"A Capital that is faithful to itself and to France, which has manifested – under enemy occupation and oppression, and in spite of those who wanted to abandon or who were traitors – a solid resolution to fight and to win. With the courage it has shown in the presence of the invader and the irrepressible energy with which it handled extremely difficult challenges, the Capital deserves to be recognized as an example for the whole Nation. On August 19th, combining its forces with those of the Allied and French armies, the City stood up to chase the enemy away with a series of glorious combats that begun in the heart of Paris and that quickly spread out to other points in the City. In spite of heavy losses suffered by the Interior French Forces, Paris managed to free itself by its own means. And then, united with the vanguard of the French Army come to its aid, on August 25th, it drove the Germans into a corner and forced them to capitulate."
(Paris, named Companion of the Liberation by decree on 24 March 1945)
On June 14th, 1940, the German troops, in deathly silence, march down the Avenue of the Champs-Élysées claiming victory.
In August the first clandestine publication - the "Conseils à l'occupé" by Jean Texcier - appeared, in reaction to the occupation. The first massive public show of resistance was the student protest of November 11th, 1940, at the Place de l'Etoile. The Germans shot at the crowd and approximately one hundred protesters were arrested. Soon thereafter, the first notices of execution of resistance fighters were posted on the walls of the capital, such as the notice of the execution of Jacques Bonsergent, shot on December 28th, 1940.
A few days earlier, the first issue of "Résistance" had been published clandestinely by the resistance group at the Museum of Mankind, headed by Boris Vildé and Anatole Lewitsky - and the first issues of "Valmy" - Around that time the O.C.M. (the Civilian and Military Organization) movement was created.
However, in early 1941, the group at the Museum of Mankind was dismantled. Repression became more intense, as did the determination of the Resistance movement in Paris. On July 14th, a patriotic demonstration at Place de la République led to the arrest of 1,500 people. On August 21st, Pierre-Félix Georges, alias Fabien, shot an officer called Moser at Metro Barbès. A week later, in response to this, the Germans executed 18 Resistance workers at Mont Valerien, including Lieutenant d'Estienne d'Orves
In December of 1941, the curfew in Paris was set at 6 p.m., the prisons filled up with hostages and patriots. On the 15th, Gabriel Péri was executed.
In 1942, living conditions in Paris worsened. In February the first Jews rounded up in Paris and suburbs were deported to Auschwitz. At the same time, the Royal Air Force bombed the Renault factories in Boulogne-Billancourt and 500 people were killed. Every day there were more attacks by Resistance fighters, followed by the execution of hostages. The "5 from Lycée Buffon (a high school)", members of the Franc Tireur (irregulars) and French Partisan Movement, who were the perpetrators of two attacks on German officers, were arrested by the French police in June of 1942. They handed them over to the invaders, who sentenced them to death and executed them a year later.
The 16th and 17th of July, 1942, the persecution of Jews was at its peak when the roundup of Jews at the "Vel' d'Hiv'" by the French police took place. 12,884 Jews were arrested in their homes, rounded up at the Vélodrome d'Hiver (the Winter Velodrome) to be deported to death camps in Poland.
In 1943, the Resistance organization made progress thanks to the assignments of agents of the Free French Movement - including Pierre Brossolette and colonel Passy - who came from London to establish closer contact between the interior and exterior Resistance workers. In Paris also, at rue du Four, on May 27th of 1943, the National Council of the Resistance met for the first time, presided by Jean Moulin. The Council was made up of representatives from the largest Resistance movements from both zones, politicians and unionists, and demonstrated that the French Resistance was becoming more united and cohesive.
Allied bombing continued throughout 1943 and the population gradually saw the day of its liberation approaching. Violent attacks against the invader became more and more frequent. In April, a group attacked an enemy squad with grenades. In May, near Odéon, a building occupied by the Germans was attacked. In June, a colonel of the Wehrmacht was killed on Boulevard des Italiens. In July, a group of S.S. was attacked with grenades on the Champs-Elysées. In September, S.S. agent Julius Ritter, in charge of sending 500,000 French citizens to Germany to Forced Labor camps, was executed at the corner of rue Pétrarque…
Bombing of the capital became more intense in early 1944. The repression continued and in February the FTP-MOI of the "Manouchian Group" were executed. On March 22nd, Pierre Brossolette committed suicide at Gestapo headquarters on Avenue Foch.
But soon afterwards, the Interior French Forces of Ile-de-France, which included the armed forces of the various movements, were created and commanded by Colonel Rol-Tanguy.
By summer, living conditions had worsened considerably for Parisians: food shortage, child mortality, gas and power cut off everywhere most of the time and a growing unemployment rate.
As the Allied forces advanced in Normandy, uprisings began. On August 10th, strikes began in the Paris administrations (PTT, Gendarmerie, Police). The morning of August 18th, a general strike broke out, factories were taken over and some of the prisoners at the Prison de la Santé were released. The same day, Colonel Rol-Tanguy, head of the Ile-de-France FFI, with the approval of the Paris Committee for Liberation, ordered the general mobilization of all Parisians. The following morning barricades appeared in all Paris districts.
