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.

32 comments:

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

Such a good post! I love to read about history and to get the true story rather than the PR that is always full of fabrication is a treat.

Pay no attention to those horrid people who comment on the Internet. No matter the story, these hateful people crawl from under a rock to spew their vile opinions. They are ignorant and beyond stupid.

DJan said...

I am ashamed of my fellow Americans who disparage the French Resistance. Fortunately there are plenty of books that focus on the incredible bravery of the French people during WWII. I loved this post and I learned a lot. Thank you so much for your detailed history, VB. :-)

NotesFromAbroad said...

Spectacular photos .. so wonderful.
I tend to ignore a lot of people who post nonsense on the internet, it is the one place they are able to say anything they want and poor them, it is drivel.

NotesFromAbroad said...

This is fascinating and if people don't tell their stories, then these stories, this history will be lost.
Anyone who would say anything negative , has problems of their own ..

Jeanie said...

I am so glad you are doing this series. It amplifies in a very personal way things I have been seeing in the slew of documentaries I've been watching -- and contradicting, too. It seems as though in one at least they referred to someone and I assume it was von Cholitz who "saved Paris." I'm not sure if they are referring to him or not but it seems like the wording is quite similar. I also heard that Eisenhower did not at all like DeGaulle and this caused some problems.

For me, the real story of WWII was the resistance, particularly in France but also some other occupied countries. I don't think the war could have been won without it. I am continually (and to this day) frustrated at our American arrogance about Europe -- then and now. Your posts do a great service.

Down by the sea said...

Thank goodness that Von Choltitz was unable to destroy Paris too.

I must have been wonderful to have been there to see the liberation parade and still remember it this day.

My perception had always been that the Americans had liberated Paris. Thank you for telling me the true story. Sarah x

David said...

Vagabonde, It's good to learn the real story behind the liberation of France. I wasn't aware of that last bombing attack by the Luftwaffe. It's also hard to believe that von Cholitz wasn't executed for war crimes and was actually freed! The French Resistance effort was amazing indeed...and they greatly helped the allies by keeping many German Divisions tied up. It was a wonder that Paris survived more or less intact... As for the US Stamp, it may be fiction, but without the US Armed Forces, Europe might look far different today than it does. I'm a little biased...as my father is buried in France. I wasn't 3 years old yet when he was killed. Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Vagabonde said...

David - Thanks for coming to my blog. I certainly agree with you that without the Allies Europe would not be what it is today and we are all thankful for their help and I know how hard it was for you with your father making such a sacrifice. I just wished that the US post office had selected a place that the US liberated, rather than Paris that they did not – I would not get the usual refrain that Paris was not liberated by the Parisians – and this picture has a lot to do with it. I wonder why the post office did not get an accurate picture of somewhere they liberated, as there were thousands of them. Know that I certainly feel very thankful for the US liberation of all the countries in Europe.

French Girl in Seattle said...

Ma chère Vagabonde, félicitations for the amazing research you have accomplished to write yet another fascinating story about the Liberation of Paris. I am glad you set the record straight about war criminal Von Choltitz. I am glad, as well, you set the record straight about the role civilians - and the FFI troops - played in the liberation of our beloved Paris. As for internet trolls and their uneducated comments, I have learned to ignore them but will be sure to send them your way when I next see another allusion to the "cheese-eating surrendering monkeys." = Hats off to you. Excellent work. Your fellow blogger, Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

OldLady Of The Hills said...

I read the previous post and this one, and once again, I am so impressed with your amazing recall and research, PLUS you setting a number of records straight. As to the a--holes who comment on Everything and don't know what the hell they are talking about---It is the scourge of the Internet! My Lord, there are a lot of angry people out there who show their ignorance about almost everything!

For whatever reason, I have always known the Resistance played such an important part of saving France and Paris...without the Resistance God knows what would have happened. I also know, The U.S. likes to rewrite History about almost everything---and that is shameful because there were so very many Americans who lost their lives in WW2 in Europe and especially on D-Day. In a way, it insults their memory by needing to take credit where it was NOT due.....I cannot imagine how hard it must have been to live in Paris when the Nazi's were there---and how frightening, too. Your parents were so brave---you must be so proud of them and their part in helping the Resistance. The story about the ALL WHITE Army only----That sickened me no end. This country's Racism then and now--STILL----is horrific and shameful.
Thank you dear Vagabonde for your passion. You should turn all of your research and your experiences into a book! That would be really fantastic!

