French soldiers were first into a liberated Paris

French soldiers were first into a liberated Paris

Seventy years ago, Paris was liberated from German occupation. Unlike other major European cities during World War II, “The City of Light” was spared mass devastation. This was part of Hitler’s plan — he wanted to preserve the beautiful Paris for his own. But if the physical damage to the city was minimal, a new book by European studies professor Ronald Rosbottom says four years of occupation left subtle scars. As he put it, they were ones that were difficult to evaluate and easier for history to ignore. “When Paris Went Dark” explores daily interaction between Parisians and Germans and looks at the kind of questions the occupation raised for the French about why they didn’t do more to prevent it.


  • Ronald Rosbottom Author, "When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light under German Occupation 1940-1944." He is professor of French and European Studies at Amherst College.

A Look At WWII Paris

For his book, Ronald Rosbottom pulled a number of old photographs from WWII Paris. Click through the photos below.

Read A Featured Excerpt

From “When Paris Went Dark” by Ronald C. Rosbottom. Copyright © 2014 by Ronald C. Rosbottom. Excerpted with permission by the Hachette Book Group. All rights reserved.

When Paris Went Dark


  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. On June 14th, 1940, German tanks entered Paris. The city was stunned and humiliated. But also curious about the thousands of new Germans in their city. Amherst College professor Ronald Rosbottom explores how Parisians and Germans struggled to coexist and the difficult questions the French raised over why they did not do more to protect their city and many of its occupants, particularly Jews, from German authorities. His new book is titled, "When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation 1940-1944."

  • 11:07:48

    MS. DIANE REHMAnd do join us. 800-433-8850. Send us your email to Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. It's good to meet you, sir.

  • 11:08:07

    MR. RONALD ROSBOTTOMThank you. It's good to be here.

  • 11:08:09

    REHMYou were first in Paris as a very young man. What was your first impression?

  • 11:08:20

    ROSBOTTOMWell, I had come from Alabama and I had never been out of Alabama. Well, I was going to school in Louisiana. So, I'd never been out of the South. I went to New York, got on a boat, and got to France and was stunned. Just absolutely stunned at how beautiful and different the place was, how small everything was. And I went to the Sorbonne for a year, stayed there for a year, studied, and met my wife there. She too was an American studying abroad.

  • 11:09:03

    ROSBOTTOMAnd I wanted to know more about that city, and for the next, I don't know, 40 something years, I've been teaching about it, learning about it, going back every year.

  • 11:09:17

    REHMIt's a wonderful place to go back to.

  • 11:09:20


  • 11:09:21

    REHMBut what drew you to that period of Nazi occupation?

  • 11:09:27

    ROSBOTTOMSeveral things. I was born during that period and it made me think what it must have been like to be a kid growing up, surrounded by strangers who controlled every aspect of my life. Secondly, I saw marks all along the streets of Paris where there had been battles. I saw the little signs that said so and so died here fighting for French freedom. I was curious about why the city remained as beautiful as it did after the war, unlike Warsaw and Rotterdam and these other cities. When the Germans left, Paris was essentially the same beautiful city it had been when they arrived.

  • 11:10:17

    REHMAnd that was because?

  • 11:10:19

    ROSBOTTOMAnd that was because the Germans wanted very much for the world to know that they could take care of one of the world's most famous cities. It was the prize. The wanted first the British to know that they weren't going to bomb London and they were going to treat London as a -- I'm sorry, treat Paris as a model city. Cause if you remember, Hitler wanted an armistice with England. Secondly, they wanted to show the world that the Nazis were not the monsters, indeed, that they were.

  • 11:10:53

    REHMThat they were civilized people.

  • 11:10:56

    ROSBOTTOMThey were civilized people. They even kept open -- they kept open the jazz clubs, they kept open the bordellos. They kept open the night clubs.

  • 11:11:10

    REHMEven the art galleries.

  • 11:11:12

    ROSBOTTOMYeah, art galleries. A lot of the art had been spirited away by very canny curators, but they did. And they had art shows. And Picasso himself spent four years living there. They didn't bother him, even though he was not one of their favorite people.

  • 11:11:32

    REHMAs a whole, the population of Paris reacted how?

  • 11:11:40

    ROSBOTTOMWell, they were confused, because the war -- the Germans invaded the low countries on May 10th, and by May -- by June 15th, the war was over. So, the French were stunned. They were supposed to have had the greatest army, the best Air Force, the best tank forces. They were stunned. Panic started when the Dutch and the Belgians started going south, and they just picked up French along the way as they were moving south, further south, below the Louvre to get away from the Germans.

  • 11:12:17

    ROSBOTTOMAnd three quarters of the French, of the Parisians, left France when the Germans -- I'm sorry, left Paris when the Germans came in, only one quarter of the population was left. A day or two before the Germans took over, the French finally declared France an open city, which meant if you don't defend it, we won't bomb it. And they walked in totally freely. There wasn't a shot fired in defense of Paris, which would later turn out to be another embarrassment for them.

  • 11:12:52

    REHMAnd embarrassment because no one stood up and said, you will not come here.

  • 11:13:01

    ROSBOTTOMYeah. No one did. There was a move to have an armistice almost immediately from the right wing government. There were small, little small examples of rudeness of some French toward the Germans, but the French, the Parisians were fascinated with these young German -- handsome young German men. It's even said that Gobles had chose the handsomest ones he could find to parade down the...

  • 11:13:31


  • 11:13:32

    ROSBOTTOM...a couple of people committed suicide. Some well-known people committed suicide. There was general despair, but there was no active anger.

  • 11:13:44

    REHMAnd so many people must have felt disheartened.

  • 11:13:49

    ROSBOTTOMAnd despair -- filled with despair. But they felt betrayed by their government as much as they felt beaten by the Germans. Their government had proven to be weak, it had moved out of Paris. It had gone first to the Loire Valley, then into Bordeaux. And they had been told by their government, up until the week before Paris was taken, don't worry. It's gonna be protected. We saved it twice in World War I. They never got to it in World War I. They're not gonna get to it again.

  • 11:14:17

    ROSBOTTOMA week later, the Germans are walking down the street.

  • 11:14:19

    REHMHow many Germans are we talking about who entered Paris?

  • 11:14:24

    ROSBOTTOMThat's a good question that I can't answer. I would think that there were thousands. There were a lot of Germans around Paris, because they were waiting for a major, major stand. Somewhere around 20,000 Germans, at any given time, were in Paris during the war. I would say thousands, not hundreds. What was interesting, the minute they got it, they knew right where to go set up cross roads. They had their police there. They had signs that had been painted in German telling everybody where to go.

  • 11:15:02

    ROSBOTTOMThey knew where every rich Jew collector lived. They went immediately to those apartments.

  • 11:15:10

    REHMAnd took the art.

  • 11:15:11

    ROSBOTTOMTook the art.

  • 11:15:12

    REHMRonald Rosbottom. He is the author of a brand new book. It's titled, "When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation 1940-1944." He is professor of French and European Studies at Amherst College. When the Germans came in, they took part in a pastime that not only Parisians were fond of, but visitors to that wonderful city. They shopped.

  • 11:15:55

    ROSBOTTOMThey shopped like crazy. Don't forget, Germany had been at war almost two years before this. Well, from September of '39 until this period. But before it had been on war footing. Their shops were empty. So, when they got to Paris, they bought everything.

  • 11:16:15

    REHMThey went nuts. Yeah.

  • 11:16:17

    ROSBOTTOMThey bought nylons, they bought boots, they bought clothes, they bought everything they could buy. And they bought it, but the reason they could buy it of course was that the Mark was immediately revalued against the Franc. So it made the young French soldiers richer than they would have been in Germany.

  • 11:16:32

    REHMAnd how were the shopkeepers about selling to Germans?

  • 11:16:37

    ROSBOTTOMThat's -- that brings up the whole question of what do you do when you're running a business? Do you close your door and say, I'm not serving a German? Or do you do business? And I think most of them did business, not because they were collaborators, but they were businessmen and businesswomen.

  • 11:16:56

    REHMDid the Germans go from home to home, looking for Jews?

  • 11:17:03

    ROSBOTTOMNot yet. They did by October, a few months later. Ask every Jew, French and foreign, and you have to realize there were two major groups of Jews, foreign Jews who had fled Europe, eastern Europe/Germany in the 30s. And French Jews had been there for generations. The French Jews thought they were basically protected, because many of them had fought in World War I, that the Republic would protect them, that the Jews that would be rounded up would be the foreign Jews. The foreign Jews thought they would be left alone because they were poor.

