Showing posts with label World War II. Show all posts
Showing posts with label World War II. Show all posts

Monday, August 25, 2014

Liberation of Paris, 25 August 1944

Exactly 70 years ago, on 25 August 1944, General Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque arrived in Paris at the head of tanks of his celebrated armored division known as the 2nd DB. Dietrich von Choltitz, the German military governor of Paris, received a furious phone call from Hitler, who screamed out "Brennt Paris?" Is Paris burning? No, the city was not burning, thanks in part to the tergiversations of von Choltitz, who finally signed a capitulation document at the Hôtel Meurice.

Paris was liberated!

Before the end of the day, Charles de Gaulle had arrived at the Hôtel de Ville, where he delivered a short declaration that would go down in French history as one of the nation's greatest moments.

The liberation of Paris in August 1944 was a considerably more complicated affair than what we might imagine today in viewing these videos. There was much bloodshed and injustice. Many self-proclaimed résistants were in fact recent Nazi collaborators. One detail needs to be clarified. The Nazi von Choltitz (who had annihilated many cities in a "scorched earth" style) must never be thought of as a hero whose deep respect for Paris saved the city from destruction. Bullshit! If von Choltitz refrained from destroying Paris, this was surely because he realized that the tide was turning, and that there was no sense in committing a crime that would have culminated inevitably and rapidly in his capture and execution. In other words, the ugly Nazi bugger "saved" Paris with a view to saving his own evil skin.

Friday, September 11, 2009


It's hard to believe that anything new in the way of World War II documentaries could come to light. One has the impression that everything has been said and shown a thousand times over. But the series of six TV specials entitled Apocalypse, now being shown on the France 2 channel, brings something breathtakingly new to the screen, for two reasons. First, the authors have unearthed amazing previously-unseen footage in every corner of the globe. Second, they've suceeded in manually coloring it so that everything looks natural. On this second point, we often forget that black-and-white photos and films, although we're accustomed to them, remain hugely abstract, maintaining a constant distance between the reality of the viewer's everyday universe (in color) and the artificial formality of the monochrome images.

In this remarkable movie sequence, women are evacuating Strasbourg in September 1939, in the wake of Hitler's invasion of Poland. The evacuation wasn't a spontaneous reaction to enemy presence (since the Nazis were still far away), but rather an official order from the French government, to ensure the future safety of citizens.

A determined middle-aged lady is doing work that is normally performed by a horse. She's well shod in sturdy shoes and thick stockings, but her flimsy mauve blouse and narrow black skirt are not exactly working clothes. Besides, the backwards angle of her arms is hardly ideal for dragging a heavy load. One wonders why this unfortunate woman is performing a horse's job. The explanation, no doubt, is that the massive scale of this evacuation (some 600,000 citizens of Alsace and Moselle between September 1939 and the spring of 1940) meant that work-horses were in short supply.

This young lady in a transparent skirt might have power in her legs and arms, but it's unlikely that she'll be able to carry on pushing that cart all the way to the primary destinations of these fleeing families: the French départements of Limousin, Périgord, Gers and Charentes. Those havens of safety lie hundreds of kilometers to the south. That's a long way on foot, pulling and pushing a cart.

This fellow is riding his bike in the opposite direction to the women with their cart. Is he contemplating a forthcoming bicycle evacuation from Strasbourg? Maybe he's training for the task. Or is he simply out on an excursion, to take in a bit of the action? Could he be an evacuation inspector, checking that everything's coming along fine?

Between the tram lines, where no trams have passed for ages, this confused little dog is wondering what the hell is happening. Should it follow the women and their cart? Or is there a ray of hope that the approaching cyclist might lead the tiny animal back to its former comfortable life in the great capital of Alsace? If we return to the original photo, there seems to be a tiny patch of clear sky above the buildings alongside the tram lines. The hesitant dog, pointing neither north nor south, is wondering: "Is this maybe the end of the tunnel?" Alas, no.