Special to the Advertiser
By Elizabeth Joiner
All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser
On August 25th of this year Paris will celebrate the 75thanniversary of its liberation from four years of German occupation. A procession of tanks and other vehicles of that era will parade down the Avenue du General Leclerc to Place Denfert-Rochereau, the site of a new museum devoted to the liberation of the French capital. Everyone in the city is invited to join the celebration by marching alongside the historic vehicles.
While the invasion of Normandy is well-known by most Americans, the details of the liberation of Paris are not. For this reason, some background is necessary. On June 16, 1940, France capitulated to the invading German forces, and French General Pétain formed a new government in collaboration with Nazi Germany. Two days later, French General Charles de Gaulle, who was in England, used the BBC to call on all French citizens to join him in resisting the German occupation. From that time forward, a growing number of courageous French citizens, both men and women, worked undercover inside France toward the goal of freeing their country. They were known as the FFI (Forces Françaises de l’intérieur). The Paris uprising began on August 18, 1944, with a general strike (railroad and urban transportation workers, police, postal employees, etc.) that paralyzed the city. Armed conflict began the following day as French patriots, greatly outnumbered by the occupying German forces, took possession of police headquarters, the central post office, and other strategic buildings. Only about 2000 FFI were armed as opposed to 20,000 occupying Germans, better armed and with 80 tanks.
As the FFI continued their urban warfare hoping that Allied troops would soon arrive to help, they were unaware that General Eisenhower had decided to by-pass Paris and march the Allied Forces directly toward Germany. News of the Paris insurrection changed that plan. In fact, French General Leclerc made the decision to disobey his superior officer (French troops were under American command.) and march toward Paris. By the time his troops reached the city on August 24, French resistants (longstanding FFI plus citizens of Paris who joined at the last minute) held roughly one-third of the French capital, and the arrival of well-armed French troops with their tanks led to the German defeat. During the conflict, American troops south of Paris covered the right flank of the French troops. The German surrender was signed on August 25 at the Gare Montparnasse by French General Leclerc and German General von Choltitz.
The story of the Paris insurrection could have had a very different ending if the German General had followed Hitler’s orders to destroy Paris rather than capitulate. Von Choltitz had given the order to mine the bridges and monuments of the French capital, but he never gave the order that would have destroyed the city. There are several hypotheses concerning this decision, the most plausible of which is that he was convinced to disobey Hitler by the Swedish consul in Paris.
During the Battle of Paris, it is estimated that 1500 of 2000 FFI (French resistants) and 582 citizens of Paris were killed, while the French troops lost 156 lives. Tourists visiting Paris may notice here and there a small plaque honoring one of those who died to liberate their city a full nine months before the official end of World War II.
Elizabeth Joiner and her husband Buford Norman are retired French professors, formerly at USC, and make their home in Paris half the year and in Columbia the other half.