  • 11:17:36

    ROSBOTTOMThe ones that would be rounded up would be the rich, rich Jews. But every Jew was asked to go down to the police station and sign his or her name and where they lived, their address and everything. And they did it. They did it. 90 percent of the Jews went and did that. And those files would be used three years later to collect them. And you can see these files at the Shoah Memorial in Paris right now.

  • 11:18:00

    REHMDid they have them wear the yellow stars?

  • 11:18:04

    ROSBOTTOMNot until July of 1942 -- June of 1942. I think that was the biggest single mistake the Germans made, is asking every Jew from six-years-old, six-years-old to wear a yellow star.

  • 11:18:23

    REHMThe book we're talking about, "When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation." Short break here. Your calls when we come back.

  • 11:20:01

    REHMAnd in this hour Ronald Rosbottom is with me. He's professor of French and European studies at Amherst College. His new book titled "When Paris Went Dark." And he is discussing Paris under German occupation between 1940 and 1944. You say the title of your book came from a Jerome Kern song.

  • 11:20:35

    ROSBOTTOMYes. Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern wrote a song in 1940 which shows immediately how the world felt about the Germans taking over the most beloved city. And I took the title -- I'll read you the last part of it. It's "The Last Time I Saw Paris." I won't sing it for you, you're welcome. It says that "she has left the scene. The last time I saw Paris, her heart was warm and gay. I heard the laughter of her heart in every street café. The last time I saw Paris, her trees were dressed for spring and the lovers walked beneath those trees and birds found songs to sing.

  • 11:21:20

    ROSBOTTOMNo matter how they change her, I'll remember her that way, I'll think of happy hours and people who shared them and those who danced at night and kept our Paris bright 'til the town went dark." And that song was immediately picked up. Kate Smith sang that song hundreds of times on the radio.

  • 11:21:39

    REHMYou know, I think of the movie "Casablanca" and the tricky maneuvering that was done in that movie between those who were in charge, those who pretended to be in charge and those who sort of went under the table. Is that reflected about what was happening in Paris?

  • 11:22:12

    ROSBOTTOMIt certainly was. "Casablanca" was under the control of Vichy France. And Vichy France was the government that had been set up in an armistice, mostly conservative, some of it pro-Nazi, some people anti-Nazi but very conservative. Some -- and the confusion, the overlapping of bureaucracies in France and in Paris specifically, it's just overwhelming. Everyone thinks the Germans were fantastic bureaucrats. In some ways they were. At least they were great record keepers. That's why we know so much.

  • 11:22:55

    ROSBOTTOMBut every office was competing with every other office. The foreign affairs was competing with the propaganda. Propaganda was competing with the army. The foreign affairs was competing with Vichy. Vichy was competing with the police of the city. So it was total chaos.

  • 11:23:11

    REHMAnd what about the Gestapo?

  • 11:23:15

    ROSBOTTOMThe Gestapo came in about several months after the Germans arrived. They were there and they were a definite presence. What's interesting though is that 90 percent of the Jews who were rounded up were rounded up by French police. The Gestapo were behind them. They were standing over in the corner. But the Germans didn't have the manpower to control not only the elements of the resistance but the Jews.

  • 11:23:45

    ROSBOTTOMMany Jews had moved to southern France in the unoccupied area. But once the Germans took over that area November, 1942 the roundup of Jews got stronger and stronger and stronger. The last car of Jews to Auschwitz left about a week before the liberation. One of the things that surprises me the most about studying this war is how much the Germans spent on taking Jews to their deaths.

  • 11:24:17

    ROSBOTTOMAt a time when their armies were fighting for their lives against the Russians, they would appropriate cars, they would appropriate locomotives, train tracks. They would stop trains bringing armaments to bring these Jews to Auschwitz and these other concentration camps.

  • 11:24:39

    REHMBut for most of the residents who stayed in Paris, life was pretty normal.

  • 11:24:50

    ROSBOTTOMNo. Food -- the other thing the Germans did, France was a very rich country and the Germans stole everything. After they bought everything, as we said earlier, they stole everything. They stole the great majority of locomotives. They took all the horses. They took enormous number of cattle. They took the wheat. They charged the -- millions of dollars a day they charged the French government for occupation costs.

  • 11:25:20

    ROSBOTTOMFood -- no Parisian starved. But in my interviews the one thing everyone mentions is food, standing in line for food. So it wasn't normal. Electricity was on and off. No automobiles. Very few people could have automobiles. The bicycle became the primary means of getting around. Had it not been for the metro, who knows how the city would've survived.

