Paris In The 1940s: A Decade Of Devastation And Rebirth

Published April 6, 2015
Updated January 23, 2017

As World War II raged throughout Europe, the “City of Light” transformed into a city of darkness. While the Germans declined to physically destroy the city upon its 1940 occupation, their presence greatly tested the Parisian psyche. Over two million Parisians fled as the Germans arrived, but those who remained in the capital faced interrogations, curfews, rations, shortages and arrests. The German occupation of France (1940-1944) remains a humiliating time in the history of Paris and, more broadly, France.

Paris did not have to rebuild the Eiffel Tower at the war’s end, but it did need to reconstruct its collective consciousness and shirk the shame of the German occupation and the nation’s history of collaborating with Germany more than it did resist it. The second half of the 1940s was marked by a desire to rebuild what had once been taken by World War II, both structurally and politically. Paris’ liberation allowed Charles de Gaulle to establish the Free French government, which united a previously divided assemblage of actors–namely Gaullists, nationalists, communists and anarchists.

These images of vintage Paris capture the city’s metamorphosis throughout the decade. To see what the rest of Europe (and the world!) was up to, check out some of the most iconic photos of the 1940s.

Nazi Flag Flying in Paris
Hitler Visits the Eiffel Tower
Metro Station Nazi Propaganda from Paris
Flowers 1940
Paris In The 1940s: A Decade Of Devastation And Rebirth
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United News captured the liberation of France in 1944. Check out this clip for historic scenes from the liberation:

Kiri Picone
Bay Area transplant Kiri Picone is a writer and marketer who loves bizarre news and the color purple.