The founder of L'Oréal was linked to a Nazi-sympathizing secret society that likely murdered people and set off bombs before and during WWII — here's the full surprising story

François BIBAL/Gamma-Rapho via Getty ImagesL’Oréal’s founder is said to have had ties to a secret society in the WWII era.
  • L’Oréal founder Eugène Schueller is widely reported to have been a fascist sympathizer.
  • Schueller’s far-right political beliefs and wartime participation in a fascist organisation are likely connected to the fact that his company flourished during Nazi Germany’s occupation of France.
  • The businessman also likely bankrolled a secret campaign to overthrow France’s republican government, given his close connection to French fascist Eugène Deloncle.

The initiation would take place around a table draped with a French flag. After swearing to remain obedient and guard the secrets of the society and its leadership, the new initiates would raise their right arms and recite the oath: “Ad majorem Galliæ gloriam.” For the greater glory of France.

The participants in this ritual weren’t anonymous nobodies. Many of them were wealthy businessmen, senior military officers, or well-connected members of society.

They had power. They had money. They were fascists, or at least fascist sympathizers. Some were nationalists who had been persuaded that a communist invasion was imminent. Others sought to overthrow the republic and usher in their own authoritarian government.

To achieve their goal, these men plotted to use their considerable resources to spread fear throughout France and beyond. They bombed factories and, later, synagogues. They fostered connections with foreign dictatorships. Their stores of weapons and ammunition piled up, and so did the bodies. The secret society had no compunction about slaying political enemies and perceived traitors alike, as historians Annette Finley-Croswhite and Gayle K. Brunelle detail in the book “Murder in the Métro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France.”

Read more: Nazi propaganda portrayed Hitler as a ‘health nut’ but he was secretly addicted to opiates

The whole thing reads like a political thriller, but it’s exactly what happened in France in the tumultuous years leading up to the Second World War.

The secret society called themselves the Comité Secret D’Action Révolutionnaire – or the Secret Committee of Revolutionary Action (CSAR). When their crimes spilled out into the public sphere, the press dubbed them La Cagoule, or “The Hood.”

The group wouldn’t have been able to carry out its string of violent acts without financial backing from a number of industrialists. One such businessman was almost certainly L’Oréal founder Eugène Schueller, a pharmacist-turned-entrepreneur who had made a fortune after inventing a new hair dye, according to the Smithsonian magazine. L’Oréal declined to comment on its founder’s beliefs.

The rise of La Cagoule demonstrates the volatile, simmering nature of French politics between the two world wars. And the fact that Schueller emerged unscathed after nurturing a deadly campaign of terror is a testament to the inoculating powers of wealth and influence:


So what does does the founder of one of the world’s most famous cosmetic companies have to do with all this murder and mayhem?

Francois BIBAL / Contributor / Getty ImagesL’Oréal workers.

Source: Smithsonian


Schueller came from a middle-class background, the son of pastry shop owners. He went into chemistry and struck it big in 1908 when he developed a new hair dye formula, oftentimes trying the dye on his own hair.

KEYSTONE-FRANCE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty ImagesA woman visits the hairdresser in 1934.

Source: “A History of the International Chemical Industry,” Smithsonian


He named the new product L’Oréal, a pun on the French word for “halo.” By the 1930s, Schueller was making a killing by embracing “new marketing methods,” according to “A History of the International Chemical Industry.”

Topical Press Agency/Getty ImagesA woman visits her hairdresser in 1932.

Source: Smithsonian, “A History of the International Chemical Industry


A Smithsonian magazine profile described Schueller as ambitious and hard-working to an “obsessive” degree. Before he became drawn to fascism, he flirted with socialism and Freemasonry.

Keystone-France / Contributor / Getty ImagesFuture members of an English Freemasonry lodge in 1933.

Source: Smithsonian


He came to adopt anti-republican views and also advocated paying employees a salary based on their production, rather than the number of hours they worked, a policy which he even tried out at L’Oréal.

BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty ImagesL’Oréal headquarters.

