Top 10 Facts about the Liberation of Paris in 1944
The Liberation of Paris marked a major turning point towards the end of World War II. Although the war wouldn’t end until 1945, when Paris was returned to the French, for many, it was a light at the end of a tunnel.
In case you’re unfamiliar with what happened in France during WWII, the northern half of the country, including Paris, had been occupied by Nazi Germany since 1940. The southern part of France, known as the “free zone,” and was relatively unaffected by the damage left by the war.
After 4 years of a difficult occupation, the French had had enough. Keep reading to learn the top 10 facts about the Liberation of Paris in 1944!
1. The Liberation of Paris occurred from August 19-25, 1944
Rome wasn’t built in a day and Paris wasn’t liberated in one either! These things take time, and it took a full week from start to finish for the Nazi German soldiers to finally surrender.
2. In true French fashion, it all started with a strike
If you’re familiar with French culture, you know that the French love to protest things and go on strike. In recent years, a transportation strike nearly shut down Paris! So, it should come as no surprise that the Liberation of Paris began with a strike.
On August 15, 1944, thousands of political prisoners from the Allied forces who were being held in Pantin (a northern Parisian suburb) were sent to concentration camps in Germany. In response, metro workers, postal workers, Gendarme officers, and police all went on strike. They were joined by others and a general strike broke out on August 18.
3. It looked the Allied Forces 2 months to get from Normandy to Paris
The Normandy Landings, otherwise known as Operation Overlord began in Normandy on June 6, 1944. The invasion into Occupied France by the Allied forces marked another major turning point in the war: if the Allies could just push the Germans out of France, they had a chance of ending WWII in Europe.
The Landings were a success, although thousands of lives were lost for the cause. And, just because Normandy was now in the hands of the French, British, Americans, Canadians, and other Allies, the rest of the country still needed to be taken back. The next major stop was Paris, and it would take the Allies over 2 months to get there.
4. Rebellious Parisians built barricades throughout the city
In preparation for the conflict that all Parisians knew was inevitable, barricades began to crop up all over the city. It was reminiscent of other Parisian uprisings, such as the Paris Commune, but this time the barricades were placed in the center of the city instead of on the outskirts. When you look at photos it’s pretty eerie to see barricades surround the Louvre and other French monuments you know and love. Parisians used anything they could find to make the barricades: trees, subway grates, and cobblestones. It was necessary, as there would be an actual battle to defend Paris from the Germans.
5. The military branch of the French Resistance movement played an important role
The French Forces of the Interior (FFI) was the military branch of the French Resistance Movement. On August 19, the FFI put posters all over the city calling for able-bodied Parisians to band together against the Germans who were retreating from the east. They called for all of the fuel, food, and other supplies that Parisians could manage. They took civilians vehicles for transportation and prepared themselves for a fight.
6. There was an actual battle to defend Paris
The Battle of Paris occurred between August 20 and 23, mostly between French Resistance fighters and Nazi Germans. Everyday Parisians were also involved (you’ll remember the call to arms from the posters) and even women and children helped guard the barricades.
There is quite a lot of film footage from the Battle of Paris, and again, it’s strange to see famous monuments in the background amidst all of the violence and fighting. The conflict reached its peak on August 22 when a few German soldiers attempted to leave their hiding places. Then, on August 23, German troops attacked the Grand Palais, the FFI’s headquarters at the time. Between 800 and 1,500 Resistance fighters were killed, and 1,500 were injured.
7. At one point, Hitler ordered that all Parisian monuments be destroyed
There are many stories and legends about what Nazi leader Adolf Hitler wanted to do about Paris. One of the most common is that he ordered the city to be burned to the ground: he wanted to “see Paris burning.” And so, his soldiers placed bombs under every bridge in the city and awaited his orders to destroy it.
In the end, his commanding officer in Paris Dietrich von Choltitz decided not to listen to Hitler’s orders. Some refer to him as the “Savior of Paris,” but many survivors of WWII say that he doesn’t deserve that title. He was a high-ranking Nazi German officer which means that he was likely involved in heinous war crimes, and I tend to agree that he shouldn’t be congratulated for anything.
8. On August 25, 1944, the German commander surrendered to the French at Le Maurice Hotel in Paris
After Choltitz decided to spare Paris, he knew it was all over. He surrendered at Le Maurice Hotel, which had served as the Nazi German headquarters from 1940 to 1944. He was then taken to the Paris Police Prefecture and then to the Gare Montparnasse, where he publicly surrendered. He was kept prisoner until 1947.
9. Charles de Gaulle gave an impressive speech on the day of the Nazi’s surrender
Once Paris was freed, Charles de Gaulle was named the President of the Provisional Government of the French Republic, the temporary government established after the Liberation of Paris during WWII. He made a memorable speech on August 25 after the Germans had officially surrendered. 2 million people gathered on the Champs-Elysées as he spoke:
“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!”
10. There were victory parades throughout Paris for days after
It should come as no surprise that Paris and the Parisians rejoiced once they got their city back after 4 long years of Occupation. Both French, American, and other Allied forces paraded through the streets, and the relief and happiness could be felt in the air. I love looking at photos of the victory parades – everyone looks so excited and ready for the future!
Now you know the top 10 facts about the Liberation of Paris in 1944! If you want to learn even more about the history of the French capital, consider joining one of our Paris walking tours! Click here to learn more and make your booking.