Sunday, August 24, 2014

Recollection: The Liberation of Paris in August 1944 (part 1)

This year 2014 is a year of war commemorations.  I already wrote posts on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War here in Georgia, then I wrote posts on the centennial commemorations in Paris for the beginning of World War I, and this week is the commemoration of the August 1944 liberation of Paris.  From 19 August through 25 August 2014 the city of Paris is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its Liberation during World War II.  Tomorrow, on Monday 25 August, 2014, there will be an official ceremony on the Place de l'Hotel de Ville (City Hall Plaza) where, for the first time, the President of France, the Prime Minister and the Paris Mayor will all be there to address the citizens.  On this same plaza, 70 years ago, General de Gaulle gave his famous speech "Paris ! Paris outragé ! Paris brisé ! Paris martyrisé ! Mais Paris libéré ! Libéré, par son peuple, avec le concours des armées de la France …."  (Paris! Paris outraged! Paris broken! Paris martyred! But Paris liberated! Freed by its people, with the support of the French Army ...)  Below are photos and postcards of that historic day (courtesy Mairie de Paris.)  (Click on collage to enlarge.)

Anne Hidalgo, the first woman mayor of Paris, will talk there about the roles of women in the French Resistance during the war.  Below are women from the French Resistance walking in Toulouse in August 1944 next to a Resistance woman working on a rail sabotage.

Several Paris museums are having exhibits on the Battle for Paris.  The surviving veterans of the 2nd Armored Division (2e DB) of General Leclerc are being recognized and celebrated.  The 2e DB included men from 22 countries and many from Africa.  A special tribute is being paid to the fighters of the 9th Company from Chad, known as "Nueve" because it was made up of Spanish Republican volunteers.  It was the first regiment to enter Paris on 24 August 1944.  On Monday August 25, 2014, there will be a large sound and light show (video mapping) projected on the Hotel de Ville building re-enacting the day Paris was liberated followed by a public ball with a "swing" style orchestra.  On August 26, 2014, a remembrance mass at Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral will be celebrated with a special tribute to the city employees and elected officials who died for Paris.

I wrote this post under "Recollection" because I was there the day Paris was liberated.  I was 4 years old and can barely remember it, but I remember part of it.  Here is a picture of me with my dog Jade taken in Paris on 15 April 1944, four months before the liberation.

My mother, of course, talked to me often about this special day, as well as my grandfather, since I did not remember that much.  My granddad had a collection of postcards and photographs from the war.  In addition, the photos I show on this post are courtesy of the City of Paris archives, the Library of Congress and Wikimedia Commons.

The liberation of Paris lasted from 17 August, 1944, to 25 August, 1944, when the occupying German garrison surrendered.  Paris had been occupied by the Germans since the fall of the city on June 14, 1940.  A puppet French state had been set up with its capital in Vichy.  On June 17, 1940, General Charles de Gaulle moved to London, England.  On 18 June, 1940, de Gaulle talked to the Resistance and French people from the BBC radio.  On 28 June, 1940, Winston Churchill recognized general de Gaulle as the head of the Free French.  De Gaulle established a political headquarter in Algiers, Algeria, and a military staff in London.  He kept speaking to the French people from London, via the air waves, urging them to keep fighting and resist Nazi and Vichy rule.  He went on leading the French government in exile and the Free French Forces (FFI) (made up of French soldiers in Britain and men and women from the Resistance) until the liberation.

On August 10, 1944, the railway and Metro staff went on strike, followed by the police and post office workers on 13 August.  The city was on a standstill with 20 minutes of electricity per day.  The head of the German occupation of Paris, General Dietrich von Choltitz secretly started the evacuation of some of his staff, but he still authorized, on August 11, the arrest of several Jews.  On August 15, 1944, the news came to Paris that a second Allied landing had successfully happened on the coast of southern France.  This energized the Parisians.  On 16 august, 1944, 35 young high-school students who had just joined the FFI were betrayed by a Gestapo agent.  Von Choltitz had then executed by his soldiers in the Bois de Boulogne (machine-gunned and finished off with hand grenades.)  Spontaneous fighting happened all over the city, in the Latin Quarter, near the Louvre, etc. 


On 18 August, 1944, Colonel Rol-Tanguy, head of the Paris underground French Resistance, or French Forces of the Interior (FFI) launched an order of insurrection.  The FFI and the citizens of Paris started attacking their German occupiers.  Some of the fighting was violent.  The 2,000 to 3,000 policemen on strike took arms and on 19 August invaded the Prefecture of Police, their former headquarters - the first official building to be liberated, then more buildings were liberated.  The FFI and citizens had few arms and had to deal with 20,000 well equipped German soldiers with 80 tanks, 23 cannons, and more.  Posters were placed all over Paris urging the Parisians to fight.

