Tuesday, September 16, 2014

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

This subject, I am afraid, may not interest most of my readers since it is history of a foreign city, but I thought my grandchildren might read it some day and enjoy it because their grandma was there, at the Paris liberation, just as I enjoyed my grandfather telling me about World War One.  My last post, part 3, was going to be my final post until I found out more information that had been made available through the Freedom of Information Act.  In part 3, I mentioned that the French Resistance had been vital during WW2 and especially during D-Day in June 1944.  In 1946, General of the Army George C. Marshall stated: "The Resistance surpassed all our expectations, and it was they who, in delaying the arrival of German reinforcements and in preventing the regrouping of enemy divisions in the interior, assured the success of our landings.  Without the Resistance everything would have been compromised."  The Resistance members in France and other French groups based out of the country were under the direction of General de Gaulle, in London.  For some reason the US does not recognize de Gaulle and the Resistance's hard work as they do Winston Churchill and the British.

Also in my post, part 3 of the Paris liberation, I explained how the 15,000 US military men and equipment whose pictures had been widely seen and reproduced, walking through the center of Paris on their way to the front, were marching on August 29,1944, three days after Paris was liberated.  They walked through Paris and did not stop (they did not take part in any combat in Paris.)  Paris was liberated mostly by the Parisians with the help of the FFI (Free French of the Interior or Parisian Resistance.)  But this picture of the US Army three days after the liberation is the one that people, from everywhere, remember.

Postcards and stamp showing US troops marching down the Champs-Elysees, without stopping, on August 29, 1944, 3 days after Paris was liberated by the Parisians and Free French forces.

In any case the Parisians greeted the marching US soldiers with delight.  Most of them did not know that these troops had just arrived and were marching through and out of town.  I insist on this because the Resistance/FFI and Parisian civilians were heroes who sacrificed their lives to liberate Paris and their courage should be recognized and remembered.  (Click on collage twice to enlarge.)

France is certainly very grateful to the US and Allied Forces for liberating their country and Europe, but the city of Paris was liberated by the French - this is history that does not minimize in the least all the hard work and sacrifices of the Allies.  In France the liberation is not remembered with the image of the US Army marching on August 29, but with General Leclerc and the 2nd Armored Division, who accepted the surrender of Nazi General von Choltitz on August 25, 1944 - the date recognized as the liberation of Paris.  Below are Parisians with Leclerc tanks and, on 26 August, celebrating.

Our house in a suburb of Paris, where I spent my teenage years, was on General Leclerc street.

I was interested to find out why President Franklin D. Roosevelt had such an aversion for General de Gaulle (some even call it a pathological hate.)  I read many historic documents, non-fiction books, archives, etc.  It is difficult to write about all this in just a couple of sentences.  FDR wished to only deal with an "elected" government and had recognized the Vichy government.  FDR regarded de Gaulle as a conceited young general and "apprentice dictator."  FDR had great admiration for General Philippe Petain (1856-1951) a French national hero from his victory at the Verdun battle in WWI and appointed premier of France in June 1940.  It was hard for FDR to believe that Petain had turned German collaborator.  Petain, aged 83, capitulated to Hitler and formed a puppet government.  His government collaborated with Nazi Germany and moved to Vichy (approx. 400 km/250 miles from Paris,) taking orders from Hitler.  De Gaulle resigned and flew to London where, singlehandedly he established the "Free French" government in exile and, on 18 June 1940, started his radio calls to the Resistance and French people.  Vichy convicted de Gaulle to death in absentia.  This was a problem for both Roosevelt and Churchill - who should they work with?  Churchill chose de Gaulle and Roosevelt Petain.

