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Paris Trip

As you read this, Sandy and I are on an airplane returning to the States after spending several weeks (and a lot of money) in Paris. A comment we seem to always receive is “Oh, what a nice place to spend your vacation.” Well, as we have to explain, it’s really not a vacation. We are walking the walks, shooting photos, and interviewing people as part of the research for our next book. I wore my Fitbit and we walked an average of 8.4 miles per day. We take one Sunday off to grab a lunch and sit in the Luxembourg Gardens and watch the kids sail their little bateaux (boats) in the water basin and watch the Gendarmes chase off people who move their chairs too close to the basin.


Hope You’ve Enjoyed the Instagrams!

Sandy and I hope you’ve enjoyed the brief Instagrams that we sent out each day while in Paris the past two weeks. There are a lot of good photos and comments collected in those two weeks. We met some very interesting people while tracking down the significant sites of the Nazi Occupation of Paris.


Les Journées du Patrimoine or The European Heritage Days 

Stew standing in the hallway of the former headquarters of the Gestapo. Cell doors lined the hallway. Photo by Sandy Ross.
Stew standing in the hallway of the former headquarters of the Gestapo. Cell doors lined the hallway. Photo by Sandy Ross.

We planned our trip so we would be in Paris over the weekend that European countries celebrate their culture, history, and heritage. It is a time when government buildings are opened to the public, entrance fees are waived, and otherwise off-limit sites can be visited.

We visited the Le ministère de l’Intérieur or the Ministry of the Interior. Our friend, Annette, came in from Rotterdam for the weekend and accompanied us. Of course, Rapahëlle Crevet was our guide for the day as she worked her magic with all of the bureaucrats and police.

The Ministry of the Interior has always been responsible for the police force—even during the Occupation when Vichy was the collaborationist government. Adjoining and connected to the ministry are the offices located at 11, rue des Saussaies. This was the address of the Gestapo headquarters (I guess I just gave away the secret to the next book Where Did They Put the Gestapo Headquarters?).

Hook inside holding cell used to chain prisoner before being led off for interrogation and torture in the former headquarters of the Gestapo. Photo by Sandy Ross.
Hook inside holding cell used to chain prisoner before being led off for interrogation and torture in the former headquarters of the Gestapo. Photo by Sandy Ross.

We were allowed to go through the halls and cells on the floors where the victims were held, interrogated, and tortured. In the cells are the iron eye-hooks where they were chained before being led off for interrogation. Graffiti remains on the walls as they scratched their messages of defiance, their pride in France, and wishes for liberty.

Prisoner’s graffiti from the interior of the holding cell at the former headquarters of the Gestapo. Photo by Sandy Ross.
Prisoner’s graffiti from the interior of the holding cell at the former headquarters of the Gestapo. Photo by Sandy Ross.

Cité de la Muette and Drancy

We spent a morning with Raphaëlle venturing to the city of Drancy, a suburb of Paris where a public housing complex called the Cité de la Muette is located. It was once much larger than the three-sided complex we see today. At the open end is a moving memorial to the deportees and a cattle car used to transport between 90 and 100 people to the extermination camp called Auschwitz.

Drancy bus stop. Photo by Sandy Ross.
Drancy bus stop. Photo by Sandy Ross.

This complex was used as a detention camp to hold Jews who were arrested and then detained before being deported to Auschwitz. It could hold up to 6,000 people so after the two day roundup of July 1942 when approximately 17,000 Jews were arrested, only the men were detained here. The women and children were taken to a detention camp south of Paris.

Railcar used to transport deportees to Auschwitz. Photo by Sandy Ross.
Railcar used to transport deportees to Auschwitz. Photo by Sandy Ross.

Raphaëlle introduced us to Lucien Tinader. Lucien and other volunteers run the non-profit organization called the Association Fonds Mémoire d’Auschwitz (AFMA). It is a small museum on the grounds of the Cité de la Muette. Lucien and the other volunteers welcome groups of school children throughout the year. They teach the children about the Holocaust in the context of the French roundups. Their mission is to ensure no one ever forgets.

Lucien Tinandar holding the Star of David patch that belonged to and worn by his mother during the Occupation. Photo by Sandy Ross.
Lucien Tinandar holding the Star of David patch that belonged to and worn by his mother during the Occupation. Photo by Sandy Ross.

After we returned to Paris, we visited the Vel’ d’Hiv memorial and the site of the Velodrome. You might recall one of my blogs about the July 1942 roundup. It wasn’t until 1995 when President Jacques Chirac gave a speech at the memorial that the French government acknowledged its role as a collaborationist government and the role the police played in the arrests and deportations. Unfortunately, the memorial is in a somewhat obscure location but its message to visitors is to “never forget.”

The Vel' d'Hiv Memorial. Photo by Sandy Ross
The Vel’ d’Hiv Memorial. Photo by Sandy Ross

Mont-Valérien

The Free French symbol outside the Mont-Valérien memorial. Photo by Sandy Ross.
The Free French symbol outside the Mont-Valérien memorial. Photo by Sandy Ross.

Another introduction that came via our time with Raphaëlle was to Antoine Grande. Antoine is the director of three memorials: Mont-Valérien, Memorial of the Deportation, and a small memorial near the Eiffel Tower. We had a wonderful conversation with Antoine before our tour began.

Exterior of chapel at Mont-Valérien where prisoners were taken to await their execution by firing squad in the clearing. Photo by Sandy Ross.
Exterior of chapel at Mont-Valérien where prisoners were taken to await their execution by firing squad in the clearing. Photo by Sandy Ross.