Source: Smithsonian


Despite being a French nationalist, Schueller spoke admiringly of then up-and-coming Nazi Germany and even praised Adolf Hitler’s “dynamism.” He blasted the traditional French ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity as “childish,” according to Smithsonian.

Hulton Archive / Stringer / Getty ImagesAdolf Hitler.

Source: Smithsonian


Schueller’s views — along with his heaps of money — would have made the company founder an attractive ally for Eugene Deloncle. Deloncle was a right-wing radical who previously belonged to the conservative Action Française movement.

Photo12/UIG via Getty ImagesEugene Deloncle.

Source: “The Mammoth Book of Conspiracies,” “Hitler’s Stormtroopers: The SA, The Nazis’ Brownshirts, 1922 – 1945,” “Murder in the Métro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France


Deloncle was the man who founded La Cagoule around 1935. The group organised itself like a military, with light squads of seven men and heavy squads of 12 men.

Fred Stein Archive/Getty ImagesA couple embraces on the streets on Paris in 1934.

Source: “The Mammoth Book of Conspiracies,” “Hitler’s Stormtroopers: The SA, The Nazis’ Brownshirts, 1922 – 1945,” “Murder in the Métro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France


Its mission was ambitious: topple the French Third Republic and set up a right-wing authoritarian state.

ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty ImagesFrench prime minister Léon Blum.

Source: “The Mammoth Book of Conspiracies,” “Hitler’s Stormtroopers: The SA, The Nazis’ Brownshirts, 1922 – 1945,” “Murder in the Métro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France


La Cagoule echoed Action Française’s anti-republicanism and added a fascist twist. Deloncle and his followers pitted themselves against France’s left-wing Popular Front, which was led by socialist prime minister Léon Blum.

Source: “The Mammoth Book of Conspiracies,” “Hitler’s Stormtroopers: The SA, The Nazis’ Brownshirts, 1922 – 1945,” “Murder in the Métro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France


According to the Smithsonian, Deloncle befriended Schueller and recruited him to join the group. Schueller reportedly donated funds to the cause and hosted meetings in L’Oréal’s headquarters.

Bernard Annebicque / ContributorThe company’s registered offices.

Source: Smithsonian


There’s no smoking gun when it comes to Schueller’s direct involvement with the pre-war iteration of La Cagoule, but historians like Brunelle and Finley-Croswhite agree that it’s highly likely that he supported the pre-war society.

Photo 12 / Contributor / Getty ImagesLa Cagoule’s seized weapons cache.

Source: “Murder in the Métro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France


Schueller’s writings certainly indicate that he shared many of the group’s nationalistic, anti-Semitic, and anti-communist sentiments. Some members of La Cagoule were primarily motivated to abolish democracy in France, while others were spurred on by their desire to prevent the communist coup that the group claimed was on the horizon.

Source: “The Mammoth Book of Conspiracies,” “Hitler’s Stormtroopers: The SA, The Nazis’ Brownshirts, 1922 – 1945,” “Murder in the Métro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France


Finley-Croswhite and Brunelle write that La Cagoule formed in a time of “rising unemployment, massive labour unrest and general post-World War I malaise.”

Imagno/Getty ImagesWorkers fix a pipe in 1930s Paris.

Source: The Wayback Machine, “Murder in the Métro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France


It’s unknown exactly how many people joined La Cagoule. Estimates about the number of members — or “Cagoulards” — have ranged from 200 to the thousands.

Imagno/Getty ImagesPedestrians walk in the snow in 1930 Paris.

Source: “The Mammoth Book of Conspiracies,” “Hitler’s Stormtroopers: The SA, The Nazis’ Brownshirts, 1922 – 1945


Despite the society’s name and covert nature, historian Jean-Denis LePage wrote that members probably only wore Ku Klux Klan-esque hoods occasionally. The group was still highly secretive, however. Blabbing and treachery were said to be punishable by death.

Gaston Paris/Roger Viollet/Getty ImagesFrench sailors talk on the street in the 1930s.