After FDR refused to meet with de Gaulle because he had not been "elected" by the French people, de Gaulle wrote a long eloquent letter to him in October 1942, in French, explaining his goals for the freedom of France.  In it he explained that, sometimes, people who have not been "elected" could still accomplish much for a country, using Joan of Arc as an example, and he added that once free, the French people could elect who they liked.  The letter was translated in English by FDR's Francophobe translators.  Through the Freedom of Information Act the letter was made public not so long ago.  It showed that it had been translated in such a way to make de Gaulle sound as if he was saying that he was Joan of Arc. FDR did not answer the letter at the time (but made constant jokes about Joan-of-Arc-de-Gaulle.)  FDR's cabinet kept working with members of the Vichy government until late 1943 and refused to coordinate with the Free French established in London by de Gaulle - it had been recognized by 37 other countries.  FDR did not give de Gaulle the date of the Allied landing in North Africa (French territory at the time,) and FDR's cabinet told him of Mussolini's surrender 4 days late.   Even though de Gaulle was in charge of the Resistance and Free French army he was denied access to intelligence by FDR.  The Normandy landing was not shared with him until the last minute.  Anyone would believe that this was a deliberate insult to General de Gaulle.

 On November 22, 1942, US General Mark W. Clark of the combined Allied command had Admiral Darlan, the Vichy government representative, sign a treaty which placed "North Africa at the disposition of the Americans" and made France "a vassal country."  Not many people know on this side of the pond that, because of his intense dislike of de Gaulle, Roosevelt wished to govern France after the war and make it a protectorate of the USA.  A 1943 letter released to the British Government in 2000 shows this.  In that letter of May 8, 1943, Roosevelt said to Churchill "I am more and more of the opinion that we should consider France as a militarily-occupied nation and governed by British and American generals ... We would keep 90% of the [Vichy] mayors and a large percentage of the lesser bureaucrats of the cities and departments.  But the important posts would remain the responsibility of the military commander, American and British ... Perhaps [General Charles] de Gaulle can become governor of Madagascar."  President Roosevelt wished to promote obedient and docile French General Giraud and take power away from General de Gaulle.  FDR knew that only de Gaulle could prevent him from making France a vassal of the US after the end of the war.

Anthony Eden, prime minister of England 1955-1957, wrote in his diary of March 1944 that FDR's absurd and petty dislike of de Gaulle blinded him from making rational policy toward France, and wrote scathingly that FDR planned to "create a bizarre amalgam called "Wallonia" which would include parts of Belgium, Luxembourg, Alsace, Lorraine and the north of France."  FDR considered France a power in decay that should not regain its independence after the war, wished to dismember it and create this new state of Wallonia (maybe a compulsory 51st US State?)  This project of FDR is not known in the US but it is in France.  I read this on an English newspaper a couple of year ago  "...a 1943 study commissioned by then US President Franklin Roosevelt envisaged the creation of a "greater Wallonia" that would have incorporated not just French-speaking Belgium, but also Luxembourg, Alsace-Lorraine and the two northernmost department of France."  President Roosevelt also thought that a new military alliance such as the United Nations should emerge, but with only the USA, Britain and Russia - France would not be invited to join.  Below is President Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower en route for Italy and the book I just finished reading on FDR's plans for France.

As early as 1941-42, to keep de Gaulle out of power, Washington planned a military rule for France, the same as for defeated Italy, Germany and Japan.  It would have been governed by the "Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories" or Amgot.  Hundreds of US officers, administrators, attorneys, military policemen, scientists and physicians were trained secretly for that purpose at the School of Military Government, in Charlottesville, Virginia.  A new French currency called "Flag Money" was printed in the US to be used after the Normandy landing (and was used for a couple of months until forbidden by then President de Gaulle.)  The currency was similar to US dollars with a French flag, but without the word "republic."  Zone Handbooks on France had been printed detailing all the areas of France, and covering local politics, the economy, geography and even up to movie theatres to show only American movies.    Civil servants and US war tribunals would have been used in French courts.  France would have gone from a "hard German occupation" to a "US military occupation."  (French people were forced to use that money and were outraged.)  This was averted by General de Gaulle's rapid arrival in Paris at the liberation and immediately installing his legal provisional government.

