4 December 2020
The Day of Deliverance, arrives, at last, enfin en France, first in Provence, and, then, within a mere matter of days, in Paris. Operation Dragoon, the Allied invasion of Provence began 15 August 1944. The Liberation of Paris occurred during the very dangerous days of 19-25 August. This southern invasion of France, ultimately, fulfills the promise of liberation from the Nazis that began with the Allied invasion on those beaches of Normandy in June 1944.
Dragoon, the lesser-known of the two major Allied invasions of France, yields le Jour de Délivrance. That day of liberation of the patrie from Nazi Germans marks the summit of the long, hard climb, the journey of rebellion that General Charles de Gaulle and his Forces françaises libres undertook during the previous four years, the dark years of France.
In L’AUBE, those days that transpire in the middle of August 1944 alter forever the lives of Camille Richarde; her daughter, Gabrielle; her father, Pierre; and her biens-aimés, Guillaume de Vallon and Artur Boucher. The capital city of Paris will soon be liberated, but the rest of France, the provinces, will not be fully free of the Nazis for months to come. Artur had wryly and presciently confided to Guillaume that the Germans were noisy coming into France, and they would be even louder on their way out. And just as deadly.
That winter of 1944, the Germans forces took to the Ardennes yet again to attempt the sneaky last gamble by Hitler to win this savage war. The Wehrmacht would completely surprise the Allies in the Ardennes by launching the final Nazi offensive. The Battles of the Bulge raged from 16 December 1944 until 25 January 1945. Victory in Europe, VE Day, on 8 May 1945 was the rousing celebration of the formal acceptance by Allied commanders of the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany to the Allied armed forces. By then, Hitler was dead. He killed himself after having ordered the slaughters of millions of innocent lives. The German High Command was left to deal with that mess.
The formal Battle for Paris ended on 25 August with the written surrender of the occupying German garrison by General von Choltitz to the Free French General Leclerc. This Prussian aristocrat refused to destroy Paris, either by burning it or blowing it up, or both, thereby disobeying and greatly displeasing his insane Fuhrer.
The French Resistance now included armed members of the French Forces of the Interior, or FFI. That enormous force of the Free French, along with the adept, ardent and expert assistance of citizen-Parisians, employed the cherished tactic of the time-honored, time-tested barricades. The barricades were built, this time, to liberate Paris from the occupying Nazis. By this date in 1944, the French riot, l’émeute, did not merely constitute a doctrine. The armed riot was the treasured tradition by which the French survived oppression. When it comes to a riot, or even social protest, the French know how to do it, with style and flair and unforgettable images.
The sacrifices of those French patriots in Paris became profound during those hellish days and nights of the Liberation of Paris. Estimates vary according to categorization, and there is typically a detailed categorization among the French; but the death toll during that siege from 19-25 August — among the French Resistance, comprised of men and women — was nearly 2,000. That number is much higher than that for the militarily armed French Forces of the Interior.
The history of Paris, and of France, has given way to myths about that day, and has faded from memories, for the best of reasons — the élan that always pushes any person on toward survival after a trauma — and for the worst of reasons — the rush to push the ghastly past as far back into the past as possible and deem it dead, and thus, not worthy of discussion. That history, however, is never dead. The mists of time cannot conceal the heroism and the heroes of any nation.
From those mists of time, 24-25 August 1944, there may still be heard and seen and revered the newly liberated citizens of Paris, erupting follement, madly, wildly, in the Place de la Concorde, at l’Arc de Triomphe and throughout Paris. Their voices rise anew, from amidst the lingering chaos of patriotic sniper gunfire aimed from behind those barricades; from behind those magnificent plane trees; from behind l’Arc de Triomphe; from windows everywhere; from amidst the fierce fighting by the soldiers of the FFI; from amidst the lobbing of Molotov cocktails, hurled down from upstairs windows of old and architecturally exquisite buildings; from amidst the citizenry taunting and jeering Nazi soldiers captured by members of the French Resistance; from amidst furious joys and copious tears and sobbing fears; from those immortal cries of “Vive de Gaulle” and “Vive la France” : Paris is Paris again, à nouveau.
Le général Charles de Gaulle returns on 25 August to Paris, his Paris, in his role as the President of the Provisional Government of the French Republic. That next day, arriving triumphantly in Paris are the 2e DB, the French 2nd Armored Division, commanded by General Philippe Leclerc; and the U.S. 4th Infantry Division, led by General Raymond Barton; along with other Allied units.
Le drapeau tricolore is unfurled, everywhere. The French, tearfully, begin to emerge from their dark years. They will continue to do so, secretly and intimately, during many years, even decades to come. Too many of those savage memories will be hidden, suppressed, almost forgotten. For the truth, of any matter, but particularly of matters of the heart, is never lost, or silenced, or forgotten.
The reminders, the souvenirs, of the Dark Years will always be there, in France, no matter how often, how hard, how vigilantly and how vainly politicians attempt to explain them away, excuse them, apologize for them, equivocate them, relativize them, memorialize them in war museums that, in the quintessential French way, silently state:
The past is buried now, and forgotten.
