Paris offers fascinating places to explore for WWII history buffs. Some are private museums about WWII, and some are standout tourist attractions with ties to WWII. You can walk past or visit some of them without seeing any hints of their involvement in the war. Therefore, the more you know what to look for as you travel, the more you will understand what you see.
For those of you searching for how to follow a family member’s WWII footsteps, these places can give you a good starting point if your loved one was in Paris during the war years. My father, like many others, enjoyed his vacation in Paris during his service.
Echoes of the past are everywhere, whether you’re wandering around Paris or spotting the scars of World War II on your way to one of the excellent museums. Here are a few places to consider when you visit.
1. Paris Museum of Liberation
This gem of a museum is a newcomer to Paris. A must-see for anyone interested in World War II. A smaller version was previously located above the Montparnasse train station. The Paris Liberation Museum is now housed in spacious buildings in the heart of the 14th arrondissement. You will be immersed in the experiences of those in the French Resistance during the war. Follow the chronological events leading up to the German occupation of France. Celebrate the Liberation of Paris, which took place in August 1944. Wander through the bright and airy rooms as you learn about the ordinary heroes who stood up to the invaders.
The shows focus on the lives of two important Resistance leaders, Jean Moulin and Philippe de Hauteclocque, better known as General Leclerc. The museum is located at the top of Leclerc’s underground headquarters and you can explore this area as well.
Allow at least two hours for your visit. Display artifacts, documents, newsreels, uniforms and personal belongings of those in the Resistance.
Famous for its shimmering golden dome, Invalides is home to Napoleon’s tomb, a magnificent weapon collection, and museums that shed light on the history of France. A large part of the museum is devoted to the two World Wars, with a focus on the French army. You can review this chronological presentation by dedicating as much time to both wars as you wish. You can also jump into the WWII field.
The years of the Second World War are divided into three parts. The “black years” cover the defeat and occupation of France; The “gray years” are about the French Resistance and the French army in North Africa, and the “light years” begin and continue with the D-Day landings in Normandy. end of war
Invalides also houses the Museum of the Order of the Liberation. This interesting section of Invalides showcases photographs, documents and memorabilia of the French Resistance. The Invalides ticket includes admission to this museum.
3. Triumphal Arch
The Arc de Triomphe is on many visitors’ itineraries. Besides paying homage to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and perhaps climbing to the top of the monument for an expansive view of Paris, WWII buffs will want to learn about the history of the war.
What happened during World War II in this monument, which was built by Napoleon and symbolizes French loyalty and valor?
The day after France’s surrender to Germany in June 1940, Adolf Hitler toured his precious new property, Paris. His convoy was on his way to the Arc de Triomphe, as well as the Eiffel Tower and the Invalides. Hitler never returned to Paris.
Fast forward four challenging years to the Liberation of Paris. Two days after the Germans left the city once again to the French, General De Gaulle arrived. He and his procession went to the Arc de Triomphe, where De Gaulle placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Then he walked from the Champ Elysees to the Place de la Concorde, and hundreds of French were lined up in the streets and cheering wildly. Imagine that scene when you visit.
4. Jeu De Paume Library
This unassuming library tucked away in the Tuileries is easy to pass up without noticing the role it played during WWII. Here, a heroine named Rose Valland served as an art historian and curator during the Nazi occupation of Paris. Before she was sent to Germany for Nazi gain, hundreds of works of art roamed the Jeu de Paume she. Artifacts taken from the Jews were marked as “abandoned” and ended here. In particular, Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring used the Jeu de Paume as a collection centre.
Originally just a volunteer curator, Valland decided to do whatever he could to save as many artworks as possible. He kept meticulous records of passing art, noting which trains carried various treasures. After the war, this list was instrumental in returning many valuables to their real family owners.
Today the Jeu de Paume is an arts center that organizes exhibitions, lectures and workshops. You can enter the building and then go to the bookstore downstairs. You will stop at a place where crucial espionage takes place during the war.
