Rubenstein, Blanche (c. 1897–1969)
Rubenstein, Blanche (c. 1897–1969)
American who ran the famed Ritz Hotel in Paris with her husband and assisted the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation. Name variations: acted briefly as Blanche Ross; Blanche Rubenstein Auzello. Born in Manhattan, New York, around 1897; killed in Paris, France, on May 29, 1969; youngest of seven children (five girls and two boys) of Isaac Rubenstein and Sara Rubenstein; married Claude Auzello (a hotel manager), around 1924; no children.
The beautiful and spirited daughter of German-Jewish émigrés who had come to New York as newlyweds, Blanche Rubenstein decided early in life that she wanted to have a career rather than follow the path of her four sisters into matrimony. Her brother Sylvester, a film salesman, arranged an introduction for her at the Pathé movie studio, where she had roles in a few silents and also met and befriended actress Pearl White , star of the popular series The Perils of Pauline (1914). In 1923, White accompanied Rubenstein to Paris, where White hoped to jump-start her career, and where Rubenstein was to rendezvous with Egyptian Prince J'Ali Ledene, then her paramour. At their Paris hotel, however, Rubenstein caught the eye of Claude Auzello, the assistant manager. Auzello, a war hero, had trained as a lawyer, but opted for the hotel business after his discharge from the military. Eventually, Rubenstein gave up her prince and her film career to marry Auzello and take up permanent residence in Paris. The marriage was tumultuous almost from the beginning, primarily because of Auzello's desire to keep a mistress. Rubenstein finally came to accept her husband's dalliance, evening the score by occasionally reuniting with her prince.
While Auzello was negotiating to build a hotel of his own, he received an opportunity he could not refuse, that of assistant manager of Paris' premier hotel, the Ritz. Rubenstein did everything in her power to help her husband in his important new position, even changing her religion because of the Ritz's prejudice against Jews. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Rubenstein assisted her husband in the hotel, which hosted such luminaries as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, J. P. Morgan, and Cole Porter. "The hotel was an incredible place," she later recalled, "the men stood out, sharp, brilliant, the women were beautiful, and everybody was rich." Rubenstein's own beauty and charm perfectly complemented her husband's managerial skills. She was particularly savvy at listening to the gossip among the clientele, which enabled her to anticipate their special needs. She also fostered personal relationships with the staff, who were more inclined to respond to a friend than an employer. With much credit due to his wife, Claude was promoted to manager of the hotel in the mid-1930s.
In the summer of 1939, with war inevitable, Claude worried about his wife's Jewish heritage and urged her to return home for the duration, but she stubbornly refused. Following the Nazi occupation of Paris, when the Ritz was taken over by German soldiers, Claude became involved with the French Resistance, relaying to them information he learned from the Nazi officers residing within earshot. Rubenstein, through her friendship with Lily Kharmayeff , a member of the French underground, also became involved as a messenger for the Resistance; she was caught and imprisoned several times. During her second incarceration, Blanche was shipped by truck to Fresnes, which was known to be the first stop en route to German labor camps. Charged with harboring enemies of Germany, aiding fugitives, and engaging in acts of terrorism, she was kept in isolation and questioned incessantly. After a month, the interrogations stopped, but Rubenstein heard shootings in the courtyard, and tortured yells through the corridors, causing her to believe she probably would be killed within a short time. What she did not know was that American troops had arrived in Paris, and the Germans were preparing to evacuate. When she was again questioned, she was told that if she named her friend Lily a whore and a Jew, she would be freed. Instead of betraying Kharmayeff, however, she blurted: "I am a Jew, not Lily. I was born on the east side in New York, the Jewish section. My name is Rubenstein. My parents came from Germany." The truth, coupled with her near-delirium from lack of food, led the interrogator to believe she was mad; thus, when her captors left the camp by truck, they left her behind. Rubenstein, realizing she was free, began trudging up the road toward the city.
Blanche was reunited with Claude, and together they witnessed the liberation of Paris, but the glory days of the Ritz were over. For the next 20 years, Rubenstein clung to the hope of recapturing the past, appearing each afternoon in the bar, wearing the latest fashion and keeping watch for her old friends to reappear. "It was her nature to believe she would soon get back everything the war years took away," said Claude. "It was not mine to be so optimistic."
During the 1960s, Rubenstein began suffering fainting spells and was forced to curtail her activities. Claude fell out of favor with the hotel owner, and slipped into a suicidal depression that went unchecked by those closest to him. On the night of May 29, 1969, he shot his wife with a German revolver he had found in the hotel following the liberation. He then turned the revolver on himself.
Marx, Samuel. Queen of the Ritz. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1978.
Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts