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

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

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by Michael Neiberg
     
 

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In The Blood of Free Men, acclaimed historian Michael S. Neiberg provides a thrilling new history of the Liberation of Paris, showing how a host of brave fighters, commanders, and officials saved the city and, in the process, shaped the outcome of World War II.

The Liberation of Paris was a chaotic, complex operation that could have easily ended in the…  See more details below

Overview

In The Blood of Free Men, acclaimed historian Michael S. Neiberg provides a thrilling new history of the Liberation of Paris, showing how a host of brave fighters, commanders, and officials saved the city and, in the process, shaped the outcome of World War II.

The Liberation of Paris was a chaotic, complex operation that could have easily ended in the city’s ruin. Paris was only spared from being turned into a rubble-heap thanks to the efforts of a complex network of players, some of whom seemed to be working against each other. While the Allied Forces largely ignored Paris (focusing instead on reaching Germany), the French themselves were deeply divided. French political cells competed for control of the Resistance within Paris. Outside the city, Charles de Gaulle and his Free French Forces aimed to direct the Resistance and establish themselves at the head of France upon its liberation.

Determined to stop these fragmented forces was the occupying German army, which clung to Paris with ever more ferocity as the Allied army approached from its Normandy beachhead. As Neiberg demonstrates, the Germans were at first far more concerned with Paris’s well-being than were the Allies. Paris had been a relatively minor strategic priority for the Allies in the broader scope of the war, but as a major transportation hub for German troops and materiel in the region the city was critical to Germany’s stranglehold on France. German commanders knew that, in order to move their forces freely within those parts of western Europe still under Axis control, they would have to keep Paris intact and in order for as long as possible. Many French citizens had themselves been content to forego outright confrontation with the occupiers in favor of city-wide stability; most Parisians lived alongside German troops in relative peace for the early years of the war. But that façade was broken by the time the Allies flooded into Normandy.

Hammered by deadly Allied bombing raids and starved by food shortages (which were only exacerbated by the appetites of German troops), many ordinary Frenchmen decided to act. Electrified by news gleaned furtively from the BBC, Parisians began to stand up to the Germans. Paris’s policemen, many of them also Resistance members, stopped enforcing the Germans’ repressive laws, forcing the SS and Gestapo to do their dirty work themselves. Tensions finally boiled over on August 19, when a group of brave Parisians—mostly policemen and Resistance fighters—faced off against their occupiers. It was a dangerous gambit, as Hitler had ordered the city’s military leadership to destroy Paris rather than let it fall. Indeed, Neiberg reveals that, contrary to popular conceptions (which hold that Dietrich von Choltitz, the city’s military governor, had never intended to obey Hitler’s orders), the mounting chaos may have actually have led to the city’s demolition. Tragedy was only averted by the intervention of Swedish Consul General Raul Nordling. Neiberg shows how the oft-overlooked Nordling brokered a ceasefire with von Choltitz, buying the Allies the time they needed to make it to the city—and thereby saving Paris from the fate Hitler had planned for it.

Tracking the movements of entire armies as well as the machinations of individuals on the ground, The Blood of Free Men provides an arresting narrative of the Liberation, as well as an authoritative explanation of its place in the scope of World War II and in French history at large. Gripping, fast-paced, and populated with unforgettable characters, it tells the full story of one of the war’s defining moments, when a tortured city and its inhabitants stood up to reclaim their liberty.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
After the June 1944 Normandy landings, Allied armies intended to avoid Paris, and Germany didn’t consider it strategically important, but the city obsessed every Frenchman. In this vivid account, Neiberg, professor of history at the U.S. Army War College (Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I), points out that, by July, Parisians were starving. Malnourishment during four years of Nazi occupation worsened as Allied bombing plus German diversion to supply its forces reduced food imports to famine levels. This plus a yearning to strike the hated Germans inflamed the city’s resistance. Parisians rose up on August 19, and Neiberg skillfully describes six days of disorganized but bloody urban warfare between poorly armed Frenchmen and mostly unenthusiastic Germans until a French regiment, in defiance of Allied orders, entered the city. While hardly a great victory and followed by a nasty vengeance against collaborators, Paris’s liberation produced ecstatic delight throughout the West, making it one of the few feel-good stories of the war, and Neiberg, with a close-up and evocative narrative, delivers a thoroughly satisfying history. 23 b&w photos, 1 map. Agent: Geri Thoma, Markson Thoma. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

Dallas Morning News
“[A] compelling, well-researched narrative.... The story of how Paris ultimately was saved is complex and inspiring and richly told by Neiberg.”

Philadelphia Inquirer
“[A] riveting account of a generally neglected subplot of the war.... [Neiberg] is especially adroit in charting the course of French politics in the mid-1940s.”

San Antonio Express-News
“Spellbinding.... Although a myriad of books have been written on World War II, Neiberg’s work is freshly delivered with a love and passion for a city and its people that brings to life not only the fear and pain the city experienced under Nazi rule, but also for the hope its liberation inspired in Parisians and free men everywhere.”

