Joseph Avenol

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Joseph Avenol
Joseph Avenol 1932.jpg
Secretary General of the League of Nations
In office
3 July 1933 – 31 August 1940
DeputyFrank Walters
Preceded byEric Drummond
Succeeded bySean Lester
Deputy Secretary-General of the League of Nations
In office
1 February 1923 – 1 July 1933
Preceded byJean Monnet
Succeeded byPablo de Azcárate
Personal details
Joseph Louis Anne Marie Charles Avenol

(1879-06-09)June 9, 1879
Melle, Deux-Sèvres, French Third Republic
DiedSeptember 2, 1952(1952-09-02) (aged 73)
Duillier, Switzerland

Joseph Louis Anne Marie Charles Avenol (pronounced [ʒɔzɛf lwi an avnɔl]; June 9, 1879 – September 2, 1952) was a French diplomat. He served as the second Secretary General of the League of Nations, from July 3, 1933 to August 31, 1940. He was preceded by Sir Eric Drummond of the United Kingdom, who was general secretary between 1920 and 1933, and he was succeeded by the Irish diplomat Seán Lester, who was general secretary between 1940 and 1946, when the League dissolved following the aftermath of World War II in 1946.

Avenol was sent to the League of Nations from the French Treasury Department in 1922 to handle the League's finances. He was under secretary-general in 1933, when Eric Drummond resigned. He became secretary-general because the first secretary-general had been British and there had been a private agreement at Versailles that the next would be French. Avenol was accused of using the League as an extension of the French Foreign Office in its policy of appeasement of Germany and Italy.

Avenol took office shortly after Japan had left the League. Shortly thereafter Germany also left, and Argentina resumed full membership. He worked to prevent action or criticism of those countries in an effort to lure them back to the League. When Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, Avenol's main concern was to keep the Italians in the organization, not to protect Ethiopia.

Later Avenol described "a new France, which was to be given a new soul to work in collaboration with Germany and Italy and keep the British out of Europe". He wrote to Marshal Philippe Pétain to affirm his loyalty to the Vichy government.

Last years and death[edit]

In the meantime, he had fired most of the League's staff, including all of the British employees. By the time when World War II started on September 1, 1939, Avenol decided to leave Geneva and the League of Nations for good on August 31, 1940. His services were not accepted by the Vichy government, and he was forced to flee back into Switzerland on New Year's Eve 1943 to avoid getting arrested or killed by the Germans. He died at his home in Duillier, Switzerland in 1952, aged 73.

When Seán Lester replaced him as secretary-general, the League had only 100 employees, including guards and janitors, of its original 700. Lester managed to keep the League's technical and humanitarian programs in limited operation for the duration of the war. In 1946 he turned over the League's assets and functions to the newly established United Nations.


In 1921, he was created an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.


  • Barros, James, Betrayal from Within: Joseph Avenol, Secretary-General of the League of Nations, 1933-1940. New Haven, Ct.: Yale University Press, 1969. ISBN 0-300-01112-1.

External links[edit]

Positions in intergovernmental organisations
Preceded by
United Kingdom Sir Eric Drummond
Secretary-General of the League of Nations
Succeeded by
Republic of Ireland Seán Lester