It began on 14 June 1940 when the Germans marched into Paris to start their four-year occupation of the city. Initially, the Occupation was rather benign. Soldiers were ordered to be on their best behavior with the locals. For the most part, Paris citizens did not experience large changes in their daily routines other than the presence of the occupier.
Then it all began to change.
By 1942, the most dreaded sound was a knock on the door in the evening (refer to my previous Blog: Night and Fog). Chances are it was either the French police or Gestapo agents. They were there for one reason: to make arrests. The apartment occupants could have been Jewish, suspected Resistance members or their families, black market participants, criminals, or known undesirables (e.g., Communists, Roma, Polish, Masons, or other Eastern Europeans).
On 16 July 1942, the knock came to the apartment door of Rabbi Bereck Kofman and his family. The rabbi of the small synagogue located on the Rue Duc was arrested by a French policeman. The entire family (his wife and six small children) accompanied Rabbi Kofman to the police station. They never saw him again. His daughter, Sarah Kofman, became a noted French philosopher and writer. She wrote about her wartime experiences during the occupation in her moving book Rue Ordener, RueLabat. Shortly after writing the book, Ms. Kofman committed suicide.Read More
Upon hearing the news, I paused to reflect on the interactions I had with her those many years ago. She was married to Uncle Hal, my mother’s brother. This somehow led me down the path of thinking about my three uncles. Besides being related to me, they had one thing in common: they all fought in World War II.
Signing of the Japanese surrender on board USS Missouri, 2 September 1945. Photo by U.S. Navy (1945). PD-US Government image. Wikimedia Commons.
P-47D-40 Thunderbolt. Photo by Kogo (2006). PD-GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2. Wikimedia Commons
My father’s brothers fought in the Pacific: Uncle Pete was in the army fighting in the Pacific (Burma) while his brother Bill commanded a sub chaser (his ship tied up to the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay to protect it during the formal ceremony ending the war). Uncle Hal was a P-47 Thunderbolt fighter pilot stationed in England and his 97 missions were to attack key German targets over Europe. Read More
The outbreak of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror was cast on 17 September 1793 when the Law of Suspects was passed (it was a decree rather than a law). Up until then, the arrests, trials, and executions had been mere footnotes.
COMMITTEE OF PUBLIC SAFETY
Now here is the ultimate oxymoron. This committee was first set up in April 1793 for the purpose of “protecting the newly established republic against foreign attacks and internal rebellion.” By July 1793, the committee was acting as the de facto French government and its citizen’s rights were about to become severely compromised.
The committee’s twelve members were given broad powers over military, judicial, and legislative issues. Maximilien Robespierre (1758–1794) and his radical right hand man, Louis Saint-Just (1767–1794), were appointed to the committee in July 1793 following the elimination of the moderate Girondins.
Portrait of Maximilien de Robespierre. Oil painting by Louis-Léopold Boilly (c. 1791). Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille. PD-100+ Wikimedia Commons.
Louis Antoine de Saint-Just. Oil painting by Pierre-Paul Prud’hon (1793). Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon. PD-100+ Wikimedia Commons.
Between December 1793 and July 1794, the Committee of Public Safety ran the country under Robespierre’s “dictatorship.” It was responsible for four major decrees: Levée en masse (mass-conscription to fight the Revolutionary Wars), Law of the Maximum (price controls), Law of Revolutionary Government (centralized authority in a dictatorship), and the Law of Suspects.Read More
Chimera at Notre-Dame de Paris. Photo by Jawed Karim (2014). PD-CCA Share Alike 3.0 Unported. Wikimedia Commons.
One of the icons of Paris and probably one of the first stops for a first-time visitor is Notre-Dame de Paris (Our Lady of Paris) or simply, Notre-Dame. It is located on the Île de la Cité, an island in the Seine, and the historic center of the city. What you see is a beautiful and clean gothic cathedral standing in this marvelous public square. The sun shines down on you and you can see both the Right and Left Banks on opposite sides of the Seine. You can move around relatively easily on either side of the ancient street that bisects the island from north to south: Boulevard du Justice. Prior to 1858, none of this was true.
MEDIEVAL ÎLE DE LA CITÉ
During the time Notre-Dame was being constructed (1163–1345) the island was a maze of densely populated working-class houses, churches (twenty-seven of them), and narrow, muddy, winding streets. A new east-west road had to be built (c. 1160) to reach the front of Notre-Dame to allow for delivery of construction materials. It was the widest road in Paris at that time: 16 feet.Read More
Kate is one of those stories I couldn’t resist putting in the next book Where Did TheyBurn the Last Grand Master of the Knights Templar? A Walking Tour of Medieval Paris. While she lived in the 17th-century—more than 100 years after the end of the Middle Ages—Kate was in the right place at the right time.
RUE FRANÇOIS MIRON
I learned about Kate while researching one of the streets in the historical district: Rue François Miron.