FDR had even been thinking that since there would be no sovereign government of France, General Eisenhower would be appointed "Governor of France" or "Pro-Consul" such as Paul Bremer was for over a year during the occupation of Iraq in 2003-04, where this US government program was implemented (you can see the results now ...)   As late as May 1944 President Roosevelt would not recognized de Gaulle as the head of the Free French Government (who had thwarted his plans) but was made to recognize it in late October 1944.  FDR's irrational Francophobia was a problem for Eisenhower who needed to finalize his battle strategy for the rest of the war with the Free French Army and Resistance, directed by de Gaulle (who FDR told him not to contact.)  De Gaulle who had a great memory never forgave the US for trying to take France over and for the years worked against him - behind his back.  He felt France was treated like an enemy rather than an ally.  In the collective memory of the French people this US offense was narrowly avoided by the fast and adroit actions of General de Gaulle, but it sure made for darker relation with the US.  How would America have felt if, after France and Lafayette helped Washington (by bringing a force of 45,000 men to fight with Washington's 8,000 soldiers,) France had decided to military occupy the country, placed a puppet French governor, and printed French money to be used instead of the US dollar?  just think on that.

At the request of President Roosevelt, General de Gaulle was purposely left out of the Yalta Conference in early 1945.  When President de Gaulle opted out of NATO in 1966, wishing France to become free from the superpowers' influences, the US government started a media campaign of anti-French sentiments, which was successful and still is, unfortunately (even the New York Times takes part in it often.)  De Gaulle wished for an independent France and was concerned that the USA would try to take it over one way or another.  However, in April 2009, French President Sarkozy re-integrated France into NATO.

If General de Gaulle had not swiftly installed the Provisional French Government at the liberation of Paris - who would have taken over?  Even though FDR assiduously undercut him and tried to meddle in French affairs de Gaulle had a great admiration for him.  At the death of President Roosevelt de Gaulle led the nation in mourning for a week.  In 1962 he told columnist Cyrus Sulzberger:  "Franklin Roosevelt was a great man, although I did not agree with him, as your know.  He led the United States into war and through the war until victory.  He was a man of quality."  The city of Paris has a metro station named in honor of Franklin D. Roosevelt.  I cannot recall reading that there is any underground station, or bus station, in the US named after General de Gaulle, maybe there is one?

General de Gaulle was always surprised when the US media or people here would say that he was anti-American.  He affirmed that he was just defending the interests of France, just like Franklin D. Roosevelt would defend the interests of his country.  I tried to remember if, while at school in Paris, my friends would talk negatively about the US.  I remember that they did, but 90% of what they did not like about the US was their treatment of their black citizens and Native Americans - that was the major reasons for their disapproval.  De Gaulle was often rigid and intractable but his deep love for France cannot be denied.  He wanted Frenchwomen and Frenchmen to keep sovereignty of their country and lead the liberation of Paris.  With him, the Parisians, the coordination of the FFI and the French 2nd Armored Division, they succeeded.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Recollection: The Liberation of Paris in August 1944 (part 3)

This is a continuation of my last post on the liberation of Paris, part 2.  These are long posts because there is so much to tell - I know most people would enjoy looking at photos of Paris instead of reading about old history, but Paris pictures will come in later posts.  In my last post I had written that on 25 August, 1944, in the afternoon, General Dietrich von Choltitz (1894-1966) the last German officer commander of Nazi-occupied Paris, had surrendered to General Leclerc (head of the Free French Army) and the head of the FFI (Free Forces of the Interior or French Resistance.)  Von Choltitz was a dedicated and zealous German officer who was known to faithfully obey orders.  Under his command, in 1940 and 41, the cities of Rotterdam and Sevastopol were leveled.  (Von Choltitz nickname was the Butcher of Sevastopol.)