For the very same reasons that the horrors and the grim memories of the Great War were always unnaturally very present with the French after that war, and between the wars, entre les guerres — the unspoken and unconfessed atrocities and shame of the Occupation and World War II penetrated, like a miasma, the decades of post-World-War II France. The craven politicians of France waited for enough time to elapse so that the Dark Years no longer had to be mentioned, publicly, or privately. Once de Gaule was dead, those dark years would die with him.
The French who so courageously took part in World War II, in the traumas of the Occupation, in the Liberation of Paris, in the Liberation of France, were, hopefully, sufficiently buried, along with their knowledge of the abominations that had pervaded France before, during, and even after the Dark Years. Along with the rushed interment of those abominations were buried the heroism, the valor, and the quiet faith of many thousands of French people who are no longer with us.
It is a repugnant dishonor to the patriotic dead to regard their sacrifices as part of a by-gone era that is best thought of as by-gone. The past has a cruel and vicious way of returning to the present, if only to remind people of the horrors of any past. History is not disposable; neither is honor.
The price in terms of lives lost during the Occupation in France would never be fully counted. One reason for that inadequate accounting is the desire, almost a compulsion, to put the past in the past, as if it never happened. Another reason, one that is diametrically and morally opposed to the first one, is the fact that one cannot tabulate the blood, sweat and tears, and the hopes, desires, and dreams that were surrendered by countless French citizens to the noble fight to liberate one’s homeland. Those lessons of the past were thereby truncated from ever enriching the future because of the evils of expediency that are always evil and rarely expedient.
By 1940, la France, la douce France, had become a victim of her own unwitting undoing by entrusting herself to a cadre of corrupt politicians entre les guerres. So many of those feckless, venal elected officials profited mightily from the grandeur of their own nation before they abandoned her, and then betrayed her to the invading Germans. Heroes were hard to find in 1940. They’re just as hard to find today, but one nonetheless must keep looking for them. The villain always counts on the search being abandoned by the fatigued in spirit, the woeful heart, the cynical soul.
Many of the warnings of General Charles de Gaulle went unheeded by France after he died in 1970. The decades then passed by, and passed France by, while she sought to keep up with the modernity that is composed largely of myth. France must have her myths. That necessity is not, in and of itself, a menace to any nation. It is the nature of the myth, its inherent nature, and its consequences, inevitable and unintended, that so definitively determines the degree of honor or dishonor engendered by a myth.
France had been desperately clinging to her sense of honor, even as men of dishonor besmirched their patrie, and ushered in the Fall of France. In some ways, it was quite easy for Hitler and the Nazis to seize a nation that had lost so much faith in herself. The Nazis then used France, and her Occupation, for many wretched reasons. One was an object lesson to other nations, in Europe, and elsewhere, that survival at the hands of a psychopath is possible if you quickly and silently submit to his dehumanizing of your own soul. That vile extortion of essential dignity is the only message of any bully to its intended victim. The coward does not realize that the human soul is immortal, and belongs to the Lord, not to a thuggish overlord.
Such a corrosive sense of survival is a painful and punitive burden for any nation to bear, for any human to endure. The men, women, and children of Occupied France and Vichy France suffered humiliations in ways that were unspeakable, and so far too many of them were unspoken. That solemnified silence among a numbed citizenry was subsequently used, après la guerre, by devious politicians for their advantage, not for the benefit of a liberated France. The Communists then reinforced, expanded and re-invented the cruel punishments meted out to any nation — and to any individual — which dared to live, not merely survive, or exist.
Faith, not fear; and hope, not despair, win the day, and win the night in that endless fight that is always a grossly unfair fight — between a sniveling, gutless, heartless oppressor and the good-hearted intrepid souls who seek to live, to see the light of dawn, and to thrive in the radiance of freedom. That ennobling light of truth awaits France. For la France, her dark years have not fully been faced, and, thus, overcome.
Those sorrowful truths must be met with all of the fervent faith in France that propelled Charles de Gaulle to board that small plane on the morning of 17 June 1940. With anguish, he committed that potentially treasonous act of ardent heroism, as he took that private flight from France to London, and thereby exiled himself for four years while he fought to save the dignity of France, while he fought to save France.
L’aube, the dawn, is the light that can illuminate the future of any person, and of any nation, that seeks solace in truth, and refuses the garish lure of illusions. The world today is not all that different in many ways from the cataclysmic sphere of 1940. In that long-ago world, evil men and wicked women cleverly distorted images and voices to deceive the human heart. Inevitably, those miscreants failed in their power-mad quests to control the lives of other people. The cost to live in liberty was horrific, but, to quote Mr. Thomas Paine, a rebel with the most glorious of causes:
What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.
The renaissance, the rebirth, of France awaits the dawn of the new era, an epoch that is already shining with serenity upon a world that still believes in truth, justice, honor and, the most highly esteemed of virtues, liberty. In L’AUBE, Camille Richarde, Guillaume de Vallon, and Arthur Boucher Carmichael dynamically take part in that glorious quest for freedom. Their lives become emblems of the valiant fight to preserve liberty, and to build a future that is truly alive with hope and courage.
À l’aube, with the dawn, those fictional characters awoke to truth and love and duty and honor. They shall live forever, in my heart, because of all that they taught me — about truth and love and duty and honor — and about life and love and art.