I have read lots of books on World War II, ever since first becoming interested in the subject as a child when I read The Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss, which was about her experiences as a Jewish child in hiding from the Nazis. I particularly liked to read stories about civilians who were caught up in the chaos of the war. All those who survived that war had a story to tell. Those who were members of persecuted groups, in particular, had some amazing experiences to recount.
Is Paris Burning? by Larry Collins and Dominique LaPierre falls into a broader category because it deals with civilians, yes, but also the armies that are either oppressing or liberating them. It’s about the French people the various groups that made up the French Resistance, civilians barricading the streets, political prisoners, General Eisenhower, the French Army, the British, the occupying Nazis – and Adolf Hitler, who orders Dietrich von Choltitz, the general in charge of Paris to blow up and burn the beautiful city to the ground. That’s where the title comes from. “Is Paris Burning?” is a line that Hitler was screaming at the general into the phone from one of his bunkers.
But this story is so much more than the bare facts about the events surrounding the liberation of Paris in August 1944. Right before he is sent to Paris to take over the operation of commanding the city, General von Choltitz, who has a wife and two daughters, sees his dream of having a baby son come true. At about the same time, Hitler comes up with a new evil edict: if his generals don’t do whatever he demands, it’s not only a prison and later a death sentence for them. Der Fuhrer also will imprison their entire families.
Imagine that general’s internal dilemma. Does he obey amoral orders, or does he do the right thing by refusing to carry them out – and thus put his own family at risk?
There are so many astonishing coincidences in this true story about the way events unfolded which aided the Allies in their defeat the Nazis that it’s really enough to make you wonder. If this were a work of fiction, it would be unbelievable. The fact that it isn’t makes the tale seem all but miraculous.
Best of all, at least to me, was the unexpected bonus of reading that the very first American serviceman to go through the gates of Paris on the day it was liberated after four long years of vicious Nazi occupation just happened to be from my hometown, Roselle, New Jersey. Bravo!