Von Choltitz also participated in the extermination of 50,000 Jews by the Einsatzgruppen no. 3, and fought the Allies in Normandy.  Von Choltitz had arrived in Paris on 9 August; he did not know the city but during that short stay he had thousands of Resistance members and Parisians killed - had a last convoy of "political" deportees shipped to concentration camps on August 15 and another of Jews on August 17, 1944.  He ordered the destruction of several beautiful landmarks around Paris and had 35 young members of the Resistance machine-gunned in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, ordered the destruction of the Pantin windmills to starve the citizens and had the Grand Palais burned as well as had his soldiers place mines under bridges and in Metro stations.  Here he is below.

By mid-August 1944 von Choltitz forces were demoralized and, in addition, their military equipment was obsolete (some from WWI.)  In order to destroy Paris, as instructed by Berlin, von Choltitz desperately asked that the German army send re-enforcements and also the "Karl" mortar (also known as "Thor",) the largest self-propelled siege mortar that his soldiers used in the siege of Sevastopol.  Below is a postcard of the Karl/Thor mortar.

The mortar and additional soldiers did not get to Paris in time.  Von Choltitz tried to destroy Paris by having his soldiers place dynamite in many areas; it was just too late with too little means (plus the Resistance would remove the mines as soon as the German moved away.)  Von Choltitz decided to surrender to save himself on August 25, 1944, after hearing that the German army could not assure his safety if he could somehow have Paris destroyed.  (Click on collage to enlarge.)

While in jail in England, von Choltitz's conversation which was secretly recorded, acknowledged that he had participated in the extermination of Jews.  Released in 1947 he started writing his so-called "memoirs" where he claimed that he disobeyed Hitler's order to burn Paris.  This was a self-serving fantasy to clear his name, improve his image by becoming known as a Paris hero.  Unfortunately, two reporters (not historians) believed his fiction and included him in a book called "Is Paris Burning?" which was later made into a film.  Now everyone believed, and still believes, that von Choltitz saved Paris.  Although, at the time, the French Cinema Federation published a strong statement objecting that an American producer was filming a history of the French Resistance based on the words of a Nazi general only.  In a 2004 interview, veteran FFI fighter, Maurice Kriegel-Valrimont described von Choltitz as a man who "as long as he could, killed French people and when he ceased to kill them it was because he wasn't able to do so any longer ... not only we owe him nothing but this is a shameless falsification of history to award him any merit."  German historians who analyzed the recorded conversations of von Choltitz while in English jail supported Maurice's claim.  Below, top photo, is von Choltitz taken to Leclerc to surrender on August, 25, 1944, and behind him, wearing glasses, Maurice Kriegel-Valrimont.  Bottom photo is von Choltitz seated behind Gen. Leclerc in open car.

On August 26, 1944, the day after the liberation of Paris, General de Gaulle led a parade with the 2nd Division Blindee (2e DB) of General Leclerc, walking from the Arc de Triomphe in Paris to the Place de la Concorde.  The immense crowd was overjoyed and cheering.  Most members of the 4th American Division were actively patrolling in the east and northeast of Paris and few were in the parade.  I remember going to the Champs-Elysees that day with my mother.  There was such a crowd - it was warm too and noisy.  I was holding my mother's hand tightly so as not to get lost.  People were laughing, cheering; the picture is still in my memory even though I was only 4 years old.  I do remember hearing shots but I don't know where this was in Paris.

General de Gaulle was driven in an open automobile from the Place de la Concorde to Notre-Dame de Paris where crowds were waiting.  Policemen and FFI members were on top of buildings around La Concorde to ensure safety against the milice (French and foreign Gestapo collaborators.)  Below, in middle right,  is General de Gaulle in the open automobile.

In the evening of the 26th, at around 11:00 pm, the sirens started sounding because German aircraft were approaching Paris.  They bombarded the city a last time (out of spite.)  Buildings in the Marais area of Paris, the Mouffetard quarter, La Bastille area, Place d'Italie, Bichat Hospital, the wine warehouse in Les Halles were hit - 431 buildings were totally destroyed and 1597 partially destroyed.

