Tuesday, April 02, 2013

The Saving of Paris (August 1944)

1. The Eiffel Tower, Paris from Trocadero
[Where Adolf Hitler stood, Sunday 23 June 1940]
2. 'Occupied France' display, French Army Museum 
(Paris 7e)
3. Rue de la Pépinière / Rue d'Anjou street corner 
(Paris 8e)
[Negotiations took place here that helped save Paris]

4. Raoul Nordling / Jean Laurent Memorial Tablet
[Rue d'Anjou, Paris 8e]
 For additional information click on 'Comments' below'.


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

One German's view of Paris:

"As an artist, a man has no home in Europe save in Paris".
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
[German philosopher].

Paris, June 1940

On Friday 14 June 1940 the undefended Paris fell to the invading German forces. At noon the following day, Saturday 15 June 1940, a detachment of German troops led by a military brass band marched past the Arc de Triomphe and down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées towards the Place de la Concorde.

All over Paris, the red, white and blue French tricolour had been removed from public buildings. The French tricolour had been replaced by a flag with a red background, a white disc and a black swastika: namely the flag of Hitler's Nazi Germany.

There was only one place in Paris where the French tricolour was not removed from public display. This one was inside a glass cabinet in the French Army Museum (the Musée de l'Armée) in the prestigious Hôtel National des Invalides. Also within the 'Invalides' complex was the tomb of the French Emperor Napoleon I. For all intents and purposes, it appeared that on this day at least the French tricolour had become nothing more than a museum piece.

A few days later, on Sunday 23 June 1940, the German Chancellor Adolf Hitler and his entourage arrived in Paris. Almost as any tourist would have done Hitler and his party go on a sightseeing tour of the city. Among Hitler's entourage were the artist Arno Breker and the architect Albert Speer (later to become armaments minister). Arguably the most famous image of Hitler's visit to Paris is that of him standing at the Paris Trocadero flanked by Arno Breker and Albert Speer with the Eiffel Tower behind.

The view of the Eiffel Tower seen in Photograph No 1 (above) was taken at the spot where Hitler, Breker and Speer stood in June 1940 for the famous photograph which will forever be associated with Hitler's visit to Paris. Fortunately for posterity, the Eiffel Tower and most of the other historic buildings and bridges of Paris managed to come through the war virtually unscathed. For a time, particularly in August 1944 the future of Paris was touch and go.

In the modern era, the French tricolour can once again be seen above the public buildings of Paris. It is the photograph of Adolph Hitler, Arno Breker and Albert Speer that has now been consigned to the French Army Museum in Paris. The photograph now forms part of the museum's 'Occupied France' exhibition (see Photograph No 2 above).

Tuesday, 02 April, 2013  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Paris, August 1944

Tuesday 6 June 1944 was D-Day for the the Allied invasion of N.W. Europe. It was also the beginning of the end for the German Occupation of France and the rest of N.W. Europe. Nor in the East was the war going well for the Germans.

On Monday 7 August 1944 Adolf Hitler, the man who in 1940 had been the master of all he surveyed at Paris, appointed a new military commander for the city. The new - and last - German governor of 'Groß Paris' ('Greater Paris') was General Dietrich von Choltitz (1894 - 1966). The new military governor arrived in Paris to take the command on Wednesday 9 August 1944. One of his first orders was given to his orderly, Corporal Helmut Mayer: to have a bedroom prepared for him at the Hôtel Meurice on the rue de Rivoli (Paris 1er) opposite the Tuilleries Gardens. This would be the Paris headquarters for Dietrich von Choltitz during his time as military governor.

On 23 August Dietrich von Choltitz received a cable giving him a direct order from Adolf Hitler: to reduce Paris to a field of ruins. Preparations were made for the bridges of Paris, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the other main buildings of Paris were mined. Who would not obey a direct order from Adolf Hitler?

The saving of Paris

Few tourists - or indeed Parisians - would give a second glance to what appears to be an unremarkable street corner at the junction of the rue de la Pépinière and the rue d'Anjou (Photograph No 3 above). Yet, it was events that took place at this largely unknown Parisian location in August 1944 that led to the saving of many lives and prevented the buildings of Paris from being destroyed by war.

Photograph No 3 (above) was taken on the rue de la Pépinière. This Parisian street runs between the rue de Rome and the place de St. Augustin in the 8th 'arrondissement' of Paris. The street name is derived from the former royal garden nurseries that were previously located here.

