Postcards from Paris: From lockdown to liberation under Nazi occupation

01 May 2020

History | War and Conflict

Having recently stumbled across a news story about two Parisian streets left frozen in time after a World War Two era film set had to be abandoned as the city went into lockdown following the coronavirus outbreak, I decided to delve into the America in World War Two resource to learn more about the city of light that ‘went dark’ during the years of German occupation from June 1940 to August 1944.

Within the resource are fascinating photographs and postcards showing the eerily empty streets of Paris, a far cry from the Paris of popular imagination portrayed in the travel literature aimed at US personnel: “PARIS! Magic name, evoking a swarming City throbbing with life, but also, full of dreams.” [1]

 

Image © The National WWII Museum. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

 

Image © The National WWII Museum. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Standout collections from the resource show the devastation inflicted on France by the war, such as the postcards sent to Mrs. Smith by her husband.

Writing about the city of Le Havre, Smith adds: “Another view of Le Havre as it used to look. To the left in this view is just a mass of ruins – with only the shell of a building still standing here and there.”

His postcards are beautiful, but also informative, with his captions providing an insight into life under German occupation. The back of a postcard of the Eiffel tower is accompanied by a scribbled note reading “away in the background underneath the bottom arch you can see the military school where the Germans held out for a while last August.”

Even after the Germans left the city, a military presence remained and life for Parisians was far from ‘business as usual’. This can be seen in these fascinating photographs from the Minnie Peterson and Paul Katsigiannis collections, in which you can see a plane flying underneath the Eiffel tower, makeshift barricades and crowds lining the streets to celebrate Liberation Day:

 

 

Image © The National WWII Museum. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Plane flying through the legs of the Eiffel Tower, The Minnie Peterson Collection.

Image © The National WWII Museum. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Makeshift barricade including a propped up poster of Hitler, Paul Katsigiannis Collection.

Image © The National WWII Museum. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

View looking down onto parade of French Resistance fighters in Paris, Paul Katsigiannis Collection.

 

Image © The National WWII Museum. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Another American solider, Herman J. Obermayer, writing home to his parents about his experiences of post-liberation Paris, describes the celebrations that took place to mark the first Bastille Day since the city’s liberation:

“Although we are continuing to work as usual you can already hear bands and rockets, and crowds as the French are preparing for the biggest binge in their history. The first Bastille Day since the liberation will be celebrated for three days with continual parades, and all night street dancing every night. If things go right I hope to get in town tomorrow night and get in on a little of the excitement.” [2]

In another V-mail, Obermayer describes the spirit of the French people, arguing that: “It is experiences like Liberation Day that make you feel justified in snickering at the French claims to interest in the Japanese War. Celebrations like Bastille Day, Liberation Day and V-J Day stem from the people themselves and seem to show conclusively their lack of interest in our war.” [3]

It is this emphasis on ‘the people themselves’ that appears to have driven the city’s recovery following its turbulent years of occupation and this quote from a newspaper article reporting on conditions in Paris feels like an appropriate point on which to finish, as it encapsulates the very essence of the city shining through as it rebuilt after the war:

 

STILL GLAMOROUS- In spite of lack of food and transportation, Paris is recovering its old peacetime glamour now that the Germans have been driven out.

Clipping about conditions in Paris, The Eberhard P. Deutsch Collection 2003. Image © The National WWII Museum. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

 

America in World War Two is available now. For more information about this resource, including trial access and price enquiries, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 Endnotes

[1] Indispensable Guide-Book to visit Paris and environs, The Burton Smith Collection 2012. Material sourced from The National WWII Museum.

[2] Pfc. Herman J. Obermayer, France, to Mr. and Mrs. Obermayer, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 13 Jul 1945. The Herman Obermayer Collection 2004. Material sourced from The National WWII Museum.

[3] Ibid.

About the Author

Rosie Burgoyne

Rosie Burgoyne

Since joining the Adam Matthew Editorial team as an Editorial Assistant in October 2018, I have had the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects such as Mass Observation Project 
1981-2009, Shakespeare's Globe Archive and the East India Company. My background is in literature and history and my main academic interests include the Tudor dynasty, Victorian literature, and the history of food and drink in Early Modern England.