Source: “Hitler’s Stormtroopers: The SA, The Nazis’ Brownshirts, 1922 – 1945,” “For Europe: The French Volunteers of the Waffen-SS


LePage wrote that new initiates were warned: “If you ever reveal our secrets, we’ll shoot you.”

Keystone-France / Contributor / Getty ImagesFrench inspectors inspect a cache of guns assembled by the Cagoulard in 1938.

Source: “Hitler’s Stormtroopers: The SA, The Nazis’ Brownshirts, 1922 – 1945


La Cagoule murdered affiliates, like gunrunner Maurice Juif, for “not playing fair” in his sales, according to historian Robert Forbes.

KEYSTONE-FRANCE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty ImagesGuns in Paris in 1932.

Source: “Murder in the Métro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France,” “For Europe: The French Volunteers of the Waffen-SS


But the society didn’t limit its violence to insiders. La Cagoule has been linked to a series of murders in France and abroad.

Pierre MICHAUD / Contributor / Getty ImagesA man digs a grave in France.

Source: “Murder in the Métro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France


The group may have murdered Russian economist Dimitri Navachine, who was stabbed to death while walking his dog in Paris’ Bois de Boulogne on January 26, 1937.

Gallica Digital Library / Wikimedia CommonsInvestigators stand over Navachine’s body in 1937.

Source: “Murder in the Métro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France


The Soviet Union’s NKVD might have been the culprit behind the murder, but the fact that Navachine worked with the Popular Front government would have certainly made him an attractive target to La Cagoule.

Source: “Murder in the Métro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France


In exchange for 100 Beretta rifles from Benito Mussolini’s regime, the group also targeted Italian socialists Carlo and Nello Rosselli, who were living as refugees in France.

DEA PICTURE LIBRARY / Contributor / Getty ImagesCarlo and Nello Rosselli.

Source: Libcom.org


In 1937, Cagoulards got the brothers to pull over by posing as stranded motorists in Bagnoles-de-l’Orne. Carlo was stabbed to death. Nello fought back, and was knifed and shot.

ND/Roger Viollet/Getty ImagesA villa in the spa town of Bagnoles-de-l’Orne.

Source: Libcom.org


Cagoulards were also likely behind an infamous locked-room mystery in Paris. On the evening of May 16, 1937, Laetitia Toureaux entered a first-class metro car.

Apic/Getty ImagesLaetitia Toureaux.

Source: The Wayback Machine, “Murder in the Métro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France


Witnesses say she was the only person who got into the otherwise empty car. When the train pulled to the next station, however, passengers entered the car to find that she was dead, with a knife still stuck in her neck.

Keystone-France/Gamma-Rapho via Getty ImagesAn investigator inspects the crime scene in the Toureaux murder.

Source: “Murder in the Métro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France


La Cagoule is widely believed to have been behind her murder, given that Toureaux had spied on the group for the police.

Imagno/Getty ImagesA policeman on the Champs Elysee in 1930.

Source: “Murder in the Métro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France


La Cagoule even targeted Blum for assassination, as did other radical right-wing groups.

AP ImageBlum (second on the left) with his head wrapped in bandages after surviving an assassination attempt.

Source: “Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family, Fatherland and Vichy France,” “French Intellectuals and Politics from the Dreyfus Affair to the Occupation


La Cagoule coordinated with foreign dictatorships, including the regimes of Mussolini in Italy and Francisco Franco in Spain.

Source: “Pitfalls of Paramilitarism: The Croix de Feu, the Parti Social Français, and the French State, 1934-39


Historian Sean Kennedy wrote that the group even managed to blow up “two aeroplanes intended for the Spanish Republicans” at an airport.

Photo 12/UIG via Getty ImagesRepublicans take a break during the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

Source: “Pitfalls of Paramilitarism: The Croix de Feu, the Parti Social Français, and the French State, 1934-39


In an attempt to frame their communist enemies, La Cagoule also bombed two Parisian businesses. The explosions killed a pair of guards.

