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Invisible army set stage for liberation of Paris from Nazis

PARIS — The Nazis knew everything about the city of Paris that they occupied — almost.

They didn’t know about the bunker with a massive door as thick as a bank vault that served as a command post for the chief of the Resistance in the French capital. They didn’t know all the secrets of an underground world defined by codes, assumed names and identities that covered the tracks of saboteurs and fighters.

On Sunday, Paris will celebrate 75 years since its liberation, when French and American tanks rolled into the former jewel of European cities that had epitomized the sweet life but whose citizens were humiliated, hungry and mistrustful after 50 months under the Nazi boot. It was the Resistance movement that helped soften the city for the siege and the Nazis’ eventual surrender Aug. 25, 1944.

A parade will retrace the entry into southern Paris, heading to the building that served as headquarters for Henri Tanguy — alias Col. Rol — chief of the French Forces of the Interior of the Paris region. A new museum on the site dedicated to the liberation will open, throwing wide the heavy door of Rol-Tanguy’s secret headquarters, 85 feet underground.

The dank complex of cement rooms was built in the 1930s to serve as a shelter to ensure city services in the event of bombings that ultimately didn’t occur. But on June 14, 1940, the Nazis moved into town and hoisted their flag emblazoned with a swastika above the Eiffel Tower.

The Nazi hierarchy ensconced themselves in Paris’ luxury hotels and hobnobbed at theaters and fine restaurants. Photos at the museum show artists and industrialists at soirees hosted by the occupiers, who quickly redefined life in the City of Light.

Most Parisians got on with diminished lives, using age-based ration tickets to eat, wooden soles on shoes to replace scarce leather and sometimes curtains for clothes. Some women painted their legs to look like silk stockings. The black market thrived.

Some, though, revolted, entering the clandestine world of the Resistance, the “army of the shadows.”

It is impossible to know how many Parisians went underground, said Sylvie Zaidman, director of the Museum of the Liberation of Paris.

“It’s a hidden story,” she said. “If you’re Resistance, you leave as few traces as possible. So there are pseudonyms ... there are double lives that are completely separate.”

She pointed to Jean Moulin, the Resistance hero who unified multiple networks, political parties and unions into a council that met in occupied Paris in May 1943. The former state administrator with a love of art opted for a cloak-and-dagger role, posing as an art gallerist in Nice while unifying the southern Resistance. Arrested during a secret meeting, he was tortured and put on a train to Berlin but apparently died en route July 8, 1943.

The museum bears Moulin’s name, along with that of another top figure, Gen. Leclerc, the nom de guerre of Philippe de Hauteclocque, who marched into Paris ahead of Allied troops to liberate the city.

More invisible were the ordinary citizens who risked their lives to pass pamphlets or messages or to kill and be killed.

A network started at Paris’ Musee de l’Homme shortly after the beginning of the Occupation was among the first, only to be decimated the following year via a double-agent reporting to German intelligence. Seven members were shot to death following a trial.

Madeleine Riffaud — alias Rainer — who turns 95 on Friday, learned her sharpshooting skills from hunting with her father. She used them to kill a Nazi soldier July 23, 1944, a Sunday afternoon, on the Solferino bridge.

Riffaud was spotted as she escaped on her bicycle, then arrested, tortured and imprisoned before being freed in a prisoner exchange days before the liberation of the city.

Seventy-five years later, she doesn’t take the killing lightly.

“To carry out an action like that isn’t playing with dolls,” she said. But with Paris rising from its torpor following the Normandy D-Day landings in June — changing the tide of war — the message went out that acts “to encourage the population” were needed.

“We had a party” when the Americans entered the war, she said.

On Aug. 19, 1944, police officers rebelled and took over police headquarters. Police had, notably, been complicit in the most dastardly act of the Occupation, the 1942 roundup of some 13,000 Jews at the Vel d’Hiv bicycle stadium, all deported to the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, so the revolt underscored the shift in the balance of power as resistance spread.

From his underground bunker, Rol-Tanguy called for an insurrection. Barricades went up around Paris. On the night of Aug. 24, the first Allied troops entered southern Paris. The grand entrance of Gen. Leclerc’s 2nd Armored Division followed by Allied forces would come the following day.

The military governor of Paris, Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz, arrested at his headquarters at the Meurice Hotel, signed the surrender in the presence of Rol-Tanguy.

The liberation of Paris was both joyous and chaotic, with competing forces even within the Resistance.

Riffaud was at the Place de la Republique in eastern Paris, near barracks where Nazis were making a last stand. A friend was killed before her eyes.

“People were dancing with joy. Me, with two comrades ... we cried like kids,” she recounted. We didn’t party at all.”

Paris suffered no major damage, though buildings still bear the bullet holes of fighting. According to the Liberation museum, 1,000 French Forces of the Interior and 582 civilians were killed, along with 156 troops of Leclerc’s division. Among the Germans, 3,200 were killed and 12,800 were taken prisoner.

Today in History for Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019

Today is Sunday, Aug. 25, the 237th day of 2019. There are 128 days left in the year.

Today’s Highlight in History: On Aug. 25, 1718, hundreds of French colonists arrived in Louisiana, with some settling in present-day New Orleans.

On this date:

1916: President Woodrow Wilson signed an act establishing the National Park Service within the Department of the Interior.

1921: The United States signed a peace treaty with Germany.

1944: During World War II, Paris was liberated by Allied forces after four years of Nazi occupation.

1965: Former baseball player-turned-doctor Archibald “Moonlight” Graham, who’d briefly played in only one major league game (for the New York Giants), died in Chisholm, Minnesota, at age 87.

