husband, industrialist Marcel Dassault who was born Marcel Bloch. Madeleine married the talented young aircraft designer in July 1919. Dassault persuaded her father, a French-Jewish furniture merchant, to finance Marcel's first ventures in aviation. By the start of World War II, he was head of a formidable manufacturing enterprise. Because of the family's wealth and prominence, Marcel was long able to avoid being arrested by the French collaborationist regime, but in 1944 he was finally deprived of his freedom for refusing to assist the Nazi occupation authorities, eventually being deported to the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. Soon after, Madeleine and her two young sons Claude and Serge were also deported to Buchenwald, but they were released in August 1944. As a Jew and an anti-Nazi, Marcel narrowly escaped death. The family was reunited in April 1945.

It was soon after the end of World War II that the Bloch family name was changed. Marcel's brother Paul was one of the first supporters of General Charles De Gaulle after De Gaulle broadcast from London his defiance of the Nazi occupiers of France in July 1940. Paul Bloch signed his pledge of Resistance support for De Gaulle with the code name "Char d'Assault" (assault tank), a nom-de-guerre that he would proudly retain. After the war, both Paul and his brother Marcel changed their names from Bloch to Dassault. Another change wrought by the war on the Dassault family was that Marcel and Madeleine converted from Judaism to Roman Catholicism.

By the 1950s, the Dassault business empire was vast and growing, and Marcel reigned as the undisputed sovereign of France's aerospace industry. Madeleine avoided publicity despite her husband's international fame, but in May 1964,

she involuntarily made headlines when she was kidnapped and held for ransom. Fortunately, she survived the ordeal, and the culprits were in time arrested and imprisoned. For decades, Madeleine Dassault's keen business sense had remained in the background, but after her husband's death in April 1986, she quickly emerged as a force to be reckoned with. Along with her sons, she controlled vast industrial interests, including fighter aircraft and business jets, electronics, pharmaceuticals (Merieux), Europe 1 Radio, financial and real estate companies, and, last but certainly not least, the Chateau Dassault vineyard. Despite her advanced age, she played an active management role by serving on a number of corporate boards until her death in Paris on July 12, 1992.


Assouline, Pierre. Monsieur Dassault. Paris: Balland, 1983.

Barfield, Norman. "Madeleine Dassault," in The Guardian [London]. August 10, 1992, p. 33.

Carlier, Claude. Marcel Dassault: La Legende d'un siècle. Paris: Perrin, 1992.

"Madeleine Dassault," in The Times [London]. July 31, 1992, p. 15.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia