So began in 1940 the German Occupation of what many consider the most beautiful city in the world. It would last more than four years, until the summer of 1944 when, on August 25, Free French forces under General Leclerc and American troops and, fighting from within the city, members of the Resistance, the Maquis, would liberate the City of Light.
This week the French, and others, will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Liberation.
The summer of Liberation, 1944, was hot. Women's heels, even those chunky wartime styles (with some shoes actually made of wood), sank into the yielding asphalt, and Parisians swam in the muddy Seine.
Bars didn't serve ice with drinks unless you asked and sometimes not even then. Three days a week by law there was no alcohol served at all. Taxis had vanished in 1940; in their place, wood-burning vehicles somewhat less efficient. But there was horse-racing three days a week at Auteuil and Longchamp.
Theatres and cabarets went on at 3 and closed at sundown. That was the curfew. There was also a blackout even though American and British flyers had orders to avoid bombing Paris. Piaf and Yves Montand sang at the Moulin Rouge. Women, and some men, carried fans against the heat. And men went without jackets and often without ties in smart restaurants which, even for Occupied Paris under the Germans, was hardly de rigueur.
And despite the prevalence of potato on menus, Parisiennes' legs had rarely been in better shape, suntanned from the lack of stockings, fit from biking everywhere.
The Germans, too, must have felt the heat in their field-gray wool. But they maintained a certain standard, keeping up appearances and conveying superiority. They still marched well and were efficient, too, shooting people against stone walls, when convenient, as to avoid having stray bullets hit the innocent.
Much of the German army had, by mid-August of '44, abandoned Paris to fight its battle in open country against the oncoming American and British. Left behind, not so much a garrison as a screen. Clerks and telegraphers and orderlies and supply sergeants and cooks and even military prisoners serving terms for sassing an officer or being drunk on duty. A few military police, some anti-aircraft gunners lowering their 88s to use against the expected Sherman tanks. Not much of an army but sufficient to hold a great city for a time.
And to kill people.
The Liberation of Paris 50 years ago this week was a political affair. The British and Americans didn't want to have to fight their way into and through Paris. Better to bypass Paris and trap the Germans before their armies could retreat, intact, toward Belgium and the Rhine. General de Gaulle wasn't having any of that. He issued orders to Leclerc that whatever the Americans told him to do, Leclerc was to head for Paris. Hitler had given orders, too. Burn the place! Read Larry Collins and Dominique LaPierre on that, in "Is Paris Burning?" And inside the occupied capital, the Communists and Gaullists and half a dozen other resistance cells argued bitterly about whether to and when and just how and where to strike. In the end, they did, 5,000 policemen among them.
And on August 25 the French, inside the city and without, pretty much took back their own town, with Americans racing about in tanks and half-tracks, shooting Germans and being shot themselves. Nothing is free; Americans died to liberate Paris.
So, in a way, this week's Liberation festivities belong to us, too.
We went to live in Paris in 1960, only 16 years after the Liberation. All over town you could still see bullet marks gouged into the walls of buildings, see where the Germans had held and made a stand, see where they'd walked out young Frenchmen and stood them against walls.
To this day, all over the city, are these neat little plaques of stone, no more than a foot square, gray stone, engraved by stone-cutters, memorializing the members of the Resistance who died that August 50 years ago.
"Jean-Pierre So-and-So, age 19, fusille par les Allemands." "Henri So-and-So, age 24, fusille par les Allemands."
The names change, the ages, but the dates are always in August of `44. August 22nd. Or 23rd. The 25th. And the little memorials always end with the same phrase in French, "Fusille par les Allemands."
"Shot by the Germans."
In the walls bordering the Tuileries Gardens, one of the loveliest settings in Paris, where little boys in short pants go in summer to sail their boats on a circular pond and where workmen during their lunch break kick a soccer ball around the dusty earth, there are more of these plaques than anywhere else that I know. Maybe because right across the street, in the Hotel Meurice, was where the Germans headquartered.
The Tuileries Gardens, the front lawn, really, of the great Louvre, were a convenient place to shoot Frenchmen.
Always, in August, at the anniversary each year of the uprising and the city's Liberation, Parisians place little bunches of flowers by these plaques in memory of the young men who died. Young men who today, had they lived, would be 70 or more.
We can expect grand things this week, parades and martial music and statesmen and speeches and prayers, cheers and tears both. The Liberation of Paris is worth celebrating. And will be another 50 years from now when everyone who lived through Liberation will be dead.
But the plaques will be there. And the words, "shot by the Germans." And, I'm sure, little bunches of flowers in the dust, lain there in grateful memory.