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The Blood of Free Men: The Liberation of Paris, 1944

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As the Allies struggled inland from Normandy in August of 1944, the fate of Paris hung in the balance. Other jewels of Europe -- sites like Warsaw, Antwerp, and Monte Cassino -- were, or would soon be, reduced to rubble during attempts to liberate them. But Paris endured, thanks to a fractious cast of characters, from Resistance cells to Free French operatives to an unlike As the Allies struggled inland from Normandy in August of 1944, the fate of Paris hung in the balance. Other jewels of Europe -- sites like Warsaw, Antwerp, and Monte Cassino -- were, or would soon be, reduced to rubble during attempts to liberate them. But Paris endured, thanks to a fractious cast of characters, from Resistance cells to Free French operatives to an unlikely assortment of diplomats, Allied generals, and governmental officials. Their efforts, and those of the German forces fighting to maintain control of the city, would shape the course of the battle for Europe and color popular memory of the conflict for generations to come. In The Blood of Free Men, celebrated historian Michael Neiberg deftly tracks the forces vying for Paris, providing a revealing new look at the city's dramatic and triumphant resistance against the Nazis. The salvation of Paris was not a foregone conclusion, Neiberg shows, and the liberation was a chaotic operation that could have easily ended in the city's ruin. The Allies were intent on bypassing Paris so as to strike the heart of the Third Reich in Germany, and the French themselves were deeply divided; feuding political cells fought for control of the Resistance within Paris, as did Charles de Gaulle and his Free French Forces outside the city. Although many of Paris's citizens initially chose a tenuous stability over outright resistance to the German occupation, they were forced to act when the approaching fighting pushed the city to the brink of starvation. In a desperate bid to save their city, ordinary Parisians took to the streets, and through a combination of valiant fighting, shrewd diplomacy, and last-minute aid from the Allies, managed to save the City of Lights. A groundbreaking, arresting narrative of the liberation, The Blood of Free Men tells the full story of one of the war's defining moments, when a tortured city and its inhabitants narrowly survived the deadliest conflict in human history.


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As the Allies struggled inland from Normandy in August of 1944, the fate of Paris hung in the balance. Other jewels of Europe -- sites like Warsaw, Antwerp, and Monte Cassino -- were, or would soon be, reduced to rubble during attempts to liberate them. But Paris endured, thanks to a fractious cast of characters, from Resistance cells to Free French operatives to an unlike As the Allies struggled inland from Normandy in August of 1944, the fate of Paris hung in the balance. Other jewels of Europe -- sites like Warsaw, Antwerp, and Monte Cassino -- were, or would soon be, reduced to rubble during attempts to liberate them. But Paris endured, thanks to a fractious cast of characters, from Resistance cells to Free French operatives to an unlikely assortment of diplomats, Allied generals, and governmental officials. Their efforts, and those of the German forces fighting to maintain control of the city, would shape the course of the battle for Europe and color popular memory of the conflict for generations to come. In The Blood of Free Men, celebrated historian Michael Neiberg deftly tracks the forces vying for Paris, providing a revealing new look at the city's dramatic and triumphant resistance against the Nazis. The salvation of Paris was not a foregone conclusion, Neiberg shows, and the liberation was a chaotic operation that could have easily ended in the city's ruin. The Allies were intent on bypassing Paris so as to strike the heart of the Third Reich in Germany, and the French themselves were deeply divided; feuding political cells fought for control of the Resistance within Paris, as did Charles de Gaulle and his Free French Forces outside the city. Although many of Paris's citizens initially chose a tenuous stability over outright resistance to the German occupation, they were forced to act when the approaching fighting pushed the city to the brink of starvation. In a desperate bid to save their city, ordinary Parisians took to the streets, and through a combination of valiant fighting, shrewd diplomacy, and last-minute aid from the Allies, managed to save the City of Lights. A groundbreaking, arresting narrative of the liberation, The Blood of Free Men tells the full story of one of the war's defining moments, when a tortured city and its inhabitants narrowly survived the deadliest conflict in human history.