During WW2 numbers 7 to 11 rue de la Pépinière were occupied by the Bank of Indochina. The bank was was led by M. Jean Laurent who had connections with the French Resistance. M. Laurent was also personally known to General Charles de Gaulle. In 1940 M. Laurent had been a member of De Gaulle's staff at the Ministry of Defence. During WW2 the location of the bank also proved to be in an especially favourable location for diplomatic negotiations. Why was this the case?

Around the corner from No 11 rue de la Pépinière is the rue d'Anjou (seen to the right of Photograph No 3 above). During WW2 the rue d'Anjou was where the Swedish consulate in Paris was based. Sweden remained a neutral power throughout the war the country so Sweden's diplomats were in a position to talk to the various factions involved in the war. The Swedish consulate to Paris was headed by the Consul General M. Raoul Nordling (1881 - 1962).

Raoul Nordling, who was born in Paris, was the son of a Swedish businessman and diplomat Carl Gustav Nordling. In 1905, at the age of 24 Raoul Nordling followed his father into the Swedish consulate at Paris when he was appointed a vice-consul. In 1917, during the First World War, he became Consul and in 1926, after the death of his father, Raoul Nordling became Consul General. He was a well-connected diplomat of a neutral country who knew Paris well and often said that he felt himself to be a "citizen of Paris."

The middle of August 1944 was a time when Paris was at risk of being turned into a battlefield of death and destruction. It was also the time when Jean Laurent of the Bank of Indochina and Raoul Nordling had key roles in the negotiations that involved the different factions taking part in the fighting.

Tuesday, 02 April, 2013  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The Nordling / Laurent Memorial tablet

On the outside wall of the corner building of the rue d'Anjou with the rue de la Pépinière is a white marble memorial tablet (Photograph No 4 above). It commemorates that this was the main location where M. Raoul Nordling and M. Jean Laurent were based in August 1944. It was also the place where they worked tirelessly to save Paris at a time when it was being menaced.

Written in French, the Nordling / Laurent Memorial tablet reads as follows:

« C'est ici qu'en l'été 1944 RAOUL NORDLING, Consul Général de Suède, ne cessa de travailler avec le concours de JEAN LAURENT, Directeur Général de la Banque de l'Indochine, à sauver Paris de la destruction dont notre ville était menacée »

This can be translated into English as follows:

"It was here in the summer of 1944 that RAOUL NORDLING, Consul General of Sweden, worked tirelessly, with the assistance of JEAN LAURENT, Director General of the Bank of Indochina, to save Paris from the destruction that threatened our city."

Deportations of political prisoners

One of the things of concern to Raoul Nordling in the summer of 1944 was the likely fate of the political prisoners held by the Gestapo in the Paris district. In August 1944, even as the Allies moved ever closer towards the Seine river, the deportations of these prisoners to the concentration camps further east continued. Prisoners who were being held by the Gestapo were taken to Pantin station to the north of Paris.

On 15 August a convoy of almost 2,500 deportees left the Pantin railway station. The prisoners were transported in wooden cattle cars destined for Germany. As the train pulled out from the station a little before midnight railway workers heard a few of the prisoners start to sing, soon to be taken up by the whole train. It was the "Marseillaise": the French National Anthem.

On 18 August another train left Compiègne, a little to the north of Paris, for Germany. Records show that this time a further 1,249 prisoners - all of them men - were deported to Buchenwald concentration camp. The convoy arrived at Buchenwald on 21 August. Of the deportees of this convoy only 653 - or a little over half of the total - would return from captivity.

However, the convoy of 18 August 1944 deporting prisoners to Germany would prove to be the last from the Paris area. Swedish diplomat Raoul Nordling, using his connections to good advantage and his diplomatic neutrality, would see to it.

Tuesday, 02 April, 2013  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Negotiating the release of prisoners

Having learnt of the impending deportation of the French political prisoners from the Resistance, Raoul Nordling determined to get them released. Another consideration that was taken into account was that if the prisoners were not deported they would be executed at the prison by the departing SS shortly before the Allies arrived. This is what had recently happened at Caen and Rennes so it was also likely to happen at Paris. Whether they were to be deported or executed, the outlook for the political prisoners did not look good.

There was a third option that Raoul Nordling wanted to bring about: namely to have the prisoners released. Ultimately, he managed to bring about the release of many of the prisoners. This undoubtedly saved several hundred lives.

