The Liberation of Paris: How Eisenhower, de Gaulle, and von Choltitz Saved the City of Light

The Liberation of Paris: How Eisenhower, de Gaulle, and von Choltitz Saved the City of Light

Prize-winning and bestselling historian Jean Edward Smith tells the “rousing” (Jay Winik, author of 1944) story of the liberation of Paris during World War II—a triumph achieved only through the remarkable efforts of Americans, French, and Germans, racing to save the city from destruction.Following their breakout from Normandy in late June 1944, the Allies swept across...

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Title:The Liberation of Paris: How Eisenhower, de Gaulle, and von Choltitz Saved the City of Light
Author:Jean Edward Smith
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The Liberation of Paris: How Eisenhower, de Gaulle, and von Choltitz Saved the City of Light Reviews

  • Jen

    Although I usually read nonfiction slowly, The Liberation of Paris proved one of those books that caught my interest early and refused to let me quit reading until I was finished.

    "Jean Edward Smith (born October 13, 1932) is a biographer and the John Marshall Professor of Political Science at Marshall University.[1] He is also professor emeritus at the University of Toronto after having served as professor of political economy there for thirty-five years. Smith is also on the faculty of the

    Although I usually read nonfiction slowly, The Liberation of Paris proved one of those books that caught my interest early and refused to let me quit reading until I was finished.

    "Jean Edward Smith (born October 13, 1932) is a biographer and the John Marshall Professor of Political Science at Marshall University.[1] He is also professor emeritus at the University of Toronto after having served as professor of political economy there for thirty-five years. Smith is also on the faculty of the Master of American History and Government program at Ashland University.[2]

    The winner of the 2008 Francis Parkman Prize and the 2002 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography, Smith has been called "today’s foremost biographer of formidable figures in American history."[1][3] " (Wikipedia)

    One of those rare historians who can make history come alive, Jean Edward Smith's account of the liberation of Paris is an engrossing narrative of the three men who worked together to save the city. All three had to circumvent difficult situations (and often their immediate superiors) to do what they thought best.

    At De Gaulle's request, Eisenhower's decision to liberate Paris--which Allied Planners wanted delayed--was largely political, to avoid the communist resistance gaining power, while Von Choltitz, knowing the war was lost and not wanting the blame for destroying Paris, did his best to avoid Hitler's command to defend the city to the last man and leave the city in ruins.

    The machinations of all three men to save the city required some devious thinking, especially on the part of Von Choltitz, who was ordered to destroy the seventy bridges of Paris and reduce the city rubble. The communications between De Gaulle and Eisenhower are especially interesting, as are the communications between Von Choltitz and his superiors.

    The liberation of Paris was a morale booster, but it did delay the end of the war by giving the Germans the opportunity to regroup. Regardless of whether it was the best decision possible, liberating Paris was a momentous emotional success, and the story that led up to the liberation is fascinating.

    If you are interested in WWII, I highly recommend this compelling account of the liberation of Paris.

    Read in April; blog review scheduled for July 9, 2019.

    NetGalley/Simon & Schuster

    Nonfiction/WWII. July 23, 2019. Print length: 256 pages.

  • Michael Travis

    This easy but educational historical read was wonderful, especially coming on the heels of our visit to Paris which we hold in high esteem. I found what von Choltitz did to be so admirable, brave and just.

  • Joe Keefhaver

    This is a tremendous book. It is small, only 205 pages, but it is packed with a great deal of information about the events leading up to the German surrender of Paris. The volume covers essentially the same story as does the old movie "Is Paris Burning?" I learned a great deal about the widespread acceptance of German occupation by the people of Paris and the nature of the collaborationist Vichy regime. Von Cholitz, the German commander, comes across as a noble character, and Swedish envoy Raul

    This is a tremendous book. It is small, only 205 pages, but it is packed with a great deal of information about the events leading up to the German surrender of Paris. The volume covers essentially the same story as does the old movie "Is Paris Burning?" I learned a great deal about the widespread acceptance of German occupation by the people of Paris and the nature of the collaborationist Vichy regime. Von Cholitz, the German commander, comes across as a noble character, and Swedish envoy Raul Nordling is a real hero. But I gained much more respect for Charles de Gaulle and what he means to French history. Dwight D. Eisenhower is revealed as the military -- and political -- genius I always knew he was.

  • Phil

    The author of this book died only last week but left a legacy of histories well-recognized for their insight and valuable historic information. This slim volume is no exception.

    I knew very little about the circumstances surrounding the surprising surrender of Paris without a fight. The reason for the surrender was amazingly simple:

    “Many Frenchmen doubted the wisdom of the government’s going to war. The right admired Hitler and Nazi Germany. For them, the war was indefensible. The left, though

    The author of this book died only last week but left a legacy of histories well-recognized for their insight and valuable historic information. This slim volume is no exception.

    I knew very little about the circumstances surrounding the surprising surrender of Paris without a fight. The reason for the surrender was amazingly simple:

    “Many Frenchmen doubted the wisdom of the government’s going to war. The right admired Hitler and Nazi Germany. For them, the war was indefensible. The left, though they despised Nazi totalitarianism, did not want war with any country, because of a devotion of pacifism and a conviction, taught in public schools since 1919, that war was an evil to be avoided at all costs. France’s enormous losses in World War 1 contributed to that feeling.” (2-3)

    For the most part the citizens of Paris had very little if anything to complain about during the 1940 and 1941 occupation by the German army. The army controlled all of Paris with the French Vichy government controlling southern France and left much to themselves to run it as they saw fit.

    “Throughout the occupation, the German army and the diplomatic corps did their best to observe the rules of international behavior. Whatever cruelty happened in Paris was the work of the Gestapo and SS, as well as the Vichy regime. “(13)

    What changed after 1941 was Germany’s invasion of Russia.

    “Without prior warning, the German army invaded the Soviet Union. In Paris, French Communists changed sides overnight, becoming enemies of the occupation. In many respects, the resistance to Hitler by significant number of Parisians dates to this event.” (16-17)

    On the heels of this came the Vichy governments crackdown on the Jews in cooperation with the Germans.

    When the occupation ended, eighty thousand Jews had been sent to concentration camps, and of those twenty-four thousand were of French nationality, the other fifty-six thousand being more recent arrivals. Only 3 percent returned alive. Bad as that may seem, it was considerably better than what happened in Belgium and Holland. And it was better because of the help provided by many French, to shield their Jewish neighbors.” (18)

    De Gaulle had set up shop in Britain in an attempt to be recognized as the leader of the French government in exile. He had both Eisenhower’s and Churhill’s support. However Roosevelt and the American State Department were hostile to him.

    “He (Alexis Leger, former French ambassador to the United States) was held in high esteem by Roosevelt and the State Department, and from the beginning was highly critical of General de Gaulle and the Free French movement. These views he shared repeatedly with the U. S. government, and they had effect.” (30)

    Roosevelt and the State Department preferred working with the Vichy government.

    How Eisenhower was able to convince a reluctant Roosevelt that de Gaulle was the better choice as well as allowing the French army to be allowed as the only army entering Paris for its relief along with the unexpected cooperation of the German general assigned with the task of utterly destroy all of Paris and everything in it before withdrawing is the real story of the book.

    It is a story of great bravery, solid friendships and the loss of faith in Hitler’s leadership.

    “Saturday, August 26, dawned bright and clear. It was another perfect day. And de Gaulle was satisfied and proud. Not only had Paris been liberated, but it had been done with few casualties, and little damage. Even more important, it had been done with a united France.” (183)

    What a great piece of history I knew so very little about. But this is what great historians do. They open your eyes to certain moments in time that make the study of history the mystery it is and ensure its allure never fades.

  • Lorna

    was a well-researched and riveting examination of the liberation of Paris in the closing months of World War II as the allies swept across France causing the retreat of the German forces. Jean Edward Smith has focused on the pivotal roles that three courageous men played in the preservation and liberation of Paris. Charles de Gaulle led provisional government and the French Resistance against Nazi

    was a well-researched and riveting examination of the liberation of Paris in the closing months of World War II as the allies swept across France causing the retreat of the German forces. Jean Edward Smith has focused on the pivotal roles that three courageous men played in the preservation and liberation of Paris. Charles de Gaulle led provisional government and the French Resistance against Nazi Germany during the war. De Gaulle was concerned that France would fall under Communist rule and implored General Eisenhower to liberate Paris. While many of Eisenhower's superiors were against going into Paris fearing that it would prolong the war, General Eisenhower, the allied commander who led Operation Overlord, ultimately made the decision to liberate Paris. Likewise, the efforts of the German commandant, Dietrich von Choltitz, were equally important in the preservation of the art and monuments that the Nazis had ruled would be destroyed. How all of this is accomplished results in a remarkable book and an important piece of history.

  • Jill Hutchinson

    I was surprised that this book was so short (204 pages) and wondered how the author could capture one of the great moments of WWII in such truncated form. Somehow he did but it is somewhat lacking in some of the more detailed issues that arose as the Allies determined the strategy for rescuing Paris with the least destruction to one of the most historic cities in Europe. This lack of the more minute activities does not, however, affect the overall enjoyment of the book.

    Paris had been declared

    I was surprised that this book was so short (204 pages) and wondered how the author could capture one of the great moments of WWII in such truncated form. Somehow he did but it is somewhat lacking in some of the more detailed issues that arose as the Allies determined the strategy for rescuing Paris with the least destruction to one of the most historic cities in Europe. This lack of the more minute activities does not, however, affect the overall enjoyment of the book.

    Paris had been declared an "open city" but Hitler, in these last days of the war, wanted Paris burned to the ground. He ordered the Nazi commandant of the city, von Cholitz to destroy it and all French who remained there. But von Cholitz had other ideas even though he would face execution if he ignored Hitler's orders.

    The book examines the strategy negotiations among the Allies, especially de Gaulle, the leader of the Free French, who wanted the Free French forces to enter the city initially. Roosevelt detested de Gaulle but Churchill and Eisenhower were sympathetic to the leader of the Free French and the plans were put in place.

    The real hero, if I can use that word, is von Cholitz, a Nazi who had become anti-Hitler and deceived the Fuehrer into believing that Paris was being destroyed even as he was trying to save her. Lucky for him, he became a prisoner of the Allies and escaped execution by the SS.

    For a quick and satisfying look at the liberation of Paris, this is the book to read. Recommended.

  • Peter Mcloughlin

    This book takes a more granular look at an aspect of WWII, the liberation of Paris. After briefly covering the fall of France and the German Occupation in 1940 and after it comes to events around the D-day invasion and the breakout to the rest of France and how the liberation of Paris was to be handled. It was through smart moves by de Gaulle and Eisenhower and the German Commander of Paris Choltitz who realized the war was lost in Paris and ignored and undermined Hitler's desire for scorched

    This book takes a more granular look at an aspect of WWII, the liberation of Paris. After briefly covering the fall of France and the German Occupation in 1940 and after it comes to events around the D-day invasion and the breakout to the rest of France and how the liberation of Paris was to be handled. It was through smart moves by de Gaulle and Eisenhower and the German Commander of Paris Choltitz who realized the war was lost in Paris and ignored and undermined Hitler's desire for scorched earth holding of Paris. Events turned out fairly well largely because of the actions of these three men and Paris was liberated relatively unharmed at least in terms of people and cultural monuments. It could have been much worse.

  • Sara

    I’ve been wanting to become more knowledgeable about history and the major events that have helped to shape the world as we know it today. This book helped provide me with an overview of a seemingly impossible event - Paris freed from German occupation without being destroyed.

    I am left wanting to know more about the war and the politics that helped shape it. Thank you to Jean Edward Smith for his work in providing a snap shot of the war while emphasizing the inner workings of what went into the

    I’ve been wanting to become more knowledgeable about history and the major events that have helped to shape the world as we know it today. This book helped provide me with an overview of a seemingly impossible event - Paris freed from German occupation without being destroyed.

    I am left wanting to know more about the war and the politics that helped shape it. Thank you to Jean Edward Smith for his work in providing a snap shot of the war while emphasizing the inner workings of what went into the decision making. This book helps provide a glimpse at just how complex history, politics, and the human person are.

  • James Lurie

    I had read "Is Paris Burning?" by Collins and Lapierre when it was published in 1965 and thought it would be interesting to read another version of the story written with a half-century of additional perspective and research. This book is an easy read for a complicated subject.

    There are very few history books where a Nazi general comes off as the good guy. In this case, von Choltitz, who was in charge of Wehrmacht operations in Paris, deliberately stalls definitive orders from Hitler to fight

    I had read "Is Paris Burning?" by Collins and Lapierre when it was published in 1965 and thought it would be interesting to read another version of the story written with a half-century of additional perspective and research. This book is an easy read for a complicated subject.

    There are very few history books where a Nazi general comes off as the good guy. In this case, von Choltitz, who was in charge of Wehrmacht operations in Paris, deliberately stalls definitive orders from Hitler to fight to the death in Paris and to destroy the city rather than permitting it to fall into Allied hands. In doing so, he puts his family, who were effective hostages in Germany to ensure his obedience, at risk. In all counts he was successful. There is good background on the decision of Eisenhower to change tactical plans, which originally called for bypassing Paris, to occupy the city quickly so that von Choltitz would not be forced into obeying Hitler's orders. Additionally, the military aspects of the decisions are examined in light of the political goals of facilitating a post-war government by the French themselves rather than a military government and, at the same time, preventing a communist takeover.

    The book is extensively footnoted, and there are supplemental snippets of historical background at the end of each chapter. My only criticism is that I would have liked an expansion of what happened with the principals, particularly the French and Germans, post war. While this information is presented in a cursory manner, an elaboration of the bare facts would have been nice.

  • Zohar - ManOfLaBook.com

    For more reviews and bookish posts please visit:

    The Liberation of Paris: How Eisenhower, de Gaulle, and von Choltitz Saved the City of Light by Jean Edward Smith takes place during World War II and tells the title story in context of the war and politics. Mr. Smith is a prize winning historian.

    Adolf Hitler, as one of the many villainous things he did over his life, was to order the commander of occupied Paris, Dietrich von Choltitz, to destroy the city at all costs.

    For more reviews and bookish posts please visit:

    The Liberation of Paris: How Eisenhower, de Gaulle, and von Choltitz Saved the City of Light by Jean Edward Smith takes place during World War II and tells the title story in context of the war and politics. Mr. Smith is a prize winning historian.

    Adolf Hitler, as one of the many villainous things he did over his life, was to order the commander of occupied Paris, Dietrich von Choltitz, to destroy the city at all costs. Von Choltitz loved Paris, but not so much the regime’s leadership, promptly ignored that order – most likely knowing that it could cost him his life.

    This is one of the more fascinating stories that Jean Edward Smith tells in his book The Liberation of Paris: How Eisenhower, de Gaulle, and von Choltitz Saved the City of Light. The author mainly concentrated on De Gaulle’s request to liberate Paris, which the Allies were going to delay and simply go around.

    Eisenhower, who realized that even though Paris was not strategically important, it was certainly an important political statement, decided that the liberation will take place. Much of the decision was to make sure that the communist resistance will not gain power in power vacuum which is most likely to happen.

    Even though liberating the City of Light was a huge moral booster, it did delay the end of the war, giving the Nazis time to regroup. That being said, the emotional success in a war, is sometimes as important as a strategic success.

    The main outcome of this book, for me, was the struggle to keep Paris from being destroyed. The politics and strategies that went into this thought Eisenhower and von Choltitz, both making sacrifices, do deserve to be told.

    Even though the book is short, it is full of information told in a very readable manner. This is a compelling narrative for anyone interested in the era.

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