HITLER IN PARIS: JUNE 1940
WHEN CITY WENT DARK: THE FALL OF PARIS 1940
The intimate letter dated June 5, 1940, and sent from a husband (in his late forties) in Paris to his wife, included a passage on the imminence of the situation that was now in evidence. His name was Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle and even before the day ended, he had been appointed as Under Secretary of State for Defence for France. The position was no more than an entry-level ministry office even without access to all military committee sessions. It was not until the day before, June 4, to witness the last efforts of the Gargantua evacuation from the besieged French port city of Dunkirk: England was now to welcome 100 000 french soldiers apart from 230 000 of the British Expeditionary Force. On the same June 5, de Gaulle wrote a letter to his wife, the suburbs of Paris were exposed to the air raid by the German Luftwaffe.
On the night of June 10, de Gaulle was sleepless after the news that the Germans had successfully crossed the Seine river and turned on Paris in the never-ending pursuit to the West. Prior to the salvage the same day, the French government chaired by PAUL REYNAUD had heated debates on the fate of the ‘La Ville-Lumière’ (City of lights), a nickname of the city since King Louis XIV. Since the very appointment five days ago, de Gaulle had been passionate about the necessity to fight for Paris, yet his senior colleagues finally declared the capital ‘an open city’ to avoid a bloodbath of the civil population and the devastation of the historical and cultural heritage. The Frenchmen were well aware of the fierce siege of Warsaw nine months before. In the late hours of the same day June 10, the government left Paris: de Gaulle and Reynauld shared the same car to move to the South, breaking a path among the never-ending columns of the refugees. De Gaulle would not set ashore the French soil until June 1944.
In those dramatic days of May-June 1940, France was fated to become a stage for the largest migration in history at that point in history. Nearly 8 million civilians left their homes to join the woebegone processions, which paralyzed the French road network, eventually causing disorders in the last efforts of the army. In mid-June forty French divisions were still resisting the forces of the German invaders, being superior in the overall military overture and tactics of using the mechanized units. It historically stands to mention that at this final stage of the Battle for France, the defending army was more effective in the battle than in May, yet the war initiative had been lost. The senior generation in Eastern France still had painful recollections of the German occupation of the last war and millions of civilians headed themselves West. The population of big cities in the way of Wehrmacht was decreasing in chilling progression and the French army units were now forced to make their way next to the columns of the refugees, who had been driven beyond endurance in the course of the last weeks. Until the end of the campaign, the Frech army lost a total 120 000 dead in action and missing.
Back in the early days of ‘Fall Gelb’ in May, the rapid German success seemed something grotesque. Now, only a few weeks after the outbreak of the offensive, French society was to face the frustrating reality. With the news of the advance of the German army toward the capital and the salvage of the government on June 10, Paris fell into panic. All while the previous weeks witnessed tens of thousands of refugees from the East, now the city was exposed to partial desolation. One could now see the abandoned cars and even cattle heads on the streets of Paris, quite apart from the panic-driven behavior of the feared people. The waiting lines of those in a desire to leave the city for the West and South, spanned for kilometers around the railway junctions, until recently among the high-demand in Europe. The city that had served as a safe haven for centuries, now turned into a crowded mass, driven by rare German air bombardments and ambiguity.
As far back as only one generation, the forces of the Kaiser’s imperial army suffered some crushing defeats in one’s pursuit of taking Paris. On June 14, 1940, Franz Halder lettered an entry in his war diary on the fact that as early as 9 a.m. the same morning the advance German detachments had entered Paris and the overall strategic setting bears evidence of the all-force back-tracking of the French. The chief of staff of the Army High Command (OKH) recorded his own emotional background and called the happening the ‘greatest moment in the history of Germany. Unsurprisingly, one of the architectures of the Western campaign immersed the fact that his country had lost merely 49 000 dead and missing and another 110 000 wounded. Apart from human losses, the German army lost 1,559 aircraft destroyed and damaged as well as 714 mechanized vehicles. On that June day 1940, the German army entered the city for the first time since 1871 and the well-known triumph over the armies of king Napoleon III.
At the highest level of the Nazi power, Adolf Hitler had foretasted the news from Paris, yet he made no disguise of one’s feelings to the extent, that he would decree a number of orders on such a triumphant occasion. The Fuhrer gave instructions to the whole Third Reich to hang up flags and to churches specifically to ring the bells for fifteen minutes for three days. The same day June 14 also witnessed ‘Directive No. 15 for the Conduct of the War’, which among other prescriptions, included an order to derail French efforts to form a new defending line to the West and South of Paris. On the following day, Wehrmacht captured Verdun, the French fortress and a place of a fierce battle between two sides for merely nine months during the previous War. The French and British were not alone in their consternation on account of German military success. Vyacheslav Molotov, Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs and the infamous partner in crime on account of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and the annihilation of Poland the previous fall of 1939, lettered a note of congratulation to the Germans on the occasion of taking Paris. The officialism of the letter failed to mask Stalin’s concern in view of such a rapid outcome of the Western campaign.
The advance detachments of the German Wehrmacht, which entered Paris in the early hours of June 14, 1940, belonged to the 18th army of GEORG VON KUCHLER, the future German Field Marshal. The general at that time, Kuchler was not the highest-ranking officer of the German army among those who visited the conquered city on the first day of the occupation, when the Nazi swastika dominated the Arc of Triumph. General FEDOR VON BOCK, commander of Army Group B got to a place, that had been previously left by the French forces, to review troops. The German newsreel footage cinematographed Von Block at the Avenue des Champs-Élysées while saluting the marching soldiers bypassing the Arc of Triumph. In the aftermath of such a festive occasion (obviously for Germans, not the French), Fedor von Bock visited the tomb of Napoleon Bonapart at the Hotel des Invalides and had a luxurious lunch at Parisian Ritz.
On the same June 14, a few frustrated Parisians witnessed the arrival of another high-ranking German to their beloved city, now humiliated. General WALTER WARLIMONT, Deputy Chief of Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command, fell for the nostalgia of the Great War (WWI) and ordered his pilot to land Fieseler-Storch Fi 156 plane at the very Place de La Concorde city square. One of the landmarks of the French capital had been freed of the cars and men to provide an improvised landing strip of 30 meters in length. ERWIN ROMMEL, the future legendary commander at North Africa and the Western wall, was another visitor of Paris, who would later hate the city for its brothels and theatrics.
As though in contrast to the panic and uncertainty of the previous weeks, the Parisians now faced the done fact of the German occupation nearly apathetically. One of the cultural capitals of Europe, which had been welcoming with one’s bustling life for centuries, seemed scarily calm on June 14 all while the soldiers of the German 18th army under Kuchler were still entering the city. Paris received conquerors from Germany for the first time in seventy years and ‘welcomed’ them with empty glass cases of the bakeries, cafe chairs folded, closed restaurants, weather-worn posters of the American movie premiers, and spaceless fashion boutiques. A large proportion of the sounds in the streets of Paris that day originated from the army of invaders. The vehicles of the Wehrmacht were streaming across the boulevards and the horse-drawn cars were in surprising contrast to the image of the ‘most mechanized’ army in the world, cultivated by the Third Reich. The elder generation of the citizens now witnessed the never-fulfilled fears of the previous ‘Great War’: the enemy soldiers in grey uniforms marching across the city. In a matter of the first days of occupation, they would also witness the new German road signs. German Abwehr (German Intelligence Service) had been secretly operating in Paris since the 1930s and had marked the potential buildings of interest, now in 1940 brought in the requisition.
In the last few inter-war years, Paris was indeed impressed with the number of automobiles, leaving Berlin far behind. Relatedly, the greater proportion of French transport had been in strong demand by the Army in recent weeks and thousands of cars abandoned the city with the waves of refugees. The Parisians were still stubborn in getting used to the idea of using bikes. Now the German occupation brought transient difficulties with the city transport, particularly with buses, which would boost the passenger traffic of the metro up to 2 million daily. The few French gendarmes in the streets now witnessed with frustration the columns of the German military vehicles, who obviously ignored the traffic regulations. In those first few days of the presence in Paris, the Germans equipped some military cars with loudspeakers. All while the battle for France was still in full swing throughout the country, these voice clips brought the Parisians the version that they had been betrayed and France had already lost the war. The humiliating voice records held on the message, the French Army had no force to match the ally of Germany and Italy (the indeed war potential of the latter was poor) and there is no sense in holding the field. This humiliating reality of the military setbacks was mixed with the orders to surrender arms under the threat of death in the event of disobedience toward the occupation administration.
To a great extent, the Germans were themselves surprised with their own military success and now had no detailed agenda on how to master the occupied Paris. The second official decree waited until June 21 and in the course of this week Berlin had sent instructions to ‘preserve Paris the same as the world knew it’. Hitler made up his mind to display flexibility on the global stage. The conservative occupational policy left a door open for possible political talks with both England and the United States. It also projected the false image of peace-making for the Soviet Union, the destruction of which Hitler already had in his mind. The German administration in Paris would appeal to the citizens to lend assistance to the occupational forces in order to ‘resume normal living’ as it had been before.