Barricades in insurgent Paris
German police offices started to close up shop one after another, without neglecting to hastily execute prisoners and resistance workers one last time. They also made sure to send off a few last trains full of deportees to the various camps. On August 20th, staff headquarters of the FFI was installed in its underground command base under the Place Denfert-Rochereau, under the Lion of Belfort. The same day, Police Headquarters were taken over, and skirmishes between French and German forces were widespread in the city and the suburbs, which were gradually taken over by the insurgents. In addition to this, most of the General Secretaries appointed by Alexandre Parodi, the general delegate of the Provisional Government of the French Republic, took possession of their respective Ministries. At the same time, Leclerc was near Argentan, while General De Gaulle, having returned from Canada two days earlier, met with General Eisenhower at Le Mans and convinced him to let the 2nd Armored Division march into Paris.
On August 21st, the once clandestine newspapers were sold publicly for the first time, while the Germans strengthened their positions, holding on firmly to the Tuileries, Rivoli, the Quays, the Ecole Militaire, the barracks of Prince Eugene in Place de la République and the Luxemburg Gardens area. However, the heart of Paris, the city and City Hall (Hôtel de Ville) were in the hands of the French forces. The next day, General Bradley gave Leclerc the order to lead his Division into the capital, where a fear of total destruction reigned, as Hitler had given the order to General von Choltitz (a German military commander). The latter was convinced by Swedish Consul Raoul Nordling to spare Paris, and negotiated a short truce with him that was rejected by the Resistance fighters.
In the capital at this point, everyone knew that the 2nd Armored Division and the Allies were at the edge of the city "Hold tight. We're coming" was the message that Leclerc sent out to the FFI holding onto Police Headquarters on August 24th. At around 7 p.m. Leclerc was at the Croix-de-Berny and designated the tank company of Captain Dronne to take the vanguard position. It was exactly 9 p.m. (10 p.m. on the great clock) when the armored column stopped in the square of the Hôtel de Ville, where staff headquarters of the National Resistance Council and the Paris Committee for Liberation were gathered. Dronne was greeted by Georges Bidault, Joseph Laniel, Georges Marrane, Daniel Meyer and many more. This was an extremely moving encounter for the Free France fighters and Parisian Resistance fighters. Church bells were now ready to announce the arrival of the Allies to the city.
The next day, General Leclerc, accompanied by the National Military Delegate, Jacques Chaban-Delmas, entered the capital where soon afterwards part of the 2nd Armored Division took the Hôtel Meurice by storm, headquarters of the German military command. Von Choltitz surrendered, was taken to Police Headquarters where he, Leclerc and Rol-Tanguy signed the agreement on the surrender of German troops. In the afternoon, De Gaulle, accompanied by a modest procession, entered Paris amidst a wildly cheering crowd, went to Leclerc's headquarters at Montparnasse where he was informed of the surrender.
That evening of August 25th, after having gone to the Ministry of War on rue Saint-Dominique, chosen as Government Presidency headquarters, and having inspected Paris Police, General De Gaulle went to the Hôtel de Ville amidst the indescribably overjoyed crowd, where the Paris Committee for Liberation and the National Resistance Council awaited him. There, De Gaulle paid tribute to France's capital with a speech full of emotion :
"Paris has been gravely offended! Paris has been broken down! Paris has been made a martyr! But now Paris is free, Paris has freed itself; freed by its people, aided by the French armies, and the support and cooperation of the entire Nation – a France that fights for its cause, France one and only, the true France, eternal France".
The battle of Paris was practically over when the last few points held by the enemy were falling. 3,500 Germans surrendered to the French forces of the Interior and to the soldiers of the 2nd Armored Division. The free world would now celebrate this liberation, a glimpse at the now unavoidable demise of Nazi Germany.
On August 26th, the head of the Provisional Government, surrounded by the members of the National Resistance Council, the Paris Committee for Liberation, Generals Juin, Koenig, Valin and Leclerc, Admiral Thierry d'Argenlieu, Jacques Chaban-Delmas and Magistrates Flouret and Luizet, paraded down the Champs-Élysées amidst an incredible popular fervor.
The parade down the Champs-Elysées, August 26th, 1944
At Place de la Concorde, the General got into a car that took him to the Hôtel de Ville. Afterwards, upon arriving at the esplanade in front of Notre Dame Cathedral, a shooting spree broke out, causing a situation of general panic in the square. Inside the Cathedral shooting broke out again, causing the congregation to crouch down on the floor. General De Gaulle calmly walked over to the center of the cathedral, in the crossing of the transept, while the Magnificat was still being pronounced. Shortening the ceremony, De Gaulle then returned to Government Presidency headquarters at rue Saint-Dominique.
On March 24th, 1945, Paris was named Companion of the Liberation.
The City of Paris is awarded the Cross of the Liberation
Upon presenting the Cross of the Liberation to the City of Paris on April 2nd, 1945, General De Gaulle pronounced these words, "Upon the Liberation of Paris, the city lacked absolutely nothing to make it worthy of France".