Mont-Valérien continues its role as a military fort. Located outside Paris in a small suburb, it was used by the German Wehrmacht to execute résistants, hostages, or anyone they deemed a threat. Back then, the city had not encroached and the surrounding area was forest. We saw the chapel where they trucked in the victims and held them before marching them—in groups of five—down the path to a clearing where they were shot by a firing squad. As evidenced by a recently discovered photo of a 1944 execution, the clearing has not changed since then. Then we went on to the memorial where the French president holds a very moving ceremony on 18 June of each year.

Interior of the chapel at Mont-Valérien. The five wooden stakes that the victims were tied to lie to the left while several body boxes used to transport the bodies lie to the right—in front of the two windows. Photo by Sandy Ross.
Interior of the chapel at Mont-Valérien. The five wooden stakes that the victims were tied to lie to the left while several body boxes used to transport the bodies lie to the right—in front of the two windows. Photo by Sandy Ross.
Graffiti written by the prisoners inside the Mont-Valérien chapel immediately before being taken to their execution. Photo by Sandy Ross.
Graffiti written by the prisoners inside the Mont-Valérien chapel immediately before being taken to their execution. Photo by Sandy Ross.
The clearing with the monument in the middle. A prisoner was tied to each of the five stakes located on the other side of the monument. The German firing squad lined up in the forefront. Photo by Sandy Ross.
The clearing with the monument in the middle. A prisoner was tied to each of the five stakes located on the other side of the monument. The German firing squad lined up in the foreground. Photo by Sandy Ross.

Antoine’s primary mission includes preserving the memorials to the victims of the Nazi occupiers and to ensure no one ever forgets. 

 

Forgive But Never Forget 

 

Raphaëlle Crevet

Raphaëlle never ceases to amaze me. She is the best guide we’ve ever had and I highly recommend that you consider using her when you’re in Paris or the surrounding area. Her knowledge is excellent and she has an uncanny way of getting us into places no one else can go. You can reach her at raphaellecrevet@yahoo.fr.

Raphaëlle and Stew standing in front of the entrance to the Paris Court of Appeals. This is the courtroom where Pierre Laval and Marshall Pétain were tried (separately). Photo by Sandy Ross.
Raphaëlle and Stew standing in front of the entrance to the Paris Court of Appeals. This is the courtroom where Pierre Laval and Marshall Pétain were tried (separately). Photo by Sandy Ross.

Recommended Reading

We spent some time with Raphaëlle in her apartment looking at the reference books she has used. There were three in particular that I had never seen (they are all in French with no English translation). I couldn’t find any of them on Amazon. However, all three were available on eBay. I love eBay.

Thoraval, Anne. des Resistants à Paris. SPE—BARTHELEMY

Thoraval, Anne. les lieux de la Resistance. Parigramme.

Desprairies, Cécile. Ville Lumière. Années Noires. Denoël.

What’s New With Sandy and Stew?

We must be getting old. We never did close down the bistro with our friend Annette. She came to Paris from Rotterdam for a couple of days to see us but by 9:00 PM each evening, we were all ready to call it a day.

We had some great experiences (as outlined in this special blog post) and almost all of them were a result of Raphaëlle’s doing. So, a big thank you (as always) to Raphaëlle. The highlight was meeting Raphaëlle’s new baby.

Someone Is Commenting On Our Blogs

If there is a topic you’d like to see a blog written about, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I love hearing from you so keep those comments coming.

Why Would You Want To Buy Our “Walks Through History” Books?

Simple.

You like to travel and experience history and historical events. You like to see original buildings that had a significant impact on the people and events of the history you’re engaged with. You want to know the stories behind the brick and mortar in front of you.

The walking tour books are meticulously researched so you can go directly to those sites and learn about the building’s history as well as an introduction to some of the more interesting people associated with it.

Thank You

Sandy and I appreciate you visiting with us. We have some exciting things on the horizon and we’ll keep you updated as we go along.

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An African-American in Pre-WWII Paris

Most of us have never experienced blatant discrimination because of the color of our skin. Every country can point to episodes in its past that are regrettable and if possible, its citizens would certainly jump at the chance to turn the clock back and try to undo the damage. For America, I think most of us would agree that slavery was our low point. Even after the Civil War and emancipation, the Jim Crow laws of the south (and let’s not totally exclude the north) prevented African-Americans from exercising their rights. Before the civil rights movement of the 1960s, entertainers such as Sammy Davis Jr., Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nat King Cole were not allowed to stay in Las Vegas hotels (in other words, you can perform here—to segregated audiences—but you can’t stay here). Our story today is about an African-American entertainer who moved to Paris during the Jazz Age because her talents were recognized and appreciated by the French. The welcome mat was always out for her to stay at the hotel of her choice. By the end of her life, Josephine Baker was hailed not only as one of the world’s top entertainers but also a World War II French Resistance hero and one of the leaders of the American Civil Rights movement.

Meet Freda Josephine McDonald AKA Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker, singer. Photo by anonymous (c. 1930s). Author’s collection.
Josephine Baker, singer. Photo by anonymous (c. 1930s). Author’s collection.

Josephine Baker (1906–1975) was born into extreme poverty in St. Louis. By the age of eight, her mother began to hire out Josephine as a live-in maid. One of her memories was being abused and punished if she made eye contact with her white employer. Five years later, Josephine was living on the streets and dancing on the street corners to make money (similar to the waifs in Paris—think Edith Piaf—who sang on the street corners in the early 1900s).

Josephine married the first of her four husbands when she was thirteen. At fifteen, she divorced him and married Willie Baker. Although divorcing Willie in 1925, she decided to keep his name as her audiences were beginning to recognize Josephine Baker as a top performer and dancer in the entertainment world. Learn more about Josephine here. Read More An African-American in Pre-WWII Paris