Unfortunately, 189 Parisian men, women and children were killed and 890 injured.

On August 27th, 1944, there were still pockets of fighting in Paris between the milice and isolated retreating German soldiers.  Women who had been "friendly" to the enemy had their head shaved.  General Leclerc's cousin was killed.  Paris was free but the war was not over yet.  This not well known late bombing of Paris shows the heavy price the Parisians kept paying for the freedom of their city.  Below, top right picture, is a German Tiger tank seized by French civilians.

The FFI or Resistance in France had been instrumental in liberating Paris, but they also helped tremendously with D-Day in Normandy sending, in May alone, 3,000 written reports to the Allies, 700 wireless reports and by destroying 1,800 railway engines, 52 locomotives and cutting railway lines in over 500 places thus isolating Normandy.  Below are memorials for Jean Moulin (1899-1943) who under the direction of de Gaulle from London unified 17 disparate resistance groups under the one French Resistance.  He was tortured by Klaus Barbie, chief of the Gestapo in Lyon, France, and died without speaking.  He is a national hero, the emblem of the Resistance.

The American historian Robert Paxton estimated that active French Resistance members were about 400,000 in addition to two million civilian participating on a temporary basis.  I know both my father and mother did "jobs" for the Resistance.  Gen. Eisenhower said that on D-Day the Resistance had the effectiveness of 15 divisions and later "Throughout France the Resistance had been of inestimable value in the campaign.  Without their great assistance the liberation of France and the defeat of the enemy in Western Europe would have consumed a much longer and meant greater losses to ourselves."  From about 56,000 Resistance fighters sent to concentration camps, less than half returned.

A week long commemoration took place in Paris, from 19 through 26 August, 2014, for the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Paris.  I read many articles about it on the Web.  Some American sites had numerous ugly comments, such as "Yea, sure they fought!  yawn....We were the ones to save Paris, no one in Paris fought but us!" and "Q How many Frenchmen does it take to defend Paris? A Don't know, it has never been done."  Someone asked why there were so many mean French comments and another answered "Americans are generally anti-French, and anti-Canadian to a lesser degree."  The Parisians did fight for Paris, suffering many casualties and deaths - their courage is not a myth.

Looking at the postcards and photos on the liberation parades in Paris, Place de la Concorde, I noticed that there were US flags in one and not the other - they had to be on different days.

This was confirmed when I read Tom Reid's diary, a late citizen of Marietta, Georgia.  He was a member of the 22nd Infantry Regiment and said: "One final word.  Whenever you see the oft printed picture of American troops massed fifty abreast marching down the Champs Elysees in Paris with the Arc de Triomphe in the background and billed as the liberation of Paris, brand it as a phony.  That is the 28th Infantry Division some three or four days after the 4th Infantry Division had rolled through Paris that bright August day."

Gen. de Gaulle had asked Gen. Eisenhower to send some troops to Paris to parade as a show of Allied support for his new provisional government.  Accordingly, on 29th August, 1944, the 28th Reconnaissance troop and the 110th, 112th and 109 Infantry Regiments marched down the Champs-Elysees to the Place de la Concorde where de Gaulle reviewed them on an improvised platform.  15,000 US men and all their equipment marched there among ecstatic Parisians (many of them thinking that the troops had been fighting in Paris instead of just arriving in the capital and marching through it.)

"I had no spare units to station temporarily in Paris, I did promise him [de Gaulle] that two of our divisions, marching to the front, would do so through the main avenues of the city.  I suggested that while these divisions were passing through Paris they could proceed in ceremonial formation and invited him to review them" ... "Because this ceremonial march coincided exactly with the local battle plan it became possibly the only instance in history of troops marching in parade through the capital of a great country to participate in pitched battle on the same day."  (from Crusade in Europe, page 298, by Dwight D. Eisenhower.)