The posters above asked the Parisians to take arms, to place French flags on windows, to do everything possible to stop the enemy from moving within Paris by sabotage, harassment, building barricades, cut trees, puncture the tires of German vehicles, attack isolated Germans, to create as much havoc as possible and show courage and heroism.  Men, women and children responded by building barricades everywhere.  My mother helped build one on our street, rue Condorcet at the crossing of rue Turgot (my father could not as he had been gravely injured in the war.)  She bought a photo of our barricade from the local photographer, and I still have it.  I scanned it, front and back below, showing my mum's writing.  (Click on photos to see better.)

I do remember these barricades as they were such an unusual sight in Paris.  The Parisians responded enthusiastically to the call for insurrection.  Men, women and children used wooden carts to move the materials needed for the barricades.  In the center of Paris 600 barricades were built to fight against the German army.

My mother would constantly urge me not to look up, to the rooftops.  There the "milice" or Vichy collaborators, auxiliary of the Gestapo and German forces, had snipers taking aim at random citizens.  I remember watching some from our apartment dining-room window - one was standing in front of the window below.  I don't have a picture from the 1940s but the photo below is one I took in the 1950s - the roofs looked the same.

Civilian vehicles were painted with camouflage paint and marked with the FFI emblem.  There were thousands of Resistance members in Paris.  They would use these vehicles to transport ammunition and orders from barricade to barricade and to bomb gasoline depots.  Women on the top right picture below are helping to move cobblestones in rue des Martyrs, not far from our apartment.

Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque, nicknamed "Leclerc" was a French officer who escaped twice from German prisons.  He went to Britain to meet de Gaulle and to fight with the Free French.  De Gaulle sent Leclerc to Africa to lead battles there.  In 1943 the forces under Leclerc's command were re-equipped by the Americans and transformed into the 2nd Division Blindee (2nd Armored Division - 2eDB.)  This division was formed in London with the goal of leading the liberation of Paris during the Allied invasion of France in order to have an important French formation in situ at the re-occupation of Paris.  On August 21, 1944, Rol-Tanguy, the head of the Paris Resistance/FFI, sent an envoy to advise Leclerc that if reinforcements did not come soon "the Parisian insurrection will be drowned in blood."  Below are photos of FFI and civilians fighting.

On that same day, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, told de Gaulle (who had just arrived in France to meet with him) that he did not consider Paris a primary objective, that Paris would be bypassed.  American General Omar Bradley wrote in his memoirs about Paris, that it was "nothing more than an ink spot on our maps to be bypassed as we headed toward the Rhine."  Because of politics and tactics the Allied Command had very early decided to defer liberation of the city.  De Gaulle insisted, warning that if no help was given to the Parisians and the FFI soon, the city was doomed and it would be a disaster.  Below is a photo of General Leclerc and his staff waiting in Rambouillet for orders to bring his 2eDB into Paris.

American President Franklin D. Roosevelt "hated de Gaulle so fiercely that he was almost incoherent on the subject."  (from a book by Robert Dallek on FDR.)  FDR was dismissive of de Gaulle's requests of "legitimate French rights."  Since 1942 FDR and his governemtn had decided that French General Giraud would be the one that they would work with to liberate France.  FDR even had de Gaulle under surveillance.  But General de Gaulle sent a letter to General Eisenhower threatening to break away from the Allied Command with his Free French Army and the Resistance/FFI and send his own orders to Leclerc's 2e DB to go into Paris.  Because of this letter, on August 22, 1944, General Eisenhower did reconsider and finally agreed to let the 2e DB proceed with the support for the liberation of Paris, escorted by the 4th American Infantry Division.  Skirmishes in Paris were high on that day, August 22, 1944, with 800 to 1,000 FFI killed and 1,500 wounded.  (photo below courtesy Raymond Vanker.)

Part two coming up in my next post.  More to come.....

34 comments:

Cloudia said...

Wonderful living history! What a privilege to hear directly from you.




ALOHA from Honolulu
ComfortSpiral
=^..^= . <3 . >< } } (°>

David said...

Vagabonde, Interesting story from a bad time in modern history. Well written! We've been lucky here in the USA as the distance has kept us from any invasion. Didn't know that Eisenhower disliked DeGaulle. You're just a touch older than I am as I was about 2 years and 10 months old when VE day occurred. The war had a definite impact on my life though...as my father was killed in Czechoslovakia just a day or two before the end of the war in Europe...

