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In the summer of 1944, the fate of the Eiffel Tower hung in the balance. This Parisian landmark, which had long ceased to belong only to the French, was saved only at the behest of the general, who violated Hitler's direct order. What was it - heroism for the sake of the most valuable heritage of world culture or a completely cynical practical calculation?
Occupation of FranceThe occupation regime operated in France since June 1940, when the Second Compiegne Armistice was concluded between the Nazis and the French authorities, according to which two-thirds of the country's territory, including Paris, was subject to the regime of the Third Reich. For four years, the world capital of fashion became a haven for Wehrmacht soldiers, German soldiers marched along the Champs Elysees every now and then, the streets were full of propaganda signs and a swastika, but of all the occupied territories it was, apparently, the quietest city.
The Eiffel Tower seemed to be guarded by some supernatural forces - when, during a visit to Paris, the Fuhrer wished to climb to its upper tier, the elevator for some unknown reason was out of order, and the excursion did not take place. In 1944, the tower was threatened with a much more serious danger. 6 June, the landing of Anglo-American troops in Normandy began, a second front was opened, and the invaders faced the possibility of losing French territories and, first of all, the capital. On August 7, the General of Infantry, Dietrich von Choltitz, was appointed military governor of Paris.
He was a hereditary military man, he was born in 1894. Von Choltitz joined the army before the outbreak of the First World War, and at the age of 47 he became the youngest general in the Wehrmacht. The last commandant of Paris had a chance to hold office for less than three weeks, but it was during this short period of time that he wrote his name in history.
Is Paris on fire?On August 15, the Allied troops were already in the immediate vicinity of Paris. Orders were received from Hitler to hold Paris to the end, but when it became obvious that the enemy was much stronger, he gave the order to destroy the French capital. On the eve of the decisive battle, hundreds of "unreliable" were shot and sent to Buchenwald. A general strike broke out in the city. On August 17, the Paris commandant was ordered to mine and blow up bridges across the Seine, to destroy all historical and religious buildings in the city, and, in addition, to raze the Eiffel Tower to the ground. Von Choltitz refused to obey the order.
A controversial question - why the general of the Wehrmacht went to such a gross violation of military discipline. In all likelihood, he loved Paris, and considered the Fuehrer by that time mentally unhealthy, and besides, there was no practical sense in such barbarism.
There is another version, much more pragmatic: von Choltitz could not help but understand that the German army would be defeated in the battle for the French capital, and, refusing to deal with the main symbol of Paris, he thought primarily about his own fate. The destruction of the Eiffel Tower would definitely translate him into the number of war criminals, and it is unlikely that humanity would go to mitigate the fate of the one who was responsible for its destruction. At the same time, he could not be afraid of sanctions from his own superiors, in any case, he risked only his own fate: by that time, von Choltitz's wife and children had safely left the territories controlled by the Reich and they were not in danger.
The Battle of Paris lasted six days, starting on August 19, 1944. On August 25, General von Choltitz signed a ceasefire and surrendered to the Allied forces.
Heroism or calculation?Until 1947, the former Wehrmacht general was imprisoned first in England, then in the United States, after which he was released.Four years later, his memoirs were written under the title “Soldier's Duty. Memories of a Wehrmacht general about the war in the west and east of Europe. " Once under his control, von Choltitz visited at least one time when he dropped by the Majestic Hotel for a short period of time. During the war, it housed the headquarters of the German troops. After staying at the hotel for about a quarter of an hour, von Choltitz refused the champagne offered by the owner and left.
In 1966, Dietrich von Choltitz died in Baden-Baden, and high-ranking French officers attended his funeral.
Assessments of the role of the German general in this episode of World War II differ - some glorify him as a humanist who sacrificed his own interests for the sake of the cultural heritage of mankind, others see him as a calculating player who, although he was put under attack, made decisions that were beneficial for himself and bargained for his life and freedom after the end of the war. In the development of the first version, in the year of von Choltitz's death, the film "Is Paris Burning?"
One thing is indisputable - the Eiffel Tower, once a shocking structure to be opened World Exhibition, and later - the symbol of Paris, remained unharmed in order to continue its mission for decades after the war and receive millions of guests, now much more harmless.