German Occupation

Spring and early summer in Paris are idyllic times. The Tuileries and Luxembourg Gardens ware filled with blooms.  Today, cafes are packed with tourists, and shoppers browse freely in the markets.  Strolling on the Champs Elysees or gliding down the Seine on a warm spring afternoon is our perfect way to relax. A day trip to Versailles or an outing to the Louvre is our perfect way to learn.
Dodging businessmen on the avenues or crowding into the Metro with noisy students in today’s world, it is difficult to imagine the fear of Parisians as they awoke to a very different environment on June 14, 1940. The sunny avenues echoed with German voices as loudspeakers proclaimed that a curfew would be in place beginning at 8:00 pm that evening.  German troops had entered and occupied Paris.
German soldiers supervising French soldiers which surrendered
In spite of the pleas of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the French government asked for peace with the Germans.  Churchill predicted that the United States would enter the war and come to aid the French.  However, when French premier Paul Reynaud asked President Franklin Roosevelt for any help possible, Roosevelt promisedonly monetary assistance. The American government was not willing to make a formal public commitment.
Churchill and Roosevelt
The streets must have been very quiet, and the cafes filled only with whispers while the loudspeakers thundered the new order of the day. Two million Parisians hadalready left the city before the German tanks rolled in.  The Gestapo worked quickly as they arrested and interrogated those who gave any sign of resistance.  They hung an enormous swastika beneath the Arc de Triomphe.  Those Parisians who were left behind must have looked on the City of Lights with despair.
France surrenders in Treaty of Versailles train car
Paris had entered a nightmare of forced labor, repression, and Jewish deportation.  The German forced labor policy transferred thousands of French workers to work camps for the war effort.  At night, the patrols forced the citizens to turn off lights and close windows.  No one could go out.  The day was filled with regulations and propaganda.  Rather than the national anthem, French children sang to Marshal Philippe Petain of the new Vichy government.  The Gestapo established more than forty concentration camps in France.  As in many occupied regions, Jews had to follow restrictive rules such as wearing the yellow star and riding in the last car on the Metro.  French authorities, in collaboration with the Nazis, arrested approximately 75,000 Jews who were transported to Auschwitz and other death camps for execution.  To carry out reprisals against other civilians, the Nazis created an execution chamber in the cellar of the Ministry of Aviation building.  Many French citizens did more than necessary to appease the German occupation forces.
Hitler in Paris
However, many Frenchmen simply cooperated and tried to get along under Nazi rules.  Others resisted in small ways:  listening to the BBC or helping the Resistance with money.  Others quietly slipped out of the city to less visible parts of the country to avoid prison or deportation to Germany.  Those actively involved in the Resistance damaged railroad tracks, blew up bridges, and cut German communications.
Petain shaking hands with Adolf HtlerCharles De Gaulle on BBC Radio address to the French People
For the ordinary Parisian, deprivation was a fact of life.  As military pressure on German forces increased, getting food, fuel, or even firewood became more difficult.  The German troops took the lion’s share while the French lived on potatoes and bread. Cooking oil was unavailable, and three of every four animals slaughtered went to German forces. The famous French cuisine could not exist with the meager rations available, yet the restaurants opened for the few wealthy elite and German officers, many of whom lived with French families.

Today, the City of Light is brilliant, the streets crowded.  Rowdy students and tourists have only dawn as a curfew.  The vestiges of German occupation have been cleansed away, relegated to the walls of museums, or to the plaques of memorials to those who suffered those dark times.
Me and Rami on Eiffel TowerView from Eiffel Tower

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *