On this day in 1944, after more than four years of Nazi occupation, Paris is liberated by the French 2nd Armored Division and the U.S. 4th Infantry Division. German resistance was relatively light, and General Dietrich von Choltitz, commander of the German garrison, defied an order by Adolf Hitler to blow up Paris’ landmarks and burn the city to the ground before its liberation.
Choltitz signed a formal surrender that afternoon, and on August 26, Free French General Charles de Gaulle led a joyous liberation march down the Champs d’Elysees.
The liberation began when the French Forces of the Interior, the military structure of the French Resistance, staged an uprising against the German garrison upon the approach of the US Third Army, led by General George Patton. On the night of the 24th, elements of General Philippe Leclerc’s 2nd French Armored Division made its way into Paris and arrived at the Hôtel de Ville shortly before midnight.
The next morning, August 25, the bulk of the 2nd Armored Division and US 4th Infantry Division entered the city. Von Choltitz, also the military governor of Paris, surrendered to the French at the Hôtel Meurice, the newly established French headquarters, while General de Gaulle arrived to assume control of the city as head of the Provisional Government of the French Republic.
Exactly 248 days later, Hitler and his new bride Eva Braun lay dead from self-inflicted gunshot wounds in the Führerbunker in Berlin; so ended the 1000-year Reich, after 12 years. His brainchild, World War 2, was the deadliest military conflict in history in absolute terms of total casualties. Over 60 million people were killed, about 3% of the 1940 world population (est. 2.3 billion). The death, disease, destruction and privation endured by combatants and civilians alike are unimaginable to many in the 21st century; this is as intended by those men and women who fought the war and kept the larger peace over the last four generations.