30 review for The Blood of Free Men: The Liberation of Paris, 1944

  1. 5 out of 5

    Deacon Tom F

    Well Written This is a very special book for history buffs , like me. It goes behind the scenes of the liberation of Paris. All was not as smooth as many television reports makes it. However, in victory we sometimes have a foggy rear view mirror.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Edward Newman

    Halfway through. Terrific so far. Starting with the political and physical circumstances of Paris in mid-1944, with fascinating discussions of the tensions between DeGaulle's men and the Communists, the French and the other western allies, and the escalating perils faces by Parisians, and then the sparks...July 14 demonstrations, the police refusing to move against the strikers, the turmoil on the German command's side faced with the ramifications of the July 20 plot against Hitler and the growi Halfway through. Terrific so far. Starting with the political and physical circumstances of Paris in mid-1944, with fascinating discussions of the tensions between DeGaulle's men and the Communists, the French and the other western allies, and the escalating perils faces by Parisians, and then the sparks...July 14 demonstrations, the police refusing to move against the strikers, the turmoil on the German command's side faced with the ramifications of the July 20 plot against Hitler and the growing knowledge that the war was lost.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    A defining case of "it's not that simple," this is a fine account of the messy, complicated and harrowing last days of the German occupation of Paris in 1944. Using memoirs and military records Neiberg reconstructs the actions of a wide cast of actors--the factions of the resistance arguing the future of the republic they had sacrificed to save, De Gaulle and his rivals, the American and British planners deciding the strategic importance of a city and the weight of responsibility for millions of A defining case of "it's not that simple," this is a fine account of the messy, complicated and harrowing last days of the German occupation of Paris in 1944. Using memoirs and military records Neiberg reconstructs the actions of a wide cast of actors--the factions of the resistance arguing the future of the republic they had sacrificed to save, De Gaulle and his rivals, the American and British planners deciding the strategic importance of a city and the weight of responsibility for millions of nearly starving people, the Vichy Milice realizing their time was nearly up, the collaborators large and small, the German officers of the occupation, the ordinary citizens pining for food by wearing tricoleur hair ribbons, and bizarrely, a visiting circus. Despite having a large number of people acting nearly simultaneously in a short period of time, Neiberg characterizes them vividly and keeps all of the plates spinning compellingly, with details that are breathtakingly defiant (using restaurant chalkboards to convey messages) and heartbreaking (the grim jokes). Care is taken to handle the quiet parts, like the brave diplomacy that knitted together the resistance groups into working together, or the backbone provided by the Paris police, whose earlier cooperation with repression made their decisions extremely grey. The endnotes are a very useful and valuable collection of available materials--the audio of De Gaulle's entrance to Notre Dame with gunshots is bookmarked for my classes. Most of all, the book underlines that the liberation was not a single moment in time, but part of a chain of events stretching back lifetimes (Spanish Civil War experience, a childhood love of the city by a Swedish consul) and ahead into the future Republic (the Gaullist political organization, the generation who met their spouses in the celebrations in the park).

  4. 5 out of 5

    Michael Gerald

    Paris from 1940-1944 was also an occupied city in an occupied country. Paris was perhaps the jewel in the Nazis' empire, who turned the city into their playground at the expense of most Parisians and other French, who also suffered the depravity of Nazi occupation: hunger, deportation, slave labor, thievery, and massacres. When the Allies landed at Normandy on D-Day, Parisians waited for the liberation of their city. But just because Paris is Paris did not immediately mean that it was on the prio Paris from 1940-1944 was also an occupied city in an occupied country. Paris was perhaps the jewel in the Nazis' empire, who turned the city into their playground at the expense of most Parisians and other French, who also suffered the depravity of Nazi occupation: hunger, deportation, slave labor, thievery, and massacres. When the Allies landed at Normandy on D-Day, Parisians waited for the liberation of their city. But just because Paris is Paris did not immediately mean that it was on the priority list of the Allies. Why? Because Paris was not strategically significant to the Allies. Understandably, the more urgent job was to pursue the German army and destroy it, which an Allied drive into Paris could have impeded. The book would have been better if there had been more maps, as there is only one and it is not enough to illustrate the events. The photos, though, are enough in number and quality.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    I thought this was a super interesting book about a misunderstood and under appreciated (at least by most Americans) event of World War II. It also caused me to have La Marseillaise and Do You Hear the People Sing? stuck in my head 24/7 while reading it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Aleksandr Voinov

    Oh, look what I found yesterday at Foyles, Charing Cross Road.

  7. 5 out of 5

    William

    Paris, France was not an important consideration for Allied commanders pushing toward Germany in 1944. The city had no strategic importance in the tactical planning to defeat Nazi forces in World War II. In the minds of generals Eisenhower and Bradley and their colleagues, the City of Light could remain dark for a while longer as their forces bypassed it en route to the Rhine and beyond to force Nazi Germany into unconditional surrender. However, the Allied commanders, despite their strategic ac Paris, France was not an important consideration for Allied commanders pushing toward Germany in 1944. The city had no strategic importance in the tactical planning to defeat Nazi forces in World War II. In the minds of generals Eisenhower and Bradley and their colleagues, the City of Light could remain dark for a while longer as their forces bypassed it en route to the Rhine and beyond to force Nazi Germany into unconditional surrender. However, the Allied commanders, despite their strategic acumen, failed to note the symbolic importance of the French capitol and the overwhelmingly positive impact its liberation would have on the morale of French citizens and soldiers and, indeed, on much of the free world. Michael Neiberg's The Blood of Free Men gives the reader much more than just a straight recounting of the liberation of Paris from its Nazi occupiers, for the book paints a detailed picture of the many conflicting currents swirling in the city—and in the Allied command structure as well as in the political world--long before the first French troops, followed by American soldiers, entered the city. Historical summaries in general textbooks often leave us with the impression that situations were pretty clear cut; we do not see personal and organizational rivalries or the behind-the-scenes struggles for dominance in the political realm. Neiberg thoroughly corrects that sort of misapprehension. There was no single, unified Resistance afoot in France during the war but multiple groups, often separated by political ideology and sometimes as distrustful of one another as they were of the German occupiers. Charles de Gaulle was not a “given” as the leader of a provisional government following ouster of the Nazis, and the French general was quite opposed to the thought of a provisional military government imposed by the Allies. There was equal fear among the Gaullists that the strong communist element in France with its armed resistance group, the FFI (Forces Françaises de l'Intérieur), was poised to form a government if supporters of de Gaulle did not take control of civil government first. Neiberg is adept at explaining the numerous conflicting goals and ideologies roiling the waters both inside Paris and within the Allied forces themselves. There are interesting tidbits in Neiberg's book for students of literature as well. Before coming to The Blood of Free Men, I did not realize that both Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre wrote for the Leftist resistance newspaper Combat. Such discoveries add even more texture to the multi-layered characters of these influential authors. Suffice it to say that historical events are always shaped by more complex motivations, conflicts, desires, goals, and relationships than are apparent on the surface and that having those revealed can be quite edifying to those who wish to see what lurks below that surface. Neiberg does a remarkable job of taking the reader below the surface of a significant event in an equally significant human conflict, and the reader will emerge from his book with a better understanding not only of that particular conflict but also of how the current government of a major European country came into existence, of how fractured and disputatious the “Allies” were, and of how disastrous the impact of the war was on the “common folk” of a major city. Neiberg's accomplishment in furthering our educations is all the more remarkable because his writing skills are outstanding, resulting in a history book that is a true “page turner.” The Blood of Free Men is, simply put, exciting to read, and the 16 page photo section reproduces historical photos that I have never seen elsewhere. By the way, if one has read Victor Hugo's Les Misérables or if one has seen the musical inspired by the novel, that reader will instantly recognize the barricades thrown up by the people of Paris as, inspired by reports and rumors of Allied forces drawing near, they themselves rebel against the German Army, SS, and Gestapo troops within the city. It is heartening that, this time, the rebels are successful.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    This is a book whose title tells you pretty much everything you need to know about what lies beneath the cover: it is an extremely detailed and informative, if sometimes dry, retelling of the days immediate before and after the liberation of the City of Lights. Michael Neiberg does an excellent job reconstructing the movements and motivations of those at the heart of the resistance uprising and ultimate Allied liberation. This book was especially interesting to me because I don't believe I had ev This is a book whose title tells you pretty much everything you need to know about what lies beneath the cover: it is an extremely detailed and informative, if sometimes dry, retelling of the days immediate before and after the liberation of the City of Lights. Michael Neiberg does an excellent job reconstructing the movements and motivations of those at the heart of the resistance uprising and ultimate Allied liberation. This book was especially interesting to me because I don't believe I had ever heard the story as Neiberg presents it, replete with iconic Parisian barricades (think Victor Hugo and Les Mis) and street fighting. Even at the Invalides museum, the majority of exhibits were devoted to that most memorable moment when Charles de Gaulle strode triumphantly down the Champs Elysees. Neiberg also does a great job of presenting the primary actors, de Gaulle and Leclerc not least among them, from multi-faceted perspectives. De Gaulle is alternately maddening and inspiring, which I imagine is pretty true to life. Similarly, Neiberg fleshes out the American position so that the reader can really comprehend why they were not keen to liberate Paris initially. Ultimately, one or two questions do remain unresolved, such as the true motivations of the German commander, Choltitz, who was ordered to destroy Paris, but did not.

