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For the 72 Million

The Liberation of Paris, August 25, 1944

The Normandy Breakout had smashed the German Seventh Army, and the Allies advanced on Paris.

The French capital had been occupied for four years, and most Americans associated German occupation with a romantic picture of Parisians struggling against German oppression. In reality, the Vichy Government helped the Germans to send thousands of Jews to concentration camps, and hundreds of thousands of laborers to Germany to work in war production as slave labor. By 1945 most slave laborers were French; the Poles had died out.

For the German occupiers, Paris was a wonderful duty to draw. Dozens of movie houses, burlesque theatres, and dance halls were available to them. Allied bombing struck in the industrialized suburbs, but generally not the city itself. The gaiety masked terror and repression by the Gestapo and the SS.

After 1941 the Communists rose against the Germans and formed the core of the resistance movements in occupied France. The effectiveness of the resistance prior to the Normandy invasion is debatable, but they captured weapons and organized to help the Allies. They smuggled downed pilots out of France and provided valuable intelligence. By 1944 the black market was thriving and many poorer Parisians were priced out of the market. Hunger and disease rose, and many more men and women joined the resistance.

After the Normandy invasion Paris waited for liberation. The resistance tracked the slow progress out of the Normandy coast and towards Paris. On August 19, the Communist-led resistance cells rose up against the German garrison commanded by Generalleutnant Dietrich Choltitz. At first he tried to work out a truce with the Free French under Charles de Gaulle, but it broke down and the Germans counterattacked the Maquis with tanks. Adolf Hitler, who ordered the city destroyed, asked his staff, “Is Paris burning?”

De Gaulle and the Free French threatened to pull out of the Allied plans and dash for Paris to relieve the resistance on their own. Choltitz did not follow Hitler’s orders to burn the town. General Dwight D. Eisenhower had decided to bypass the city, but de Gaulle convinced him that little resistance would be met if the Allies took Paris. Regardless of waiting for Eisenhower’s orders, the Free French drove on Paris. They wanted to liberate their capital. The resistance and the advancing French and Americans wiped out the few remaining collaborationist and German pockets by August 25. Paris was free.

De Gaulle entered the city the next day. Snipers opened fire on him from a hotel, but he was not hit. He addressed Parisians and the world: “Paris! Paris outraged! Paris broken! Paris martyred! But Paris liberated!”

A massive parade followed, with Allied units marching through the city on their way to the front. Some believed the war would end in 1944. All knew it was just a matter of time. But the Germans, terrified of the advancing Soviets, had months of fight left in them.

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