August 25, 1944
Is Paris Burning?
The above line was supposedly uttered by Adolf Hitler to his chief of staff Alfred Jodl, referring to his order to General Dietrich von Choltitz, military governor of Paris during the German occupation, not to let majestic city of Paris fall back into Allied hands, except as complete rubble.
In August 1944, General Eisenhower originally refused to divert troops to help the liberate Paris on the Allies’ way to Berlin; however, Charles de Gaulle threatened to take his own Free French forces anyway, alone if need be.
As Free French forces neared, the Parisians launched a massive strike and mobilized for an all-out war with the German occupying forces. The French Resistance and Free French battled the German occupying force for nearly a week in late August 1944, until Choltitz surrendered on August 25, 1944.
Choltitz is one of the most controversial figures of the Vichy France. He is seen as a hero to some for refusing to obey HItler’s orders to destroy one of the greatest cities in the world. However, in addition to having served Hitler and the Nazis faithfully during the war, he ordered the executions of numerous French Resistance fighters and destroyed Paris’s Grand Palais in the final days before the Liberation. His motivations may never be fully known, but fortunately for us, centuries-old Parisian landmarks survived the war and the battle for liberation with minimal physical damage.
On this day in 1944, Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French, addressed his newly liberated countrymen from the Hotel de Ville:
We will not hide this deep and sacred emotion. These are minutes which go beyond each of our poor lives. Paris! Outraged Paris! Broken Paris! Martyred Paris! But liberated Paris! Liberated by itself, liberated by its people with the help of the French armies, with the support and the help of the whole France, of the fighting France, of the only France, of the real France, of the eternal France…
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.
Vive la France!
Liberation Day is not a national holiday in France. Rather, the French celebrate Victory Day 1945 on May 8, the anniversary of the official end of hostilities in Europe the day after the surrender of German forces in Rheims, France.
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