Denise Covey said...

Hi Vagabonde. It's very enjoyable reading these historic posts peppered with images. When I'm in France, Paris especially, I love how the French are so connected to their past and how they name Metro stations, streets etc after famous war heroes, philosophers etc. Vive la France!

Thérèse said...


Une suite des plus interessante.

Le film "Diplomatie" devrait vous interesser.

Ginnie said...

Wouldn't we all be quite amazed if ever we read the TRUE histories of all the wars from beginning to end throughout all time!

Astrid often tells me about certain places here in Holland that were shot "for a lark" by the German planes after the war as they were leaving. It makes me sick.

No one wins with war!

I was wondering how Gen. von Choltitz dies, so I Googled and found this: "Dietrich von Choltitz died in November 1966 from a longstanding war illness in the city hospital of Baden-Baden. He was buried at the city cemetery of Baden-Baden in the presence of high-ranking French officers, including colonels Wagner (Military Commander of Baden-Baden), de Ravinel and Omézon.[6] Baden-Baden was the post-World War II French headquarters in Germany."

Vagabonde said...

Ginnie - Yes, unfortunately many people, even Parisians, believe that von Choltitz saved Paris because he loved the city. It is false. A French historian said, as late as August 25, 2014, that “For many who know the story of the uprising well, this account is absolute self-serving fantasy.
“He portrays himself as the saviour of the city,” Lionel Dardenne, from the Museum of Order of the Liberation, which honours resistance fighters, told The Local. “But the truth is he couldn’t have destroyed it.” See http://www.thelocal.fr/20140825/nazi-general-didnt-save-paris-expert Back in 2003 after I read the letter that President Bush introduced as proof that Iraq was buying uranium from Niger I knew it was a false – in French it had grammatical errors and the supposed Niger government official “foreign affairs minister” had been out of office since 1989 – but people believed it too! My Americans friends were upset when I told them I was sure it was a fake letter …Thanks for your comment.

Vicki Lane said...

What a treasure trove of information in these three posts! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your memories and the history of this time!

Thérèse said...

P.S.
Je le crois d'autant plus aisément pour "Diplomatie" que, l'histoire se répétant, les nouvelles que nous lisons au jour le jours sur les événements actuels, même à nos portes, sont si déformées, qu'il nous faut mener notre propre investigation pour comprendre à peu près, ce qui se passe.
Pour "Lincoln" j'avais regretté de ne pas en avoir su plus avant d'aller voir le film.

Thérèse said...

Merci pour les informations.

Thérèse said...

I just saw your comment on Peter's blog (Paris) and wanted to say that yes I read carefully each one of your last posts with great attention to all these details.

Cergie said...

Un message qui sort des clichés sur la France en général et Paris en particuliers.... Je croyais moi-aussi que Paris avait été sauvé de la destruction volontairement grâce à un acte de désobéissance. Quant on se souvent de ce qui s'est passé en Allemagne, la destruction de Dresde en particuliers, heureusement que la cathédrale de Chartres, la belle façade sur Seine de Paris ont été épargnées....
Ah les Champs Elysées envahis par la foule des parisiens ! J'imagine l'élan extraordinaire à la libération !
Il m'est arrivé d'y aller avec les enfants pour le passage d'une année à l'autre... Ou lors de la manifestation "Nature Capitale" en mai 2010...

http://cergipontin.blogspot.fr/2010/05/champs-elysees-paris-8eme-la-nature-la.html

Reader Wil said...

Merci de toutes ces informations. Je suis heureuse que le Gen. von Choltitz ne pouvait pas détruire Paris!
Bon fin de la semaine!
Wil, ABCW Team

Dee said...

Dear Vagabonde, I am one of your many readers who applaud you for this history lesson that is based in actual memory and is written with a deep love and respect for the French people and their valiant resistance that led to the downfall of that "butcher" and to the liberation of Paris.

I love history, but I want to know the truth of it, not the myths or fables or the recollections written by the winners who have the most media resources. I find myself ashamed as General Eisenhower and of all those who have written slurs about the French people. Thank you for setting history straight. I so look forward to #4 of this series. Peace.

claude said...

