The Liberation of Paris by Marguerite Skerret

On  that morning of August 1944 ,while the victorious  allied armies were marching on Paris,the  French Resistance had taken possession of the Town Hall ,the Central Post Office and other public buildings. But now the sound of guns had abated and the beautiful city lay silent and waiting , Monmartre and the white dome of the Sacre Coeur, the Trocadero and the Garden of the Invalides with its Eiffel tower , Notre Dame in prayer on the Ile de la Cite, and all along the banks of the Seine which had been the haunt of anglers, lovers and poets to the tiny Ile des Cygnes where the replica of the Statue of the Liberty held her torch. On its star of avenues the Arc de Triomphe stood            majestically and there, enshrined in stone, the effigy of the Marseillaise raised the flag of insurrection in a defiant gesture.

Five long years had passed, in fear and sorrow. We were walking around bare-legged in wooden clogs, as the German had taken all the leather for their boots, and we queued for hours for our meagre rations, in the end for just a bowl of baked beans. But the worst was over and we were looking to a new beginning. I could not remember at what precise time the troops entered the city. But we were standing on the pavement to greet them. Here were the Tommies and the GIs in uniform and the fighters for the Free France. We cheered them all. But the women who had practiced was termed horizontal collaboration were put to shame. Their head shaven, their face smeared with lipstick, they were dragged out in the streets behind the soldiers. The hidden tricolours had come out at the windows, not just on public buildings from which the black spiders of the swastikas had crawled away, but in every street as before the occupation they had bedecked houses on the 14th of July, the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. Red, white and blue, red for Liberty, won at a price, white for Equality, and blue for Fraternity, as in the motto of the French Republic. It was as if the whole city had blossomed out  into a great flower garden.   …

Back home we stood at the windows and on the balconies and in the warm summer evening, we heard all the bells of all the churches singing for freedom. Later it would be time to reflect and remember all those who had fallen on the battlefields to free the world from tyranny, the heroes of the resistance who had given their lives to liberate their country, diverse in their beliefs but united in their purpose. There would be time to weep for those who had known hell on earth and had died the innocent victims of an attempt to exterminate a whole race. The philosophy teacher Valentin Feldman, who fought in the resistance and was shot by the Nazis, cried to his captors when he faced their guns “Imbeciles, c est pour vous que je meurs!” (You fools, it s for you that I  die). But was that a cry of hope or one of despair? Would the next generations learn the lessons of history? Would they know that intolerance is one of the greatest evils of this world or would they too bear witness to “the inhumanity of man to man”?


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