Paris celebrates jubilation of liberation 60 years on

24th August 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Aug 25 (AFP) - Parisians turned out Wednesday to see French and US military columns roll through their capital in an exuberant re-enactment of the day 60 years ago when Allied forces liberated the city from German occupation.

PARIS, Aug 25 (AFP) - Parisians turned out Wednesday to see French and US military columns roll through their capital in an exuberant re-enactment of the day 60 years ago when Allied forces liberated the city from German occupation.

"Vive la France," cried many of the onlookers lining the streets as the parades - made up of World War II-era vehicles and extras in period dress and uniforms - rumbled by to the sound of orchestras playing 1940s tunes.

The scenes were colourful highlights of commemorations recalling August 25,1944 when first French then US troops drove into Paris to take it from German forces who had been battling a week-long uprising by residents and Resistance fighters.

The day ended with an estimated tens of thousands of people braving the rain to turn out at the Place de la Bastille to watch a swing and boogie-woogie show before taking part in a massive outdoor public ball.

"In memory of what was also a unique moment of mass jubilation, we wanted this commemoration to be friendly and festive," Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe said.

Earlier, other ceremonies dotted the city, including the hoisting of the French tricolour flag atop the Eiffel Tower by firemen and a solemn gathering at the foot of the Champs-Elysees attended by dozens of dignitaries.

President Jacques Chirac, after decorating three French veterans from the armoured division that triumphantly entered the city six decades ago, led proceedings at the imposing City Hall with a speech paying homage to his wartime political model, General Charles de Gaulle, who addressed the crowd from the same spot six decades ago.

"People of France, remember that day that forged our history. We will never forget the sacrifice of those who gave their lives to liberate Paris," Chirac said.

"We will never forget what they did so that France could again become herself, resting on her values of equality, justice and freedom, the values that are the foundations of our nation."

An Edith Piaf-style performance by a singer capped his speech as the VIP crowd hunched under light rain.

The parades and ceremonies honouring liberation day were especially poignant because they showed how little the buildings, streets and avenues of Paris have changed since that date - testament to the fact that the German officer in charge of occupying the city, General Dietrich von Choltitz, had defied Hitler's order to raze it to the ground.

The two separate military processions consisted of people wearing the garb of wartime Paris and Allied soldiers. Men sported uniforms or the white shirt, cap and scarf combination that came to illustrate stereotypical Frenchmen for decades, while women boasted flowery dresses, white socks and towering hairstyles.

More than 2,000 police and gendarmes were deployed to ensure the smooth unfolding of the day's events. Roads were closed to traffic in central Paris, and three city centre Metro stations were to be shut for parts of the day.

The liberation of Paris came two months after Allied troops stormed the Normandy beaches on D-Day, an invasion that spelled the beginning of the end of Nazi rule, and a week after Allied forces hit France's Mediterranean coast.

The uprising that preceded the Allied military entering Paris has gone down in history as a defining moment for French self-image, overshadowing the shame associated with the Vichy collaborationist regime.

Around 1,500 resistance fighters and civilians died as they forced the Germans back to defensive positions in the city. Around 3,000 of the 16,000 Nazi troops in Paris were killed.

The combat convinced US General Dwight Eisenhower, who was commanding the Allied forces, to turn into Paris instead of circling around it as originally planned.

By the time the French and US troops arrived, the Germans were dispirited, leading to a relatively easy victory for the Allies and the capture of the doomed Third Reich's last major outpost.

Hitler committed suicide in his bunker eight months later, on April 30, 1945.

For the French, the liberation of Paris stands as a stirringly patriotic moment. Unlike the D-Day and Provence landings, which were led by US and British forces, the first Allied forces the Parisians saw in the streets were their own countrymen, followed by the Americans.

Therese Henry, 74, told AFP of her experience that day: "On the 25th and in the days following, the Americans gave us chocolate bars with hazelnuts and almonds in them. I never again tasted chocolate that good."


Subject: French news

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