I first came here 20 years ago this month. It was a revelation. Barbara Jean and I walked the boulevards, dined at the sidewalk cafés, ogled the museums, saw the famous sites, took the famous photos. Good memories.
Then the following year I went to work for a French company, and they sent me here from time to time. I got to see Paris more often. Barbara Jean and I came back together a couple of more times. And we’re back again. Don’t know if it will the the last time. Likely not. I’m reminded of a song:
Par précaution on a beau mettre
Des croisillons à nos fenêtres
Passer au bleu nos devantures
Et jusqu’aux pneus de nos voitures
Désentoiler tous nos musées
Chambouler les Champs Elysées
Emmailloter de terre battue
Toutes les beautés de nos statues
Voiler le soir les réverbères
Plonger dans le noir la ville lumièreParis sera toujours Paris !
La plus belle ville do monde
Malgré l’obscurité profonde
Son éclat ne peut être assombri
Paris sera toujours Paris !
Plus on réduit son éclairage
Plus on voit briller son courage
Plus on voit briller son esprit
Paris sera toujours Paris !
The song, sung by Maurice Chevalier, features in the World War Two documentary series The World at War. The video, produced by Thames Television, covers the most destructive human conflagration in our history, from the rise of Nazism, Fascism, and Japanese imperialism, through the years of the war, 1939 to 1945, concluding with the war’s after effects on human society. It details the cataclysmic defeat of France by the German Army in June 1940, and it features the invasion of occupied France by Allied forces in 1944, including a section of the liberation of Paris in August of that year.
German forces occupied western France while a collaborationist government, headquartered in Vichy, accommodated the Nazis. When Allied forces landed in northern Africa in 1942 and began to threaten Vichy-aligned regions there, Germany extended its oppressive rule to cover all of mainland France. The city of Paris chaffed under a harsh German dictatorship. A curfew kept Parisians indoors from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. Civilians caught out after curfew were arrested and often added to a pool of hostages to be executed whenever a German was killed by the French. The first to be executed had committed the offense of punching a German in a street fight. Subsequently Adolf Hitler ordered 1000 French executed for every German killed. Although in consequence only 981 in the region were executed, still the Germans tracked down five student protest leaders and executed them.
Nominally, occupying Germans engaged France and Paris in legal commerce, but in reality the occupation was a systematic looting of the country by the Germans. Goods purchased were paid for with occupation money, whose value was vastly inflated. Train loads of art and other valuable property left Paris for Germany. The Germans conscripted French workers, sending them to work in Germany, essentially slaves. Jews were disenfranchised, stripped of their property and their liberty. Half of Paris’ Jewish population was deported to German camps. 34,000 died.
The German military put up road signs in Paris pointing to critical destinations. In June 1944 signs pointing to Normandy were added. Liberation was coming.
Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre describe the liberation of Paris in their book published 21 years after the fact, Is Paris Burning? I viewed the movie based on the book, which came out in 1966 and subsequently read the book about 40 years ago. Last month I acquired a Kindle edition and am currently using it as a street guide to the action.
I have a few screen shots from the Thames Television video, and I am adding some street scenes of my own as I go along. With very little comment, I’m going to post excerpts from the book. It may be best to begin with a reprint of the OKW order for the defense and ultimate destruction of Paris, for that is what the Wehrmacht was charged with carrying out, under direct order of German Fuhrer Adolph Hitler, who, seeing his once-globe-straddling empire collapsing around him, determined to destroy what he was destined to lose. Here is an abbreviated version of the order:
The defense of the Paris bridgehead is of capital importance from both a military and political standpoint. The loss of the city would lead to the loss of the entire coastal plain north of the Seine and would deprive us of our rocket-launching sites for the long-distance war against England.
Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 25-28). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.
In the city itself, the most energetic tactics, such as the razing of entire city blocks, the public execution of ringleaders, the forced evacuation of any quarter of the city which appears menacing, must be used to smash the first signs of an uprising; this is the only way to prevent such movements from spreading.
The destruction of the city’s Seine bridges will be prepared.
Paris must not fall into the hands of the enemy, or, if it does, he must find there nothing but a field of ruins.
Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 30-35). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.
