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The hidden history that tells of Paris' brutal and bloody occupation

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The hidden history that tells of Paris' brutal and bloody occupation
One of the many hundreds of memorials that dot the city of Paris. All photos: Diana Liu
15:01 CEST+02:00
Scattered throughout Paris are hundreds of memorials, often small and inconspicuous, that tell the remarkable and heart-breaking story of the city under occupation. Diana Liu finds out more.

Some mark the spot where heroic Resistance fighters fell during the bloody days 75 years ago when the city was finally liberated, while others mark the streets, homes and schools of the tens of thousands of people who were deported and killed during the four years of occupation.

The first memorials, in the form of flower bouquets or commemorations written on walls, went up shortly after the city's hard-won freedom.

City officials began to receive numerous requests for commemorative plaques dedicated to resistance fighters, soldiers of the French 2nd Armored Division, nurses, teachers, and Jewish residents who lost their lives during the war.

Now, discreetly affixed in front of schools, apartments, and even in the Metro, these plaques (which total around 200) represent an integral part of the capital's historic landscape and communal remembrance.

Here is a small selection.

1. Place Saint Michel

This pair of plaques is tucked away to the right of la Fontaine Saint Michel, an ornate neoclassical monument that welcomes visitors crossing the river from the Right Bank. The top plaque features a declaration by General Charles de Gaulle, the leader of the exiled Free French Forces government operating from London, exhorting the French to persist in the fight for liberty. 

The bottom plaque commemorates Robert Gauthier, a 21-year-old student active in the Forces Françaises de l'Intérieur (FFI) - the formal title used by de Gaulle to designate the various groups of resistance fighters throughout occupied France - who "died a glorious death" liberating Paris on August 21st 1994.

2. 60 boulevard Saint Michel

In front of the prestigious École des Mines near the Luxemburg Gardens are two sandstone-coloured plaques affixed to a wall punctured with bullet holes. The top plaque commemorates two major conflicts that took place within the school's vicinity - overnight German air raids on January 20th 1918 (at the tail end of World War I), and the last day of Paris' battle for liberation on August 25th 1944.

The bottom plaque honours 24-year-old FFI member Jean Montvallier-Boulogne, who was fighting alongside soldiers in General Leclerc's 2nd Armoured Division. The young man was lobbing grenades at the Germans when the opposing army retaliated with sub-machine guns.

3. Ecole élémentaire Récollets, 19 passage des Récollets

Located on a quiet street not too far from the Canal Saint Martin, this memorial pays hommage to the Jewish schoolchildren deported from the 10th arrondissement. More than 500 children from this district of Paris alone were, "victims of Nazi barbarism and the Vichy government (the authoritarian French regime which administrated the country and collaborated with Nazi Germany following the Third Republic's surrender in 1940)", and were deported and exterminated in death camps between 1942 and 1944.

4. Jardin des Rosiers-Joseph Migneret, 10 rue des Rosiers

The Jardin des Rosiers-Joseph Migneret, a garden hidden in the heart of the Marais, is named for Joseph Migneret, an elementary school principal and resistance fighter who sheltered students threatened with deportation.

The plaque memorialises the 11,400 Jewish children deported from France between 1942 and 1944 and murdered at Auschwitz. 500 of these children, the inscription notes, lived in the 4th arrondissement, and 100 of the youngest never even had a chance to attend school. The plaque exhorts the passerby to read the names of these 100 "little ones", as "your memory is their sole resting place".

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

5. Gare d'Austerlitz

Few of the numerous passengers who board a train at Gare d'Austerlitz are aware of the station's role as a roundup point to deport Paris' Jewish population during the Vichy Regime.

This plaque informs passengers that over 10,000 Jews (4,000 of whom were children) were arrested in the Paris area by the Vichy-controlled French police force. They were gathered at Gare d'Austerlitz to be transported to internment camps, before being deported and murdered at Auschwitz.

6. Lycée Victor Hugo, 27 Rue de Sévigné

Outside of the Lycée Victor Hugo school, this plaque commemorates the "more than 11,000 children who were deported from France by the Nazis with the active participation of the French government of Vichy and killed due to being born Jewish".

The school lobby (not open to visitors) houses another plaque that commemorates by name the students deported from the Lycée during the war.

7. Quai de Montebello in front of Notre Dame

In a scenic location along the quay perfect for a selfie with the majestic Notre Dame, this unassuming memorial doesn't get much attention next to the stunning cathedral. However, this plaque commemorates a chapter of the city's history that's just as significant - the military and street battles of the Liberation of Paris between August 19th and 24th, 1944, and the members of the 5th arrondissement's Front National who fell defending their city. 

It's important to note that the Front National referred to on this plaque is not the far-right political party found by Jean-Marie Le Pen in 1972. The 1944 Front National (full name Front National de lutte pour la libération et l'indépendence de la France) was a resistance movement founded by members of the French Communist Party. Members engaged in acts of sabotage against German and Vichy regimes and helped and sheltered those threatened with arrest or deportation.

8. 4 bis Rue des Rosiers

On a popular stop on historical tours of Paris' traditional Jewish neighbourhood of Marais is this plaque, affixed to the entrance of the École de Travail apprenticeship school on Rue des Rosiers. It commemorates the establishment's principal, staff, and students who were arrested by Nazi German and Vichy police and deported to their death in Auschwitz. 

9. 137 boulevard de l'Hôpital

Affixed to the entrance of a quaint apartment complex in the 13th arrondissement, this plaque commemorates ten of its Jewish former inhabitants, ranging from a nine-month-old baby to a 58-year-old, who were deported and killed at Auschwitz. The plaque also memorialises Robert Andrezowsky, a resistance fighter who was shot to death by the Nazis at Vincennes (in the suburbs of Paris) in 1944, following a string of German arrests of FFI members through the east of Paris.


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

 

10. Musée d'Orsay at La Place Henry-de-Montherlant

Many have strolled by the Musée d'Orsay's grandiose facade without noticing this plaque, which describes the former train station's use as a major welcome and repatriation center for victims of Nazism between April and August 1945, at the end of the war. On the quays facing the Seine, doctors, nurses, and members of the Red Cross fed the survivors and tended to patients.

General de Gaulle ordered the requisition of L'Hôtel Lutetia on Boulevard Raspail, the former headquarters of the Gestapo. There, survivors were nursed back to health and, if possible, reunited with their families.

 
 
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