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Paris relives joy of liberation from Nazi occupation, 70 years later

Updated: 2014-08-23 07:59
By Agence France-Presse in Paris (China Daily)

"Paris! Paris outraged! Paris broken! Paris martyred! But Paris liberated! Liberated by itself. Liberated by its people..." These were the words of Charles De Gaulle to an ecstatic crowd cheering the capital's liberation from Nazi occupation after four long, painful, bitter years.

It was Aug 25, 1944, and after six days of skirmishes between French Resistance fighters and a demoralized Nazi occupying force, French and American armored units burst into Paris to assure its liberation - an event being marked this week in the city. French President Francois Hollande is expected to lead 70th anniversary tributes on Aug 25 to the few surviving veterans of the liberation and with the knowledge that many of them, now in their 90s, won't live to see the 80th anniversary.

They are men like Fred Moore, now 94, who told AFP of that historic day in 1944 when he lost a friend but gained a wife.

"It was a beautiful day, and when we went through the Porte d'Orleans (in southern Paris), there were already crowds cheering us on from the pavements and clambering up on our tanks whenever we stopped," he recalled.

Moore was part of the French 2nd Armored Division, whose mission was to blast its way to the Eiffel Tower.

He cherishes the memory of one of his junior officers, Pierre Deville, who celebrated his 20th birthday that day. At the Porte d'Orleans, he joyfully telephoned his parents to say "I'm coming home". Hours later, he was dead.

But shortly afterwards was a happier event, as Moore bumped into a young woman who, eight months later, would become his bride.

"We got talking, then I had to go away for 15 minutes to hand out some orders. I headed back towards her, and a young female press officer from the US Army rushed up to kiss me," he recalled.

"She got a hell of a slap from my future wife," he chuckled.

The liberation of Paris by French troops allowed France to "wipe out the shame and humiliation" of the years of occupation after 1940, said historian Christine Levisse-Touze, but the Allied high command took some persuading.

Scarred by devastating losses on the Normandy beaches and mindful of the slaughter in other cities, such as Warsaw and Stalingrad, Allied top brass were hesitant about liberating Paris, preferring to concentrate on securing northern ports.

American General Omar Bradley wrote in his memoirs that Paris was "nothing more than an ink spot on our maps to be bypassed as we headed toward the Rhine".

But De Gaulle succeeded in persuading Allied military chief General Eisenhower that Paris must be retaken, and retaken intact.

The liberation started in classic French fashion: with a general strike. Then, on Aug 19, up to 3,000 police officers retook their old headquarters, starting a domino effect that would see several official buildings come into the hands of the Resistance.

The Nazi military governor of Paris, General Dietrich von Choltitz, negotiated a shaky truce with the Resistance that failed to hold, but he famously disobeyed Hitler's orders to destroy the capital's monuments and bridges.

On Aug 25, as Allied troops flooded the city, Choltitz signed his capitulation at Gare Montparnasse.

The losses were minimal for an operation of its size. The French 2nd Armored Division lost 156 men, the American 4th Division none at all. About 1,000 Resistance fighters, including 175 police officers, died. Historian Levisse-Touze puts German losses at around 3,200 men.

The next day, De Gaulle would march down the Champs-Elysees roared on by a million people. "It was a sea! An immense crowd through which I passed calmly, but full of emotion," he would later write.

(China Daily 08/23/2014 page10)

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