To add to the confusion, the US post office issued a stamp to honor the American Army in WW2 and decided to use these US regiments marching through Paris on August 29, 1944 (with additional aircraft drawings as regards to the Air Force - who had not been there.)  This stamp solidified in the US public's mind, the idea that the US Army had delivered Paris from the Nazi that August.  Pictures from this march have been widely seen and used.  These American troops were in Paris on 29th August and the liberation of Paris was on August 25th, 1944 (when Gen. von Choltitz surrendered.)

The liberation of Paris during WW2 must sound like very old history to everyone, and I am sure not as much fun as a post on the monuments, food, decor, fashion or tourists sights of Paris - but there are many blogs that concentrate just on that.  For me Paris is more than all this, it is also its history, its people and my childhood.  I remember that warm August day so many years ago, walking in Paris, my home town, with my mum and watching General de Gaulle and the parade after Paris was free again ...just one last and final part on this subject and it will be over.

Addendum: my blogging friend Carola mentioned that German Resistance was also active during WW2 - their collective name was Widerstand.  Between 1938 and 1945 they attempted 17 times to assassinate Hitler.  Following the last attempt in July 1944, 5,000 of their members were captured and executed.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Recollection: The Liberation of Paris in August 1944 (part 2)

This is a continuation of my post on the Liberation of Paris, Part 1.  A few years ago, when I found my mother's postcard showing  the barricade in our street (see my last post) I knew I would show it and write a post on the liberation of Paris.  I kept notes whenever I read something, mostly in French, in books or articles on the liberation.  My document is now more than 50 pages long.  I was going to write just one post but, with some new facts that I found not long ago (because of the Freedom of Information Act) I thought I would include them.  My last paragraph was about the events that had taken place on August 22, 1944 - the Resistance in Paris, known as the Free French of the Interior (FFI) and Paris civilians had been battling German soldiers in the capital for several days resulting in many civilian and FFI casualties and deaths.  (Click on collage to enlarge.)

The head of the FFI had sent a request to General Leclerc of the 2nd Armored Division (2e DB) to bring reinforcements to avoid a civilian blood bath in Paris.  General de Gaulle had asked General Dwight D. Eisenhower to authorize the division Leclerc to move to Paris - since these troops were under the authority of the Allied forces.  General Eisenhower refused because the plans were for the US Army and the British Army to reach Berlin before the Soviet Army got there.  General Eisenhower had agreed that the Leclerc 2e DB would liberate Paris, but at a later date.  De Gaulle threatened to place the order himself to the French 2nd DB to move to Paris, and General Eisenhower finally agreed with one condition.

This condition was that the French forces entering Paris should be made up of "white" soldiers only, as already instructed by the US and British commands.  Early on de Gaulle had said he wished his Free French Army to be the one to liberate Paris.  The Allied High Command had agreed but, in January 1944, sent a "confidential" memo (released in 2009 by the BBC) from Eisenhower's Chief of Staff, Major General Walter Bedell Smith saying "It is more desirable that the division mentioned above consists of white personnel."  "This would indicate the Second Armoured Division, which with only one fourth native personnel, is the only French division operationally available that could be made one hundred percent white."  Below is a photo of the Allied Commanders.  General of the Army, Dwight D. Eisenhower is in the center holding pens, and Major General W. B. Smith is on the left holding a cigarette (photo public domain.)

In 1940, after the fall of France, de Gaulle had raised his Free French Army in Africa - it was now composed of 2/3 black soldiers.  General Leclerc 2nd Armored Division (2e DB) in Morocco was 75% white and thus was chosen, even though many of the "whites" were not French but North Africans, Syrians, Spanish and Portuguese.  Leclerc was instructed by the US and British high command to choose his soldiers with the lightest complexion as they could not imagine black men making such a symbolic entry into Paris and being shown on newsreels in US theatres (the short film on current news before the main feature movie.)  Below is General de Gaulle and Leclerc in Douala, Cameroon, October 1940.

