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Paris in World War I and World War II

First World War and World War II

It was on the eve of the outbreak of the First World War on 2 August 1914, that Paris, like other French cities, was welcoming the war as an opportunity to gain revenge for the defeat of 1870.

But within a month, the Germans were just 15 miles from the city and Paris was already full of refugees, so the government were evacuated to Bordeaux in the expectation that Paris would again fall to German forces.

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Paris in World War I and World War II

With a desperate French effort to reinforce their lines and by a German failure to press home the attack, the city was saved.

And in the most famous incident known as the "miracle on the Marne", thousands of Parisian taxis were commandeered to carry soldiers to the front lines, which then enabled the French to push back the Germans to Oise that is some 75 miles from the city.

The lines stayed almost static for the next four years, with Paris experiencing the occasional bombardment from enemy aircraft and the giant long distance artillery guns.

The city life survived for a while before being subdued by the bloodshed on the front and the impact of rationing, plus on top of that there was a devastating flu epidemic in 1916.

The war was finally ended by the Armistice of 11 November 1918, which was signed at Compiegne to the northeast of Paris.

The city emerged into an energetic but restless interwar period, with a troubled political period, especially when the great depression hit Paris.

After the violence in 1934 the Socialists and the Communists united to form a Popular Front, and took over power in 1936, only to fall a year later.

Unfortunately, it was France's political divisions that were a major factor in the country not being prepared for the outbreak of the Second World War on 3 September 1939.

Some of the Catholic Right were openly hostile to parliamentary democracy, Socialism and Communism, and welcomed the possibility of a fascist regime, that would be imposed by foreign forces.

It took the German army only a month to reach Paris after Adolph Hitler invaded France on 10 May 1940, going through neutral Belgium around the Maginot Line, where the French defences were massed.

Paris fell with virtually no resistance on 14 June 1940 and much of the city's population fled, with almost half of the inhabitants leaving between May and June 1940.

The government agreed an armistice with the invaders and moved south to Vichy, whilst Paris, along with around another two thirds of France was under German occupation.

Adolph Hitler arrived in Paris on 23 June 1940 to inspect his latest conquest.

The next four years saw an increasingly brutal occupation regime imposed on the city of Paris.  On the surface, things continued much as before and Paris became a very popular place for German forces and the favourite destination for those with time off.  Although some Parisians welcomed the occupation forces and accepted their presence and their business, most just kept their heads down, enduring the rationing.  However, there were those resisted, but faced the constant threat of torture and death at the hands of the Gestapo.

Within 48 hours of the fall of Paris, the persecution of Jews began, when they were required to register with police.  On 14 May 1941 the Vichy police began deporting Parisian Jews, rounding them up at the Winter Velodrome.  A concentration camp was established in the Parisian suburb of Drancy to serve as a waystation en route to Auschwitz and around 70,000 people passed through this camp, which was run by the French authorities on behalf of the Nazis until July 1943.

In June 1944, Allied forces invaded Normandy along with 140 resistant fighters. Two months later they broke through German lines and advanced rapidly across France.

Led by the Resistance and the city's police, an uprising broke out in Paris on 19 August 1944.  Adolph Hitler ordered the city's commandant, Von Choltitz, to destroy the capital, as running battles were being fought in the streets of Paris, however, Von Choltitz stalled.

When General Leclerc's 2nd Armoured Division and the United States 4th Infantry Division arrived on the outskirts of the city, Von Choltitz surrendered and ordered his forces to retreat, which left the city of Paris open and largely intact.  They entered the city to a jubilant reception, and Charles De Gaulle established a temporary government that lasted until 1946.

After the restoration of civilian rule and the proclamation of the Fourth Republic in 1946, Paris made a rapid recovery, mainly due to the fact that the city sustained relatively minimal damage during the war.


Paris in World War I and World War II



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