Prize-winning and bestselling historian Jean Edward Smith tells the “rousing” (Jay Winik, author of 1944) story of the liberation of Paris during World War II—a triumph achieved only through the remarkable efforts of Americans, French, and Germans, racing to save the city from destruction.
Following their breakout from Normandy in late June 1944, the Allies swept across northern France in pursuit of the German army. The Allies intended to bypass Paris and cross the Rhine into Germany, ending the war before winter set in. But as they advanced, local forces in Paris began their own liberation, defying the occupying German troops.
Charles de Gaulle, the leading figure of the Free French government, urged General Dwight Eisenhower to divert forces to liberate Paris. Eisenhower’s advisers recommended otherwise, but Ike wanted to help position de Gaulle to lead France after the war. And both men were concerned about partisan conflict in Paris that could leave the communists in control of the city and the national government. Neither man knew that the German commandant, Dietrich von Choltitz, convinced that the war was lost, schemed to surrender the city to the Allies intact, defying Hitler’s orders to leave it a burning ruin.
In The Liberation of Paris, Jean Edward Smith puts “one of the most moving moments in the history of the Second World War” (Michael Korda) in context, showing how the decision to free the city came at a heavy price: it slowed the Allied momentum and allowed the Germans to regroup. After the war German generals argued that Eisenhower’s decision to enter Paris prolonged the war for another six months. Was Paris worth this price? Smith answers this question in a “brisk new recounting” that is “terse, authoritative, [and] unsentimental” (The Washington Post).
Historian and biographer Smith (Eisenhower in War and Peace) dishes up an outstanding concise history of one of the most dramatic moments of WWII: the liberation of the City of Light in August 1944. Drawing on extensive primary source research, Smith examines the liberation process and the events that led up to it through the eyes of the three leaders whose decisions minimized violence and destruction: the German general Dietrich von Choltitz, American general Dwight Eisenhower, and French general Charles De Gaulle. Smith recounts how von Choltitz turned from enthusiastically supporting Hitler to determined to disobey Hitler's order to turn Paris into rubble, despite the threat to punish his wife and family. And he gives a fresh take on the relationship between Eisenhower and De Gaulle, attributing much of the liberation's success to Eisenhower's understanding of French language, culture, history, and domestic politics, which he acquired while serving on the Battle Monuments Commission in France in the 1920s. This, Smith maintains, enabled Eisenhower to work well with De Gaulle and understand the unique complexities of French domestic politics, which greatly influenced the way the liberation was conducted. Smith is an outstanding historian and tells a dramatic story well. This is a solid contribution to the history of WWII that both the general reader and the expert will find enjoyable and informative.