  9. 4 out of 5

    David R. Howard

    Quite a story A time in history worth remembering, it was well worth the read. If you enjoy history you will like this book

  10. 5 out of 5

    John

    (I read the first chapter and selectively read/skimmed several chapters of the book. I marked it "read" and "first-chapter" because I read enough of the book that it probably would not be worth reading it from beginning to end.) The book covers the liberation of Paris from approximately D-Day to the end of August 1944. It is an interesting counterpoint to "Is Paris Burning." That book took General von Cholitz largely at his word that he had saved Paris from destruction; this book questions whethe (I read the first chapter and selectively read/skimmed several chapters of the book. I marked it "read" and "first-chapter" because I read enough of the book that it probably would not be worth reading it from beginning to end.) The book covers the liberation of Paris from approximately D-Day to the end of August 1944. It is an interesting counterpoint to "Is Paris Burning." That book took General von Cholitz largely at his word that he had saved Paris from destruction; this book questions whether General von Cholitz had sufficient control of Paris at the relevant points in time to have caused significant destruction. The book also explores the liberation from the Resistance, Allied, and German perspectives well. One interesting theme is that the Resistance (and, ultimately, most French) hated collaborationists more than they hated the Germans. The book explores the violent divisions in pre-war French society between right and left. The liberation gave the Resistance (consisting heavily of Communists and other forces of the left) an opportunity to take revenge on rightist forces that had been the collaborationist elites. Another interesting theme is that the occupation started out light, and many French did not actively oppose the occupation until 1944 and the period shortly before the liberation, when German occupation became so heavy-handed that it turned most of the population against the Germans. After the war, the French used the idea that "almost everyone had supported the Resistance" to unify society and avoid the intense civil divisions of the pre-war era, but this was not actually the case.