  • 11:25:45

    REHMAnd even as you talk about the lack of damage to the city as a whole to its structure, what you do talk about is the psychological damage that occurred to the Parisians.

  • 11:26:05

    ROSBOTTOMYes, yes. And since the Parisian is part of the city, when you say Paris wasn't damaged, that's an -- which I say often -- that's really an incorrect statement. Because if you -- if a city is its citizens as much as it is, has built environment, Paris was damaged and remains damaged. People still talk about this. It still comes up in political discussions. Why didn't I do more? Should I have done more? Who did more? What is the responsibility to someone to resist? Is resistance an ethical act or is it just a military act? All these questions were asked.

  • 11:26:47

    ROSBOTTOMAnd there have been families that have discussed this for 70 years back and forth, back and forth. No one would ever say, you can never ask for your collaborator but you can certainly ask...

  • 11:27:00

    REHM...what did you do?

  • 11:27:01

    ROSBOTTOM...what did you do? What did you do? A foreign has trouble getting an answer from that question so I have to listen very carefully to people. I can't just say, Diane, what did you do during the war?

  • 11:27:15

    REHMAnd so you talked to many survivors?

  • 11:27:19

    ROSBOTTOMI talked -- yes, yes.

  • 11:27:21

    REHMWhat did they say?

  • 11:27:24

    ROSBOTTOMNot much, I must tell you. The first time I started interviewing I was a little clumsy. I thought if I asked a direct question I'd get a direct answer. It took me a while to realize that wasn't very smart. What I had to learn is what happened during the war? Where were you? What did you do? Didn't even mention the Germans, barely mentioned the occupation and just listened. And generally what I got was how difficult it was to raise children. How difficult it was to have enough food to eat. How cold it was. This happened before the coldest winters in the 20th century.

  • 11:27:59

    ROSBOTTOMHow -- one woman told me indeed she had -- if you were out after the curfew and you were arrested, you had to spend the night in the police station. But if there had been a German officer killed that night, Hitler had insisted to tend French hostages be killed. So you could just be picked up and taken out and shot. So people were petrified about the curfew.

  • 11:28:27

    ROSBOTTOMSo it was -- and they were -- and parents were petrified their adolescent kids were going to do something dumb, like write, you know, vive de law on the walls, and they did. I mean, you know, imagine how difficult it is raising a teenager. Imagine raising a teenager in an occupied country.

  • 11:28:48

    REHMWho, in your mind, stands out as a hero on the French side?

  • 11:28:58

    ROSBOTTOMWell, I have to say Charles De Gaulle. I have to say Charles De Gaulle who must've been one of the most difficult men in the history of this 20th century. Roosevelt could not stand him, in fact, did not even tell him about D-Day until the day before. But he was persistent in reminding the French that they had lost a battle not a war. And he unified the resistance, which is a million pieces all over France.

  • 11:29:33

    ROSBOTTOMOn a smaller level, there's a young man named Jacque Lucione (sp?) who was blind at eight years old. And in his high school his friends chose him to lead a small group of high school kids passing tracts around. And they chose this blind kid because no one would -- the Germans would never think that a blind kid could be an organizer. He recruited people because he felt that he could know them through their voices much better than through their looking at them. And at one point he controlled something like 14,000 young men spreading all over Paris and northern around Paris tracts.

  • 11:30:16

    REHMAnd what were they -- tracts?

  • 11:30:18

    ROSBOTTOMTracts. They had to find -- it was very difficult to find a (word?) -type machine, mimeograph machine because they were very noisy. You had to find one and then you had to find one that wouldn't make a lot of noise. But they would print these tracts, I've seen them, and then give 20, 30 to a kid. And the kid would run around and slip them under...

  • 11:30:38

    REHMI see. I see. I see. Tell us about the tour that Hitler takes of Paris.

  • 11:30:49

    ROSBOTTOMThis was the beginning of my project. I always wanted to just write an article on the tour of Hitler. And the result is this book. He came to Paris only once in his life, and that was two weeks after his soldiers marched into Paris. He came on a Sunday morning. He landed about 6:00 in the morning and left by about 9:00, we're not quite sure. There are films of this tour. He took the tour you'd take if you had three hours between flights and you wanted to go through Paris.

