Paris: Fin Août 1944

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Price & full description: Paris - Fin Aout 1944

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Paris: Fin Août 1944

[Paris, 1944].

(26.5 x 21 cm). Title page, 16 leaves of text (rectos only), and 10 leaves of full-page original drawings, text and illustrations printed via mimeograph. Original paper wrapper with handwritten title and rules in ink, stapled at the left edge. Some edge wear and small chips to the cover, internal leaves in excellent condition. A few ink manuscript corrections in the text. Presented in the form of daily entries for the events of August 17-28, 1944. No copies listed in OCLC or CCFr.

This illustrated first-hand account of the liberation of Paris in August 1944 was written by a civilian inhabitant of the Saint Victor Maubert neighborhood (5th arrondissement) south of the Notre Dame cathedral. The author was an employee of the SNCF (the French national rail company), whose office was in the rue Traversière, near the Gare de Lyon train station. His testimony is presented from the viewpoint of an attentive civilian witness.

The narrative, which includes some manuscript corrections, is the work of an author who took great care to make his text as accurate and readable as possible, and indeed this is the strength of the account: the events of Aug. 17-28 are presented in a sober and precise manner, but with a cinematic eye for framing significant action. There are street level observations from doorways and birds-eye-views from rooftops that place the reader immediately into the chaotic movements of German soldiers and Parisian civilians as the liberation of the French capital unfolds. An astonishing and insightful witness to one of the WWII’s most emblematic and dramatic moments.

An anonymous civilian narrator, not insisting on his own role in events, provides the plain facts of the city’s liberation.

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The narrative account is complemented by simple line drawings of prisoners, members of the Resistance, medical personnel, tanks, German troops, and a map of the barricades in streets and on the bridges in the northern part of 5th arrondissement bordering the Seine, and the Ile de la Cité, the Ile Saint-Louis, toward the right bank of the river.

The dramatic and historic turning point of the Liberation begins with the following scene (Aug. 18), the first gestures of defiance toward the occupying forces:

L'après-midi, en regagnant le bureau, je vois, sur le pont d'Austerlitz, des cheminots allemande en attente d'une auto qui de gré ou de force veuille les conduire. Une voiture de tourisme se présente mais ne répond pas à l'injonction qui lui est faite de s'arrêter; au contraire, elle accélère sa course et les occupants lancent des tracts par la portière. Un des cheminots essaie par deux fois de tirer eur le véhicule, mais en vain, le révolver est enrayé. Stupeur et indignation des témoins assez peu nombreux d'ailleurs. En fait, l'acte de résistance est commencé.

In the afternoon, returning to the office, I see, on the Austerlitz bridge, German railway workers waiting for a car which will willingly or unwillingly pick them up. A passenger car shows up but does not respond to the order given to it to stop; on the contrary, it accelerates its pace and the occupants throw leaflets out the door. One of the railway workers tried twice to shoot the vehicle, but in vain, the gun was jammed. Shock and indignation of the relatively few witnesses. In fact, the act of resistance has begun.

The following day, Aug. 19, the author records the beginning of growing and more open defiance and the rising casual and careless attitude “bien parisiennes.” Members of the French Resistance begin appearing openly in the streets carrying weapons and wearing tricolor armbands.

The author focuses on the most apropos details, which he describes in direct and declarative terms: the presence of German tanks rolling through the city streets, the building of barricades and the unitary, unspoken defiance displayed by the Parisians, rising smoke from around the perimeter of the city, the growing display of French flags on buildings, presence of the Red Cross, reports of the approaching American troops, open combat punctuated by machine-gun & artillery fire, and, eventually, the arrival of General de Gaulle marching in the street--all described without ornament or hyperbole.

The eye of the observer: daily life goes on:

A few fishermen continued their peaceful pursuits, without worrying about the cannonade from the quays. A young girl was sunbathing at the tip of the Ile St-Louis while men were busy at the barricades. A tramp was rummaging through the trash while tanks flanked by infantrymen passed by: - Take shelter! someone shouts to him from a corridor. I don’t give a d…,” he replies; and he continues his rummaging while the tragic fantasia develops around him.

Then, on Aug. 25, allied tanks rolling down the rue Saint-Jacques. France is not dead!

The narrative concludes with the author’s modest account of his contribution, one that, had it not been preserved, would represent a loss for the historical record:

Ce petit feuilleton - comme je me l'étais promis a été écrit sans souci du style et de l'ornementation. On peut s'en rendre compte au nombre relativement faible des ratures sur l'original. J'ai surtout pense, en l'écrivant, à mon fils, absent de Paris à cette époque et qui regrettera de n'avoir pas vécu ces heures - s'il n'en a pas vécu lui-même de plus angoissantes.

J'ai dit ce que j'ai vu et, quand j'ai signalé quelque fait pour lequel je ne pouvais porter témoignage moi-même, la forme conditionnelle a été adoptée et même le point d'interrogation:

Le Cahier a été commencé le Mercredi matin, 23 Août, c'est dire que la relation des journées précédentes avait déjà un petit retard. Un si minime décalage peut avoir des répercussions sensibles - je l'ai souligné dans le texte - pour la véracité du récit, c'est pourquoi, par scrupule, les précisions de temps n'ont pas été en général indiquées: je n'en avais que faire, d'ailleurs, n'ayent pas eu pour objectif de coordonner ou confronter mon récit avec d'autres relations similaires... et encore moins avec l'Histoire telle qu'elle sera écrite.

This little pamphlet - as I had promised myself - was written without concern for style and ornamentation. This can be seen from the relatively small number of erasures on the original. I especially thought, while writing it, of my son, absent from Paris at that time and who will regret not having lived through these hours - if he himself did not experience more distressing ones.

I wrote what I saw and, when I reported some fact to which I could not bear witness myself, the conditional verb tense was adopted, and even the question mark [thus, “(?)”]:

The Notebook was started on Wednesday morning, August 23, which means that the report from the previous days was already a little late. Such a slight discrepancy can have significant repercussions - I underlined this in the text - for the veracity of the story, which is why, out of scruple, the time details have generally not been indicated: I didn't mind, moreover, did not have as an objective of coordinating or comparing my story with other similar accounts... and even less with History as it will be written.

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Description: Paris - Fin Aout 1944