These Images Show How the French Celebrated Following the Liberation of France

Photo Credit: Hulton Archive / Getty Images (Colorized)

The German occupation of France ran for four years and greatly affected the lives of French citizens. Things took a turn following D-Day, with the Allies making advancements against the Germans. Here are images of how the French celebrated the liberation of their country.

German occupation of France

The Germans invaded France in May 1940, in an advance the French military was unable to quell. After bursting through the Ardennes, the French government faced a crisis and dissolved itself. Power was given to World War I hero Marshal Henri-Philippe Pétan.

Woman extending her hands in celebration, surrounded by her neighbors and an American soldier
Celebrating the liberation of Belfort with neighbors and an American soldier. (Photo Credit: Leibowitz / Getty Images)

 

Six US and Canadian soldiers standing around, smoking cigarettes
US and Canadian troops who liberated the town of Elbeuf. (Photo Credit: FPG / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

 

Little girl crouched before a grave
Laying a wreath at the grave of a British soldier who died on D-Day, during Bastille celebrations in Courseulles. (Photo Credit: Fox Photos / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

Pétan established an authoritarian regime, signed an armistice agreement with the Germans, and moved the capital to Vichy. Seen by many as a “puppet state,” the government collaborated with the Germans, going so far as to participate in the deportation of Jews from the country.

American soldier kissing a French woman while his comrades look on
American soldier kissing a French woman following the Liberation of Paris. (Photo Credit: Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

 

US soldier crouched down before a little girl
US soldier gives a piece of candy to a French child. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images)

The German occupation of France lasted four years, during which time citizens endured many hardships. Food rationing meant many suffered from malnourishment, especially those too poor to trade on the black market, and the rates of Tuberculosis and childhood illnesses skyrocketed. There was also an increase in violence and the censoring of things outside of German control.

Large crowd below the Arc de Triomphe
Parisians gather around the Arc de Triomphe during celebrations following the liberation of Paris. (Photo Credit: Keystone / Getty Images)

 

French citizens standing atop a balcony clad with flags
Celebrations following the liberation of Cherbourg. (Photo Credit: Fred Ramage / Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

 

Women testing perfume at a store
Members of the Women’s Army Corps testing perfume following the liberation of Paris. (Photo Credit: Three Lions / Getty Images)

Despite the German occupation, many fought back. The French Resistance was active throughout occupied cities – especially Paris – and General Charles de Gaulle formed Free France, a government-in-exile.

Allied Landings in France

The D-Day landings on June 6, 1944, were the beginning of the end of Germany’s occupation of France. Upon entering the war, the US pushed for an invasion across the British Channel, as it was the most direct way of engaging the German forces. However, this was delayed due to reluctance by the British.

American soldier crouched before a young child holding a yo-yo
American soldier teaching a French child how to use a yo-yo. (Photo Credit: Keystone / Getty Images)

 

Mother holding her baby, who is eating a slice of bread
Parisians celebrate the end of food rationing. (Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images)

When the time came to storm the beaches of Normandy, the German resistance was slow. While many lives were lost, the Allies gained control of five beachheads: Gold, Utah, Juno, Omaha and Sword. With their footing on French soil, they began the liberation of France and its citizens.

The liberation of France begins

The Allied forces moved inland, intent on capturing Caen. The city was of strategic importance as a road junction, and beyond it lay open countryside useful for the construction of Allied airfields and the deployment of armored formations.

Crowd of women and US soldiers
Parisians celebrating the liberation of Paris with American soldiers. (Photo Credit: FPG / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

 

Group of Parisians smiling at the camera
Parisians gather to greet Allied soldiers following the liberation of Paris. (Photo Credit: Fotosearch / Getty Images)

 

French citizens crowded along a road as cars drive by
Celebrations along the Champs-Élysées following the liberation of Paris. (Photo Credit: HUM Images / Universal Images Group / Getty Images)

The fight for Caen was difficult. The Germans fought back against the Allies, with their counteroffensive including the use of an SS Panzer Division. The fighting continued until mid-July, after which the city was captured.

Three French Resistance fighters holding guns
Resistance fighters during the liberation of Paris. (Photo Credit: Keystone / Getty Images)

 

Elderly French couple kissing the cheeks of a US soldier
Elderly French couple welcoming a US soldier. (Photo Credit: Keystone / Getty Images)

 

Women running up to a Jeep
Parisian women cheering on American soldiers during celebrations following the liberation of Paris. (Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images)

Following the capture of Caen, the Allies – in particular, the 1st Canadian Army – were tasked with advancing toward Falaise. This cut off a large segment of Germany’s force, paving the way for city after city to be liberated. This continued into early 1945, with the Allies pushing the Germans back through eastern France and across the Rhine into Germany.

A potential delay in the liberation of Paris

In August 1944, the French 2nd Armored Division arrived in Normandy under the command of General Jacques-Philippe Leclerc and attached to General George Patton‘s 3rd US Army. By August 18, the Allied forces were nearing Paris, prompting those within the city to go on strike. Resistance fighters set up barricades and attacked German fortifications.

