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Paris Diary: Layers of History

Rene Revel Plaque.jpgIn Paris, eras of significant history can fall over themselves. This small plaque commemorates a death during the August 1944 rebellion against the German invader. At multiple points in the city, people, led by the municipal police, rose up and expelled the enemy from entire districts. In this way, and after the tip-of-the-spear entry into the city by General Philippe Leclerc’s 2nd French Armored Division, the French claim to have liberated Paris from the Nazis.

The plaque reads:

Here, René Revel, a keeper of the peace from the 15th arrondissement, winner of the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, was killed by the Germans, August 19th, 1944.

Revel, a police officer, was guarding the Pont Neuf, an approach to the Île de la Cité, the site of the Paris Police prefecture and the center of the revolt. In a skirmish with German soldiers, he was hit in the neck by two bullets. He died shortly thereafter.

Rene Revel Pont Neuf.jpg

The Pont Neuf, despite its name, is the oldest bridge in Paris (built between 1578 and 1607). It links the Île de la Cité to both the Left and Right Banks of the Seine. It also leads to the Square du Vert-Galant (1884), one of Paris’ loveliest parks. In the distance one sees the Louvre, whose construction as a fortress began in the 12th century; it is ongoing.

Addendum: The reference to the people who killed officer Revel ranks high on the anger scale among French monuments. Plaques commemorating wartime events exist throughout the Hexagone (as the mainland is often called) with varying words referring to “l’ennemi” (the enemy), “l’envahisseur” (the invader), “les Nazis,” and “les Allemands” (the Germans). My experience is that ever more bitterness is displayed as the categorization rises from a description of activity, to ideology, to national origin.

Addendum: The conquest of Paris took place without significant destruction primarily due to the courageous independence of mind of German General Dietrich von Choltitz, who surrendered the city despite orders given him directly by Adolf Hitler to turn the city into “another Stalingrad.” Von Choltitz believed that the destruction of Paris would end all possibility of Franco-German reconciliation for generations.


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