One of Raoul Nordling's contacts in the Abwehr (the German military intelligence organisation) was Emil ('Bobby') Bender. According to Raoul Nordling's own account of these days, he had once been told that if anyone ever wanted any doors opened in Paris, 'Bobby' Bender was the one to see. Hence, to gain access to the German military authorities at this critical time, Emil 'Bobby' Bender was who he needed to speak to.

At critical times in the diplomatic world things sometimes have to take a roundabout route to reach the final destination. To get in contact with 'Bobby' Bender, firstly Raoul Nordling needed to get in touch with yet another German officer in Paris whom he knew: Austrian-born Baron Erich Posch-Pastor von Camperfeld. Although a German officer, Baron Posch-Pastor was also secretly working for the Resistance!

Thus, by contacting firstly Erich Posch-Pastor and secondly 'Bobby' Bender, Raoul Nordling was able to carry out his plans and save lives. After Raoul Nordling was introduced to General von Choltitz by 'Bobby' Bender', he raised the issue of the remaining political prisoners in the Paris area. General von Choltitz told them he would be prepared to enforce an agreement to release the prisoners provided that it was approved by an officer from the 'Militärbefehlshaber in Frankreich'. 'Bobby' Bender then took Raoul Nordling to see Major Josef Huhm, an officer in the 'Militärbefehlshaber'. Eventually, an agreement was signed that the Germans would release the prisoners into the personal custody and protection of Raoul Nordling.

One of the prisons visited by Raoul Nordling was Drancy. It still held 1,482 Jewish prisoners, all being forced to wear a yellow star. The Swedish Consul General found that the SS had left just a few moments before his arrival. He shouted above the clamour of the inmates that they were free and under his personal custody.

According to Raoul Nordling's testimony, one of the inmates shouted, "The stars, the stars". One by one the prisoners pulled off the yellow star they were wearing before walking out of the camp. Raoul Nordling would later remark that "... the yellow stars littered the courtyard like a carpet of dead autumn leaves."

Tuesday, 02 April, 2013  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Negotiating a truce

As the tension and unrest in Paris grew, the Paris police occupied the Prefecture of Police. Fighting broke out throughout the city. It seemed as though there would soon be a complete insurrection which the German military commander would be obliged, as a German officer, to put down and protect his men - even if it meant razing the city to the ground.

This was the situation General Dietrich von Choltitz outlined to the Raoul Nordling at the Hôtel Meurice. The Swedish Consul General had went to see Dietrich von Choltitz after receiving a telephone call at the consulate on the rue d'Anjou from the Prefecture of of Police. They would shortly be out of ammunition and an imminent attack by the Germans would most likely lead to a massacre.

Consequently, the Swedish Consul made a proposal to General von Choltitz that might satisfy all parties, at least temporarily - a truce. This temporary cease fire would enable the dead and wounded to be picked up and there was the possibility it could be extended. The truce was agreed on the morning of Sunday 20 August 1944. A German attack on the Prefecture of Police was postponed. Many of the German Occupiers leave the city. For the next few days the Swedish consulate on the rue d'Anjou remains open.

At this stage the Allied plan does not include taking Paris but rather to bypass it. Yet, this is not the plan of General de Gaulle nor, in Paris itself, is it the plan of the different Resistance groups, especially the Gaullists and the Communists. Within the walls of the Swedish consulate and the Bank of Indochina there are regular phone calls reporting an increasing non-observance of the truce on both sides. With the bridges and many of the buildings of Paris having already been mined ready to be razed to the ground the time had arrived for further diplomacy if a bloodbath was to be averted.

Tuesday, 02 April, 2013  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Crossing the German lines

On Tuesday 22 August Raoul Nordling went to see Dietrich von Choltitz in the General's rooms at the Hôtel Meurice. The truce was evidently not working. It was increasingly likely that the General would have to act upon Hitler's orders to raze Paris. If he did not carry out his orders to stamp out the insurrection, which would mean the destruction of much of the city, he would be relieved of command. There was only one man, the General said, who the different groups of the Resistance fighters would listen to: General de Gaulle, who was somewhere in Normandy with the Allies.

General von Choltitz then put it to Raoul Nordling that someone should go on a mission to see the Allies asking them to come into Paris. Their rapid arrival was the only way that the orders to raze Paris to the ground could be prevented from being carried out. That someone, the General suggested, who should go to see the Allies was the Swedish consul. General von Choltitz signed a 'laissez-passer' authorising the Consul General of Sweden, R. Nordling, to leave Paris and its line of defence. The General further suggested that Raoul Nordling should take Emil 'Bobby' Bender with him as a further guarantee that he would be allowed through the German lines.