1967: George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party, was shot to death in the parking lot of a shopping center in Arlington, Virginia; former party member John Patler was later convicted of the killing.

1980: The Broadway musical “42nd Street” opened. (Producer David Merrick stunned the cast and audience during the curtain call by announcing that the show’s director, Gower Champion, had died earlier that day.)

1981: The U.S. spacecraft Voyager 2 came within 63,000 miles of Saturn’s cloud cover, sending back pictures of and data about the ringed planet.

1984: Author Truman Capote was found dead in a Los Angeles mansion; he was 59.

1993: Amy Biehl, a 26-year-old Fulbright scholar from Newport Beach, California, was slain by a mob near Cape Town, South Africa. (The four men convicted in Biehl’s death claimed the attack was part of the war on apartheid; they were granted amnesty after confessing before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.)

2001: Rhythm-and-blues singer Aaliyah was killed with eight others in a plane crash in the Bahamas; she was 22.

2004: An Army investigation found that 27 people attached to an intelligence unit at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad either approved or participated in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

2017: Hurricane Harvey, the fiercest hurricane to hit the U.S. in more than a decade, made landfall near Corpus Christi, Texas, with 130 mph sustained winds; the storm would deliver five days of rain totaling close to 52 inches, the heaviest tropical downpour ever recorded in the continental U.S. The hurricane left at least 68 people dead and caused an estimated $125 billion in damage in Texas.

Ten years ago: Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the liberal lion of the U.S. Senate, died at age 77 in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, after a battle with a brain tumor. President Barack Obama announced he wanted to keep Ben Bernanke on as Fed chairman. South Korea’s first rocket, the Naro-1, blasted off into space but ended up falling back to Earth. A judge in Los Angeles sentenced Chris Brown to five years’ probation and six months’ community labor for beating his girlfriend, Rihanna.

Five years ago: A funeral was held in St. Louis for Michael Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old shot to death by a police officer in suburban Ferguson on Aug. 9. At the Emmy Awards, ABC’s “Modern Family” won best comedy series for the fifth time, while the final season of AMC’s “Breaking Bad” captured the top drama award and a trio of acting honors for its stars, including Bryan Cranston.

One year ago: Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, who had spent years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam before a 35-year political career that took him to the Republican presidential nomination, died at the age of 81 after battling brain cancer for more than a year. After initially threatening Hawaii as a Category 5 hurricane, Tropical Storm Lane began to break apart as it veered west into the open Pacific; rainfall totals from the storm on Hawaii’s Big Island approached four feet.

Today’s Birthdays: Actor Sean Connery is 89. Actor Page Johnson is 89. TV personality Regis Philbin is 88. Actor Tom Skerritt is 86. Jazz musician Wayne Shorter is 86. Movie director Hugh Hudson is 83. Author Frederick Forsyth is 81. Movie director John Badham is 80. Filmmaker Marshall Brickman is 80. Georgia Govenor Nathan Deal is 77. Rhythm-and-blues singer Walter Williams (The O’Jays) is 76. Actor Anthony Heald (held) is 75. Rock singer-actor Gene Simmons is 70. Actor John Savage is 70. Author Martin Amis (AY’-mihs) is 70. Country singer-musician Henry Paul (Outlaws; Blackhawk) is 70. Rock singer Rob Halford is 68. Rock musician Geoff Downes (Asia) is 67. Rock singer Elvis Costello is 65. Movie director Tim Burton is 61. Actor Christian LeBlanc is 61. Actress Ashley Crow is 59. Actress Ally Walker is 58. Country singer Cyrus (AKA Billy Ray Cyrus) is 58. Actress Joanne Whalley is 58. Rock musician Vivian Campbell (Def Leppard) is 57. Actor Blair Underwood is 55. Actor Robert Maschio is 53. Rap DJ Terminator X (Public Enemy) is 53. Alternative country singer Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) is 52. Actor David Alan Basche (BAYSH) is 51. Television chef Rachael Ray is 51. Actor Cameron Mathison is 50. Country singer Jo Dee Messina is 49. Model Claudia Schiffer is 49. Country singer Brice Long is 48. Actor-writer-director Ben Falcone (fal-COHN’) is 46. Actor Eric Millegan is 45. Actor Alexander Skarsgard is 43. Actor Jonathan Togo is 42. Actor Kel Mitchell is 41. Actress Rachel Bilson is 38. Actress Blake Lively is 32. Actor Josh Flitter is 25.

Thought for Today: “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.” — Truman Capote (1924-1984).

Best bets: Sunday, Aug. 25

“Hamilton”: Celebrity Attractions brings “Hamilton” to the Tulsa PAC for a three-week run. The blockbuster musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, based on Ron Chernow’s biography, tells the story of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton in a show that combines a melting pot of musical styles, from jazz and Broadway to blues and hip-hop, a multiracial cast and Andy Blankenbuehler’s high-flying choreography to show how America in the 1700s is very much like America in the 21st century. Performances are at 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday at the Tulsa PAC, 101 E. Third St. Tickets are $95-$365 and are available by calling 918-596-7111, or at

Tulsa Drillers: The Tulsa Drillers are back at ONEOK Field for the final home stand of the season. Tulsa will host Corpus Christi at 1:05 p.m. Sunday. For tickets and more information, go online to

”Mamma Mia!”: Theatre Tulsa continues its production of the sunny, funny and heartwarming musical “Mamma Mia!” at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Tulsa PAC. It is based on Swedish pop band ABBA’s famous ’70s songs, such as “Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance on Me” and “SOS.” On the eve of her wedding, a young woman searches for her birth father on a Greek island paradise. Tickets start at $29 and are available at