  11. 4 out of 5

    R Fontaine

    1940 -1944. Paris is occupied by the Germans (for the 3rd time). Neiberg does a good job of illuminating the internal factions within the resistance that came together to trigger the entry of America into the Paris conflict & the pivotal role a diplomat ,Raoul Nordling, played in thwarting the physical destruction of Paris. The US strategy under Eisenhower was to circle Paris to block off the eventual retreat of the Nazis-making sure that they were not fit to go on after being driven out of Paris 1940 -1944. Paris is occupied by the Germans (for the 3rd time). Neiberg does a good job of illuminating the internal factions within the resistance that came together to trigger the entry of America into the Paris conflict & the pivotal role a diplomat ,Raoul Nordling, played in thwarting the physical destruction of Paris. The US strategy under Eisenhower was to circle Paris to block off the eventual retreat of the Nazis-making sure that they were not fit to go on after being driven out of Paris. While it worked,the Parisians suffered the delay while the work of Nordling saved much of physical Paris.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Dennis

    For a student of World War II history this book tells a relatively unknown story about the preparations for and the liberation of Paris. France was a country of many faces in 1944. When the war ended it was not clear who would rise as the leader of the war torn country. Communist, Socialists, Republicans and other forces were vying for control while the Allies, Britain and the USA were focused on the war against Germany. Better than a Furst spy novel this book takes the reader behind the scenes For a student of World War II history this book tells a relatively unknown story about the preparations for and the liberation of Paris. France was a country of many faces in 1944. When the war ended it was not clear who would rise as the leader of the war torn country. Communist, Socialists, Republicans and other forces were vying for control while the Allies, Britain and the USA were focused on the war against Germany. Better than a Furst spy novel this book takes the reader behind the scenes as history unfolds in Paris.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Fred Sampson

    An excellent and moving history of the liberation of Paris, August 18-25, 1944, nearly 70 years ago. Since visiting Paris last year I've been voraciously consuming histories, especially of WW II and the occupation. Leaves me thinking about picking up a biography of Charles De Gaulle to learn more about the complex leader who seized the opportunity to create a new government before the smoke had cleared. An excellent and moving history of the liberation of Paris, August 18-25, 1944, nearly 70 years ago. Since visiting Paris last year I've been voraciously consuming histories, especially of WW II and the occupation. Leaves me thinking about picking up a biography of Charles De Gaulle to learn more about the complex leader who seized the opportunity to create a new government before the smoke had cleared.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Cincylitigator

    If this book does not renew your love for the United States nothing will. One of my in laws survived the occupation as a Jewish teen. This was enlightening although I discovered not much new material. My favorite part was Patton reciting the military rationale for bypassing Paris and then happily celebrating moments later with the French resistance representative upon being reversed.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Americans have this very snobby approach to France.. i.e., "All that the French know how to do is surrender." Not... exactly... so. This book is all about how the Parisians basically liberated themselves. And yes, the Americans "helped" -- although they dithered (and argued, and obstructed) their way to it. Americans have this very snobby approach to France.. i.e., "All that the French know how to do is surrender." Not... exactly... so. This book is all about how the Parisians basically liberated themselves. And yes, the Americans "helped" -- although they dithered (and argued, and obstructed) their way to it.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tomi

    An excellent book on the liberation of Paris in 1944. Neiberg clearly explains the issues between the various Resistance movements, the Allies, and de Gaulle. History never leaves us; the French fear of another time like the Commune led to divisions where there should have been unity. I learned a lot from this book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    victor harris

    Another excellent work by Neiberg. Handles the complex diplomatic tangle of French, Allies, and Germans in a coherent fashion. His breakdown of rivalries in Resistance movement also well done. Builds novel-like tension as the fate of Paris hangs in the balance.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    An excellent account of the liberation of Paris in August, 1944. The book covers the military and political aspects of the liberation, weaving them into an exciting bit of history. Highly recommended for students of WWII and or French history.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Pam

    Very interesting.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tom Gordon

    Standard reviewer words are all I can manage right now , but I found this interesting & informative.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kges1901

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

  23. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne Rice

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kate

  25. 4 out of 5

    Emma

  26. 5 out of 5

    David W. Phipps

  27. 5 out of 5

    Tim

  28. 4 out of 5

    David Barkley

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lawrence

  30. 4 out of 5

    Danny Gersh

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