All while the occupational authorities were facing strategic dilemmas, Paris witnessed the initial changes on the very first day of the seizure. Already in the early hours of June 14, the new coming invaders occupied a few luxurious buildings in the city center and turned them into improvised headquarters. Conventionally guided by the exterior and the location, the Germans now took possession of some of the appraised hotels, units of government, and residential buildings in every arrondissement (city quarter) of the city. In accordance with the terms of the signed Armistice, the French now found themselves not only the loose party in the war but also obliged to cover the ongoing ‘war expanses’ of the Third Reich to run the occupation of France. The French people were now exposed to covering the occupation of their own country with no less than 400 million francs a day.
Merely one week after the seizure of Paris, the occupational authorities printed a short telephone book with the addresses and phones of the well-known hotels and restaurants: all at the expanse of the Parisians. In that summer of 1940, the city was humiliatingly fated to become a touristic destination for German civilians and soldiers (who enjoyed a break in the war), who rushed off to the heart of the conquered France being fostered by their own government. Another painful reverse was attributed to a German decree on obligatory blackout measures in the nighttime. For the next four years, Paris would lose a well-known ‘The city of lights’ attribution.
In surprising historical contrast to the euphoria of the success in the West and the encouragement of tourism to Paris, for the first little while the ‘triumphants’ were themselves exposed to restrictions, admittedly to be often ignored. A great bulk of the preserved German testimonies of that time, including diaries and letters home, documented a mere lukewarm attitude towards the official directives, which seemed harsh on paper. Walther von Brauchitsch, a Supreme Commander of the German Army at the time, personally issued a communique, which urged the German soldiers to set the pattern for an ‘Arian warrior’ and to preserve the iron discipline. The officers were abandoned to have a cigarette openly in the streets of Paris as well as to loosen ties next to French civilians. They were also demanded to carefully follow the local traffic regulations, in particular the 40 km/hour speed limitation in daytime and 20 in the nighttime.
At the start of the occupation, the set German administration disallowed its own soldiers to make a visit to the French cinemas and particular restaurants. Apart from the public restrictions, such as having a swim in the Seine river and singing thongs in the streets, there were regulations of private life. The utmost directives implied a stringent prohibition of buying pornographic outlets as well as having sexual relations with Jewish and black women. All while the high-ranking officers, as from the visit of Fedor Von Bock on June 14, were free enough to take advantage of the Parisian shops and to obtain souvenirs to take back to Germany, the common soldiers were discouraged from such activity. In accordance with another decree, the valuables and resources, which were of value for ‘military necessity’ for the Third Reich, could be ‘requisite’ at the country level and not by individuals of any kind. The German soldiers were agitated to buy souvenirs of not much value and were strictly prohibited from stealing possession from the French. The ‘shopping’ was more or less encouraged at the particular German shops, which would soon become the route points within organized bus tours across Paris.
HITLER IN PARIS: JUNE 23 OR 28
In the course of decades after WWII, the appraised biographers of Adolf Hitler have been in some way divided into two camps of arguments (including first-hand accounts and second-hand research) on the issue of the date of Hitler’s only visit to Paris. In his widely acclaimed historical classic ‘Hitler: A study in Tyranny’ ALAN BULLOCK wrote: ‘He came at the end of the month’ (June 1940). As early as two decades after (the first Bullock edition was published back in 1952), JOACHIM FEST wrote about a visit, which had taken place three days after the beginning of Armistice terms, thus June 28. As early as 1976, three years after Fest’s book, another classic biographer of Hitler JOHN TOLAND stated June 23 as the date of the Fuhrer’s visit to the capital of conquered France.
Another quarter of a century passed and the world was granted with yet the most cited book about Hitler by professor IAN KERSHAW. The acclaimed historian noted his own arguments in regard to the confusion of dates and put the event on June 28. As early as 2018 VOLKER ULRICH published the second volume of his biography of Hitler, which at present has all credence to become a classic one. The historian and talented journalist refers to every participant of the visit, who had left testimonies and books and identifies June 23 as the date. In less than a year, PETER LONGERICH, another acclaimed historian presented his enormous 1400-page biography of Hitler. In the book, he specifically underlined the confusion with the Paris visit and in a well-argued manner established firmly on June 23, 1940.
All while the acclaimed biographies of Adolf Hitler are second-hand sources, another historical perspective on the issue of his visit to Paris in June 1940 is evidently based on first-hand accounts: memoirs, diaries, testimonies, and stenographs of the direct participants among the entourage. In all fairness, a great while their versions of the event caused discord in the historian’s pursuit to fix the day of Hitler’s visit to Paris. ALBERT SPEER eventually confused the researchers tangibly by stating that the visit took place three days after the beginning of the Armistice terms (June 25), had been signed in Compiegne. His recollections were merely word-for-word cited by Joachim Fest and Ian Kershaw. Nicolaus von Below, Hitler’s Luftwaffe adjutant, was the second first-hand participant, who noted June 28 as the date of the visit, and professor Kershaw noted him as the source as well.
Along with these two members of the entourage, Hermann Giesler, a member of the ‘artistic’ retinue next to Hitler, recalled June 23 in his book ‘Ein anderer Hitler: Berichte, Gespräche, Reflexionen’. Arno Breker, another participant, gave us the most full account of the whole event in his ‘Im Strahlungsfeld der Ereignisse: Leben und Wirken eines Künstlers. Porträts, Begegnungen, Schicksale’ book and stated June 23 as well. Along with that, Gerhard Engel, another adjutant of Hitler, dated the visit on June 26. Wilhelm Keitel indicated no precise date in his memoirs, only emphasizing the trip after Compiegne.
Consequently, two participants of the visit, Albert Speer and Nicolaus Von Below stated June 28 as the date in contrast to more detailed accounts of two other key figures. The eye-witness accounts of Hermann Giesler and Arno Breker are anyway the most detailed recollections of Hitler’s journey to Paris in June 1940, admittedly much more precise and correct in details than Speer’s account, which has been historically cited more often. It is worth noting that a number of historians and journalists of the XXI century refer to Ian Kershaw as the primary source of the June 28 date, omitting first-hand sources and documents. Professor Kershaw himself denies June 23 on the basis of Speer’s and Below’s accounts and himself refers to a widely used yet second-hand source by Max Domarus. Looking into a 3000-page piece of scholarship by Domarus, one could see that the author and editor refer to Hans Baur (who indeed left no precise date) and to three German newspapers of that time: Völkischer Beobachter №182, Münchner Illustrierte Presse, and Berlin’s Illustrierte Zeitung 28.
To so many admirers of history, it may be doubtful to question the authority of Professor Ian Kershaw. Relatedly the occasional issues should not cast a shadow upon his monumental biography of Hitler, yet the professor is an often referentee to second-hand sources and not to ways at primary documents. The monumental research of Max Domarus, a priceless monograph on the topic, was published back in 1962 and the last authorial edition followed as far back as 1972. When it comes to Hitler’s visit to Paris in June 1940, the author just had no access to a number of the first-hand testimonies at that time, particularly to the books of Arno Breker and Hermann Giesler, which would be published in 1972 and 1977 retrospectively. Ian Kershaw debates the authenticity of the date June 23, (correct) stated in another acclaimed chronology: ‘HITLER A Chronology of his Life and Time by Milan Hauner’ (first edition in 1983).
PETER LONGERICH took full advantage of his monumental 2019 work to pay particular attention to the confusion with the date of Hitler’s journey to Paris. The acclaimed historian examines the sources, particularly the version of Ian Kershaw, and invites readers to find credence in the documents. He particularly refers to the ‘Führer headquarters diary‘, the factual document which documented Hitler’s activity and presence at the headquarters at Brûly-de-Peche, and the entry BAF, RW 47/6. In addition to the stated above books, June 23 date could be found within such acclaimed historical works as ‘Hitler’s Personal Security: Protecting the Führer, 1921-1945’ by Peter Hoffmann (1975), ‘Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics’ by Frederic Spotts (2002), ‘The Devil’s Disciples: Hitler’s Inner Circle’ by Anthony Read (2003), ‘Hitler’s Propaganda Pilgrimage’ by Bob Carruthers (2015), ‘Hitler’s Secret Headquarters: The Fuhrer’s Wartime Bases from the Invasion of France to the Berlin Bunker’ by Franz W. Seidler (2006), ‘The Hitler Years: Disaster 1940-1945’ by Franc McDonough (2020).