Roanoke Times
“The liberation of Paris was an important symbolic event during the end game in World War II. Author Michael Neiberg’s account of that liberation, The Blood of Free Men, explores the importance of Paris to the French and Americans, not the strategic value that other sites would have during World War II, but the emotional connection most Allied combatants felt toward the City of Light.”

Maclean’s
“Historian Neiberg takes a new look at the liberation of Paris and how it narrowly escaped devastation.... [An] impressive cast of real-life characters populates this retelling of Paris’s deliverance, ranging from future world leaders Dwight Eisenhower and Charles de Gaulle to writers Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre to the brave rank and file of the French Resistance. And yet the most fascinating and controversial figure remains German Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz, the man who left Pairs unburnt.”

Journal of Military History
"Neiberg provides his readers an exciting story of a city and its people caught in the middle of a turbulent and transformative time. Throughout, he displays his skills as an accomplished historian. Mining a vast array of secondary literature and written in a lively style, he describes for both the historian and general reader the various social, military, and political dimensions of this dramatic moment.... A pleasant and informative experience."

Andrew Roberts, author of The Storm of War
“‘Paris will be transformed into a heap of rubble,’ ordered Adolf Hitler in August 1944. The heroic story of how that crime against civilization was prevented is grippingly told in this diligently-researched and extremely well-written book. You can almost hear the bullets ricocheting across the boulevards.”

Jeremy Black, author of The Politics of World War Two
“With this fascinating book, Michael Neiberg, one of America’s leading historians of World War One, turns to consider 1944. He brings a wealth of expertise as a scholar of French history, and offers a well-written and exciting treatment.”

Alan Riding, author of And The Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris
“Michael Neiberg’s fast-paced and well researched account of the liberation of Paris has all the detail, tension, and contradictions of a ‘you-were-there’ drama. And for a change, the French are heroes: not only the Parisians who joined the final insurrection, but above all Charles de Gaulle, that stubborn patriot whose opponents in the summer of 1944 included the Americans and Communists as well as the German occupiers.”

Publishers Weekly, starred review
“[A] vivid account…. Neiberg skillfully describes six days of disorganized but bloody urban warfare between poorly armed Frenchmen and mostly unenthusiastic Germans until a French regiment, in defiance of Allied orders, entered the city. While hardly a great victory and followed by a nasty vengeance against collaborators, Paris’s liberation produced ecstatic delight throughout the West, making it one of the few feel-good stories of the war, and Neiberg, with a close-up and evocative narrative, delivers a thoroughly satisfying history.” 

Dennis Showalter, author of Hitler’s Panzers
“Michael Neiberg’s talents as a scholar and storyteller brilliantly present the complex realities underlying the liberation of Paris in 1944, when the City of Light regained its freedom through the risks and sacrifices of its people.”

Kirkus Reviews
“Neiberg’s taut narrative explains how the liberation played out.... An evenhanded, efficient account of one of World War II’s signature moments.”

Booklist
“In his engrossing and stirring narrative, [Neiberg] reveals how the city was liberated through a combination of heroism, ignoble acts, and the machinations of politicians, resistance fighters, and even hardheaded diplomats. Although Neiberg doesn’t avoid the more unsavory aspects of the saga, his descriptions of the courageous acts of ordinary Parisians roused from their slumber make for one of the most remarkable and inspiring episodes of the war.”

Library Journal
Neiberg's book about the final days of German-occupied Paris is in some ways a retelling of the story by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre four decades ago in Is Paris Burning? But Neiberg adds a depth that the earlier work deliberately omitted. Collins and Lapierre opted for a journalistic, moment-by-moment account of events, whereas Neiberg offers a more panoramic view of events, placing them in the context of the relations among the respective Allies, which had different tactical and strategic aims during the campaign in France. Neiberg also focuses on the rivalries and competing postwar visions of the varying French Resistance factions and the Free French military and political leadership. Neiberg clearly does not intend to supersede or replace the earlier book, which he draws upon often, but his work makes an excellent companion to Is Paris Burning? VERDICT This book is as engrossing and fast paced as its predecessor, and, while targeted to the nonacademic reader interested in World War II, it could easily find a place among academic titles.—RF
Kirkus Reviews
From the Allied landings at Normandy to Charles de Gaulle's triumphant march down the Champs-Élysées, a war historian tracks the ouster of the Nazis from the City of Light. After four years of a humiliating occupation, Paris prepared during the summer of 1944 to finally throw off the Nazi shackles. Hitler ordered the city defended to the last man, reduced to rubble if necessary. With the Allied armies only 150 miles away, factions among the Resistance forces, many of them communist, jostled for leadership. They all shared a hatred for the Vichy regime, sought vengeance against collaborationists and wanted Parisians to liberate themselves. None knew that Allied commanders, dismissing the city's strategic value, aimed instead to capture key ports and drive the German army east. De Gaulle appreciated the city's symbolic importance. He knew that capturing Paris was the key to postwar power in France, and he wanted the capital liberated by his army. Neiberg's (History/Univ. of Southern Mississippi/U.S. Army War College; Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I, 2011, etc.) taut narrative explains how the liberation played out. While he makes clear that credit for the city's emancipation must be shared, he features the contribution of the Resistance, especially the tireless Henri Rol-Tanguy, the martyred Jean Moulin and Robert Monod and Roger Cocteau. Neiberg highlights the critical role played by the Paris police force and the heroism of thousands of anonymous Parisians. Hurling Molotov cocktails and harassing German soldiers from behind makeshift barricades, they suffered 500 men killed and 2,000 wounded. Neiberg also effectively debunks commanding German Gen. Choltitz's postwar claim that he surrendered Paris for humanitarian reasons by demonstrating the hopelessness of his military situation and noting he was "motivated in no small part by his deep fear of the Paris mob." An evenhanded, efficient account of one of World War II's signature moments.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465033034
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
10/02/2012
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
881,208
File size:
3 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Dallas Morning News
“[A] compelling, well-researched narrative…. The story of how Paris ultimately was saved is complex and inspiring and richly told by Neiberg.”

