By Maggie Radd, Director of Registration and Exhibitions
June 22, 1940, following the Fall of Paris, the Second Compiègne Armistice was signed by senior military officers from the Wehrmacht and junior French officers. The armistice served to create an area of German occupation in the northern and western regions on France.
By 1941 an armed Resistance began – which included men and women from all walks of life. The Resistance would go on to provide crucial counterintelligence, publish an underground newspaper and maintain escape networks to assist Allied Forces trapped behind enemy lines. At times, they played a significant role in aiding and advancing the Allied agenda.
As Allied Troops advanced, the French Forces of the Interior, the militarized faction of the Resistance, staged an uprising against the German garrison. Hitler gave orders to inflict maximum damage to the city of Paris, not to allow it to be liberated without total destruction. Dietrich von Choltitz, Commander of the German Garrison and the Military Governor of Paris, proceeding in laying explosives beneath the cities bridges and near landmarks, preparing to fulfill these orders.
As the Allied Troops advanced, they encountered heavy German artillery and suffered many casualties. After crossing the Seine, German opposition began to weaken. Many fled or surrendered. Those who fought were overtaken with relative ease. The evening of August 24 into the morning of August 25, 1944 the 2nd French Armored Division and the US 2nd Armored and 4th Infantry Divisions made their way into Paris.
August 25, 1944, Choltitz, surrendered, yielding to the Allied Troops, while disobeying Hitler’s orders to detonate the explosives distributed throughout the city. He would later describe himself as the Savior of Paris, lauding his one-time insubordination of Hitler’s orders – not to allow Paris to be taken lest it be in ruins – as the protection of the iconic city.
Charles de Gaulle, President of the Provisional Government of the French Republic, delivered a rousing speech, the day of the German surrender and Liberation of Paris.
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!
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!
On August 26, de Gaulle and Leclerc of the 2nd French Armored Division celebrated the liberation with a triumphant march down the Champs d’Elysees. The parade was interrupted with sniper fire, though the identity of the snipers was not determined.
This souvenir photograph set pictured below was purchased by US GI Ralph Feuerstein while stationed with the US Army in France.