On June 25, 1940, Hitler, in the aftermath of the Armistice beginning, Hitler issued a decree stating the necessity of rebuilding Berlin. The historical detail, rarely cited, to a considerable degree correlates with the visit between June 22 and 25. Among other factual documents, on June 28 Adolf Hitler paid a visit to the city of Strasbourg, just on the heels of a two-day journey (June 26-27) to the places of his military service in the Great war. His route across the city included the Cathedral and a bridge over Rein. ‘Archives de la Ville et de l’Eurometropole Strasbourg’ presents open access to the photographs made on June 28 in their city. The photos captured Adolf Hitler, Martin Bormann, Wilhelm Keitel, Generaloberst Friedrich Dollmann (not to be confused with Hitler’s interpreter Eugen Dollmann), Otto Meissner (the chief of ‘Presidential Chancellery of the Führer and Chancellor’)
WITH FUHRER TO PARIS: HITLER’S ENTOURAGE
In the teeth of the devastating setback of France back in 1871, neither Wilhelm I, the King of Prussia at that time and soon the first German Kaiser, nor von Bismarck, the architect of the dominance, paid a visit to Paris as the conquerors. Now in June 1940, Adolf Hitler humiliated the French in Compiegne and made up his mind to see ‘La Ville-Lumière’ (City of lights), which had been seized by his forces since Friday, June 14. In contrast to a visit to the defeated Warsaw in October 1939, a journey to France has always been more intimate for Hitler, a vision with a symbolic meaning. To the same extent as with the state visit to Italy in May 1938, with art galleries and historical villas, the German Fuhrer got himself excited with art and architecture. Even given his indifference towards the history of French nationhood, Hitler admired the architecture of Paris, the city he had been reading about since his Vienna and Munich days before the Great War. In all respect, on those warm June days of 1940, full of triumph for the Germans, the German supreme dictator took on both roles of the conqueror and a tourist, delighted with art and architecture.
In his infamous ‘Table talks’ Hitler would later voice a confession that a visit to Paris, ‘La Ville-Lumière’ had always been one of his most sincere and intimate desires and the blitz victory over the Western democracies worked the way up. Apart from his usual military entourage of ministers, adjutants, and high-ranking army officers, this time Hitler made up his mind to be accompanied by ‘men of art’, thus the civilians which he had admired. The choice was turned next to Alber Speer, already a member of Hitler’s inner circle at that time, architect Hermann Giesler (he received a professor degree from Hitler’s hands a year before), and his famous sculptor Arno Breker. The reason for such a choice of retinue facilitated Hitler’s self-identification as a man of art and on the other hand, he now had the social context to demonstrate his own theoretic expertise in the architecture of Paris. In other words, the Speer-Giesler-Breker trio was the one who could appreciate the moment with Hitler. Apart from his basic motivation, the Fuhrer wished to inspire his architects and a sculptor in the coming transformation of Germany, which in his mind would overshadow Paris on a large scale. The three civilians were to wear military uniforms to blend into the entourage, still taking the center stage.
ALBERT SPEER. One of the most knowable and distinctive members of Hitler’s intimate social circle even eighty years after the era, in no small part due to his well-known memoirs. His ‘Erinnerungen’, better known by its English edition as ‘Inside the Third Reich’ was published as early as 1969, merely three decades after that visit to Paris. Speer devoted a few pages to that memorable event and caused discord with his estimation of the exact date. Being an accompanee to the triumphant Hitler, Albert Speer was to make his way back to the city of his own triumph just three years before. The 1937 Paris World’s Fair was a momentous event for a German architect, who gained the Grand Prix for his German pavilion and raised the international prestige of the Nazi regime. In June 1940, an engagement to accompany Hitler was no less than recognizing his high status in the hierarchy of the Third Reich. At the same time, an invitation for Hermann Giesler, Speer’s olden peer, implied a rising of a competitor, a restless fact for Albert.
HERMANN GIESLER. Descended from a family of architects, he would later describe this June 1940 visit to Paris next to Hitler with admiration, yet the onset of the journey was stressful for Giesler. On June 22, 1940, the well-known German architect was stopped by local police in Vienna on his colorless way to a construction site. Unannounced of the details, Giesler was escorted to the airport of Vienna, from there (on a board of Ju. 52) to a small landing field in Northern France, and finally to Brûly-de-Peche, Hitler’s military headquarters north of Sedan. On-site, his anxiety was chased away by Hitler in person, who invited Giesler to accompany himself on a short tour to Paris, planned for the following day, Sunday, June 23.
The Fuhrer was full of enthusiasm for sharing the triumph over France and Britain and craved to visit the heart of France before the beginning of the Armistice. Giesler’s book called ‘Ein Anderer Hitler’ would see the world as early as 1977, with the author in his late seventies, would come out to be a high-profile first-hand account of Hitler’s only visit to Paris. Apart from a detailed narration in regard to the route and his professional commentaries, Giesler also recollected his dialogues with Hitler with respect to the planned rebuilding of the German cities, particularly Linz, an intimate city for Adolf Hitler. In 1942 Hitler would assign Hermann Giesler to restructure the left bank of the river in Linz.
ARNO BREKER. Was the third ‘man of art’, fated to accompany Hitler to Paris and to give the Fuhrer the sense of being ‘one of the artists’. His first encounter with the great city dated back to 1924 as a student of ‘Kunstakademie Düsseldorf’ (the Arts Academy of the city of Düsseldorf). By being a young enthusiastic sculptor, Arno Beker had the good fortune to socialize with such prominent people of art as Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau and finally moved to Paris in 1927. Starting from 1933 Breker had been receiving contracts from the Third Reich government and as early as 1937 became a member of NSDAP himself. Hitler not only released Breker from military service but also provided the famous sculptor with privileges. The ‘official state sculptor’ was now handed material resources, a studio, and hundreds of assistants, and his works of the period were admired not only by Hitler but by Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator as well.
As well as for Hermann Giesler, an unplanned journey to France in June 1940 was initially a stressful surprise for Breker. In his ‘Im Strahlungsfeld der Ereignisse: Leben und Wirken eines Künstlers. Porträts, Begegnungen, Schicksale’ (In the radiation field of the events: The life and work of the artist. Portraits, Encounters, Destinies) book he left recollections. Breker was awakened in the early hours of June 22, 1940, in Munich by a call from Gestapo officers, who ordered the sculptor to be ready to place himself in a car in one hour. The same day, Arno Breker was escorted to Hitler’s headquarters in Northern France. Hitler was fascinated with the idea to be accompanied by Breker, a well-known francophil, who had lived years in Paris as an artist. All while the stillness and apathy in the streets of the occupied city would come across him, Breker’s love for Paris won’t get in the way of being among Hitler’s retinue. It is worth mentioning, that Arno Breker was not enthused with an appeal to wear a military uniform to the extent he had no pleasure to come back to his beloved Paris as a conqueror. As early as 1942 he would run an exhibition of his own works in occupied Paris and would once again encounter Jean Cocteau, who would play the highest regard to Breker’s sculptures.
One can hardly conceive of Adolf Hitler’s journey of such significance with no personal photographer, particularly a man who would later name his memoirs ‘Hitler, Wie Ich Ihn Sah: Aufzeichnungen Seines Leibfotografen’ (better known in English as ‘Hitler was my friend’, 1955). HEINRICH HOFMANN not only recollected his trip to Paris in the post-war recollections but back in 1940 he published a photo album known as ‘Mit Hitler in Westen’ (With Hitler in the West), a factful source of the photographs from that June 23, 1940, day. If the historical truth is told, a portion of the images was taken by WALTER FRENTZ, a personal photographer and cameraman of Adolf Hitler under the supervision of Hofmann. HANS BAUR, Hitler’s personal pilot who had accompanied his chef in the better half of the trips, also left recollections on his Paris journey (he saw no Paris indeed and spent three hours at the Le Bourget airport) in his ‘Ich flog die Mächtigen der Erde’ (loosely translated in English as ‘I was Hitler’s pilot) book. An experienced pilot Baur described a heavy fog, which had covered the landing field of ‘Gros Caillou’ prior to the take-off in the early hours.
Military men had always been an essential component of Hitler’s retinue during any visits to the frontlines. As in every journey of such kind, the German Fuhrer was accompanied by his military adjutants. GERHARD ENGEL, would later depict a visit to Paris in his ‘Heeresadjutant bei Hitler’ (1974) memoirs and incorrectly dated the event as June 26, 1940. As early as the Fall of 1943, five years after being appointed as Hitler’s adjutant, Gerhard Engel of one’s free will led a combat unit at the front. The Paris entourage included WILHELM BRUCKNER, an NSDAP member since 1922, the former SA leader of Munich, a participant of the infamous failed ‘Beer Hall Putsch’, and one of the five first members of Hitler’s personal bodyguard squad. Since 1934, Bruckner had been Chief Adjutant to Hitler and would be dismissed from this position until the end of 1940, a few months after a visit to Paris. Julius Schaub, the oncoming Bruckner’s successor, was an NSDAP member since 1920 and one of the first members of the SS. NICOLAUS VON BELOW, Hitler’s Luftwaffe adjutant since 1937, would later date the visit as June 28, yet devoting merely one paragraph to the whole event. HEINZ LINGE, the personal valet of Hitler since 1935, would also provide a short recollection of a visit to France in his ‘With Hitler to the end’ (1980) book.
WILHELM KEITEL, Chief of Armed Forces High Command since 1938, was on paper the most high-ranking officer of the army in that June 1940 trip to Paris. He would later leave undetailed yet emotional commentaries in his near-death memoirs in Nuremberg. Keitel called the Compiegne Armistice the pinnacle event of his own career as well as a chance to accompany Hitler on his journey to Paris. Keitel had also a chance to get encounter Albert Speer for the first time. The retinue also included KARL-HEINRICH BODENSCHATZ, a military adjutant of Hermann Goering. Already in Paris, the cortege would be welcomed by a representative of the occupational administration HANS SPEIDEL, the future one of the surviving high officers of the July 20 plot against Hitler (1944). MARTIN BORMANN, already known at that time as ‘the shadow of the Fuhrer’, had been annoyed by one’s place in the entourage during Hitler’s visit to Poland in 1939. Hitler was also accompanied by KARL BRANDT, Hitler’s escort doctor since 1934. As Heinrich Himmler was absent, the SS was presented by KARL WOLFF, Chief of Personal Staff Reichsführer-SS. OTTO DIETRICH, Nazi party press chief since 1931, also accompanied his chef as well as Max Amann, Hitler’s comrade-in-arms in the First World War. In the course of the next few days, he would also accompany the German dictator on a tour across the battlefield of the ‘Great War’.
IN EARLY HOURS: HITLER’S VISIT TO PARIS
In the early morning hours of June 23, 1940, Hitler’s FHQ ‘Wolfsschlucht’ headquarters at Brûly-de-Peche were overtaken by liveliness. The day before a local landing ground welcomed a number of expected guests, particularly architecture Hermann Giesler and sculptor Arno Breker, who were now to experience another restless night in a row. The massed retinue was now shaped in preparation to accompany their Fuhrer in his first and only journey to Paris, scheduled for this every morning. A cozy village Bruly-de-Pesche was located close to the border between Belgium and Northern France. The Headquarters originated from the onset of construction works on May 26 and toward June 6, 1940, the day of Hitler’s visit, were mainly finished. FHQ ‘Wolfsschlucht’ included the so-called ‘Fuhrerbunker’, a concrete bunker of only 25 square meters as well as five larger barracks with 1500 meters of total useful space. The local French church was turned into a temporary cinema house to manifest newsreels from the frontlines. Apart from Hitler’s headquarters, the OKH was located in its own staff headquarters of 800 meters of useful space, donated by the pre-war infrastructure of a village called Chimay.
The air operating surface of the ‘Gros Caillou’ airfield was located a few kilometers distanced from FHQ ‘Wolfsschlucht’ near Bruly-de-Pesche and had been settled and equipped with necessary facilities by Organisation Todt the previous weeks for the use by Hitler’s HQ and the OKH staff. In total up to 900 soldiers and officers of ‘Fuhrer-Begleit Bataillon’ were in charge of the executive protection of Hitler in his new Western headquarters. The German dictator and his summoned entourage came to ‘Gros Caillou’ airfield well in advance of the daybreak. Hans Baur, Hitler’s trusted pilot no other man who would pilot Ju. 52 with his chef on board. Fifteen years from that foggy early hours, Baur would recollect (in his book) the pride of the morning and thus restricted visibility prior to the departure. In reliance on the FHQ War Diary, Hitler left his headquarters at 3:30 a.m. on June 23, 1940. Moreover, Hermann Giesler would later set 4 a.m. as the time of the flying-off, and the acclaimed book ‘Hitler’s Secret Headquarters: The Fuhrer’s Wartime Bases from the Invasion of France to the Berlin Bunker’ by Franz W. Seidler (2006) includes 4:05 as a time of the take-off from Gros Caillou. The timing difference in sources may be explained by an interval between leaving FHQ Wolfsschlucht and the immediate departure from the airfield.
Around 5 a.m. a Ju.52 headed by Hans Baur came down at Le Bourget airfield, distanced 10 kilometers to the North-East from Paris still asleep. Once Hitler left the patrimony of his personal security squad at FHQ ‘Wolfsschlucht’, the executive security of the German Fuhrer was now passed to the members of ‘Fuhrer-Begleit bataillon’, who had been waiting for the cortege at the airfield. Five Mercedes cars, escorted by the SS and RSD (Reichssicherheitsdienst or ‘Reich security service) were waiting next to a landing strip of Le Bourget. As the cortege pulled out of the airport, the daybreak came into view in these longest June lights days of the year. As there was a cool breeze that morning, Hitler wore a grey military coat. Later on, as the sun came up, he would switch into a light-color trench coat.
Hitler placed himself in the front seat next to the driver of the first car in the column, a performance he had previously probed in Poland in 1939. The second of three rows of seats was now parked by Albert Speer and Arno Breker with Herman Giesler and adjutant Julius Schaub at the back seats. There is an educated guess that Hitler’s motivation for such an early visit to Paris was cultivated by his enduring concern about the possibility of an attempt upon his life. Relatedly, his place in the open car, as well as the visiting of places of public attraction in Paris, evidences otherwise. The way from the airport, as well as the route through Paris itself, was not cordoned or sophisticatedly guarded except for seldom French policemen, generally failing to realize the event with an unlikely guest (Hitler). The cortege entered Paris before 6 a.m. through ‘Porte de la Villette’, historically named after a commune, which had been a part of the city as far back as 1860. The column of cars polled past the German guarding post, whose soldiers threw up arms in a Nazi salute.
Apart from minimizing the possibility of the assassination attempt, the early visit to Paris, prior to the awakening of the majority of its citizens, was based on purely pragmatic reasons: keeping encounters with the locals to a minimum and empty streets to lead the cortege. Hitler himself would later comment, that on June day he had intended to provoke as little buzz as possible on a journey through Paris more like as a tourist than a conqueror (he anyway felt himself to be). Paris engaged Hitler with indeed desolated streets beyond the evident reason of prime hours. In reliance on the most argumentative post-war estimations, up to three-third of the pre-war population was still absent because of the recent mass evacuation. Weeks before Hitler’s visit the exodus of Parisians was caused by an alarm toward the possible air raids and the invasion of the Germans soldiers, who had, either way, entered the city on June 14, nine days before Hitler’s cortege. Apart from the military retinue of the officers, the civil ‘men of art’, the German Fuhrer was accompanied by a film crew, who had the assignment to depict their leader in the light of such memorable (for Hitler, obviously not for the French) event of historical significance.
The first Hitler’s path point in Paris was fated to become the most cited among the second-hand sources, which would, at any rate, refer to the recollections of Albert Speer, Hermann Giesler, and Arno Breker. On the way to the first stoppage across the city still asleep, Hitler had time to see live in person the famous wide boulevards, the XIX century heritage of Georges Eugène Haussmann, a city planner of Paris, which German Fuhrer had admired to the extent of a craving to outclass the French source of pride with the mighty of German cities in the Third Reich. Years prior to that June 1940 trip, Hitler and Adolf Speer had given consideration to a Parisian opera and the museful images of gaudery guests and lackeys uniformed in liveries of the past. Hitler appreciated a visit to the Opera as a mandatory site of interest across Paris, which city plan he had claimed to have in his head for years.
The magnificent building of PALAIS GARNIER is located in the 9th arrondissement of Paris close to the very heart of the city. In 1940 the area was already appreciated as one of the fanciest in the city, with its boutique fashion stores, perfumeries, and premium restaurants. Since the seizure of Paris on June 14, a great number of German officers and bureaucrats had already taken up residence within the abandoned or taken apartments along Avenue de l’Opéra. One among the major boulevards of Paris, in contrast to ‘Avenue des Champs-Élysées‘, it was planned intentionally with no greening, a decision masterminded to outline the panorama toward the Opera building, which dominates the Avenue. The area had been historically appreciated by the artists, such as the legendary Claude Monet, an outstanding representative of impressionism and numismatics Gustave Caillebotte, and Camille Pissarro, an iconic-like figure in French Arts of the XIX century.
A few French gendarmes recognized Hitler as the cortege forwarded Palais Garnier and the Fuhrer himself (as he would later recall the episode during his ‘Table talks’) took notice of a newspaper seller, who did his best trying to ignore the cortege. Despite the bravado of the whole event and the Mercedes column, Hitler remembered well the recent episode during a journey to the front, when a French woman had shouted insults towards the Germans and Hitler himself. They were for some time awaited by Hans Speidel, a representative of the newly established occupational administration, and an elderly silver-haired French man who happened to be a guide. The rank of people made one’s way up the world-famed grand stairs and walked into an elegant lounge and then a theatre hall. Pretty much every piece of illumination was now turned on to welcome Hitler and the giant-like chandeliers were ablazing as if it was a gala concert.
As far back in time as his youth in Vienna, Hitler read a lot about Paris and Palais Garnier in particular, this neo-baroque landmark of world architecture. In the course of the last few days prior to the trip, he had time to brush up on the theoretical baggage from the books and now Hitler grew in confidence to the extent he was ready to guide his retinue as a guide. Albert Speer, Hermann Giesler, and Arno Breker were among those, who would be notedly impressed with Hitler’s scholastic expertise in the place. Breker had lived in Paris for years, yet he was mesmerized by the improvised tour inside the Opera, which in practice narrowed the presence of the French sights man to the role of the door opener. One of the episodes of the 50-minute tour inside the Opera would later be recollected in the accounts of the larger half of the entourage. Hitler sensitized the absence of a private entrance and a small back room for the head of the French state. The elderly French sights man initially opposed oneself the statement, but in a moment he brought to mind the fact that such a premise had indeed existed in the past prior to one of the reconstructions.