  • 11:31:16

    ROSBOTTOMHe went to all the big sites. The most famous picture is the Eiffel Tower where he's standing there. He visited Napoleon's tomb. He went to the opera. He loved opera houses, adored them. He knew more about this operate house than even the guide. He went to Montmartre and he stood -- that's the highest hill in Paris -- and he stood and he looked down at Paris and he said, I could've destroyed this city but I didn't. And he said, the -- and I could've marched under the Arc of Triumph with my troops as I did in Warsaw and I didn't want to upset the French. And then he left.

  • 11:31:59

    ROSBOTTOMBut the point of that trip was not just so he could see Paris. It was for propaganda reasons. It showed Hitler in Paris. It had a devastating effect on the rest of the world. Those news reels were shown everywhere. Here is Hitler in an empty city. It's mine, going up and down the Champs Elysées, Place de la Concorde, everything. It really offended and depressed the world to see that happen.

  • 11:32:29

    REHMAnd the book we're talking about "When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944." The author is Ronald Rosbottom. He is a professor of French and European studies at Amherst College. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to open the phones now and take some calls, 800-433-8850. First to Miami Beach, Fla. Hello, John, you're on the air.

  • 11:33:18

    JOHNHello. Thank you for taking my call. Fantastic show.

  • 11:33:19

    REHMCertainly. Good.

  • 11:33:21

    JOHNJust to -- a brief question, I'll take it offline. I was interested in Professor Rosbottom, his titling of the book and using the term German occupation, where you hear many authors use Nazi occupation as if to not implicate the German people or Germans with what happened during that time. So I'm just interested why he said German occupation and not Nazi occupation.

  • 11:33:49

    REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for calling.

  • 11:33:52

    ROSBOTTOMThat's a very interesting question. Not all Germans were Nazis and it's very important for me to make that clear in my book. In fact, I had a little tussle with my editor who kept wanting to turn German into Nazi. And I kept arguing with him. We have to realize that this was -- that the Nazi party ran Germany. There's no doubt about that. But many, many, many of those who occupied the City of Paris were not Nazis. In fact, they didn't like the Nazis, some of them. And some of them were afraid of the Nazis.

  • 11:34:25

    REHMBut they went anyway?

  • 11:34:28

    ROSBOTTOMThey went anyway because they were fighting for the father land. They were fighting for the father land. But that's a -- yeah, I'm glad -- you got a subtlety that I've tried to maintain.

  • 11:34:37

    REHMAll right. To Tom in Cincinnati, Ohio. You're on the air.

  • 11:34:43

    TOMHi. Professor, the third republic started and ended with German occupation and siege. But to the (word?) I guess the popular -- for a perverse incentive that occupation had on public culture, particularly the theater and the actual production of certain subversive plays, sometimes classical, sometimes not. And I'm speaking -- thinking of Sartre's "No Exit" and Camu's, was it, "Caligula," that actually were -- that came on to the stage.

  • 11:35:24

    TOMAnd could you say that perhaps even though the Nazi sensors were a little short sided in not seeing the real line these plays were speaking, that in fact that pressure on the French intellectual life was actually somewhat of a degrading, you know, force.

  • 11:35:51

    ROSBOTTOMRight. I would agree with that. They were in a very difficult position, some of those writers and had to be very subtle. And you have to realize that some of the German sensors were more Francophilic than you'd think and maybe would wink an eye. But you had to be very careful. But songs, popular songs, variety shows, theater, there were all kinds of moments when you could make a little fun of the Vichy government, a little fun of the Nazis and Germans, many of whom were in the audience laughing along with everybody else.

  • 11:36:28

    REHMWhen Jews began to be rounded up, what did people think? What did they do?

  • 11:36:41

    ROSBOTTOMThe rounding up -- I've asked this -- that's one of the questions I've asked people, there's -- the first rounding up were of foreign Jews, Polish and others. People didn't pay much attention. They were foreigners. They had to be -- no one knew they were being sent to their death. No one knew that until right toward the end of the war. They were going to be sent to labor camps and everything.

  • 11:37:05

    ROSBOTTOMBut slowly I think in '42 after the imposition of the Yellow Star -- that's why I think it was a big mistake -- gentiles could not ignore anymore that Jews were being literally marked for deportation.

  • 11:37:26

    REHMThe book is called "When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation." Short break here. We'll be right back.

  • 11:40:01

    REHMAnd just before the break, Professor Rosbottom, you were talking about the placement of the yellow stars, the rounding up of Jews, and most especially the children.

