William C. Trimble served with the Unites States Diplomatic Corps and was a senior aide to the US Ambassador to France, William Bullitt. One of Trimble’s responsibilities, after arriving in Paris just four weeks before war broke out, was arranging for Visas to allow people to escape to America. The rules and regulations were bent to assist many German Jewish refugees who had fled to France to escape across the Atlantic.
When the German invasion came the work of the U.S. Embassy staff multiplied as they took over looking after the interests of many other nationalities:
Just before the Germans came, the embassy took over … foreign interests of England, Belgium, Canada, Egypt, one or two [others], which meant that I was given that job in addition to the financial matters. We put up signs in German, English and French: “This building, is under the protection of the United States of America.” We put them on every apartment, every house where staff members of those diplomatic missions had lived.
I also [had] all the furniture and belongings of U.K. staff members moved to the British Embassy. We had [trucks], horse-drawn vehicles, bring the stuff in. When Goering wanted to take over the British Embassy as his headquarters, it was full of furniture. The British said when they went back after Paris was liberated, the floors were falling in. It was one of those funny situations…
Mr. Bullitt felt strongly that an American ambassador or an American minister always remained in Paris at the time of the French Revolution, the Napoleonic wars and…during the War of 1870 and aftermath…The American Ambassador must stay there, which he did. He was later recalled when the French government was established in Vichy and Bob Murphy was temporarily in charge … We got nearly all of the Americans out and we helped the British and other foreigners to do so.
Just before the Germans arrived, I remember, Italy entered the war and kicked all the English out of Italy, civilians, officials, etc. and they all came in trains to France….Paris fell on June 14, 1940, and this was about a week before. Those poor English people didn’t know what to do. They couldn’t speak French, and the British Embassy had gone, the Consulate had gone and we must look after them…
Before leaving, the Consul [told] me that arrangements had been made for special trains to take them from Paris to Brest and thence by boat to England. Most managed to find their way to the Consulate where I instructed them to go to the Gare de l’Ouest. There I found thousands of people milling around the station including several hundreds of English. One was standing on top a pissoir holding an umbrella shouting “Britishers here!”
And then when I went inside to see the Station master, he said, “All trains are stopped. The Germans are Stuka[German dive-bomber]-bombing all the trains.”…So it was pretty awful, these poor people. But they finally got out somehow or other…
Four days before the Germans arrived, the French Minister of Finance, urgently called concerning the French gold reserves. They had been shipped to Casablanca, and the Government wanted them carried by an American [naval cruiser], the USS Pittsburgh, to the United States…So Bob Murphy, and I together with an American secretary went to the Ministry to draw up the transfer document in both French and English…In French, where we put a period, $1,000.75, they put a comma instead of that. And when we put a comma, $10,000, they’d put a period, and more trouble over that… And it was really something. All this back and forth, “How are we going to reconcile this in a legal document?” But we finally did, and the gold arrived in the U.S… .
Paris is Occupied
The [10th of June ]… Paris was declared an open city. The French government was gone. The Germans were outside, hadn’t come in. They were waiting to come in the next day. They were shaving and getting their uniforms pressed to make a great impression, which they did, on the population.
Mr. Bullitt thought there would be rioting in the streets, so he made all of us — his small staff–spend the night in the embassy. My room, where I had a cot, faced on the Plâce de la Concorde. It was a beautiful night. I remember the stars and moon shining, and we all were upset, of course. I looked about 4:00 in the morning, 5:00 maybe, because the sun was coming up, and you could see German helmets behind the bec-de-gas, the street lights, in the Plâce and then more poured in, hundreds and hundreds filling the entire square.
We had heard the German soldiers were in pretty poor shape physically because of malnutrition after the First World War. They weren’t. They were well-fed and husky, tough-looking and able. No question about it. And they poured in all that day. And then afterward came the reserve groups, the German reserves, and they were rather older men who composed a military garrison. But they were also able and almost as well disciplined.
We also saw many of the fifth column [French collaborators] people who had been paid by the Germans … And, of course, many of them were Communists, because Germany and Russia had reached an agreement in 1939, and the Communist Party in France had helped the Nazis. There’s no question about that. It was pretty awful.
The whole of William C. Trimble’s account can be read at Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training.
There is much discussion about this photograph. It is a still from a movie camera film. A clip showing this scene was used in the 1943 Frank Capra propaganda film Divide and Conquer and purported to be about the fall of Paris, although that film used material from many different sources. Some believe this scene to have been taken later in 1940 when Free French troops left Toulon for French colonies in Africa. It is argued that the woman next to the man is clapping, which would be consistent with support for those that the crowd is viewing, rather than welcoming the invaders. Others attribute it to when French troops left Marseille in 1941. Others maintain the film was taken on 14th June in Paris.
Remarkably, given the huge publicity that the image has received, no-one appears to have identified the man or those around him.