Once finished a tour inside the building, Hitler and his entourage left the Opera by the grand entrance and spent a few minutes having a glimpse over ‘Avenue de l’Opéra’ and the building once more (50 minutes before it was still dawn). Being ready to resume the tour, Hitler asked his devoted adjutant Wilhelm Bruckner to express gratitude to an elderly French guide. The sights man mannerly rejected the 50 German marks note and a few moments later with the second attempt, this time originated from Arno Breker (Hitler asked him), a well-known admirer of France and Paris. The German Fuhrer outlined that they all had just luxuriated in one of the most beautiful and proportional buildings in the world with its ‘Belle Epoque decoration. Apparently, Hitler experienced an emotive contrast between his usual spartan living conditions at military headquarters such as FHQ ‘Wolfsschlucht’ and now standing next to Opera Garnier at its finest.
ÉGLISE DE LA MADELEINE
Following minutes spent at the front side of PALAIS GARNIER, Adolf Hitler and his entourage left the elderly French sights man with a split feeling and parked themselves in the automobile cortege. Their next stop would demand merely 600 meters to cover on the straight across ‘Boulevard des Capucines’ to the West. The avenue seemed desolated with no automobiles except for the cortege and nor a single pedestrian. Arno Breker, who had put his heart in Paris years ago, lettered this detail into his recollections. ‘Église de la Madeleine’ is well-known for its decades-long construction, at different times patronized and interfered with by a number of French rulers. Back in 1806 Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor at that time vitalized the building-up process and ordered to commemorate of not only of Maria Magdalene but also the victories of the French army during his reign.
Hitler in fact had acted in anticipation prior to a visit to ‘Église de la Madeleine’, a landmark that had not only rendered the magnificence of classic Greek and Roman architecture but was also associated with Napoleon, which Hitler had admired for years. All while a visit to Paris on June 23, 1940, was a far cry from the welcoming of the conqueror, Hitler, either way, revealed himself in parallels to a French Emperor. He (Hitler) was on a hunt for inspiration for his grandiose plans of rebuilding the German cities and the magnificent architectural colossus of the past such as ‘Église de la Madeleine’ to fuel his ambitions. The newsreel footage taken by the filming crew depicted the energetic German dictator, who led his retinue way up the marble stairs. Disappointingly for Hitler, the interior of Madeleine left no impression and the visit to the building happened to be unexpectedly hurried in contrast to merely an hour that had been just spent inside the Opera house. He would later characterize the interior of the church as too ‘academic’, apparently not finding the balance with the grand French Empire style of the front side.
PLACE DE LA CONCORDE
The camera of the filming crew depicted the Mercedes cortege moving across Rue Royale, leaving the dominant image of ‘Église de la Madeleine’ behind as if resembling Hitler’s disappointment. The German column made another 300 meters next to the closed restaurant ‘MAXIM’ and moved to PLACE DE LA CONCORDE, the largest square in Paris. Mere four months after the first fall (the second and thus final in 1871) of the French monarchy, on January 21, 1793, the square witnessed the infamous execution of King Louis XVI. Prior to the revolution and the erection of the guillotine, the place (renamed ‘Place de la Révolution’ at that time) bore the name of Louis XV, the grandfather of the now-doomed King. In under a year, Marie Antoinette, the wife of the executed monarch, would share his fate on the same square. In 1937 the year of the triumphant (for Germany) World Exhibition and three days prior to Hitler’s visit, Place de la Concorde was awarded the status of ‘Monument Historique’ for its statues, fountains, balustrades, columns, and lampposts.
Once moved into the square, Adolf Hitler stood up in his front seat to have a better view over the legendary Parisian landmark, bitterly known as the site of the fall of the French monarchy with its thousand-year history, the fate that would crush the Third Reich in less than five years from that June 1940 day. The automobile cortege made a paced circle around the center, particularly ‘Obélisque de Louxor’, an Egyptian column of XIII century B.C., which had initially graced the entrance to Luxor. A landmark 23 meters high is the oldest erection in Paris, although it was brought to the city as early as the XIX century. The architectural ensemble of the heart of the square is also formed by two famous fountains: ‘Fontaine des Fleuves’ and ‘Fontaine des Mers’, once inspired by Rome.
As the column was making its way around PLACE DE LA CONCORDE, Hitler had a chance to run an eye over the far panorama of the ‘Tuileries’ gardens and the legendary Louvre. A few moments later: Palais Bourbon of classicism style on the opposite bank of the Seine. The four corners of the square are accompanied by monuments, each devoted to a pair of French cities. At the North-East part of ‘Place de la Concorde’, at the start of ‘Rue de Rivoli’ street, Hitler could have a look at the monument devoted to Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace, now annexed by the Third Reich in accordance with Armistice, had been signed the day before in Compiegne. On June 28 Hitler and his military entourage would visit the city of Strasbourg.
Apart from the monuments of French historical significance, the cortege moved beside the buildings and had already gained a kind of symbolic meaning for the Germans. In the early hours of June 14, 1940, all while the forward detachments were still entering the city, the ‘new masters’ invited Roger Langeron, the police prefect of the city since 1934 to appear at the ‘Hôtel de Crillon’ at 11:00. Once faced with the fact of the occupation, the French civil servant was no alternative than to be present at Place de la Concorde in the building, which had already been accommodated by the Germans as a temporary headquarters. On that very first day of humiliation and new order, Walter Warlimont, deputy chief of the Operations Staff, ordered his private pilot to land Fieseler-Storch Fi 156 at the very square. ‘Hôtel de la Marine’, another well-known building on the square, would be also accommodated by the Germans to host the office of the Kriegsmarine. In those days, PLACE DE LA CONCORDE was fated to become a site for the Germans’ parades of victory commemorating the triumph over France.
As the cortege made merely a full circle around the center of the square, Hitler motioned to make a stop at the start of ‘Champs-Élysées’, a major boulevard of Paris. The German Fuhrer had for years daydreamed over a desire to overshadow the famous Parisian avenue with its forthcoming (never finished) project in Berlin. Hitler’s car came to a stop at the head of the avenue just between a pair of statues made of Carrara marble, world-known as ‘Chevaux de Marly’ or ‘Horses of Marly’. Two symmetric horse statues were created back in the XVIII century and depicted horses got on one’s legs, which are to be put down by a figure of a man. It is worth noting that the statues were ordered for erection by French King Louis XV, whose name was once entitled ‘Place de la Concorde’. As far back as 1894, once built for ‘Château de Marly’, a royal residence to the West of Paris, they were moved to the capital to be placed symmetrically at the start of ‘Champs-Élysées’. All while on June 23, 1940, the German retinue had a chance to observe the authentic statues, today one could witness only marble replicas: the original ones are exhibited at Louvre. The archive footage captured two French gendarmes and a man dressed in dark religious clothing. From this very point, Hitler could have a glimpse over the far panorama of Arc de Triomphe, the ongoing waypoint.
ARC DE TRIOMPHE
Upon the earlier brief stop at Place de la Concorde, the motorized Mercedes column pulled away across ‘Champs-Elysées’ for another 1.9 km. The cameraman captured the moment when Hitler’s caravan of cars moved into ‘Place de l’Étoile’, which would be named ‘Place Charles-de-Gaulle’ three decades later (1970). The motor march column made a semicircle counterclockwise Arc-de-Triomphe, allowing the passengers to range their eyes over the monumental landmark. For years Hitler had craved to leave behind the world-famed highlights of France and despite one’s admiration for Arc-de-Triomphe in Paris, he considered it as ‘undersized’. Apart from such gigantomania, the ‘artistic’ part of the entourage (Hitler, Speer, Giesler, and Breker) did appreciate the particular architectural design of Paris, in accordance with which the streets of this part of the city converged toward the symbol of the Napoleon’s might.
On June 14, 1940, nine days prior to Adolf Hitler’s journey to Paris, Fedor von Bock reviewed German troops on their marching way under the Arc-de-Triomphe and across Champs-Elysées. Hitler had a desire to build an Arc in Berlin, the span of which will be giant enough to place the French one. These would never be fulfilled as less than five years from that day, Berlin, as well as the great share of Germany, would lie in the ruins of the Third Reich.
Once made a semicircle at ‘Place de l’Étoile’ square, another brief stop would let the cortege passengers see Arc-de-Triomphe over. Guided by Hitler, they appreciated a few minutes at the ‘Tomb of the Unknown Soldier’ just under the Arc. As far back as January 28, 1921, six delivered coffins with the remains of the French fighters of the ‘Great War’ found their resting place on this very spot. Right to the fall of the curtain of German occupation in 1944, the German soldiers and civilians would pay multiple visits to a small open space under the Arc to lay flowers to the ‘Tombe du Soldat inconnu’ (Tomb of the Unknown Soldier). It may seem curious that the Germans did commemorate French soldiers, who had been their enemies in the previous war.
At the same time paying a visit here between 1940 and 1944 had gained a symbolic meaning, which included the military honor code (at least in this aspect and in contrast to the atrocities of the Nazis) and was used to demonstrate cooperation toward the occupied French. At this spot Hitler had time to look around the inscriptions at the Arc-de-Triomphe, pages of the French history, he had been aware of from the books. Two days before (June 21) he spitefully commented on a statue commemorating French victory in the ‘Great war’ at Compiegne: he had detested the scores of that war since 1918 and the beginning of one’s political career. As directed by the dictator, the Mercedes column resumed its way across Avenue Foch to have a chance to look around the Arc-de-Triomphe from a different angle.