  • 11:40:20

    ROSBOTTOMRight. I, as I said, this was a huge mistake. Because it meant that every gentile had to make an ethical decision every moment that he or she saw a star. Do you ignore that person? Do you -- and a lot of them didn't ignore them. They gave them thumbs up. Some of them wore stars themselves that said goy or swing or something like that. They were arrested, by the way. The impetus of the star -- enemy made everybody realize that there for bad luck or good luck. I'll go. Maybe they'll go to Protestants next or Jehovah's Witnesses. When people started seeing these people being rounded up and children being put on the buses to take up to the -- up to the transfer camp, it finally was evident.

  • 11:41:20

    ROSBOTTOMYou couldn't avoid anymore that innocents were being killed. The Catholic Church, for the first time, bishops especially, in the south, read and had read from pulpits that we cannot allow this to happen. And yet, 4,000 children were killed and 4,000 French children were killed during this period because the French government, believe it or not -- the German government did not want the children. They had enough trouble. And Pierre Laval, who was Prime Minister of the Vichy government said, no, we don't want to break up families.

  • 11:41:58


  • 11:42:00

    ROSBOTTOMSo, they went and they were, of course, immediately killed the minute they got off the train.

  • 11:42:05

    REHMAll right. Let's go to Brooke in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. You're on the air.

  • 11:42:13

    BROOKEHi. I find the book very -- your summary of it very, very interesting, and your discussion. But I did want to correct one thing, and that is about the public health. There was starvation in Paris. There was malnutrition to the extent that children were born still born. They were malnourished in infancy and became mentally deficient. Teenagers lost their teeth, as did pregnant women. There was a lot of suffering in the working class.

  • 11:42:49


  • 11:42:51

    BROOKESo it goes by class. And people who had money could buy on the black market. And they did not suffer that way, but people who could not buy on the black market suffered terribly.

  • 11:43:01

    REHMBrooke, I gather you have close, personal experience.

  • 11:43:06

    BROOKEYes. Indeed. My husband's family.

  • 11:43:10

    REHMAnd you're younger brother.

  • 11:43:12

    REHMNo, my husband's.

  • 11:43:13

    REHMYour husband's younger brother.

  • 11:43:16


  • 11:43:17

    REHMGot brain damage.

  • 11:43:18

    ROSBOTTOMRight, right, right, right.

  • 11:43:18

    BROOKEHe would be 84 now.

  • 11:43:20

    REHMOh my.

  • 11:43:22

    ROSBOTTOMI -- you're absolutely correct. I was, when I mentioned no starvation, I was thinking about the scenes we've seen of people starving in the big cities of Europe. Just lying on the streets, because they couldn't get food. But there's an enormous amount of malnutrition. You couldn't get citrus fruit. I interviewed one woman who said she had to get Vitamin C for her son. The only way she could do it is to have one of her cousins have lunches with collaborators so he could steal the lemon for tea and bring it home.

  • 11:43:53

    ROSBOTTOMBut there were rickets. There was terrible rickets amongst children. There was tuberculosis. Yeah. So, my comment about starvation was a very general and not very precise one. Yours is much more to the point.

  • 11:44:06

    REHMAll right. To Didier in Jacksonville, Florida. You're on the air.

  • 11:44:15

    DIDIERHi. Thank you for taking my call.

  • 11:44:16


  • 11:44:16

    DIDIERMy mother and my mother's family, they had a small commerce, small business just -- well, it was inside the Paris city limits in the 15th arrondissement. And their -- she was telling me, my mother was telling me this. But when she was a young woman at the time, she wasn't married to what would later be my father, who was a prisoner of war for four years. During this time, by the way. But my grandfather would be -- was part of the resistance. And in the evenings, they would basically go out and wreak havoc on the Germans. When I was in my teens, my grandfather would take me around an area known as -- just outside of the Louvre.

  • 11:45:07


  • 11:45:08

    DIDIER(unintelligible) where the fountains are, where I used to play boats with when I was a little child.

  • 11:45:16

    ROSBOTTOMTuileries Gardens in Luxembourg (word?)

  • 11:45:18

    DIDIERThat's correct, the Jardin du Luxembourg.

  • 11:45:21


  • 11:45:21

    DIDIERAnd he would show me where there were shots that he had missed, trying to shoot Germans.

  • 11:45:26


  • 11:45:28

    DIDIERAnd I never forgot that. And also, another thing I wanted to say is my mother -- my mother's mother, my grandmother was a merchant and my father -- my grandfather would go out and get provisions. He had to have a (word?) , a -- how much he took in, how much he sold.