Gallica Digital Library/Wikimedia CommonsOne of the buildings that La Cagoule blew up.

Source: “Pitfalls of Paramilitarism: The Croix de Feu, the Parti Social Français, and the French State, 1934-39


Historians Richard Bessel and Clive Emsley write that Cagoulards may have been responsible for firing the first shots that sparked off the Clichy massacre, which led to five deaths in 1937.

KEYSTONE-FRANCE / Gamma-Rapho via Getty ImagesA funeral for victims of the social unrest in Clichy in 1937.

Source: “Patterns of Provocation: Police and Public Disorder


The conspirators actually brought about the largest loss of life after the movement was quashed. On January 27, 1938, 14 people were killed when a La Cagoule cache of 3,000 hand grenades exploded in Paris.

By Pan_Da/ShutterstockOld-fashioned hand grenades.

Source: The New York Times, Newspapers.com


The police had been in the process of moving the grenades, and the blast was so powerful that the New York Times reported that “the windows of houses nearly a mile around were shattered.”

Aleksandra Duda/ShutterstockThe explosion shattered windows around Paris.

Source: The New York Times, Newspapers.com


Part of what allowed the society to spring up in the first place was the financial support of wealthy me. Finley-Croswhite and Brunelle write that the group’s leadership also included “former army and naval officers, engineers, doctors and industrialists.”

Imagno/Getty ImagesParisians use umbrellas on a rainy day in 1935.

Source: The Wayback Machine, “Murder in the Métro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France


The movement attracted sons of “the most distinguished families in France” and the heads of Michelin and Lesieur Oil, too. Schueller himself was never directly linked to any of the group’s violent campaigns.

Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty ImagesA shot of Rue Royale in either 1934 or 1935.

Source: The Wayback Machine, “Murder in the Métro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France


But whether or not Schueller was heavily involved with La Cagoule, he didn’t have much time to back the group. Their initial reign of terror was short-lived. Thanks to the efforts of informants like Toureaux, the police had infiltrated the society. On November 15, 1937, the authorities pounced.

Keystone / Stringer / Getty ImagesPolice arrest a member of La Cagoule.

Source: The Wayback Machine, “Murder in the Métro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France


A total of 71 Cagoulards were arrested. Marx Dormoy, Blum’s minister of the interior, was largely responsible for the operation that led to the exposure and dismantling of the secret society.

Source: “French Intellectuals and Politics from the Dreyfus Affair to the Occupation


Police inspectors found that the secret society had amassed an arsenal of 500 machine guns and anti-tank guns and two tons of explosives before they were broken up.

Zoom Team/ShutterstockLa Cagoule assembled a huge cache of weapons.

Source: “The Mammoth Book of Conspiracies


Schueller was not one of the men arrested. Still, the exposure of the high-profile plot sparked much media coverage and public fascination. But France hadn’t seen the last of the Cagoulards.

Keystone-France / Contributor / Getty ImagesPeople at a costume party dressing up as Cagoulards. Note the box of ‘bombs.’

Source: “The Mammoth Book of Conspiracies


Most of the plotters were given their freedom in exchange for military service when France went to war with Germany.

London Express / Stringer / Getty ImagesFrench General Charles de Gaulle.

Source: “The Extreme Right in the French Resistance


The year 1940 brought about the opportunity for some La Cagoule members to take their revenge, when Nazi Germany occupied the northern and western part of France.

Time Life Pictures / Contributor / Getty ImagesNazis march through Paris.

Source: “The Extreme Right in the French Resistance


The southern and eastern half of the country was reorganized as the collaborationist Vichy regime.

George Strock / Contributor / Getty ImagesThe border between Vichy and occupied France.

Source: “The Extreme Right in the French Resistance


Just like France, the former Cagoulards also split after their country’s crushing defeat at the hands of the Nazis.

Berliner Verlag/Archiv/picture alliance via Getty ImagesNazis arrest members of the French Resistance in 1944.