The German autocade drove through for another 700 meters across ‘Avenue Foch’ and turned into another large street, Avenue Raymond-Poincaré, once named after the French president of the times of the First World War. By making that turn, the cortege did not pass the building, which would be destined to become sadly remembered even eighty years later. Already at the first days of the occupation Avenue Foch 84 was accommodated by the German Gestapo, the infamous secret police of Nazi Germany. To the very end of the occupation, the members of the French resistance, as well as the captured Allied POWs, would be brought here, interrogated, exposed to torture, and often killed. Followed by a short way to the South, the column finally reached ‘Place du Trocadéro’, a panoramic open space, dominated by two large pavilions. The large open ground opens a breathtaking panorama over the ‘Pont d’Iéna’ bridge over the Seine and, of course, the Eiffel Tower. The reading made the site knowable for Hitler, Breker knew it well from his years in Paris, and of course, Albert Speer had a moment of reminiscence from the time of being triumphant at ‘Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne’ in 1937. That year, the architectural favorite (Speer) of the Fuhrer gained Grand-Prix for his German pavilion, dominated by an eagle, one of the symbols of the Third Reich.
By making a few dozen of meters from their cars, the retinue of these unusual German tourists now had gained a glimpse over the left bank of the Seine river. In the four years to come, they would be imitated and followed by thousands of Soldiers and civilians from the Third Reich. As Speer, Giesler, and Breker would later recollect, Hitler had integrally no liking for the metallic erections in architecture, yet the Eiffel Tower had been making an impression on him since the theoretic examination of the French landmarks from books and photos. Now having his time at ‘Palais de Chaillot’, an architectural complex in the heart of Paris, the ‘might-have-been’ architecture Hitler appreciated the view and the tower. For the German dictator, the creation of Gustave Eiffel (which many Parisians had criticized for decades) symbolized a new era of urban development. By not being ‘beautiful, the Tower was by nature a unique structure of a new epoch of classicism, the very erection of which had been made possible due to technological advancement. It was these very minutes when Heinrich Hofmann and Walter Frentz took the most retyped photographs (at least in the Third Reich) of the year 1940. Hitler next to his entourage and particularly his ‘men of art’ posed both as an admirer of arts and the conqueror with a view over Champ de Mars and the EIFFEL TOWER.
CHAMP DE MARS AND ECOLE MILITAIRE
Fresh from a brief photo session with a panorama over Trocadero gardens, the Seine river, and the left bank of Paris, the above-average tourists took their seats in the Mercedes motorized column in order to cross the river. The cavalcade of cars resumed the route at ‘Place du Trocadero’, came around a living quarter, and crossed the Seine river by means of the ‘Pont d’Iéna’ bridge. Sufficiently wide, even for Paris (it was expanded from 19 to 35 meters in width prior to the 1937 Exposition), this bridge is 155 meters long and was erected under the patronship of Napoleon Bonaparte as a symbol of the French victory over Prussia. ‘Hotel des Invalides’ was the next scheduled waypoint, yet the cortege did make an intermediate stopping, as Hermann Giesler would later say, to delight Wilhelm Keitel, the most high-ranking army officer among Hitler’s retinue in Paris. By driving lengthwise ‘Champ de Mars’, the convoy of cars settled across the road from ‘Ecole Militaire‘. The monstrous-like complex of buildings of this military school originated from the XVIII century and a decree of Louis XV. At that time a building-up of a new academy allowed young men from unwealthy families to be educated as officers with a resource to join the French army. Keitel was considered a representative of the old Prussian officer school and he came out open with admiration toward the Officer Corps of France, the descendants of which Wehrmacht now (in 1940) succeeded to defeat.
Hitler left his private Mercedes to take a view from the spot he had just seen from the other bank of the river from the height of ‘Palais de Chaillot’. In very deed, the front side of Ecole Militaire produced a certain image as well as a panorama over ‘Champ de Mars’ and the Eiffel tower from this new lower perspective. In these early hours of Sunday, the large public open space was still mainly free of the Parisians and German soldiers. It is worth noting, that Hitler’s car set a stop just next to ‘Le monument équestre au maréchal Joseph Joffre’, a monument to a French commander of the First World War. The bronze statue of the war leader, a figure riding a horse, was erected on a big four-sided pedestal as early as 1939, merely a year prior to Hitler’s visit to France in 1940. Two days before in Compiegne Hitler was in a position to look at the statue of another French Marchal of that war, Ferdinand Foch. It was at this stop next to Champ de Mars and Ecole Militaire, that Hitler swapped his warm leather coat for a white raincoat, which would give an additional accent to his silhouette in the photographs further on the route.
HOTEL DES INVALIDES
The column of cars curved the ‘Ecole Militaire’ military complex and moved to Avenue de Tourville, named after the vice-admiral and marshal of France from the XVII century. On June 23, 1940, Adolf Hitler was to become not the earliest German visitor to the crypt with the remains of the French Emperor on the heels of the occupation of Paris. As early as June 14, on the first days of the seizure, Fedor Von Bock viewed the parade of the German troops and paid a visit to ‘Hotel des Invalides’ to honor the memory of the French conqueror, whose victories were still on the reading list of the Prussian officers. For Hitler, a visit to ‘Hotel des Invalides’ and particularly to the grave of Napoleon was no less than a second essential waypoint in Paris next to an admired Opera Garnier.
By leading his own retinue, the German dictator paid a paced visit to the heart of the architectural complex, built as far back in history as the times of King Louis XIV for old and sick soldiers of the French army. On the way up the stairs, Hitler pulled off his military cap, probably due to a June warmness (a few minutes before he had swapped his coat). At the same time, he folded the hat to one’s heart, as the educated guest states, to commemorate the memory of Bonaparte, whom he had admired for years. The French Emperor was regarded as a man, who dared to conquer the whole of Europe and now in 1940 Adolf Hitler, as it appeared at that time, had all chances to overshadow the cult figure. The members of Hitler’s entourage, as was expected, followed the example and took their hats off.
The Germans moved into the southern entrance of the Cathedral and walked on wordlessly to a spacious crypt, which had preserved the remains of Napoleon Bonaparte. The entrance to the undercroft was entitled with an inscription in French: JE DÉSIRE QUE MES CENDRES REPOSENT SUR LES BORDS DE LA SEINE, AU MILIEU DE CE PEUPLE FRANÇAIS QUE J’AI TANT AIMÉ (‘May my ashes find peace on the banks of the Seine river, next to the French people I loved so much’). Once found himself inside, Hitler now had his minutes of silent regard above the grave of the French Emperor. The center of the crypt is encircled with the inscriptions of the locations in Europe, which symbolized Napoleon’s great wins. The French inscription ‘MOSCOWA’ was among the ones Hitler could now see: it resonated with his indeed desire to conduct an expansion war toward the East. It is fair to assume that at this moment Adolf Hitler boosted his determination to conquer the Soviet Union, the planning of which would be settled just a few weeks from that June day in Paris. Another retyped photograph of Hitler in Paris depicted him on the balcony wearing his white coat. It is worth mentioning, that the French Marshal Ferdinand Foch, a warlord of WWI and the hero of the 1918 Armistice, is also buried within ‘Hotel des Invalides’.
In the course of the following four years of the occupation, thousands of German officers and soldiers would follow their Fuhrer to the extent that the caretakers of ‘Hotel des Invalides’ would have to add a wood covering to preserve the marble on that balcony from the German boots. Few of them were aware of the historical fact, well-known to Hitler himself, that as far back as 1806 Napoleon paid a visit to the grave of Frederick the Great at ‘Sanssouci’ near Potsdam, another historical figure Hitler had admired all his life. On that occasion, Napoleon in fact ordered to take some of the belongings of Frederick the Great to ‘Hotel des Invalides’ in Paris as an act of revenge for the German victory back in 1757. Apart from this, Napoleon took possession of Frederick’s watch.
During the minutes inside the crypt of Napoleon, Adolf Hitler was the main character of the dialogue that would become historically famous due to the extended commentaries of Hermann Giesler. On the heels of a few minutes of wordless beholding above the grave of the French Emperor, Hitler turned to Giesler to the left and said that the architecture would build Hitler’s tomb in the future. Subsequently, the German leader would clarify his words in the crypt with the commentary that his grave should belong to Munich. Hitler also wished that his tomb should be at a height in order for the visitors to climb to it rather than looking down, as Napoleon’s one. The entourage exited the cathedral on the Northern side to accommodate themselves again inside the cars, which had already rounded Hotel des Invalides. In the open air once again, Hitler turned to Martin Bormann, known as ‘the shadow of Fuhrer’, and ordered to deliver the remains of Franz Herzog von Reichstadt, Napoleon’s son from Vienna to Paris to bury him next to his great father.
