From the Allied landings at Normandy to Charles de Gaulle’s triumphant march down the Champs-Élysées, a war historian tracks the ouster of the Nazis from the City of Light.
After four years of a humiliating occupation, Paris prepared during the summer of 1944 to finally throw off the Nazi shackles. Hitler ordered the city defended to the last man, reduced to rubble if necessary. With the Allied armies only 150 miles away, factions among the Resistance forces, many of them communist, jostled for leadership. They all shared a hatred for the Vichy regime, sought vengeance against collaborationists and wanted Parisians to liberate themselves. None knew that Allied commanders, dismissing the city’s strategic value, aimed instead to capture key ports and drive the German army east. De Gaulle appreciated the city’s symbolic importance. He knew that capturing Paris was the key to postwar power in France, and he wanted the capital liberated by his army. Neiberg’s (History/Univ. of Southern Mississippi/U.S. Army War College; Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I, 2011, etc.) taut narrative explains how the liberation played out. While he makes clear that credit for the city’s emancipation must be shared, he features the contribution of the Resistance, especially the tireless Henri Rol-Tanguy, the martyred Jean Moulin and Robert Monod and Roger Cocteau. Neiberg highlights the critical role played by the Paris police force and the heroism of thousands of anonymous Parisians. Hurling Molotov cocktails and harassing German soldiers from behind makeshift barricades, they suffered 500 men killed and 2,000 wounded. Neiberg also effectively debunks commanding German Gen. Choltitz’s postwar claim that he surrendered Paris for humanitarian reasons by demonstrating the hopelessness of his military situation and noting he was “motivated in no small part by his deep fear of the Paris mob.”
An evenhanded, efficient account of one of World War II’s signature moments.