‘Paris broken! Paris martyred! But Paris liberated!’

 Near the Opera, German officers taken prisoner at the nearby Kommandantur.  Paris. 25 August 1944. Cartier-Bresson

Near the Opera, German officers taken prisoner at the nearby Kommandantur. Paris. 25 August 1944. Cartier-Bresson

Although the Germans had not yet surrendered the crowds were out early on the streets of Paris in anticipation of the final liberation. Squadron Leader John Pudney was travelling as a liaison officer with the French 2nd Division as they entered the city:

As the sun came through the mist and there was more confidence in the light, more people gathered with more flags. They threw flowers and flags: they threw themselves. They clung to the car: they tried to climb on top.

The FFI youth leapt upon the mudguards. While they screamed the words ‘Royal Air Force’ and sang the ‘Marseillaise’ and ‘Tipperary’, we managed to keep moving, juggernaut fashion. The only time we stopped we had to be dug out by twenty gendarmes.

Suddenly I recognised boulevard Montparnasse over the heads of the crowd. We were at Gare Montparnasse! Gunfire, cheers, whistles, shots, tears, kisses, champagne, poured in at the driving window, through the roof.

‘We have waited so long… Thank you for coming… RAF, RAF, RAF… I am English… My brother went to join the Royal Air Force… Kiss me, please… You must drink this: I kept it for the first Englishman I met …’

That pillow fight of goodwill begins my Paris memory?

So many more people were to describe the hugely emotional scenes that followed, as hundreds of thousands of Parisians thronged onto the streets even as further tank battles took place in the heart of the city. The last die hard Germans snipers would not give up for at least another couple of days.

The German commander von Choltitz finally surrendered to the French 2nd Division later that day, preferring them to the the irregular forces of the French Forces of the Interior.

Later de Gaulle arrived. His formal position was Defence Minister for the French Republic of 1940. He now sought to establish that that legitimate government had never ceased to exist, simply continued in exile in London. There would be no revolution as the communist dominated Resistance movement had hoped. France would now just carry on as before.

General De Gaulle with General Leclerc and other French officers at Montparnasse railway station in Paris, 25 August 1944.

General De Gaulle with General Leclerc and other French officers at Montparnasse railway station in Paris, 25 August 1944.

His task now was to rebuild France and the spirit of France. It was a Franco-centric world view, and he had little scope to mention anyone else, when he made his first radio address that day:

Why do you wish us to hide the emotion which seizes us all, men and women, who are here, at home, in Paris that stood up to liberate itself and that succeeded in doing this with its own hands?

No! We will not hide this deep and sacred emotion. These are minutes which go beyond each of our poor lives. Paris! Paris outraged! Paris broken! Paris martyred! But Paris liberated! Liberated by itself, liberated by its people with the help of the French armies, with the support and the help of all France, of the France that fights, of the only France, of the real France, of the eternal France!

Well! Since the enemy which held Paris has capitulated into our hands, France returns to Paris, to her home. She returns bloody, but quite resolute. She returns there enlightened by the immense lesson, but more certain than ever of her duties and of her rights.

I speak of her duties first, and I will sum them all up by saying that for now, it is a matter of the duties of war. The enemy is staggering, but he is not beaten yet. He remains on our soil.

It will not even be enough that we have, with the help of our dear and admirable Allies, chased him from our home for us to consider ourselves satisfied after what has happened. We want to enter his territory as is fitting, as victors.

This is why the French vanguard has entered Paris with guns blazing. This is why the great French army from Italy has landed in the south and is advancing rapidly up the Rhône valley. This is why our brave and dear Forces of the interior will arm themselves with modern weapons. It is for this revenge, this vengeance and justice, that we will keep fighting until the final day, until the day of total and complete victory.

This duty of war, all the men who are here and all those who hear us in France know that it demands national unity. We, who have lived the greatest hours of our History, we have nothing else to wish than to show ourselves, up to the end, worthy of France. Long live France!

The quotations come from Matthew Cobb: Eleven Days in August: The Liberation of Paris in 1944

Contemporary newsreel of the liberation of Paris:

Brimming with anger, a French man attacks a German soldier being marched through the streets of Paris following his capture by members of the French Resistance. After the entry of the French 2nd Armored Division of the Free French Forces and the U.S. Third Army (United States Army Central), numerous pockets of German snipers who refused to surrender had to be rooted out in street fighting. Paris, Île-de-France, France. 25 August 1944. Image taken by Robert Capa.

Brimming with anger, a French man attacks a German soldier being marched through the streets of Paris following his capture by members of the French Resistance. After the entry of the French 2nd Armored Division of the Free French Forces and the U.S. Third Army (United States Army Central), numerous pockets of German snipers who refused to surrender had to be rooted out in street fighting. Paris, Île-de-France, France. 25 August 1944. Image taken by Robert Capa.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Benito Sin August 25, 2014 at 4:45 pm

Neither De Gaulle nor the article mentions that the first ones to fight their way into Paris were the brave Spanish of “la nueve” (9th company, 2nd Division) with vehicles named after the victories against fascism in the Spanish Civil War.

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