  • 11:45:48

    ROSBOTTOMRight. Right.

  • 11:45:48

    DIDIERAnd he had to show this to the Gestapo, because secretly, my grandmother was putting food aside for several Jewish families that were in our neighborhood.

  • 11:45:57

    ROSBOTTOMRight. Right.

  • 11:45:59

    DIDIERI wasn't born at the time. But...

  • 11:46:00

    REHMSuch memories.

  • 11:46:03

    ROSBOTTOMThank you. Yeah.

  • 11:46:03

    REHMSuch extraordinary memories. And to Neil in Valparaiso, Indiana. Hi, you're on the air.

  • 11:46:13

    NEILWell thank you Diane. This is a very fascinating discussion. We're hitting all sides of it. I was hearing, and I did not know this until just recently, that on my mother's side of the family, great-grandfather was actually a German soldier, 19-years-old, who participated in the occupation of France. And, well, only for about eight months, and then spent the rest of World War II fighting in Russia. Managed to survive. During his short time in France, he met what would become my great-grandmother, who was a French citizen.

  • 11:46:49

    NEILAnd I had to ask my father about it, cause it's a little bit shocking, and of course, to have all the same, you know, from all accounts, my grandfather -- great-grandfather was not a Nazi, but he was, you know, a loyal German and everything. And my father said he -- it was his -- or, my mother said it was her grandfather who always would talk about the French occupation of the Ruhr, which of course, can't compare, but was much longer than the occupation of Paris, of France.

  • 11:47:23

    NEILAnd the Germans, I guess, you know, they really -- that was after World War I, they really felt that that was just such an injustice. Maybe that's part of how they justified the occupation of France, but the relationships between German occupiers and French. I mean, there were many -- I assume there were many more relationships that lasted the war.

  • 11:47:47

    ROSBOTTOMYes. And some -- there were over, probably close to 200,000 babies born in France during the war, and they were called little Fritzes.

  • 11:47:57

    REHMBut were there that many marriages?

  • 11:47:59

    ROSBOTTOMThey were mixed, mixed German/French. And a lot of the fathers went away and were killed, and in that case, never knew who their father was. Others didn’t.

  • 11:48:09

    REHMWow. What a story. Thanks for calling, Neil. And to, let's see, Pembroke Pines, Florida. Hi Judy.

  • 11:48:21

    JUDYHi. Good morning. Thank you for this topic. My husband, who is deceased now, was a hidden child in France. His mother took him to a woman, who took him to a Catholic orphanage in northern France. The father was taken to Pithiviers, Drancy and then ultimately to Auschwitz. The boys survived, and so did my mother-in-law. They were tall and they were blonde, blue-eyed, green-eyed, and brown-eyed. My question is, how could -- when the professor said that only so many left Paris, how could she -- she never talked about what she did. We never asked. But how could she have survived as a Jew in Paris when everybody was gone?

  • 11:49:18

    ROSBOTTOMWell, they left, but they came back. That huge crowd I told you, about three quarters left, but they were back within three or four months. So Paris was back almost to its pre-war population. And the city protects people. A lot of -- a huge city has a huge population and all kinds of places to hide. And there were 20,000 Jews still alive in Paris at the end of the war, and some of them still had their stars on. So you could survive. There were many, many, many gentile families, especially Catholic families, who took children. And I have met many of them who grew up Catholic.

  • 11:49:55

    ROSBOTTOMIn fact, a cardinal recently, about in the 70s and 80s, the cardinal of Paris was Jewish. He'd been raised by a Catholic family and converted to Judaism wound up being a cardinal with the Catholic Church. So, it was luck. It was generosity of people there. It was real perseverance on the part of the parents. It's the ability to look and see what's gonna happen. It's incredible how you refuse to see the danger coming down the road to you when you're in danger.

  • 11:50:31

    REHMIndeed. Let's go to Jeanie who's here in Washington, D.C. You're on the air.

  • 11:50:38

    JEANIEYes. I was -- I lived in Paris during that time. And I remember very well that (unintelligible) on the 14th of July, it was rolled down the Champs Elysees carrying three stars, red, white and blue, just to show the Germans that we aren't going to be (word?) by them. We were going to fight them and we were going to revenge.