The young man who died at the age of twenty-one back in 1832, was buried inside the ‘Kapuzinergruft’, the centuries-long mass sepulcher of the Austrian rulers in the heart of Vienna. Franz Herzog von Reichstadt was the only legitimate child of the Emperor. As late as December 15, 1940, his remains would be exhumed from the crypt in Vienna, now a part of the Third Reich as well, and buried inside ‘Hotel des Invalides’ in Paris. As the French newspapers would describe the event, notedly ‘stimulated’ by the German propaganda machine, this ‘act’ was no less than a gift of the thousand-year-long Reich to the great nation of France. In this historical manner, Franz Herzog von Reichstadt ‘accompanied’ his father for just one hundred years, since the remains of the Emperor himself had been brought to ‘Hotel des Invalides’ from the island of Saint Helena in 1840.
GERMAN EMBASSY, ODEON THEATRE, AND PANTHEON
The cavalcade of cars resumed its way to the North and moved in ‘Quai d´Orsay’, once named after the French statesman of the XVIII century. They turned to a cozy street Rue de Lille, particularly moving next to ‘Hôtel de Beauharnais’, named after Eugène de Beauharnais, a stepson of Bonapart. Since the defeat of France against Prussia in 1871, the building had been accommodated by the German embassy, which was now in power to run diplomacy with the puppet Vichy government from this very building. Hitler ordered to renew the front side of the building and a few moments later the cortege took father South and rolled in Boulevard Saint-Germain, the major transport arteria on this bank of the Seine, which had been named after the Medieval abbey. It took the convoy of cars another 1000 meters to turn to ‘Rue Bonaparte’, another obvious reference for Hitler to a French Emperor. To the left, he could now observe the landmark-like Eglise Saint-Sulpice church until the cortege reached an immense territory of ‘Le Jardin du Luxembourg’ and rounded its northern part across Rue de Vaugirard.
Odeon theatre was to become another iconic Parisian landmark, besided by the cortege, yet not visited on foot. Followed by two devastating fires, the modern version of the building had been welcoming guests since 1819. The motor column contoured the territory of ‘Le Jardin du Luxembourg’ and rolled into Rue Soufflot toward the planned stop. For decades Hitler had been reading books on the architecture of the European cities with a long-year desire to visit two Pantheons: the one in Rome and in Paris. The opportunity presented itself to Hitler during his second (the first one in 1934) state visit to Italy in May 1938. Back then, the German Fuhrer and Benito Mussolini laid floral tributes to the graves of two Italian Kings, the grandfather and the father of Victor Emmanuel III respectively. In Rome Hitler asked for a few minutes to feel himself alone with his thoughts under the iconic Oculus of the Pantheon. Together with Albert Speer, they cherished the idea of the giant-like congress hall in Berlin, which was masterminded to overshadow its inspirers, including the Roman Pantheon.
In contrast to the Roman Pantheon, which had been visited by Hitler two years before, the stop at the French version brought him nothing but disillusion. The retinue saw over the front side with the inscription: AUX GRANDS HOMMES LA PATRIE RECONNAISSANTE (To great people from a grateful nation) and the visit inside the Parisian Pantheon happened to be quite brief. According to Hitler, in contrast to a well-illuminated Roman one, this Pantheon was dark and gloomy, being unworthy of the privilege to preserve the remains of the great men of France. As he would later recollect in his ‘Table talks’, Pantheon in Paris happened to be a great disappointment for Hitler, which was soon effaced from his memory. On their way outside, a few French women recognized Hitler and pronounced: ‘c’est lui’, in meaning ‘that’s him.
CLOSERIE DES LILAS CAFE
Adolf Hitler speeded away from the Parisian Pantheon disillusioned by the landmark. Once returned to the car, he made an appeal to one of his companions on this journey, Arno Breker, a man who had spent his years of ascension in Paris. Hitler now made up his mind to tease the famous sculptor, that a true ‘man of art’ can not be a military man (Breker found himself uncomfortable wearing a trench coat). Being disappointed by the Pantheon, Hitler was now desirous of seeing places, where Breker had put his youth in, particularly his studio nearby in the Latin Quarter. On their way to the South toward ‘Boulevard Montparnasse‘, the auto column rolled on two French gendarmes, who took notice of Hitler and performed an awkward salute. Hitler professed to Breker that he had had a dream to study in Paris before the ‘Great War’ and his career in politics.
The next brief stop was to happen at ‘Boulevard du Montparnasse’, a transport arteria, which interpenetrates three arrondissements of Paris. The area was heartily familiar to Arno Breker since the 1920s and his first studio was fairly close. Apart from it (studio), Breker made a point of ‘Closerie des Lilas’, an appraised Parisian cafe and a meeting point for artists, writers, architects, sculptors, and actors. Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, French poet Paul Verlaine, and Paul Fort were among the frequent visitors to the place. For decades these extraordinary men used to spend their time and start arguments in the shade of the statue of Marshal Ney. One of the most prominent war leaders of the Napoleonic wars, the French marshal was executed not far from here at ‘Avenue de l’Observatoire’ back in 1815. A few moments later, Breker paid Hitler’s attention to ‘Fontaine des Quatre-Parties-du-Monde’, also known in French as ‘Fontaine Carpeaux’ just a hundred meters distance from the cafe. The German Fuhrer commented that the fountains reinforced his certainty regarding the ‘nobility of a talent’ of Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, a French sculptor and an artist of the mid-XIX century, which Hitler had read a lot about.
Shortly after a time-limited walk toward ‘Fontaine Carpeaux’, Hitler and his entourage made their way back to the cars and laid a course to the North, lengthwise Boulevard Saint-Michel in the direction of Seine once again. The cavalcade of cars was fated to pass by other French gendarmes at ‘Place Saint-Michel’ square near the river: the confused policemen saw Adolf Hitler’ who saluted them from the bypassing Mercedes. The Cite island was to become the next waypoint of the route across Paris. The column moved to the island by means of the ‘Pont Saint-Michel’ bridge, the one well-known from ‘The Hunchback of Notre-Dame’ by Victor Hugo. As likely as not, at that moment in time Hitler was already delighted with his two key waypoints (Opera Garnier and Hotel des Invalides), and the scheduled time for a visit was running out. All this resulted in a very brief time-limited acquaintance with Cite island, the heart of the city.
Once crossed ‘Pont Saint-Michel’ bridge, the convoy of cars slowed the engines to let Hitler see over the buildings, which he had read about for years. Arno Breker played the role of a companion in talking, which focuses now shifted from the Latin Quarter to Cite. On the left, they passed beside ‘Tribunal Correctionnel de Paris’ at Quai des Orfèvres, the Parisian police headquarters since 1913 with its gothic facade and towers. Farther down the road, the automobiles slowed down even more riding on ‘Palais de Justice‘, formerly known as ‘Palais de la Cité’, inaugurated back in 1869 by Georges Eugène Haussmann, a man whom Hitler admired. The architectural complex, which accommodates one-third of the Cite island, includes ‘Sainte Chapelle’. A gothic chapel of the XIII century, world-famed due to its preserved stained-glass artwork, did not impress Hitler exteriorly (at least two sources give an educated guess, that he left his car there). On the site, Hitler pointed Breker’s attention to a building diagonally across the street. The German dictator paraded one’s knowledge in the idea, that it was ‘the palace of commerce’. Breker placed the guess in doubt, but as soon as the car moved toward the building, Hitler noted with satisfaction the inscription above the entrance: ‘Palais du Tribunal de Commerce’.
Once they moved toward the end of ‘Boulevard du Palais’, the autocade did not follow ‘Pont au Change’ straight ahead and turned right into Quai de la Corse. Getting as far as the next bridge called ‘Pont Notre-Dame’, the Mercedes convoy once again ignored the Seine crossing and headed to the South lengthwise Rue de la Cite. In contrast to the iconic status of Notre Dame de Paris cathedral, Hitler never left his car to see over the landmark of such importance to the French and the cars made a paced semicircle in front of it. The convoy headed North along ‘Rue d’Arcole’ in the direction of the bridge of the same name, the first iron one in Paris, which had replaced its hanging predecessor at the times of Napoleon III as far back as 1856.
HOTEL DE VILLE, MUSÉE CARNAVALET AND LOUVRE
Around 8 a.m. the cavalcade of cars did cross the Seine river for the second time and moved into ‘Place de l’Hôtel-de-Ville’ city square, suggestively followed by a brief stop. Adolf Hitler had now a chance to see for himself the site, which witnessed the burning of Jewish religious writings back in the XIII century as well as the guillotine later on in the century. The square is obviously dominated by ‘Hôtel de Ville’, a city hall of Paris, a place of government sessions since the XIV century. The subsequent route of Hitler’s motorcade across Paris is still under historical discussion. We know a number of locations, yet their exact succession differs in a number of sources as well as the exact route. Carnavalet museum was among the ongoing waypoints of the journey, a museum of the history of Paris within the 3-rd arrondissements, which once accommodated the building once again due to Georges Haussmann. Another route point, which was recollected, among other sources, on the pages of Breker’s memoirs, was ‘Place des Vosges’, a famous square known as the place of living of Victor Hugo. Prior to the start of the Second World War, it had been populated by the largest Jewish community in Paris.