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Vagabonde said...

Hi David - thanks for your comment. It was not Eisenhower who disliked de Gaulle, it was President Roosevelt.

DJan said...

I am spellbound by the events surrounding the liberation of Paris, VB. I didn't know much of it, but I do know that the French citizens gave everything they had during the Resistance. If I were French, I would be so proud of all my compatriots accomplished during this historical period. I'm learning so much! It makes me cry, it's such a beautiful story. Thank you for making this ignorant American learn this important history lesson, It was never taught in MY history classes in school.

Carola Bartz said...

This is extremely interesting, Vagabonde. I wasn't aware that FDR disliked de Gaulle so very much, but when I think of it I have to admit that it does fit his personality (or what I know about it). These days in August 1944 were moving - and what a relief when Paris finally was liberated. I often shudder at the thought what would have happened if history had taken a different course.

rosaria williams said...

As Cloudia said, this is a treasure trove of pictures and details that spell out a very important part of history for you.Thanks for researching and bringing it all together for us to enjoy.

Nadege said...

Merci for this short history lesson with some great photos! Interesting about FDR and De Gaulle.

French Girl in Seattle said...

Dear Vagabonde. Comment allez-vous? Long time no talk to. So happy I stopped by your blog today. I have been sharing with my readers several stories about the Liberation of Paris. As such, this excellent post, so thoroughly researched and so informative, will be shared on French Girl in Seattle's Facebook page on Monday morning. I am so impressed you and your family were in Paris during the Liberation and lived to tell the story. Your mother was a brave woman, as were many Parisians who rallied to free their city. The only nice thing to say about Von Choltitz was that he spared Paris even if he had received orders from Germany to burn it to the ground on his way out. As for DeGaulle, what a guy! The man would have had a successful career as a consultant instructing classes in resilience, self-confidence, and resistance to failure, don't you think? He was so much better than the French politicians who came after him, in France and abroad. I am glad he was such a pain in the derrière and disliked by other leaders. We would not have it otherwise when a FRENCH leader is concerned, I am right? ;-) -- Take care, Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

Marja said...

A fascinating piece of history. A sad time but also a time of the courage of the resistance and people working together.
I always have to think of the comedy allo allo when I hear about the French resistance. I heard many stories about the war from my parents, like my grandma housing many canedian soldiers.
I love your photo I thought for a moment that is was Shirley temple

Elephant's Child said...

Thank you.

Helsie said...

So interesting !

Pat said...

Very evocative photos. The first one shows such joy.

Nadezda said...

You remember that day, Vagabonde,it's so wonderful! For me general de Gaulle always was a symbol of liberation of France in WWII. The photos of attacks on Paris's streets seems like St. Petersburg streets during WWII. Thank you for remind us history!

Thérèse said...

Un merveilleux billet qui retrace ces journees et surtout l'emouvante photo de la barricade. Des souvenirs surement tres cher a votre coeur.
Merci pour ce partage.
Pas toujours des souvenirs de joie de ces premieres journees de liberation de Paris. Temoignages de femmes qui avaient peur de ces "tireurs" sur les toits.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Vagabonde .. your posts are so interesting and give us such a great overview on life at that time ... It's a really interesting part of history ... but not a comfortable one ... let's hope Europe remains at peace now. Thanks - Hilary

s.c said...

It are really complete stories you are telling us. Very nice.

Miss_Yves said...

Merci pour cette commémoration.
Un reportage télévisé est passé récemment à propos de l'affiche"Zazou" , la jeune femme au premier plan avec une robe à pois , devenue octogénaire a évoqué ses souvenirs de la Libération!

Jono said...

Thank you so much for the history lesson. I knew of the occupation in Norway from my father and the bombings of London from my mother, but had not heard the story of Paris from someone who was there. The pictures are amazing and tell so much. I hope someday the human race will understand, and never again will something like this happen.

Miss_Yves said...

http://www.france24.com/fr/20140819-liberation-paris-paulette-modarresse-exposition-photographie-seconde-guerre-mondiale-/


Al said...

Wow, what an amazing post, and from somebody who was there. My father lived through WW2 as a child in England and has clear memories of it.

Denise Covey said...

Hi Vagabonde. I do love the French spirit. And they do love their barricades too. Feisty. They have such a war history which brought out some interesting characters. I love the idea of the French Resistance and have read many stories about it.

Thanks for sharing this...and the photos are amazing-battles in the streets! Love the pic of young girl you, too.