Hitler considered nothing less than the complete obliteration of all French history in Paris and envisioned beyond that the destruction of the entire city. To this task Hitler turned to a general officer he was sure he could trust. That person was Dietrich von Choltitz, General der Infanterie in the Wehrmacht. Choltitz had a reputation for toughness and aggression. He jumped with his men into the Netherlands in the first major aerial assault in modern warfare, and he gained fame for Germany’s victory in the siege of Sevastopol. Hitler was sure that if any of his officers could carry out the defense and ultimate destruction of Paris, it was Choltitz. Almost surely Hitler was never more wrong.
While possessing extraordinary bravery and tenacity in combat, Choltitz was, in fact, a martinet, comfortable with having well-defined orders to carry out and not having to make his own decisions. Additionally, Choltitz’s heart was not as hard as Hitler imagined. When crunch time came, Choltitz realized he did not want to go down in history as the man who destroyed Paris.
Hitler met personally with Choltitz in assigning him the Paris command, and this meeting was crucial in turning the general around in his fealty to the Third Reich:
Then his voice began to rise. Choltitz recognized now an echo of the man he had seen a year ago. Hitler spoke of the victories he was preparing. Normandy, he told Choltitz, was only a temporary setback. Soon, with “new weapons,” he would reverse the tide.
Brutally, without warning, Hitler switched to another topic. His hands tightened on the edge of the desk under him. He leaned forward until Choltitz blinked at the closeness of his face. He was shrieking.
Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 486-490). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.
Possibly no other incident contributed to the salvation of Paris than this meeting. Choltitz came away with a new awareness:
For this little Prussian officer, the few minutes he had just lived had been one of the most jarring experiences of his life. He had crossed half a continent to find a leader in this bunker, to reawaken his faith in German arms. Instead of a leader, Dietrich von Choltitz had found a sick man; instead of faith, doubt. Much, in the days ahead, would depend on the disillusionments of this August morn.
Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 509-512). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.
Though decisive battles were being waged in Normandy at the time, French occupation in the four years had become a dream assignment for German troops, especially in Paris, where the living was easy. Unbeknown to the bulk of the occupiers, beneath the complacent surface of the French population there boiled a hatred drawn from the humiliation of the defeat of 1940 and from the pointless harshness of the occupation. An underground of resistance began to form about November 1940, and by August 1944 it was legion, organized, and effective. Beginning in 1942 the Allies began to supply the Resistance, often through clandestine airdrops under noses of the occupying forces:
In a few hours, night would fall over that peaceful scene spread out under the sergeant’s binoculars. Scanning the horizon, peering into the shadows around him, he would then begin another night’s vigil, his fifty-eighth since the invasion. In the first light of dawn, he would pick up his field telephone and report to Luftwaffe regional headquarters in Soissons. Since the last full moon, twelve days earlier, the sergeant’s reports had invariably been the same: “Nothing to report for my sector.”
Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 49-53). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.
On this particular night, barely two miles away, an emissary to the Resistance was parachuting in, carrying additionally a critical coded command.
As he drifted silently home to French soil, young medical student Alain Perpezat could feel at his waist the tug of a money belt containing five million francs. But it was not to deliver that impressive sum that he had plummeted into this dark August night.
Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 63-65). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.
Hitler had personally instructed all prominent installations in the city be set with explosive charges and demolished. All 45 bridges across the Seine were to be blown, all public utilities were to be systematically wrecked, and all factories were to be demolished. If a few hundred thousand French were killed, so much the better:
On the rue Saint-Amand, near the Paris municipal slaughterhouses, Sergeants Bernhardt Blache and Max Schneider, of the 112th Signal Regiment, started to plant the ton of dynamite and the 200 explosive caps with which they would blow up the central telephone installations of Paris. For four years its trunk lines and 132 teletypewriters had been the military communications center of occupied France, receiving and distributing messages for the entire western front from Norway to Spain. Blache’s superior, First Lieutenant von Berlipsch, planned to trigger the explosion from a “Sprengkommando” (“plunger”) in a parked car tucked around the corner. At the same time, his colleague Lieutenant Daub would be blowing up the city’s second telephone center under Napoleon’s Tomb at Les Invalides.
Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 1401-1407). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.
Choltitz did not want to see Paris destroyed. Also, he did not want a protracted battle for Paris, such as previously witnessed at Stalingrad. There is little doubt Choltitz worked against the Nazi regime’s interest, essentially collaborating with Allied forces, whose forces were drawing nearer by the day. Dwight D. Eisenhower was in charge of all Allied operations in Europe, including free French forces under Charles de Gaulle. And here was conflict which, followed logically, could lead to the destruction of Paris.
De Gaulle wanted a hard drive onto Paris, before German reinforcements could be brought up, and before ruinous sabotage could be completed. Eisenhower saw German forces in France on the run, nearly obliterated at the battle of the Falaise Pocket. Ideally, Allied troops would continue to push hard—not allowing the Germans to regroup to form a defensive line—and to roll right into Germany. Unfortunately for Eisenhower, the only active ports at the time were at the Normandy beachhead and at Cherbourg. And the front lines were becoming farther from these supply points by the day. Supply lines were getting longer, and the supply of fuel to the front was becoming desperately short. Eisenhower determined to bypass Paris and keep on rolling.
De Gaulle (and Eisenhower) had a major problem with the French Resistance, particularly in Paris:
What happened there in the next few weeks would decide, de Gaulle was convinced, who would control postwar France. De Gaulle was resolutely determined that that control should be his.
Two factions, de Gaulle believed, conspired to deny it to him: his political enemies, the French Communist party, and his military allies, the Americans.
Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 233-236). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.
The Communist were far and away the strongest contingent of the Resistance, and they campaigned with religious zeal. No cost was too great to bear for the defeat of the Nazis:
They had that plan. Soon a lone Communist organizer with a pistol and thirty brave men would launch a strike in the railroad marshaling yards of Villeneuve-Saint-Georges. It would be the first of a series of strikes that would cripple the city and bring it to the brink of the insurrection the Communists-and many patriotic Frenchmen-wanted.
It was a plan full of incalculable risks for Paris, its inhabitants, even France itself. Its price might be the destruction of Paris. But those who wanted that insurrection were prepared to pay a heavy price.
Soon this stolid Breton Communist called Rol would thump his fist on a table and vow, “Paris is worth 200,000 dead.”
Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 683-689). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.
The idea of the Communists was that they would lead the revolt, they would prevail, they would be the heroes of Paris, they would be in charge when Allied forces arrived, they would be in power from that point on and rule all of France. This de Gaulle and his loyalists in Paris sought to forestall, even at jeopardy to success.
Word came on the 19th that Allied troops were in Chartres, about 60 miles away. The reaction was heard-rending
Caillette hung up and, weeping with emotion, stumbled back into the Salle des Fetes. “Les gars,” he rasped in a voice raw and hoarse from strain, “the Americans are in Chartres!” The exhausted and beaten men looked at each other, then back at Caillette. He was standing at attention, tears rolling down his face, singing the “Marseillaise.”
Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Location 1915). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.
The Communists forced the issue with city-wide strikes on the troops of occupation. The first inkling the Germans had that the end of the occupation was at hand was a coordinated, city-wide unveiling:
Everywhere, the first defiant gesture was the same. From windows and rooftops the forbidden flag of France-dusty from months in hiding, or improvised from bed sheets and silk dresses-came back to the skyline of its capital.
Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 1799-1800). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.
An initial target was the Mairie of the First Arrondissement of Paris, essentially a government mayoral office:
As Chadeville began to read the ceremony, the door to the Salle des Mariages burst open. Waving his pistol in his hand, Marcel the prompter sprang into the room. Behind him, proud and resolute, strode Colonel Massebiau followed by the four other members of the commando. They announced to the dumbfounded Vichy mayor that he was stripped of his office and under arrest.
Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 1814-1817). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.
All over Paris, the oppressor quickly became the oppressed:
Like the rest of the 5,000 troops quartered in the commune, the two German soldiers sipping a cognac in the café on the rue de Chézy, around the corner from the town hall of Neuilly, felt perfectly at home. At the sound of the door opening behind them, the two Germans exchanged a concupiscent smile. It would be Janine, the pretty blond nursemaid they had come to see. They turned, and saw instead Louis Berty, the Nanterre pork butcher, pointing a gun at a German soldier for the first time in his life.
Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 1826-1829). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.
Word got to the Germans, and they responded, not realizing their days of rule were over:
An officer stepped out of the cab, jammed his fists onto his hips, and stared up at the building. “Surrender and come out!” he shouted. From his perch above in the white-and-gold Salle des Fetes, under a painting of Henri IV falling into the Lake of Neuilly, Caillette stared back at this image of the conquerors of 1940. With the passionate pride of this, his first open act of resistance, and a pardonable overstatement of his strength, he answered, “Surrender yourself! This is the Army of Liberation.” The German flicked open his brown leather holster, drew out his pistol, and fired wildly toward the window from which Caillette had shouted. At that gesture, a vengeful fire swept down on the Germans from every window of the Mairie. The arrogant officer, Caillette saw, collapsed slowly onto the sidewalk “like a child’s balloon with the air leaking out.” Finally the firing stopped. The town hall square was silent. Not a sound, not a single dying cry, came from the Germans. Only one, not quite dead, twitched. The rest lay still. Appalled and awestruck, the men “from Zadig” contemplated what they had just done.
Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 1840-1848). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.
One of the first assaults was against the Prefecture of Police, barely 200 yards from the fabled towers of Notre Dame Cathedral. Nominally controlled by French police, it was an edifice of Vichy power.
Von Arnim gestured to the driver, and the car started over the Pont-au-Change toward Notre-Dame and the Prefecture of Police. Beyond the twin gray towers of the Conciergerie dominating this Ile de la Cité on which von Arnim had so often strolled, the young count could see the spire of Sainte-Chapelle stretching like a graceful sword into the morning sky. On his left, at the head of the quai aux Fleurs, he caught a glimpse of a few bouquets of flowers splashing their color against the pavement. At the top of the horloge tower abutting on the Conciergerie, the gold needles of its enormous open clock marked eleven. The first burst of fire shook the empty street “like the clash of a cymbal.” Half a dozen of the rounds fired from the Prefecture of Police struck the Mercedes. Behind him, von Arnim saw one of the two sergeants drop his machine gun and buckle forward. He was dead. Terrified, the young count shrieked at the driver, “Faster, faster!” With two of its tires shot out, the car screeched protestingly forward on its rims. Then the helmet of the second sergeant clanged onto the floor of the car and its owner slumped backward. Von Arnim turned and saw blood squirting from a gaping hole in his forehead. How, he wondered, could this have happened in Paris?
Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 1853-1862). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.
Seventy-three years later tourists bask in the plaza where Germans and Resistance fighters battled and died.
The Prefecture of Police in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral, where Resistance fighters took a stand
Nearby, across a narrow stream of the Seine from the Prefecture of Police, French fighters unleashed a fury four years in the making:
In the tangle of twisting alleys between the Seine and Saint-Germain-des-Pres, on streets with names as quaint as the rue du Chat-qui-Peche and rue Git-le-Coeur, * (Literally, the streets of “the fishing cat” and “where the heart lies.”) hidden FFI squads trapped four truckloads of German soldiers. Some of them, their uniforms blazing from the splatterings of Molotov cocktails, ran screaming through those scenic little side streets, human torches in a thousand-year-old haven of human amusement.
Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 2425-2429). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.
Rue du Chat qui Peche
Rue Xavier Privas just to the west
The battle between the civilian Resistance and professional Wehrmacht troops took on all the ferocity of a full-scale engagement:
On the boulevard du Palais, the firing in which Count von Arnim had been caught a few moments earlier had resumed. Pisani hung up and ran to the window. In the middle of the pavement, a German truck, hit by an incendiary bullet, blazed like a torch. “It was like a shooting gallery,” Pisani recalled later. One by one, the Germans fleeing the burning truck were flipped over like little tin targets.
Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 1868-1871). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.
Amazingly, Resistance fighters had available motion picture cameras, and they filmed the carnage with gruesome clarity. The truck carrying German soldiers and likely hit by a fire bomb constructed using a champagne bottle filled with sulfuric acid and wrapped in cloth saturated with potassium chlorate solution, is set ablaze. Troops are seen tumbling to the pavement, on fire, while Resistance fighters shoot them from above.