Merci Vagabonde d'apporter la vérité sur la libération de Paris.
Merci aux parisiens et soldat français, résistants d'avoir oeuvrer pour notre belle capitale.
Le défilé de l'armée américaine le du 29.08 sur les Champs pourrait être considérer comme une imposture mais il faut bien se souvenir qu'elle est quand même venue à notre aide et à celle de l'Europe.
Effectivement il paît que le jour du défilé du 26 il y a eu des tirs mais ma Mémé et ma Mère n'ont jamais su non plus qui et pourquoi.
Je comprends ta réaction sur, un peu comme moi, les "gènes" qui nous habitent concernant Paris et tu as raison Paris n'est pas que la haute couture et tout le reste, Paris c'est Paris, Reine du monde.
Merci pour ce grand moment d'histoire et toutes ces illustrations. Magnifique publication !
Bises

Mae Travels said...

I love your combination of actual childhood memories with your deep scholarship on the actual history of the Liberation.

ツ ✽ ღ Nancy ღ ✽ ツ said...

º° º°。☆ ★彡

Hello et MERCI pour cette publication historique et importante chère vagabonde ! C'est très intéressant et j'aime parcourir ce post.

Merci aussi pour ta gentille visite sur mon petit blog.
C'est chouette de prendre soin de vos trois petits enfants et de passer de bons moments avec eux !!!! EXTRA ! ...

GROS BISOUS D'ASIE vers Tennessee !
Bonne continuation chère Vagabonde !!! ✿✿º°。

Carola Bartz said...

This again is a very interesting post, Vagabonde. As a "child of the 60s" and a German this part of history is always hurting and very ashaming.
However, I have one or two things to say. Klaus Barbie was chief of the local Gestapo in Lyon, not the chief of the Gestapo in general. And I also read some mentioning of the resistant movement in France and other occupied countries - I think not many people know that there was also a resistant movement in Nazi Germany, the most famous one probably the men in the Kreisauer Kreis and the students of the Weisse Rose. All of them paid their commitment with their lives. It's a least a little bit of good of that time in my country that we will always remember.

Arti said...

VB, you've written a few chapters of a book with these posts! Amazing work you've done here. You should seriously thinking about publishing a memoir or the history of Paris, or whatever... You're one detailed historian and archivist. As for WWII Europe, what i'm most amazed about is the pre-war preparation in preserving the artworks and the post-war reconstruction of even the most damaged of cities. Looking at Paris or other European cities today, one can hardly imagine that it has arisen from ashes like a rebirth.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Vagabonde .. horrifying to know von Cholitz's actions weren't ever realised and he's been treated with respect - I hope that fact gets corrected.

The Resistance must have helped beyond belief in the War .. and interesting to read about the German Resistance wanting to get to Hitler and kill him.

People are cruel and don't think - shows how shallow those people are, who have the need to post such comments. I ignore them ..

Thanks for writing this history for us - especially with your connections to the city ...

I did hear that Poles are today trying to trace their heritage to see if there are any Jewish relations in their family trees - as there is now a thriving Jewish centre in Krakow - whereas the Germans and then the Soviets tried to wipe them off the earth - nearly succeeding.

Thank goodness for educated people who can give us a different view of life in those days .. there's always propaganda going on ...

It's being a pleasure to read these .. Hilary

Julie Farrar said...

How interesting to read the history from someone much closer to it than I am. When I walk around my second home of Dijon I see plaques on walls dedicated to people who fought in the resistance. It's hard to imagine any subterfuge happened in those quiet streets.

Christine said...

when will you be publishing your book? Such remarkable detail in this post.

Kay said...

I'm so amazed by all this. There's so much I truly had no idea about.

Nick Manning said...

I am struck by the parallels between Paris and Warsaw - uprisings in the same month, different outcomes of course.
I am planning to write a children's novel set in France and this will help a lot - thank you.

Il est 20h à LA said...

Thank you very much for your article ! I recently went to the American History Museum in D.C. and I really was disappointed by the way they handled the french part of the war. Not a word about the French in the Allies Army or about the resistance. I didn't no either about Cholitz, interessant to know !

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