Read on to learn more about the artworks stolen and recovered during WWII The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and History’s Greatest Treasure Hunt by Robert M. Edsel.
5. Shoah Memorial Museum
Located in the heart of the Marais district of Paris, the Shoah Memorial Museum pays homage to the memory of the Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust during World War II. The museum takes you through history and also presents personal stories of those who have suffered.
As you wander through the museum, the history of the Holocaust is presented in panels, windows and interactive terminals. Short films, biographies, documents and photographs tell stories. The purpose of the memorial museum is to allow visitors to reflect on what happened and decide to fight any form of intolerance in the present.
The last section you will visit will be the Children’s Monument, which includes photographs of 3,000 young people deported to camps during the war.
6. Monument to the French Exile
The French Exile Monument, located in a small park behind Notre Dame Cathedral, honors those who were deported in WWII. About 200,000 people were sent to German concentration camps. Enter the courtyard, then descend the steps to the cellar. Here is the Tomb of the Unknown Exile. As he walks past the tomb into darkness, 200,000 points of light draw the path.
7. The American Library in Paris
The American Library in Paris opened in 1920 and immediately became a popular center for readers and researchers. When war broke out and France was invaded in 1940, library staff made difficult decisions. Director Dorothy Reeder kept the library open. She stated that the library is “a symbol of freedom and understanding, service to all, a beautiful part of democracy.” Throughout the war, people came to look at the books, including Jews, who were forbidden by law. Reeder served them all. Due to the turmoil in France, many people could not return borrowed books. Reeder did not hesitate to continue lending books, however.
When the United States joined the war in December 1941, Reeder was forced to return to his home in America. However, the library continued to operate under other administrators.
The American Library in Paris, wandering through the piles of books, sitting on a soft chair to read and relocated from this library’s original location at 2. 10 Rue de L’Elysee, is at 10 Rue du Général Camou, near the Eiffel Tower.
Pro Tip: Learn more about the 100-year history of the American Library and read the excellent wartime novel, Paris Library By Janet Skeslien Charles.
8. Vel D’Hiv Monument
A memorial plaque stands at the site of the Vélodrome d’Hiver, also known as the Vél d’Hiv. Here the French police, in cooperation with the Germans, rounded up Jews of all ages in July 1942. More than 13,000 Jews were arrested and brought to the velodrome during this infamous draw. The collection was a first because not only men but also women and children were caught in this screening. From there, they were transported to the transit camp in Drancy, northeast of the city, and then by train to Auschwitz.
You can find the memorial plaque at 8 Boulevard de Grenelle. There is also a commemorative statue of the collection near the river.
Before my first trip to Paris, I was unaware that over 200 memorial plaques dedicated to those who died in the city’s week-long liberation were on display. These signs hang silently on the walls of buildings around Paris. Some are in rows, but most stand alone in random places. From time to time, the government decorates the plaques with small bouquets to make them easier to spot.
In total, the Liberation of Paris demanded more than 500 civilians and about 1,000 French Interior Forces (FFIs) representing the different Resistance movements. A few days after the start of the conflict, French, American and British soldiers arrived to take part in the battle for Paris. The occasional street fighting took not only Resistance members and soldiers, but also ambulance drivers, nurses and police.
To learn more about commemorative plaques, visit the France24 website, which also provides a detailed map so you can start looking for plaques.
For anyone affected by the Second World War, Paris has a lot to offer. On the outer walls of the Hotel de Ville there are still traces of bullets flying during Liberation. The elegant Hotel Meurice served as the Nazi general’s headquarters. The Police Station opposite Sainte-Chapelle was the scene of heavy fighting in August 1944 and still shows bullet marks. If you do some research and plan to spend time in different WWII sites, you’ll find plenty to make every day in Paris unforgettable.
Pro Tip: I took an excellent Context Travel tour on the WWII Nazi occupation of Paris. I also recently booked a WWII tour of Paris with Discover Walks and learned a lot.
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