Sergeant Bernhardt Blache was in charge of a detail planting explosives to blow up the central telephone exchanges. When his detail came under attack from the Prefecture of Police he saw soldiers killed by sniper fire and burned alive from fire bombs. Enraged, he grabbed two “potato mashers” (German hand grenades) and charged a group of civilians at the end of a bridge, scattering them. Then he forced a driver to take him to the Hotel Meurice.
Still waving those grenades, the half-mad Blache ran into the lobby of the Meurice and up the flight of stairs ahead of him. He threw open the first door he found, and burst into the room behind it. “My God, my God!” he cried. “What are you waiting for, to send the tanks? They’re cooking my men like sausages!”
Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 1893-1895). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.
Paris streets, which during the occupation saw a handful of cars visible at a time, now was streaming with vehicles, carrying Resistance fighters and marked with “FFI.”
All manner of transportation was commandeered. It is a fair guess how many of those in this photo were still alive when Paris was liberated.
The Resistance had a solitary French tank, left over from the previous war, but with no shells for its gun.
The Resistance fought with determination, but they were clearly outmatched. Resistance fighters shot Germans down in the street and took their weapons to arm themselves.
But the professional German army had tanks, anti-tank weapons, and plenty of all. By the end of opening day, 19 August, most of the Resistance strong points had been reduced, their occupants killed or captured and executed.
Another Resistance stronghold was the fabulous Palais du Luxembourg along the Rue de Vaugirard.
The tale of Resistance hijacker Paul Pardou takes a grim turn at the Palais du Luxembourg:
From a window of a room in the Palais du Luxembourg another Frenchman watched three other FFI prisoners march off to their deaths, carrying on their shoulders the picks and shovels with which they would dig their own graves. It was Paul Pardou, the self-effacing truck driver in a blue beret who had systematically hijacked the food hoards of Vichy’s Milice for the Resistance. Pardou’s mission on this Saturday, the one he had vowed would be his last, had ended in disaster. He had been caught in a German roadblock. Pardou had had one instinctive gesture. He had swallowed the fake Milice identity papers he had used to pillage Vichy’s food supplies. At no price, he had decided, would he take the chance of being handed over to the Milice.
Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Location 2051). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.
Pardou’s story is one of survival. Held in captivity for days during the uprising, he worked in the kitchen, and each day the German mess sergeant in charge hissed at him, “Today you make kitchen clean, tomorrow you shot.” When the end came the Germans decided not to shoot a bunch of prisoners right before becoming prisoners, themselves.
During the last hour left them, the SS fired off their ammunition. As they did, the rest of the garrison assembled in the palace’s debris-spattered courtyard. Their prisoners drifted up with them. Looking with delight at the mass before him, Paul Pardou, the little hijacker, saw the red-necked form of his mess-sergeant captor, Franz. Franz caught his eye and beckoned to him, reaching into his pocket. Summing up his last reserves of the French language, the man who had so often mumbled to him ‘Today you make kitchen clean, tomorrow you shot” handed an envelope to Pardou. “It’s for my wife,” he hissed.
Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Location 5439). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.
Several sought to intervene. Of particular interest was Swedish diplomat Raoul Nordling. Choltitz called on Nordling, seeking somebody to negotiate with the Resistance, and also to probe the approaching Allies. Nordling saved the day for the Resistance by proposing a truce (accepted), under which wounded fighters could be collected for treatment.
The Resistance used the truce to regroup and to plan new attacks. The firing subsided but never ceased during the night 19-20 August.
Choltitz, all this time, was receiving furious communiques from his superiors, driven by Hitler. When was the destruction of Paris going to be completed? (The destruction had not even begun.) When was Choltitz going to wreak massive retaliation on the insubordinate French?
Part of Choltitz’s quandary was that destruction of the Paris infrastructure would leave his own troops without electricity, communications, even drinking water. Also, the bridges Choltitz was supposed to destroy were needed by his own troops and by German units retreating in front of the Allied advance. Choltitz hinted to Nordling he could be of additional help:
Then, with a few strokes of his pen, Choltitz scratched out for Nordling the only written warrant he was willing to give him. “The Commanding General of Gross Paris,” he wrote, “authorizes the Consul General of Sweden R. Nordling to leave Paris and its line of defense.” He passed the piece of paper across his desk to the chubby Swede. Nordling, sweating lightly in his nervous excitement, asked Choltitz for some further guarantee that would get him through the German lines.
Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 3198-3202). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.
Nordling found plenty of volunteers willing to join him in a trek through the battle front. A major problem was he was unable to make the trip:
This man who had been chosen to carry the desperate warning of Dietrich von Choltitz to the Allies 60 miles away could barely drag himself the few feet across his office to a spare bed. He had just had a heart attack.
Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 3260-3262). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.
Fortunately, Choltitz’s note referenced “R. Nordling,” not spelling out Nordling’s first name. Nordling was able to substitute his own brother, Rolf Nordling.
Nobody should underestimate the drama of traversing the real estate that separates two warring armies:
The German took a piece of paper from his pocket and studied it in front of the car. Then, beckoning Saint-Phalle to follow him, the German, his eyes cautiously fixed on the asphalt, led the Citroën on a zigzag course. For thirty-five minutes, perspiring fiercely, the five men in the car twisted through the minefield in a terrifying slalom. At a final intersection the German straightened up and tucked the paper back into his pocket. Then he pointed his hand west and proudly announced, “The Americans. Five hundred meters.”
Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Locations 3292-3295). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.
While R. Nordling and a handful of others approached the frontier, Choltitz had other problems, some of which solved themselves. Reinforcements that were promised to Choltitz by Field Marshal Walter Model, never arrived. Model was unable to get the units to Paris and sent the bad news to Choltitz in a final note. A 60 cm mortar, intended to pulverize Paris, was shipped from its storage in Berlin, but it never arrived, due to Allied attacks on the rail lines. These, plus a litany of other foibles, contrived to save Paris from destruction.
Allied forces entered Paris from the west and from the south. A tank from the French contingent arrived at the Arc de Triomphe and engaged a German tank at the other end of the Champs Elysees.
On 25 August 25, the day of liberation, fierce fighting occurred among these iconic columns along the Rue du Rivoli, across from the Louve, and the location of German headquarters in Paris.
And in the dining room of the Hotel Meurice, someone had seen them too. Corporal Mayer walked discreetly up to von Choltitz and, leaning over respectfully, whispered to his commander, “Sie kommen, Herr General.”
Outside, along the arcades of the rue de Rivoli, a German tank pivoted into the line of advance of Branefs tanks. As it did, his lead Sherman Douaumont swung its 7S-mm gun toward it. The Douaumont blew it apart with one shot.
At the Douaumont’s shot, the whole street exploded into fire. Inside the dining room of the Meurice, the windowpanes were blown out by the shock waves of the shells exploding in the streets below. Choltitz stoically finished his meal. Then, calm and emotionless, he rose to address a few words to his officers waiting for him to leave so they could bolt out of this now menaced chamber.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “our last combat has begun. May God protect you all.” He added, “I hope the survivors may fall into the hands of regular troops and not those of the population.” When he finished, he walked slowly out of the room.
Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Location 4932). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.
There was also fierce fighting in these small streets behind the Meurice.
Dietrich von Choltitz took over command of Paris and installed himself at the Hotel Meurice on the Rue du Rivoli in the early days of August. It was here he surrendered barely two weeks later. The title of the book is supposedly due to an outburst from a frustrated Adolf Hitler. Daily he wanted a report on the complete destruction of Paris, and daily he received excuses. There was a final confrontation:
Caught up in the hysteria of his mounting rage, Hitler began to scream. What had happened? Had these orders been carried out? Hitler wheeled on the chief of his general staff with a savage glare.
“Jodl!” he rasped. “Brennt Paris?”-“Is Paris Burning?” A silence fell over the bunker.
Collins, Larry. Is Paris Burning? (Kindle Location 4864). Renaissance Literary & Talent in collaboration with the Author. Kindle Edition.
Coming here 73 years after the events I can see that the famous landmarks are still standing. Twenty-first century Paris is a far cry from Paris of 1944, but much is unchanged. The song reminds us that “Paris will always be Paris.”