Raoul Nordling returned to the Swedish consulate and made preparations to leave the city to see the Allies. He decided he would also require additional members to his party to convince the Allies that they should enter Paris. In addition to 'Bobby' Bender, Raoul Nordling decided to take with him two men known to De Gaulle and the Allies. They were Alexandre Saint-Phalle, Treasurer of the Gaullist Resistance in Paris, and Jean Laurent, Director-General of the Bank of Indochina whose headquarters was around the corner from the consulate.

After learning of the mission to see the Allies, two further individuals went to see Raoul Nordling at the consulate wanting to join the party going to see the Allies. The first of these two unexpected guests introduced himself as "M. Arnoux" of the Red Cross. In fact, this was Colonel Claude Arnold (alias Claude Ollivier) founder of the "Jade Amicol" resistance network (i.e. a British intelligence network in France). The second unexpected guest was Erich Posch-Pastor who told Raoul Norling he had been assigned to the party by General von Choltitz (the General later denied this).

Before the party left the consulate Raoul Nordling collapsed. He had just had a heart attack. Although not a fatal heart attack the Consul General would have to take to his bed and be unable to take part on the mission to see the Allies. However, all was not lost. Also on the staff of the Swedish consulate was Raoul Nordling's brother Rolf. The mission would still be headed by a neutral Swedish diplomat with the name written on the laissez-passer by General von Choltitz: "R. Nordling".

Eventually, the party crossed the German lines and travelled to the headquarters of General Omar Bradley to the west of Paris. After lengthy negotiations, General Philippe Leclerc's 2nd French Armoured Division is given the green light to ride into Paris.

Tuesday, 02 April, 2013  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...


On 25 August 1944 General Dietrich von Choltitz signed the surrender of the German troops in Paris. The battle for Paris was over. While there had been some deaths on both sides it was far less than it would have been had the Allies not entered Paris.

In Germany, Adolf Hitler reputedly asked General Jodl, "Is Paris burning?" It was not. The city remained largely intact.

The following day, 26 August 1944 General Charles de Gaulle, the leaders of the French Resistance and General Philippe Leclerc, marched down the Champs-Élysées, past the Place de la Concorde and on to Notre Dame Cathedral to give thanks for the Liberation of Paris. Things had changed a lot since the first day the Germans had marched down the Champs-Élysées in June 1940.

The Swedish Consul General Raoul Nordling overcame the heart attack he suffered that prevented him going to see the Allies in person. With the arrival of the Allies and General de Gaulle in Paris, the staff at the Swedish consulate and the Bank of Indochina were able to finally go home. Raoul Nordling and Jean Laurent, two of those who were actively involved in the saving of Paris in August 1944, have left their names on a little known memorial tablet on the rue d'Anjou. Yet, in many respects the way that Paris has retained its historic buildings, its soul and its heritage, is in no small way due to their efforts

In 1945, Raoul Nordling dictated his personal account of those times. It was only rediscovered over 50 years later and was published in 2002.

Before his death in 1962 Raoul Nordling also contributed to the research by Larry Collins and Dominique de la Pierre into the Liberation of Paris. Their findings were published in the book "Is Paris Burning?". In 1966 this was subsequently made into a film with an international cast. The American actor Orson Welles played the part of Raoul Nordling.


Musée de l'Armée (French Army Museum),
Hôtel National des Invalides,
129 Rue de Grenelle,
Paris 7e,

(2) The Swedish Embassy, Paris
For those who can read in French,
(a) click on the following link for the website of the Musée de l'Armée:
Musée de l'Armée (Official website)

(b) click on the following link for a brief biography of Raoul Nordling on the Swedish Embassy to Paris website:
Raoul Nordling (Swedish Embassy article)

Further reading

Nordling, Raoul & Vigili, Fabrice [Ed.] (2002),
"Sauver Paris : Memoires du consul du Suede (1905 - 1944)",
Editions complexe,
Paris / Bruxelles.
[ISBN 2-87027-908-6]

Collins, Larry & Lapierre, Dominique (1965),
"Is Paris Burning?",
Victor Gollanz Ltd,
[ISBN 0-86220-548-4]

Tuesday, 02 April, 2013  

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