If you start at the Place de la Bastille and walk due west, you’ll be following Rue Saint-Antoine. Just before the Métro St. Paul, the road splits: Rue Saint-Antoine becomes Rue de Rivoli—the northern split; and Rue François Miron—the southern split. Rue de Rivoli did not exist until Napoléon’s rule and then finished off in the mid-19th century when it was completed by Baron Haussmann.Read More
Inside a shop – Marché aux Fleurs de Paris. Photo by Yannick Bammert (2010). PD-CCA 2.0 Generic. Wikimedia Commons.
In the middle of an island (Île de la Cité) in the middle of the Seine River (France) and in the heart of Paris sits a flower market. It is called the Marché aux Fleurs and you can visit it every day of the week. That is, except on Sunday when it is transformed into the Marché auxOiseaux (bird market). The market has been in operation since 1808—more than 200 years ago—a very short amount of time when putting it into perspective with the history of Paris.
A JEWISH COMMUNITY
Almost a thousand years ago, this small plot of land was home to the Jewish population of Paris. It was considered one of the first Jewish quarters (or ghettos) in Paris. Today we think of the Marais District as the heart of the contemporary Parisian Jewish community with streets such as Rue Pavée, Rue des Rosiers, Rue des Ecouffes (often used as a derisive word for pawnbroker), and Rue Ferdinand Duval (a.k.a. Rue des Juifs—Street of the Jews—until 1900).Read More
You may recall reading our blog The Pee Ladies of Paris (November 7, 2015). Well, I’m going to take you on another journey into the history of public urination in Paris. Our discussion could easily take place in London or any major European city (e.g., Berlin, Stockholm, or Lisbon).
During the Middle Ages, there were no toilets (unless you were the king and queen or of high nobility), no sewer systems (other than the river and city streets), and no way to relieve oneself in public unless you were female and had your ladies-in-waiting form a circle around you to shield your actions. For the men, it was much easier. They just urinated in public—seemingly no shame in this other than the smell.
Public urination was banned in Paris by the 1700s. For convenience purposes, “barrels of easement” were placed on the street corners. Unfortunately, the problems—public views and the stench—were not solved.Read More
I love it when I get feedback from folks who read these blogs (and my books). Thank you for taking the time to write me (yes, I know it’s e-mails but it’s still writing). One of the things I appreciate is constructive feedback. That is one of the best ways for anyone to improve.
SOMEONE’S READING MY STUFF
Christina and her husband live in Australia and recently read one of my books. They are frequent visitors to Paris. She loved the illustrations/images and mentioned how she learned new things about the city from reading the book. It’s that type of feedback which keeps me going.
Fortunately, Christina pointed out an error I made. I referred to Paris as the “City of Lights” when in fact, the proper term is “City of Light.” I greatly appreciated her bringing this to my attention. Not only will we correct that in future editions but also I decided to write this blog on the “City of Light” so as to enlighten all of us.Read More
Was he or wasn’t he? Only Axel von Fersen and Marie Antoinette know the truth. However, historians accept the fact that Count von Fersen was madly in love with Marie Antoinette (1755–1793). He was at the center of several key events during the French Revolution involving the king and queen. Eventually, like Marie Antoinette, von Fersen met a violent death.
THE SWEDISH NOBLE
Axel Fersen. Oil Painting by Carl Frederik von Breda (18th century). Löfstad Castle, Sweden. PD-100+. Wikimedia Commons.
Hans Axel, Count von Fersen (1755–1810), was a Swedish noble, diplomat, and soldier. As a young officer in the French army, von Fersen met the French Dauphine in 1771—they were both sixteen at the time. She soon invited him to Versailles and von Fersen quickly became one of Marie Antoinette’s favored guests. By 1781, von Fersen was serving with other French officers in the American War of Independence. Marie Antoinette became queen during his years away from France and the two of them frequently exchanged letters.Read More
On Monday, 22 March 1944, the crumpled and broken body of Pierre Brossolette (1903-1944) lay on the ground outside the building located at 84, avenue Foch in an upscale Parisian neighborhood of the 16th arrondissement (district).
After two and a half days of torture by the Gestapo, Brossolette recovered enough consciousness to determine he was about to divulge information about his colleagues in the French Resistance. He stood up in his cell and flung himself out the sixth floor window. His last words were “all will be fine Tuesday.”
THE STREET OF HORRORS
11, rue des Saussaies à Paris. One of the Gestapo headquarters. Photo by Erwmat (2013). PD-CCA-Share Alike 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.
Upon entering Paris on 14 June 1940, the Germans and the various military and civilian units began to immediately appropriate hotels, vacated buildings (many by Jewish citizens), French government buildings, vacant embassies, or just kicked out the existing residents of a building they wanted to occupy.
The different departments of the Nazi police system (commonly grouped under one name: Gestapo) annexed many of the buildings on Avenue Foch. It didn’t take long for the Germans to settle into Paris. The Abwehr (German Intelligence Service) had been operating in Paris during the 1930s and it was clear they had “mapped” out the entire city and identified all potential sites for the Germans to occupy.
The building at 84, avenue Foch became the main headquarters for the Gestapo. The sixth floor was converted to torture rooms and cells. Throughout the Nazi Occupation, the neighbors could hear the screams from the victims of Gestapo torture. Parisians quickly determined this street was not a place you wanted to visit.
Avenue Foch became known to the French as The Street of Horrors.