General de Gaulle was against this "white only" rule as he did not separate his staff according to race as the Americans did, but he did not have any choice in the matter.  Accordingly, General Leclerc had to terminate 3,603 of his black soldiers - they could be demobilized or integrated into an infantry division.  He was able to keep one of his best officers, Claude Mademba Sy, a Senegalese sharpshooter, because Claude was born in France of a Senegalese father and European mother and had studied at the highest army French school.  Claude Senegalese grandfather had fought in the French-Austrian war of 1870, had been a colonel and received, in 1889, one of France top honor "La Legion d'Honneur."  His father had also been on officer and Claude himself was later made a colonel.  In comparison the American army was segregated and black soldiers judged not brave enough to fight in battles.  They were only allowed to clean trucks or be dock workers and such.  They were used in battle at the end of WW2 when it became necessary.  The US army was desegregated in 1948.  Below is Claude Mademba Sy arriving in Paris and later being decorated by Gen. de Gaulle.

As you can tell Claude was tall since General de Gaulle was himself 6 ft 5 (1m 96.)  Claude Mademba Sy landed earlier in Normandy and later participated in the liberation of Paris, the Alsatian countryside and Germany.  Sadly, Claude passed away on April 9, 2014, at the age of 90.  I find this "white only" request odd in a way because about 10 days before the liberation of Paris, on 15 August, 1944, the Allied forces had landed in southern France under "Operation Dragoon."  The invasion included two American troops and three troops from the French First Army.  The French First Army included 92% troops from Africa and 8% French soldiers.  But even though this second landing was a success for the Allied and it liberated the French southern coast, including the large port of Marseille soon after, it is not as well known as the Normandy landing - it was eclipsed by it.  Below are pictures from Operation Dragoon.

On August 23, 1944, at 9:00 am, under General Dietrich von Choltitz's order (The German commander in charge of Paris) two German "tiger" tanks shot incendiary shells into the Grand Palais (a FFI stronghold in Paris) and it burned.  German tanks also fired at the barricades in the streets and killed small groups of Resistance fighters.  On August 24th Germans who were occupying the Austerlitz General Stores set them on fire before escaping.  Many German soldiers were starting to flee the capital, or just waiting to surrender, but in the meantime they massacred anyone close to them, men, women and children.  German soldiers were also placing mines in the Metro and dynamite under bridges.  There was little electricity in the city and no gas for cooking - some women cooked meals in the streets.  Other women caring for the injured took them down Metro stations underground that were set up as hospitals.  Below on the right is Resistance fighter known as Nicole, posing with her MP 40 machine gun, on August 23, 1944.  She captured 25 Germans.

American General Omar Bradley had given orders to General Leclerc and his division not to enter Paris and Leclerc was waiting in Rambouillet.  Leclerc insisted that Germans were claiming many civilians' lives and it was critical to bring support.  Finally, Bradley gave his OK.  Leclerc sent his 9th Armored Company of the 2e DB ahead, as it was closer to the city.  This detachment, headed by Captain Raymond Dronne was called "La Nueve" because it was composed of Spanish Republican men.  In early 1939, after the Spanish Civil War, about 1/2 million Spanish Republicans had escaped to France and as many as 60,000 had joined the French Resistance.  Dronne and his men rushed to Paris and in the evening of August 24th, they entered the Hotel de Ville Plaza in Paris at 9:22 pm - the first liberating force to enter the city ...and they were mostly from Spain.  Photo of General Leclerc on top of collage below and a postcard of the 9th Company "La Nueve" with Captain Dronne at bottom.