Philadelphia Inquirer
“[A] riveting account of a generally neglected subplot of the war…. [Neiberg] is especially adroit in charting the course of French politics in the mid-1940s.”

San Antonio Express-News
“Spellbinding.... Although a myriad of books have been written on World War II, Neiberg’s work is freshly delivered with a love and passion for a city and its people that brings to life not only the fear and pain the city experienced under Nazi rule, but also for the hope its liberation inspired in Parisians and free men everywhere.”

Roanoke Times
“The liberation of Paris was an important symbolic event during the end game in World War II. Author Michael Neiberg’s account of that liberation, The Blood of Free Men, explores the importance of Paris to the French and Americans, not the strategic value that other sites would have during World War II, but the emotional connection most Allied combatants felt toward the City of Light.”

Maclean’s
“Historian Neiberg takes a new look at the liberation of Paris and how it narrowly escaped devastation…. [An] impressive cast of real-life characters populates this retelling of Paris’s deliverance, ranging from future world leaders Dwight Eisenhower and Charles de Gaulle to writers Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre to the brave rank and file of the French Resistance. And yet the most fascinating and controversial figure remains German Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz, the man who left Pairs unburnt.”

Andrew Roberts, author of The Storm of War
“‘Paris will be transformed into a heap of rubble,’ ordered Adolf Hitler in August 1944. The heroic story of how that crime against civilization was prevented is grippingly told in this diligently-researched and extremely well-written book. You can almost hear the bullets ricocheting across the boulevards.”

Jeremy Black, author of The Politics of World War Two
“With this fascinating book, Michael Neiberg, one of America’s leading historians of World War One, turns to consider 1944.  He brings a wealth of expertise as a scholar of French history, and offers a well-written and exciting treatment.”

Alan Riding, author of And The Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris
“Michael Neiberg’s fast-paced and well researched account of the liberation of Paris has all the detail, tension, and contradictions of a ‘you-were-there’ drama. And for a change, the French are heroes: not only the Parisians who joined the final insurrection, but above all Charles de Gaulle, that stubborn patriot whose opponents in the summer of 1944 included the Americans and Communists as well as the German occupiers.”

Publishers Weekly, starred review
“[A] vivid account…. Neiberg skillfully describes six days of disorganized but bloody urban warfare between poorly armed Frenchmen and mostly unenthusiastic Germans until a French regiment, in defiance of Allied orders, entered the city. While hardly a great victory and followed by a nasty vengeance against collaborators, Paris’s liberation produced ecstatic delight throughout the West, making it one of the few feel-good stories of the war, and Neiberg, with a close-up and evocative narrative, delivers a thoroughly satisfying history.” 

Dennis Showalter, author of Hitler’s Panzers
“Michael Neiberg’s talents as a scholar and storyteller brilliantly present the complex realities underlying the liberation of Paris in 1944, when the City of Light regained its freedom through the risks and sacrifices of its people.”

Kirkus Reviews
“Neiberg’s taut narrative explains how the liberation played out…. An evenhanded, efficient account of one of World War II’s signature moments.”

Booklist
“In his engrossing and stirring narrative, [Neiberg] reveals how the city was liberated through a combination of heroism, ignoble acts, and the machinations of politicians, resistance fighters, and even hardheaded diplomats. Although Neiberg doesn’t avoid the more unsavory aspects of the saga, his descriptions of the courageous acts of ordinary Parisians roused from their slumber make for one of the most remarkable and inspiring episodes of the war.”

Read More

Meet the Author

Michael S. Neiberg holds a Ph.D. in History from Carnegie Mellon University and is Professor of History and co-director of the Center for the Study of War and Society at the University of Southern Mississippi. He is also Professor of History in the Department of National Security and Strategy at the US Army War College.

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