Currently in Paris, there is a sucessful theater play at the Theater of the Madeleine called Diplomacy, written by Cyril Gély. It is the fictional discussion between Dietrich von Choltitz (German military Governor of Paris) and Raoul Nordling (Swedish diplomat) concerning the destruction of Paris that Hitler ordered. Let me tell you more about this historical fact. In deed, Paris could have disappeared...
At the end of the Second World War, when the Allies were about to arrive in Paris on August 25, 1944, Dietrich von Choltitz was the German Military Governor of Paris. He received the order from Hitler to destroy Paris. Choltitz's family heritage of generations of Prussian militarism left little room for an independent spirit. He had been raised to do as he was told. How Choltitz finally thought of disobeying a direct order for the first time in his life?
Hitler was arguing: 'Why should we care if Paris is destroyed? The Allies, at this very moment, are destroying cities all over Germany with their bombs.'
On August 17, 1944, Choltitz was given the order for the destruction of Paris for the prupose of slowing up as much as possible the advance of the Allies.
: sappers were mining the 400-year-old Palais du Luxembourg with its priceless trove of literary and art treasures, the Chamber of Deputies, the French Foreign Office, the Eiffel Tower, the telephone exchanges, the railroad stations, the aircraft plant and every major factory in the area. The first structures mined were the centuries-old bridges spanning the Seine. Without these bridges, the broad, meandering loops of the river would be a troublesome obstacle for an advancing army. A tunnel beneath the city was filled with U-boat torpedoes that, if ignited, would produce a titanic explosion and tremendous devastation.
Added to this, a newly drafted law, the Sippenhaft law was legislation that in effect made hostages of the families of front-line soldiers. These draconian measures provided the death penalty for the next of kin of men who surrendered, deserted or merely performed at levels below what was dictated. Choltitz mumbled that if Germany was resorting to such bestial measures, she was reverting to the Middle Ages. Choltitz felt a tension from his family since he had a wife and three children!
Destroy Paris, the most beautiful city in the world? Choltitz realize that to obey would be a bestial act of mass vandalism for which he would be eternally held responsible.
Pierre Charles Tattinger, the mayor of Paris was alarmed at all the explosives being deployed throughout the city. Leading Choltitz onto the balcony for some fresh air in his Hotel Meurice headquarters, Tattinger looked down on the lovely sculptured garden of the Tuileries and had an inspiration. Gesturing at the captivating vista, he made his point. Below them a lovely young girl was riding her bicycle on the Rue de Rivoli; on the manicured grounds of Le Notre, children played by the pond with their sailboats; across the adjacent Seine was the glittering dome of Les Invalides; and beyond that stood the landmark of the City of Light, the Eiffel Tower.
The Frenchman's appeal was powerful: 'Often it is given a general to destroy, rarely to preserve. Imagine that one day it may be given you to stand on this balcony again, as a tourist, to look once more on these monuments to our joys, to our sufferings, and be able to say, 'One day I could have destroyed this, and I preserved it as a gift to humanity.'
Raoul Nordling, a Swedish businessman and diplomat, played an important role in mediating between French and German forces during the occupation and Liberation of Paris. During the uprising of the French resistants in August 1944 he negotiated with the German commander General Dietrich von Choltitz, to try to limit the bloodshed and damage to the city. Many accounts of these events attribute him a major role in doing so, and he was honoured by France after the Liberation.
Choltitz disobeyed Hitler's order to leave Paris in rubble during this last stage of the war. A common account holds that Hitler phoned him in a rage, screaming, "Brennt Paris?" ("Is Paris burning?")
Hopefully, Choltitz still had highly placed friends in the military, however, and they managed to delay the trial so that the war came to an end before the court-martial could come to order, thereby saving Choltitz's wife and children from execution or imprisonment.