News / Europe

Amid Simmering Conflicts, Paris Marks 1944 Liberation

French President Francois Hollande attends a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Paris from Nazi occupation, at the Police headquarters in Paris, Aug. 25, 2014.
French President Francois Hollande attends a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Paris from Nazi occupation, at the Police headquarters in Paris, Aug. 25, 2014.
Lisa Bryant

During a summer darkened by conflict in the Middle East, Ukraine and parts of Africa, the world is remembering this week a more joyous event: the Liberation of Paris from Nazi occupation 70 years ago. It counts among the highlights of anniversaries this year marking the 20th century's two great wars - and lessons they offer today. 

Pictures show the 1944 Liberation of Paris by French and U.S. forces taking place under blue summer skies. In contrast, ceremonies Monday night marking its 70th anniversary took place under a beating rain and a sea of umbrellas.

American Kate Thweatt, a longtime resident of Paris, braved the deluge to watch the events outside Paris city hall, which was flooded with the red, white and blue lights of the French flag. Giant screens projected allied troops passing cheering crowds as they entered the capital.

"I'm proud to be here. I love France, I love America. I feel very lucky to live in France actually," she said.

FILE-In this photo provided by the U.S. Office of War Information, American troops march down the Champs Elysees, past the Arc de Triomphe, Sept. 12, 1944, as residents of Paris throng the sidewalks to cheer.
FILE-In this photo provided by the U.S. Office of War Information, American troops march down the Champs Elysees, past the Arc de Triomphe, Sept. 12, 1944, as residents of Paris throng the sidewalks to cheer.

Speaking at the ceremony, French President Francois Hollande recalled the struggles of Parisians and allied soldiers to free the city from Nazi control. It was a deliverance for the nation, he said, and a hope for the world.

"Today," President Hollande said in French, "people living under dictatorship and persecution still turn toward Paris as a beacon - including those in living under the terror of the Islamic State group in Iraq. Once again, the world must respond."

The liberation of Paris is part of commemorations taking place across Europe marking not only the drawdown of World War II, but also the centenary of the start World War I. That was known as the "war to end all wars." But there are new conflicts this century: in Iraq, Syria, Gaza, the Central African Republic and, closer to home, in Ukraine.  

"I think obviously the world is not getting so much better today. But clearly those two wars were huge by the number of deaths, which are sadly greater than the ones of today," opined Parisian Berenice Beauje, who was at city hall with some friends. "Even Syria with the 200,000 dead. And yes, I'm worried about the world. But I trust that things will get better."

These are difficult days for France as well. The economy is stagnant and President Hollande is deeply unpopular.  He is reshuffling his government, which has been split by infighting. But at an outdoor ball Monday night, people danced anyway, forgetting the politics and the rain.

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