  • 11:51:03

    ROSBOTTOMRight. Right. Right. Right. Yes, people did that. They always fear July the 14th. They were always afraid that there was going to be some spontaneous revolt. And so some people -- some women would wear clothes with red, white and blue, ostensibly because it was fashionable. But there were constant attempts at reminding the Germans you aren't where you belong. You're not a tourist. Get the hell out of here. And it discouraged a lot of these young men.

  • 11:51:34

    REHMAnd to Nicole in Wellington, Florida. Hi, you're on the air.

  • 11:51:40

    NICOLEGood morning. Thank you for beautiful show. I just want to bring a little correction. When the Professor says that Hitler was in love with Paris, which was true, and that he was not about to bomb the place. Shortly before the liberation of Paris, Hitler demanded that ask his general, who was General Choltitz...

  • 11:52:04

    ROSBOTTOMVon Choltitz, yeah.

  • 11:52:05

    NICOLEYeah. In Paris. Happened to be in a hotel near the Concorde Place. Anyway, and Hitler, toward the end, wanted Paris totally destroyed. And he kept calling Choltitz to -- all of the bridges of Paris had explosives underneath. All of the big buildings, and it was ready to explode. We all -- the way the city looks now to the General, we erected the statue to him. By the way, he's very well thought of among the French. And it were but a few days before the city exploded totally. So, I just wanted to bring that to -- I was born in France and I was a little girl during that time, so I remember.

  • 11:52:52

    REHMYou really do remember.

  • 11:52:54

    ROSBOTTOMRight. But there's a big difference between Hitler, magnanimous in 1940 and Hitler, quasi-psychotic and drug addled in 1944. But you're quite right. He wanted to rage Paris.

  • 11:53:10

    REHMHe really did.

  • 11:53:11

    ROSBOTTOMAt the end.

  • 11:53:12

    REHMHe just wanted to...

  • 11:53:13

    ROSBOTTOMOh yeah. It was rubble -- the Germans called it rubble orders. He wanted rubble. He wanted it to be totally raged. And the Germans -- Von Choltitz didn't, not because he was a great humanitarian, because he wanted to save his troops, get his troops out. And he made a deal to give up Paris.

  • 11:53:33

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So fascinating to hear these firsthand stories.

  • 11:53:40

    ROSBOTTOMWhat's funny is everybody's got...

  • 11:53:44

    REHMAll right, and let's go now to Morgan in Long Island, New York. You're on the air.

  • 11:53:52

    MORGANYeah, hello. Thank you. You didn't discuss how the collaborators were treated after the war, especially the women who were involved with the German soldiers.

  • 11:54:02

    ROSBOTTOMYeah. I do, in a chapter in my book. It's called, it's called -- I have a chapter on the liberation and on the angry aftermath. And it was not pretty. It was -- there were all kinds of factional fighting between the Petainist, there were still many people who supported Petain, the Gaullists, the communists, the non-communists, the socialists, the Catholics, the everybody was trying to get a piece of the future political pie. And they were trying to get even for what they considered to be crimes done by the other side.

  • 11:54:43

    ROSBOTTOMAnd so, with the women, any woman who had gotten too close or too comfortable with a German soldier had her head -- many, 25, 30,000 of them had their head shaved and were paraded down the streets. Not one man was. Only women. Men were sometimes shot in the back of the neck.

  • 11:55:01


  • 11:55:01

    ROSBOTTOMBut it was a way -- it really offended the American army too. They were trying to put a stop to it. They were -- it was very offensive. And it turns out that half of these women were not being shaved because they had had sexual relations with a German, they were being shaved because they had done well during the war. They had run a good restaurant that served Germans. They had a hotel that had had German clients.

  • 11:55:26

    REHMWhat was the story the French told themselves after the Germans left?

  • 11:55:35

    ROSBOTTOMWell, that -- you have just asked the question that we can spend the next hour talking about. It is they basically, de Gaulle wanted everyone to come together. And that's where the great myth started that France was resisting totally, that there were very few collaborators. They got -- de Gaulle was brilliant in using parts of the French army to liberate Paris. And they continued to fight for the rest of the war. France took a seat next to Russia, Germany -- I'm sorry, Russia, the United States and China and England on the Security Council.

  • 11:56:26

    ROSBOTTOMI mean, it was remarkable. And the answer to your question in a simple word, they forgot about it.

  • 11:56:34

    REHMRonald Rosbottom. He is the author of "When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation 1940-1944." Thank you so much for being here.

  • 11:56:52

    ROSBOTTOMThank you for being such an interesting questioner.

  • 11:56:55

    REHMOh good. And thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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