French figures: The married couple who liberated Paris from the Nazis

French figures: The married couple who liberated Paris from the Nazis
Henri and Cécile Rol-Tanguy, pictured in 1999. Photo: AFP
OK, they didn't do it alone, but the masterminds behind the liberation of Paris in 1944 were a Communist married couple with two young children.

As fighting raged in the streets of Paris in the final days of August 1944, the operations of the Forces françaises de l'Intérieur – or the Resistance – were being directed from below ground by Henri 'Colonel Rol' Tanguy.

At his side in the bunker in Place Denfert-Rochereau in the 14th arrondissement of Paris was his wife Cécile, who organised communiqués with Resistance members fighting above ground.

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Henri Rol-Tanguy is now commemorated in the name of the Denfert-Rochereau Metro station. Photo: AFP

The couple had both been active in the trades union movement and communist politics before the war, and after the occupation of France both became part of the Resistance.

In June 1944, Henri was appointed leader of the Resistance in the greater Paris Île-de-France region. Two months later the battle for the liberation of Paris began and, after five days of fighting, Henri and Free French leader General Philippe Leclerc accepted the signed act of surrender from Paris' Nazi commander General Dietrich von Cholitz.

After the war, the couple added Henri's wartime alias to their name, becoming the Rol-Tanguys.

The bunker where they directed the battle is now a museum – Musée Libération-Leclerc-Moulin – telling the story of the occupation of Paris and its eventual liberation.

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Henri died in 2002 and Cécile earlier this year. They both remained active in politics after the war, as well as having two more children, and Cécile dedicated her final years to visiting schools to ensure that the horrors of World War II would not be forgotten.  

This article is part of The Local France's 2020 virtual advent calendar – every day until Christmas we will be presenting you with a person or object that has a particular significance to life in France

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