The Rise and Fall of France
I have already written a blog on the symbol the Arc de Triomphe represents and how mixed the French people’s reactions are to its presence. See Napoleon Bin Laden, honte de France
Seventy years ago this year was a tumultuous time for the French who, after the misery of nearly 5 years of German occupation, were finally liberated.
And the Arc de Triomphe also symbolises this joy and this sadness too. The grief and the inexpressible horror of being invaded, overtaken, exploited by the very forces who had killed over 1.5 million of your young people just twenty years earlier is etched in this man’s face as he watches the Germans march down Les Champs Elysees in 1940..
Imagine the frightful noise from the German jackboots, their cavalry horses and the tanks rumbling down the Champs Elysees as thousands of French people were made to watch in silence as the unthinkable happened in 1940.
Then followed the years of deprivation, virtual starvation, Jewish roundups, the corrupt hell of the Vichy government, loss of family and thousands of individual stories of misery until June 6 1944 when the almost unbelievable happened: the Allies invaded Normandy and ousted the Germans in the next two months.
On August 24 De Gaulle’s forces under General Leclerc entered Paris and aided by fierce fighting from local Parisian resistance fighters, managed to quell the German snipers firing from tanks and well-known landmarks such as bridges, towers, apartment buildings, the Hotel de Ville and Notre Dame whilst civilians sought shelter from the hell around them.
Finally, the air became strangely silent and a new sound rang out: Notre Dame’s bells clanged loud and long as they had done for a thousand years during other wars, and the German army under General Choltitz surrendered.
The following day De Gaulle entered Paris under the Arc de Triomphe and down Les Champs Elysees
and that long journey into night from 1940-1944 was beginning to come to an end for Parisians and for the next few months they could celebrate the Allied presence in Paris whilst the long withdrawal and battle to oust Nazi Germany from Europe continued until Victory in Europe or VE Day in May 1945.
“The Liberation of Paris, 1944,” EyeWitness to History, http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (2008).