Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

Women, communists and foreigners: the forgotten heroes of Paris, 1945

August 19th, 2015

One week before, on August 18, an order had been given for insurrection by the Paris Liberation Committee, which coordinated resistance activity there. It was chaired by André Tollet, an artisan in the sans-culotte tradition of 1789 and a trade unionist who had escaped from the camp where he had been interned as a communist. Its military arm was the French Forces of the Interior, or FFIs as they were known, commanded by Henri Rol-Tanguy, a communist metalworker and veteran of the Spanish Civil War, but it was desperately short of weapons and initially had only 600 people in arms. The muscle of the insurrection was a general strike that swept up the railways, utilities, cinemas, restaurants, the Galeries Lafayette and even the Paris police.

Nor was the liberation of Paris even a purely French affair. Indeed, many saw resistance against the Germans as part of pan-European anti-fascist struggle that began with the Spanish Civil War against Axis-backed Franco in 1936 and ended with the Greek Civil War in 1949. Urban guerrilla fighting in Paris had been developed by foreign exiles – Spanish republicans, Italian anti-fascists, Polish, Hungarian, and Romanian Jews and even German anti-Nazis – operating in the Immigrant Worker Movement (MOI) of the communist partisans. Most had been rounded up and shot in February 1944 by the Germans, whose propaganda, discrediting the resistance as run by Jews, foreigners and communists, was in this case not far wrong.

Celebrations to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Paris focus on role of French fighters rather than Allies

Six months later, the first column of Leclerc’s soldiers to liberate Paris was the Third Chad Infantry Regiment, whose ninth company was nicknamed “la Nueve” because it was mainly composed of Spanish republicans whose tanks were daubed with slogans commemorating the battles of the Spanish Civil War: Guadalajara, Teruel, Ebro, Madrid.

This all gives a very macho version of the liberation of Paris. But women too played a crucial role. Cécile Rol-Tanguy, Henri’s wife, acted as one of his couriers, carrying messages by bicycle from one unit to another or weapons in her baby’s pram. A few women took up arms themselves. Madeleine Riffaud, a student nurse and communist partisan, shot a German on the banks of the Seine on 23 July 1944 to avenge the death of a comrade and to incite the Parisians to revolt. Narrowly escaping execution and deportation herself, she was released with other resisters under the truce and led a three-man commando that immobilised a German train at Les Buttes-Chaumont.

Celebrations to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Paris focus on role of French fighters rather than Allies

Order was restored by Leclerc’s division, which arrived on August 24. And only two days later, de Gaulle himself paraded down the Champs-Élysées cheers of the crowd. It was his apotheosis, communing with what he called “eternal France” – but it was also the beginning of a myth of resistance and liberation that was military, national and male.

De Gaulle made no mention of the contribution of foreigners. When summoned the leaders of the Paris resistance to the ministry of defence to thank them, and tell them that his job was over, Cécile Rol-Tanguy recalls that they were not even offered a glass of wine. With that, the party was over, and the role of revolutionaries, foreigners of women long forgotten. It is now past time to hear their story again.

Robert Gildea’s book on the French Resistance, Fighters in the Shadows, is out next month (Faber: £20)

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Paris to celebrate 70 years since liberation from Nazi occupation, with little contribution from US or UK

August 24th, 2014

The exception was a parade on Saturday by French and American forces to mark the entry into the capital of the French 2nd Armoured Division and the 4th US Infantry Division.

There was little mention of the deportation to the Buchenwald concentration camp of more than 2,500 “political prisoners” from a suburb of the capital on the day the uprising began, and even less of the arrests of nine Jews by Paris police only four days earlier.

“The French government has made the Liberation of Paris a purely French celebration,” two young French commentators, Fabrice d’Almeida and Sophie Roche, wrote in the Huffington Post.

Gen. Charles De Gaulle (AP Photo/Constance Stuart Larrabee)

De Gaulle used the liberation of the capital as a way for France to begin recovering from the dishonour of its surrender in 1940 and the years of collaboration.

In his victory speech, he said: “Paris liberated! Liberated by itself, liberated by its people with the support of the armies of France, with the help and support of the whole of France, of the France that fights, of the only France, of the true France, of the eternal France!”

The historian Jean-Pierre Azéma noted de Gaulle accorded “only perfunctory thanks to the soldiers of the 4th US Infantry Division who accompanied the (French) 2nd Armoured Division.”

A tank from the French Armored Division passes the Arc de Triomphe during the final hours of the struggle to liberate Paris from German occupation (AP)

The novelist Ernest Hemingway, who entered Paris in uniform as a war correspondent with American forces, gave a rather different version, reporting that thousands of Parisians lined the streets to welcome them, shouting “Vive l’Amérique, Vive la France” and waving American flags.

Hemingway created his own legend of liberation by taking command of the bar at the Ritz hotel, requisitioned by the Nazis in 1940.

“Where are the Germans?” he reportedly demanded when he arrived at the hotel with a group of Resistance fighters. “I have come to liberate the Ritz.”

The manager, Claude Auzello, replied: “Monsieur, they left a long time ago and I cannot let you enter with a weapon.” Hemingway duly put down his gun and is said to run up a tab for 51 dry Martinis in the company of his “irregulars”.

French poet, journalist, and a member of the French Resistance Madeleine Riffaud (AP)

Three weeks earlier, Madeleine Riffaud, a Resistance fighter who was not yet 20, encouraged Parisians to rise up by shooting dead a German officer on a Paris bridge on a a Sunday afternoon.

“Everyone saw that a young girl on a bicycle can do this,” she told the Associated Press.

Fred Moore, the son of a former Royal Navy officer who was born and brought up in Amiens, northern France, said he was welcomed with warm embraces by the women of Paris when he entered the city as a French soldier on August 25.

“One of them later became my wife,” said Mr Moore, 94.

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