On August 24, 1944, during the early hours, German soldiers were still placing mines in the Metro (such as the Tuileries station.)  At 3:00 am six German tanks with soldiers got out of the city.  At 6:30 am ten German tanks and several trucks loaded with ammunition and equipment left town, but there was still a cannon at the Luxembourg Gardens shooting at civilians, killing a dozen or more.  Members of the French Milice (collaborators of the Gestapo) were still shooting civilians from rooftops.

More German soldiers were escaping but shooting anyone as they left.  The FFI were rushing to Paris bridges removing German mines.  By 10:00 am ten more German "tiger" tanks were leaving town, followed by a convoy of vehicles and 300 soldiers, some of them taking French hostages.  Tanks were aiming their fires into buildings and houses as they left.  Some of the German soldiers who had especially been cruel (or tortured the population) were killing themselves as they were afraid to be lynched by angry Parisians.

On the other side of town, General Leclerc and his 2e DB had entered Paris, closely followed by the American Infantry Regiment.  The FFI, French and American soldiers started fighting, side by side, in the streets against retreating German soldiers and the milice.  By then 2,500 German soldiers had reached east of the city and were leaving.  French FFI kept rushing to defuse the German explosives and mines under bridges, the Metro and important buildings.  By noon the FFI and the 2e DB soldiers were Place de la Republique - another 2,000 German soldiers were disbanding but still shooting at the crowd; however many German soldiers were taken prisoner.  At 1:00 pm the 2e DB attacked the "Kommandantur" (German Administration) on the Place de l'Opera where, at 3:00 pm a white flag was placed on top of the building and 12 officers and 250 administrators and soldiers surrendered.

General Leclerc and his division reached the Hotel de Ville, removed the German swastika flag and replaced it with the French tricolor.  At 2:30 pm two officers of the 2e DB entered the Meurice Hotel where General von Choltitz had agreed to surrender.  They brought him to General Leclerc and the head of the FFI where he signed the articles of surrender.  Paris was free!  During the battle for Paris an estimated 800 to 1,000 resistance fighters were killed and 1,500 wounded, including 175 police officer killed.  An estimated 2,800 civilians lost their lives.  the 2e Armored Division lost 130 men, 225 were wounded.  The German losses came to around 3,200 men and 12,800 were made prisoners.  The 4th American Division suffered no casualty at all.  All over Paris you can now see little stone plaques placed where the Resistance and civilian fighters fell during the uprising of August 1944.

In the afternoon General Charles de Gaulle arrived in Paris by the Porte d'Orleans and then joined General Leclerc at the Hotel de Ville Plaza where, at 4:00 pm, he pronounced his stirring speech about Paris being freed by the Parisians and the Free French.  There were scattered shots from the milice on rooftops, 30 people were injured, some seriously, but de Gaulle was not injured.  In the afternoon, the 4th American Division was clearing the outskirts east of Paris, searching for isolated German soldiers.  In the evening, de Gaulle went back to the War Department as Head of the Provisional Government of the French Republic.  Below, bottom left are the FFI and Parisians with a seized German cannon and at top right General Leclerc 2e DB tanks on boulevard St. Michel in Paris.

"Une fois de plus, la justice doit s’acheter avec le sang des hommes …. Dans cette nuit sans égale s’achèvent quatre ans d’une histoire monstrueuse et d’une lutte indicible ….Mais la paix reviendra sur cette terre éventrée  …. Mais cette paix ne nous trouvera pas oublieux…. "

"Once again, justice must be bought with the blood of men ... in this unparalleled night come to an end four years of monstrous history and unspeakable struggle ... But peace will return to this destroyed earth.  But this peace will not find us forgetful."  - Albert Camus (1913-1960) French writer, in an editorial in the french newspaper Combat, August 25, 1944.

Below Albert Camus (in white shirt, center, holding a glass of wine) with his team at the newspaper Combat.  Photo courtesy Rene Saint-Paul.

More coming in my next post.  These Liberation of Paris posts are long because there is so much to tell.  Just think of each post as a consolidation of 4 little posts.  More to come ...
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