Paris celebrates 60 years since WWII liberation

19th August 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Aug 19 (AFP) - Sixty years ago the famous avenues and streets of Paris were filled with barricades and bullets as Resistance fighters and German troops did battle for the city that Hitler ordered be held at all costs while columns of US, British and French soldiers marched on it.

PARIS, Aug 19 (AFP) - Sixty years ago the famous avenues and streets of Paris were filled with barricades and bullets as Resistance fighters and German troops did battle for the city that Hitler ordered be held at all costs while columns of US, British and French soldiers marched on it.

That historic uprising which began on August 19 in the French capital - the last major outpost of the Third Reich on the road to defeat two months after the massive D-Day invasion of Normandy - is being celebrated with pomp and gaiety.

French Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin kicked off 60th anniversary celebrations of Paris's liberation from its German occupiers with a solemn ceremony at the capital's main police headquarters.

"Here, in this courtyard of the police building, in the heart of Paris, on August 19, 1944, a page in our history was turned, a page among the darkest our country has ever known," de Villepin said.

"Here, Paris police were able to say 'No' in the name of France, of the republic, of mankind," he said, recalling an uprising by French police and resistance fighters on that day against their German oppressors.

Six days later, on August 25, 1944, the Germans surrendered Paris to French and US soldiers who arrived in the city to a hero's welcome.

More commemorations are to follow in coming days.

For Paris, the celebrations are especially poignant: they are a reminder that, had the Germans occupying the city not defied Hitler's order to raze it rather than let it fall into Allied hands, the City of Light so beloved by residents and tourists today would have been destroyed forever.

General Dietrich von Colitz, the commander of Paris and its surrounding region, said after his surrender and the end of World War II that he refused to carry out his Fuehrer's order because Adolf Hitler - who went on to commit suicide on April 30, 1945 - was increasingly demented as his dreams of conquest crumbled.

The uprising began August 19, just four days after the Allies launched their second major assault on France, landing on the Mediterranean coast as a follow-up to D-Day.

Resistance fighters in Paris backed by French police who had gone over to their side threw barricades across main roads and occupied police and municipal buildings. A supporting strike by transport, postal and electricity workers helped bog the Germans down.

A ceasefire on August 20 mediated by the Swedish consul-general was soon broken and the French fighters took over whole neighbourhoods, pushing the 16,000 Germans back to just a few positions, mainly near the Eiffel Tower, at the bottom of the Champs-Elysees, around the ornate Opera building and in the eastern Republique square.

For three days, battles ensued with the Germans losing ground, until August 24, when a small advance French armoured unit drove into the centre of the city.

The next day, it was followed by the French 2nd armoured division led by General Philippe de Hauteclocque, better known by his alias "Leclerc", which was the only French unit to land with the allies in Normandy. It was backed by the much-bigger US 4th infantry division, which also invested the city.

The welcome was rapturous, with the city's population thronging the streets to greet their liberators while von Colitz, a prisoner of war, signed the surrender of the city.

The leader of the Free French forces, General Charles de Gaulle, arrived soon after, and on August 26 was acclaimed by two million people as he walked along the Champs-Elysees and attended a mass at Notre-Dame.

Ernest Hemingway, the famous US author who was a war correspondent at the time, added to his already potent legend during this time by walking into the Ritz hotel in the centre of Paris - one of 400 hotels that had been used by the German occupiers - to personally "liberate" its bar. The bar was formally re-baptised the Hemingway bar in 1994.

French President Jacques Chirac, who has modelled himself after de Gaulle, is to pay homage to Paris's liberation by attending another mass at Notre-Dame on Thursday.

A ball with around 1,000 dancers in period costume is to take place nearby, while scenes from that era are flashed up on to the sides of buildings.

"War is extremely interesting from a theatrical point of view," the official organising the public ceremonies and director of Paris' Opera Comique, Jerome Savary, said.

© AFP

Subject: French news

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