Woman holding up her baby to a French soldier
Celebrations as the French 2nd Armored Division enter Paris. (Photo Credit: Keystone-France / Gamma-Keystone / Getty Images)

 

American soldier kissing a French woman
French woman kissing an American soldier following the Liberation of France. (Photo Credit: FPG / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

 

US soldier kissing a little girl on the cheek
US soldier kissing the cheek of a little girl following the liberation of St. Briac Sur Mer. (Photo Credit: Tony Vaccaro / Getty Images)

The liberation of the city was almost delayed after Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower and General of the Army Omar Bradley began to worry about diverting resources. Eisenhower informed de Gaulle of these fears, prompting the Free France leader to push back.

Crowds gathered along the side of a street while a car drives through
Parisians gather to greet the Allied troops following the liberation of Paris. (Photo Credit: Art Media / Print Collector / Getty Images)

 

French woman reaching up to American troops sitting in a vehicle
American troops being greeted by residents of Notre Dame de Cenily. (Photo Credit: Robert Capa / Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

De Gaulle assured Eisenhower Paris could be liberated without difficulty and said a quick advance would prevent the communist faction of the Resistance from liberating Paris and stop them from affecting the re-establishment of a democratic government. He also threatened to send Leclerc’s 2nd Armored Division into the city if Eisenhower failed to act.

The Allied Commander agreed to proceed.

Paris is liberated

On August 23, 1944, the 2nd Armored Division advanced on Paris from the north, while the US 4th Infantry Division came from the south. While this was occurring, the German forces under General Dietrich von Choltitz were laying explosives beneath the city’s landmarks and bridges, as per instructions from Adolf Hitler. The order was to burn Paris to the ground, but von Choltitz later disregarded it, not wanting to destroy the “City of Light.”

Charles de Gualle leading a crowd
General Charles de Gaulle led a procession along the Champs-Élysées following the liberation of Paris. (Photo Credit: Agence France Presse / Getty Images)

 

American troops carrying rows of sausage
American soldiers carrying “captured” German sausage following the liberation of Cherbourg. (Photo Credit: Fred Ramage / Keystone / Getty Images)

 

American flag atop a barricade
American flag atop a barricade during the battle for Paris. (Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images)

The following day, the 2nd Armored Division ran into heavy German artillery fire, and while they suffered casualties, managed to cross the Seine and reach the suburbs of Paris. Later, Leclerc learned the 4th Infantry Division was poised to beat him to the center of Paris, and thus ordered his men forward, despite their exhaustion. Just before midnight, they reached the Hótel de Ville, in the heart of the city.

People gathered around a busker playing an accordian
A blind busker playing in the streets of Caen following its liberation. (Photo Credit: Keystone Features / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)
French citizens crowded along the side of a street
Residents of Rennes welcoming American soldiers. (Photo Credit: Broderick / Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

As the night progressed, German resistance wavered, with the majority of troops fleeing or surrendering; those who fought back were quickly subdued. When morning came on August 25, the 2nd Armored Division cleared the western half of the city, while the 4th Infantry Division took the east. Von Choltitz was arrested at his headquarters and signed a formal surrender, handing Paris over to de Gaulle and his provisional government.

Celebrations and kangaroo courts

Following the liberation of Paris, de Gaulle proclaimed, “Paris! Paris outraged! Paris broken! Paris martyred! But Paris liberated! Liberated by itself, liberated by its people with the help of the French armies, with the support and the help of all of France, of the France that fights, of the only France, of the real France, of the eternal France!”

On August 26, 1944, de Gaulle and Leclerc held a liberation march along the Champs-Élysées. Gunfire was noted during the celebration, but the individuals responsible were never identified.

US soldiers standing with French children and adults outside of a brick building
US soldiers with French citizens following the liberation of their village. (Photo Credit: Fred Ramage / Keystone / Getty Images)
Soldiers with the US 4th Infantry Division driving in front of the Eiffel Tower
Soldiers with the US 4th Infantry Division drive by the Eiffel Tower. (Photo Credit: CORBIS / Historical / Getty Images)

While many celebrated the country’s liberation, others saw it as a time of reckoning. Some believed Germany’s occupation was only successful because of the tacit consent of the French population and the support of its elites and high-ranking officials. As such, kangaroo courts were established to deliver what became known as the “people’s justice.”

Four men holding up drinking glasses
Parisians drinking to the liberation of their city. (Photo Credit: Three Lions / Getty Images)
Soldiers crouched over a pile of boxed rations
Soldiers sharing rations following the liberation of Paris. (Photo Credit: Roger Viollet / LAPI / Getty Images)
French citizens and US soldiers crowded around a GI holding a guitar
American soldiers celebrating the liberation of Cherbourg. (Photo Credit: Keystone / Getty Images)

The formation of such courts had begun that June, in an effort to purge the government of officials associated with the occupation and Vichy. It was later expanded to dole out punishment on those viewed as collaborators. A large portion of those targeted were women who’d slept or entered into relationships with German soldiers. They were publicly humiliated, had their heads shaved and clothes torn and were doused in various substances.

Hundreds of executions were also carried out across the city.