Joseph Avenol (1879–1952) was a French diplomat who served as the secretary-general of the League of Nations in the years leading up to World War II. After a career in the French Ministry of Finance, in 1923 he was appointed League deputy secretary-general, with particular responsibility for coordination of post-World War I financial reconstruction. On July 1, 1933, he succeeded former British diplomat Sir Eric Drummond (1876–1951), who had been secretary-general of the League since its establishment in 1919. Avenol took office four months after Japan withdrew from the League over criticism of its military campaign in Manchuria, and some months before Germany also left the League, ostensibly over the refusal of the Western powers to acquiesce in Germany’s demands for military parity. Avenol refrained from criticizing both countries in the hope of encouraging them to rejoin the organization. He also tried to stifle criticism of Italy for its brutal 1935 invasion of Ethiopia. Long believed to harbor pro-Axis sympathies, Avenol was forced to resign his post on August 31, 1940, shortly after the German conquest of France. He further tarnished his reputation by returning to France and affirming his loyalty to the collaborationist regime of Marshall Philippe Pétain. This 1933 photograph of Avenol is from the archives of the League of Nations at the United Nations office in Geneva, which were inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World register in 2010.
Title in Original Language
M. J. Avenol
Type of Item
1 photograph ; 15 x 10.9 centimeters
- James Barros, Betrayal from Within: Joseph Avenol, Secretary-General of the League of Nations, 1933–1940 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1969).
- S. D. Kertesz, “A League Eminence: Grey or Sinister?” Review of Betrayal from Within: Joseph Avenol, Secretary-General of the League of Nations, 1933–1940, by James Barros, in The Review of Politics, vol. 32, no. 1 (January 1970).
- Keith Robbins, Review of Betrayal from Within: Joseph Avenol, Secretary-General of the League of Nations, 1933–1940, by James Barros, in The English Historical Review, vol. 86, no. 338 (January 1971).
Last updated: August 5, 2016