At that moment in time, sent out a message that the latter minutes of the journey had made him bored and the cortege thus headed back to the West. They passed by the neighboring streets of the city market within ‘Les Halles’ district, which would exist until the 1970s. As far back as the 1850s, the chaotic merchant stores were replaced by new covered pavilions of metal. Hitler took notice of the newspaper seller, who was so lost in a glimpse of the Germans, that dropped the prints out of his hands. Farther down the street, a group of female merchants started to dab with their fingers toward the cortege and Hitler and the roar of the engines forced them to flee. Hitler brightened as early as they made their way back to Rue de Rivoli, one of the longest streets in the city and the geographic extension of ‘Champs-Élysées’. The German Fuhrer appreciated the identical front sides of the buildings lengthwise the street: something like that he had in mind for Berlin. Another iconic landmark of Paris, which was not a matter of a stop by the cortege was no less than Louvre. Highly likely that the issue (of not visiting) was in limited time as Hitler had regarded Louvre as one of the greatest achievements of architecture in the world.
The convoy of cars rolled next to the Northern frontage of the Louvre, without making even a brief stop, and then headed North to move in ‘Place Vendome’, one among the former royal squares of Paris with its shaped rectangular plan. Just on the heels of his admiration for the Louvre, Hitler commented ‘Place Vendome’ admiringly as well. The cortege kept on across ‘Rue de la Paix’, in fact returning to the start of the Paris route with Opera Garnier (without a stop for the second time), now clearly visible in daylight unlike the early hours of the same day. Moments later, the cavalcade rolled in ‘Rue de la Chaussée-d’Antin’ and soon enough turned into Rue de Clichy. Once it reached a large transport junction called ‘Place de Clichy’ to the North, Hitler’s cortege headed toward the legendary ‘Boulevard de Clichy’, riding by closed doors of ‘Moulin Rouge’. By getting to another road junction known as ‘Place Pigalle’, the cars shaped one’s course in the direction of the last waypoint in this only visit of Adolf Hitler to the capital of France. By making their way across the narrow cozy streets of ‘Montmartre’ uphill, they finally make a stop on a street ‘Parvis du Sacré-Cœur’ next to one of the most remarkable viewing points in Europe.
Hitler had never cultivated a soft heart toward ‘Basilique du Sacré-Cœur’, an iconic Parisian landmark of the roman-byzantine style, which did fascinate the German dictator. The Parisians, who were moving into and out of the Cathedral, seemed to demonstrate aligned indifference in regard to a German delegation with Hitler in chief. Apart from Hitler’s unconcern toward the basilica, a stop here had been motivated by neither more nor less than a panorama from the high point of the ‘Montmartre’ hill, the pitch of Paris. Now feeling themselves 130 meters above the city, Adolf Hitler and his entourage were seen over the Northern part of Paris. For centuries, as far back as the times of the huge windmill on the hill, artists, sculptors, musicians, actors, and architects had used to vault to the top of ‘Montmartre’ for the sake of this very panoramic view, which changed a lot up to 1940. Apart from the street lines, once contributed by Baron Haussmann, Hitler could now dreamily grasp the magic of Paris, preserved undestroyed during the recent battle for France.
It was here, at the balustrade of a cozy 100 meters in length street called ‘Parvis du Sacre-Coeur’, that the German dictator came into open one’s thoughts with his ‘men of art’. He declared a brief monologue, which would be later cited by Giesler, Breker, and Speer, as well as on the pages of the infamous ‘Table talks’. Hitler confessed, that since the news of the seizure of Paris on June 14, he had a one-track mind to visit the city, which he had admired for most of his life. He once again said that in some parallel life without entering politics, he could make a journey to the city years before this day. Hitler turned to Speer and Giesler, with a panorama of Paris behind them all, and underlined his wish, that a mission to reconstruct the cities of Germany now falls on their shoulders. For the second time during this short trip, he also addressed Martin Bormann with an appeal to assist and cooperate in all aspects with the architects.
On this very spot, Henrich Hoffmann and Walter Frentz did make a series of photos, one of which depicted Hitler a few steps next to Hans Speidel, the future participant in the July 20 plot against Hitler. The German Fuhrer had an idea to run a pompous military parade, way more ambitious than the one on June 14, as soon as the Armistice would fully come into effect. Speidel was among those German officers (backed by Hitler’s adjutants Bruckner, and Engel), who argued Hitler out of this idea. Later on, the said to be British air raids on Paris would be stated as ostensible ground.
THE AFTERMATH OF THE VISIT
Found themselves once again inside the cars, Hitler and his retinue headed North to leave Paris in the direction of the ‘Le Bourget’, which had been the starting point of the visit merely three hours before. Substantially in regard to being within the city limits, Hitler spent nearly two and a half hours in Paris. He did not go to the toilet, as well as ignored taking food and apart from the old Opera caretaker (and then via Arno Breker), he had no acquaintance with the French. Even before the majority of the Parisians got out of their bed on this early Sunday morning, the German supreme ruler had left their city. A great many of them would be later surprised with the news of the event, which did take place in those joyless June days of 1940. In accordance with Hans Baur’s short reminiscence of that day, the scheduled take-off was postponed in order to repair the tail wheel of Hitler’s Condor. Being in no position to get acquainted with the French in Paris, Hitler now had a word with the group of local aircraft maintenance technicians. All while the air route between ‘Le Bourget’ and the ‘Gros Caillou’ implicated moving away from the city to the North-West, Hitler asked Baur to fly over Paris before leaving. He once again luxuriated in a panorama over the city and spoke up about the satisfaction that Paris had not been destroyed during the campaign. He will never see Paris again.
The ‘HQ diary’ at ‘Wolfsschlucht’ dated June 23, 1940, includes a passage on the fact that at 10 a.m. ‘Fuhrer returned from Paris’. A visit to Paris was not the only occasion, which had illuminated the German headquarters with liveness. The Armistice, an agreement with France, actually a symbol of the triumph of the Nazi Reich, was to go into full effect less than in two days. On the heels of his return to ‘Wolfsschlucht’, Adolf Hitler held a few discussions with Albert Speer, Hermann Giesler, and Arno Breker, who had already changed the given army cloth for the civil one again. For some period of time, the Fuhrer had an idea that the devastation of Paris would provide evident means to leave it behind the German cities, yet the ongoing reconstruction of Berlin would make the destruction of Paris unnecessary. Hitler ordered Speer to bring about changes in the plan of the reconstruction as soon as possible to speed up the works in Berlin, his beloved Linz, Nuremberg, and Hamburg. The alterations included, among other things, the widening of the main streets, evidently in regard to Hitler’s impression of Parisian boulevards, a heritage by Baron Haussmann. These ambitious plans were never to be fulfilled.
Hitler’s inner triumph in the West happened to be short-dated, as, in the aftermath of his journey to Paris, his thoughts were now captivated not so much by the possible invasion of England, as an ambitious plan of getting ‘Lebensraum’ in the East. In the next few days to come, Hitler would conduct another nostalgic tour. This time he left ‘Wolfsschlucht’ to follow one’s battle route of the times of the ‘Great War’, accompanied by two of his comrades-in-arms and now both privileged Nazis. MAX AMANN, a party member since 1921 and Reich Press Chamber President since 1933, and ERSNT SCHMIDT, another dispatch-runner in WWI, a constant visitor of the Landsberg Prison (Hitler’s imprisonment after the failed 1923 Putsch) and the man who would outlive Hitler for forty years (being born in 1889 as Hitler, Schmidt would live until 1985 until 96 years old). The company of the war buddies was necessary to place emphasis on the so-called ‘frontgemeinschaft’ (the front of comradeship), which Hitler dreamt to cultivate in Wehrmacht. The trio would be accompanied by Henrich Hoffmann, who would later include a number of the photos from the tour into his ‘Mit Hitler in Westen’ (With Hitler in the West, 1940) photo album.
It would take a week until the German mass media would reveal Hitler’s visit to Paris dated June 23, 1940. Völkischer Beobachter №182 would see the print as early as June 30, Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung №28 on July 4 as well as Illustrierter Beobachter. An article devoted to the event would also be printed in Münchner Illustrierte Presse and later reprinted in smaller publications, particularly in France and Great Britain. A brief documentary movie, which had been taken on the day by a filming crew, was to get on the German cinemas. The image of the newsreel was masterminded to present Hitler as the greatest statesman and war leader in the world as well as to demonstrate the dominant power of the German army. This movie made its way to England and even to the USA, yet the French would see it until the end of 1940. Over time the reminiscences of Hitler’s visit to Paris frustrated the French increasingly, underlining the arrogance of the German dictator. As late as the first days of July 1940, Joseph Goebbels, who as well as Himmler and Goering had not been a part of the ‘Parisian’ tour, visited the city on his own. In a pursuit to mimicrate his Fuhrer, Goebbels merely duplicated Hitler’s route.
I am very grateful to war archives, museums, libraries, private collections, and writers for the historical photos in this article. To the extent that some author or a copyright owner may not want some of the above black-and-white photos to be used for educational purposes here, please contact me for adding credits or deleting the pictures from the article.