Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

World War II & the Holocaust in Paris

Paris is not widely thought of as a destination where visitors can explore the stories of World War II. For a start, the city itself was not as visibly marked and dramatically scarred by the war as many other European cities were. More significantly, and for understandable reasons, the French capital tends to be overlooked for the D-Day Beaches. Perhaps most visitors know that Paris was occupied by the German Third Reich from 14 June 1940 to 25 August 1944. Few are aware, however, that beyond a few memorials and museums Paris has a number of poignant landmarks that tell the many, varied stories of a city under siege and an occupied nation’s complicity in the Holocaust.

Sites Related to the Occupation of Paris

On the morning of 14 June 1940, four days after the French government had fled their capital city, an advance guard of the German army entered Paris from the north east at Porte de La Villette. Ten days later, two days after the signing of the Armistice in Compiègne, Hitler toured the city – his first and only time in Paris. The city of light was officially and symbolically occupied.

Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume

Shortly after Paris was occupied, the Reichsleiter Rosenberg Taskforce set up its headquarters in the Grand Orient de France, the largest Masonic Lodge in France. Initially they only collected books and archives belonging to Jews and Masons who had fled Paris. By October 1940, under Göring’s orders, the Taskforce was charged with collecting Nazi looted art. Art came from around France and Belgium to the Jeu de Paume in the Tuileries Gardens just off the Place de la Concorde. Rose Valland secretly documented this activity; her work features in the film Monuments Men.

German Army Headquarters – Saint Germain en Laye

From 14 June 1940 to 25 August 1944 around 20,000 German soldiers and officers were based in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The city was the headquarters of the German Army Command in the West (Oberbefehlshaber West), which under Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt was responsible for Operation Sea Lion – the planned Nazi invasion of Britain. Some 20 bunkers, erected to shelter soldiers in case of air attack, still exist today. One of these is alongside the Renaissance castle that today houses the National Archaeology Museum. Rundstedt set himself up in the Pavillon Henri VI, once a royal residence where Louis XIV was born, now a luxury 4* hotel.

Round UP & Deportation Sites In Paris

Place des Martyrs-Juifs-du-Vélodrome-d’Hiver

The Vélodrome d’hiver was the first permanent indoor cycle track built in France, 1909. In 1942 the French Police used the stadium to hold Jewish men, women and children rounded up in Paris on 16 and 17 July. Known as the Rafle du Vélodrome d’Hiver, commonly shortened to Rafle du Vel’ d’Hiv, police records list 13,152 individuals were rounded up in the mass raid on Jews in the city. They were held here for days in appalling conditions before being sent on to internment camps. The stadium was destroyed in 1959, and today plaques and memorials marks the site of the Velodrome.

WWII & Holocaust Memorials In Paris

Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation

Behind Notre Dame Cathedral, at the very eastern tip of the Île de la Cité is the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation. Inaugurated by President Charles de Gaulle in 1962, this memorial pays tribute to 200,000 plus children, women and men who were Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, political opponents, and so deported from all over France to Nazi concentration camps between 1940 and 1944. A crypt contains the Tomb of the Unknown Deportee: an individual who died in the concentration camp of Neustadt. Each year on the last Sunday in April a memorial ceremony is held here to remember the Deportees from France.