A wonderful post.

Denise

Jeanie said...

As you know, I am fascinated by the World Wars, especially World War II. While I knew some of this from my reading and viewing, there is MUCH I learned from your fascinating and beautifully illustrated post. To think that you were there, that you experienced this. Even though it is a distant memory, your memories help weave the fabric of our world's history, and your country's in particular. I will eagerly await part 2.

Elizabeth Eiffel said...

An interesting post. A very different time and Paris. I find history is more engaging when told by those who have lived it! Thank goodness I am to young to have experienced these events first hand. Warm regards.

Debs said...

Thank you for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment. I'm so glad you did otherwise I would not have discovered your wonderful blog.
I've never met anyone who witnessed the invasion and liberation of Paris. The Parisian people were so brave, and your mother! What a woman! It was an honour to read your post. Thank your for sharing this with us all.
Debs

Shammickite said...

I was born in England a year after the war ended and I am so thankful that I have never had to experience the horrors of war or occupation by an aggressive nation, and my sons have lived their lives (so far) in peace.
I remember General de Gaulle well.... he wouldn't let Britain join the EE in the '60s, back then it was called the European Common Market. And he got kicked out of Canada in the '70s for his speech "Le Quebec Libre"!!!

Mae Travels said...

The combination of images and text here makes the Liberation come alive. Very fascinating, especially combined with the many other stories in the press this week for the commemoration of the events.

mae

Ghislain Nicolas said...

Une période bien tourmentée ,ou quiconque possédant un fusil pouvait descendre du Bosch au nom de la liberté, au nom de la justice. c était aussi le temps des règlements de comptes, et plus d un fut exécuté sommairement. Heureusement, l armée à veillé au rétablissement de l ordre. Belles photos d époque.
Amicalement Latil

Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

What a great post and it is fantastic that you really do have the stories first hand. This is a great write up with first class photos.

There are many elderly people here that I would dearly love to be able to chat to and ask questions, sadly my French is not good enough and never will be. Never the less, we have a neighbour who does speak a little English who has a whole room, of WW1 memorabilia. Also his father rescued a US airman in WW2 and hid him for some time before he managed to return to the US. Interesting stuff and very enlightening. Bonne semaine, Diane

EG CameraGirl said...

Thank you for sharing this interesting history. I had no idea that FDR and de Gaulle didn't get along and that Paris could have been bipassed instead of liberated!

Dee said...

Dear Vagabonde, I sighed so deeply at the end of this first posting and even spoke out loud I was so touched by the valor of the French people--the Parisians. To read this history from someone who was there, whose mother helped erect a barricade is to realize just how deeply all of you in Paris longed for liberation. I knew nothing about FDR's hatred of DeGaulle nor of the American plan to bypass Paris. I wish you'd write more about those two topics.

I enlarged all the photographs and the grim looks on the faces of those behind the blockades. The determination that etched their chins and eyes and cheeks brought tears to my eyes. Thank you so much for sharing this. It's clear I need to do more reading on this period of the war. Peace.

claude said...

Merci pour ce beau post à la gloire de notre pays 'ce qui n'est pas tellement le cas en ce moment) Je connais l'histoire de la libération de Paris, j'ai lu deux fois le livre "Paris brûle-t-il" de Larry Collins et Dominique Lapierre.
Le jour de l'appel au barricades, ma Mémé était en train de faire un gâteau. Elle termine sa pâte un peu
excitée par ce qui arrive dans Paris. Au bout de quelques minutes seulement elle sent une odeur de cuit ; elle regarde dans son four : le gâteau était bien doré mais tout plat, elle avait oublié de mettre la farine.
Le jour du défilé du Général de Gaulle, le sauveur de la France, ma Maman avec mes grands-parents étaient sur les Champs-Elysées. Il y a eu des bousculades, des chutes, et le soir, ma Mémé s'est aperçu qu'elle avait une marque de semelle de chaussure d'homme sur sa combinaison.
On ne remerciera jamais assez l'aide des Alliés dans la reconquête de la notre liberté.
Bises

OldLady Of The Hills said...

Amazing how you make History come ALIVE in such a direct and engaging manner....I feel as if I were there!
Great pictures, my dear....again---Living History coming alive! This is fascinating and also so very important---we need to be reminded how brave the Parisians were during this horrific occupation! Looking forward to Part 2!

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

Your stories always make history come to life. It's hard to imagine what it must have been like in Europe during WWII and how relieved they were when the war was over. As always, very well written.
Sam

Vicki Lane said...

A wonderful post! Thank you!

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