Source: “The Mammoth Book of Conspiracies,” “Hitler’s Stormtroopers: The SA, The Nazis’ Brownshirts, 1922 – 1945,” “Murder in the Métro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France,” “Pitfalls of Paramilitarism: The Croix de Feu, the Parti Social Français, and the French State, 1934-39


Some joined with the French Resistance …

Bettmann / Contributor / Getty ImagesFrench Resistance fighters.

Source: “The Mammoth Book of Conspiracies,” “Hitler’s Stormtroopers: The SA, The Nazis’ Brownshirts, 1922 – 1945,” “Murder in the Métro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France,” “Pitfalls of Paramilitarism: The Croix de Feu, the Parti Social Français, and the French State, 1934-39


… while others began collaborating with Vichy France and the Nazis.

AFP/Getty ImagesPhilippe Pétain served as the chief of state of Vichy France.

Source: “The Mammoth Book of Conspiracies,” “Hitler’s Stormtroopers: The SA, The Nazis’ Brownshirts, 1922 – 1945,” “Murder in the Métro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France,” “Pitfalls of Paramilitarism: The Croix de Feu, the Parti Social Français, and the French State, 1934-39


Despite his professed nationalistic views, Schueller fostered connections with the Nazi invaders. Historian Ruth Brandon wrote that the businessman’s welcoming attitude toward the Germans was likely “prompted by a mix of practical necessity, economic evangelism, and political ambition.”

The Montifraulo Collection / Contributor / Getty ImagesNazi-occupied France.

Source: “Ugly Beauty: Helena Rubinstein, L’Oreal and the Blemished History of Looking Good


Schueller was even listed as a voluntary agent of Helmut Knochen, an SS commander who deported French Jews to Nazi death camps and ordered the execution of thousands of French Resistance fighters and non-combatant hostages, according to the Smithsonian.

ullstein bild Dtl. / Contributor / Getty ImagesHelmut Knochen.

Source: “Ugly Beauty: Helena Rubinstein, L’Oreal and the Blemished History of Looking Good,” Smithsonian


Deloncle also fell in with the new regime. In 1940, he assembled to form the Mouvement Social Révolutionnaire, or MSR. The new group represented a “reincarnation” of CSAR, according to Brunelle and Finley-Croswhite, and even “reprised many of the same terrorist tactics they had employed in the interwar period.”

Hulton Deutsch / Contributor / Getty ImagesNazi-occupied France.

Source: “Lighting the Fuse: Terrorism as Violent Political Discourse in Interwar France


Under the new regime, MSR was able to operate more freely than La Cagoule ever was. And Schueller participated too, serving as the group’s president and leader of technical commissions and research commissions.

DE AGOSTINI PICTURE LIBRARY / Contributor / Getty ImagesNazi-occupied France.

Source: “French Connections: Networks of Influence


The group bombed synagogues and worked with the SS. They are also believed to be behind the 1941 assassination of Dormoy, the man who broke up La Cagoule in the first place. While in police custody, the former interior minister was killed by a bomb.

AFP / Stringer / Getty ImagesHitler marches in Berlin in the 1930s.

Source: New York Times


Schueller was never directly tied to any of the wartime group’s violent activities. But Smithsonian magazine reported that his business flourished under the fascist state.


After the war, Schueller was investigated for collaboration. However, the businessman faced no serious consequences, aside from the occasional controversy in the press for his actions during the war.

Keystone-France / Contributor / Getty ImagesA trial for Cagoulards took place in 1948.

Source: “Vichy: An Ever-Present Past,”Smithsonian


The Smithsonian reported that, in the initial post-war investigation into Schueller’s actions, he defended his actions by claiming to have sheltered Jewish L’Oréal employees. In the decades after the war, the businessman continued to run L’Oréal, along with a number of other executives, like Jacques Correze and Deloncle’s son Louis, who were also linked to fascism.

Getty ImagesL’Oréal products.

Source: “Vichy: An Ever-Present Past,”Smithsonian

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