Paris Celebrates Liberation Anniversary08/25 10:20
PARIS (AP) -- Paris is celebrating the American soldiers, French Resistance
fighters and others who liberated the City of Light from Nazi occupation
exactly 75 years ago.
Firefighters unfurled a huge French flag Sunday from the Eiffel Tower,
recreating the moment when a French tricolor stitched together from sheets was
hoisted atop the monument 75 years ago to replace the swastika flag that had
flown for four years.
People dressed in World War II-era military uniforms and dresses are
parading in southern Paris, retracing the entry of French and U.S. tanks into
the city on Aug. 25, 1944.
Long the jewel of European cities, Paris suffered relatively little damage
in World War II, but its citizens were humiliated, hungry and mistrustful after
50 months under the Nazis.
The liberation of Paris was both joyous and chaotic. It was faster and
easier for the Allies than their protracted battle through Normandy and its
gun-filled hedgerows. But the fight for the French capital killed nearly 5,000
people, including Parisian civilians, German troops and members of the French
Resistance whose sabotage and attacks and prepared the city for the liberation.
After invading in 1940, the Nazi hierarchy ensconced themselves in Paris'
luxury hotels, and hobnobbed at theaters and fine restaurants. Collaborationist
militias kept order, and French police were complicit in the most dastardly act
of the Occupation: the 1942 roundup of around 13,000 Jews at the Vel d'Hiv
bicycle stadium before their eventual deportation to the Auschwitz death camp
in German-occupied Poland.
The Parisians who weren't deported or didn't flee used ration tickets to
eat, wooden soles on shoes to replace scarce leather and sometimes curtains for
clothes. The black market thrived.
The D-Day landings on June 6, 1944 helped change the tide of the war,
allowing the Allies to push through Normandy and beyond to other
German-occupied lands around Western Europe.
The message went out to the French Resistance in Paris that the Allies were
advancing. Resistance member Madeleine Riffaud, now 95, described to The
Associated Press killing a Nazi soldier on July 23, 1944, on a Sunday afternoon
on the Solferino bridge. Riffaud was spotted as she escaped on her bicycle,
then arrested, tortured and jailed before being freed in a prisoner exchange
days before the liberation of the city.
Seventy-five years later, she doesn't take the killing lightly.
"To carry out an action like that isn't playing with dolls," she said.
On Aug. 19, 1944, Paris police officers rebelled and took over police
headquarters. On the night of Aug. 24, the first Allied troops entered southern
Paris. The grand entrance of French Gen. Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque's 2nd
Armored Division followed by Allied forces would come the following day.
The German military governor of Paris, Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz, was
arrested at his headquarters at the Meurice Hotel and signed the surrender.
Paris buildings still bear the bullet holes of fighting.
A group of U.S. World War II veterans is back in Paris for Sunday's events.
They described to the AP their memories, some brought to tears by the horrors
of the Nazi regime.
Steve Melnikoff, 99, of Cockeysville, Maryland, came ashore on Omaha Beach
on D-Day. He calls war "nasty, smelly, terrible." But he maintains that "it was
important for someone to do this," to stop Hitler from taking over more of the
Harold Radish, 95, arrived in France in 1944, fought his way to Germany ---
and then was captured. After he was freed, he visited Paris. He described the
liberated city as "a new thing. Something good had changed, the world was gonna
get a little better."
Images of Parisian women kissing American soldiers on liberation day have
imprinted themselves on later generations.
AP reporter Don Whitehead, who was in Paris on Aug. 25, 1944, described both
the exaltation and the violence that punctuated the day.
"When the last enemy resistance crumbled at the gate to Paris, then this
heart of France went mad ... Men and women cried with joy. They grabbed the
arms and hands of soldiers and cheered until their voices were hoarse. When the
column stopped I was smothered, but pleasantly, with soft arms and lips giving
not one kiss but the usual French double one," he continued.
"One old man came up, saluted, and said with tears in his eyes: 'God bless
America. You have saved France.'"