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

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.

French figures: The married couple who liberated Paris from the Nazis
Henri and Cécile Rol-Tanguy, pictured in 1999. Photo: AFP

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.

READ ALSO Forgotten history: The women who fought in the French Resistance


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.

READ ALSO Why you really should visit Paris' WWII French Resistance museum

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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French figures: The true spirit of France

This is the incredible story about the teenage girl who became a symbol of France for the ages.

French figures: The true spirit of France
Illustration photo: AFP

The story of Joan of Arc – Jeanne d'Arc in French – begun like many fairytales do: an unlikely hero is chosen to accomplish a dangerous task.

Born around 1412, Joan of Arc was an illiterate peasant girl convinced that divine powers had decided she would fight the English army in France. 

She then did exactly that. 

This was during the so-called Hundred Years’ War, when English troops battled for territory across the country that is now France.

Joan of Arc liberated Orléans city from English forces in a legendary and decisive battle that paved the way for the later French victory in 1453.

Joan of Arc paid for her heroism with her life. She was captured and sold her to the English army, who burned her at the stake in Rouen, northeast France, around 1431. She was approximately 19 years old at the time.

But her short life left a lasting mark on France and in 1920 she was made a Saint. Almost 600 years after her death she is still commemorated and celebrated in France and her spirit is invoked during difficult times for the country.

Known today as “the Maid of Orléans”, Joan of Arc's silhouette is all over the city, ingrained on medallions on the street, cast into sculptures and painted on the boxes of Cotignac, an Orléans culinary speciality.

READ ALSO: Ten reasons why you should visit the French city Orléans

This article is the final instalment of The Local France's 2020 virtual advent calendar – featuring every day a person or thing that has a special place in French culture. To see the whole calendar, click here.