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
A Nazi flag hangs in Paris during the German invasion of the city. Source: Stalin!

Hitler Visits the Eiffel Tower
A close-up look at Adolph Hitler as he poses in front of the Eiffel Tower. Source: Wikipedia

Metro Station Nazi Propaganda from Paris
A woman walks from the Paris Métro station in the early 1940s. Images like these were used as German propaganda, (falsely) portraying Paris as a vibrant, lively city. Source: Flickr

Flowers 1940
A Parisian flower shop in 1940. Source: Pinterest

Hitler in Vintage Paris
Adolph Hitler and his soldiers pose in front of the Eiffel Tower in 1940. Source: Rare Historical Photos

German-Occupied Theater in Vintage Paris
A Parisian theatre is overtaken with Nazi paraphernalia during the German occupation of France. Source: Pinterest

Women Ride Bicycles in Paris
Women ride bicycles in the 1940s. Source: Vintage Everyday

Armed Fighters in Paris
Armed fighters work to liberate Paris during the German occupation. Source: Young Gifted and Black

Historic Nazi Invasion of Paris
Nazi flags are seen hanging street-side. Source: Musee de la resistance en linge

Children Playing Near Eiffel Tower
An image shot by Andre Zucca depicts children playing at the foot of the Eiffel Tower during the German occupation of the city. The Nazis tasked Zucca with portraying the occupation in a positive light. Source: Daily Mail

Just Married in Paris
A couple is married in Paris in 1943. Source: The Museums of Florence

Celebration at Champs-Elysees
Americans march through the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, marking the liberation of Paris. Source: Historic Wings

Vintage Paris Liberated 1944
Banners celebrate the expulsion of German forces from Paris. Source: TIME

Liberation of Paris Celebration
Parisians celebrate the liberation of Paris in 1944. Source: Wikipedia

Americans in Vintage Paris
American soldiers gather in Paris to celebrate the Japanese surrender in 1945. Source: National Archives

Vintage Paris in 1946
A glimpse of Paris in 1946, as the city recovers from World War II. Source: Daily Mail

The Louvre in 1946
This 1946 photo captures a completely empty Louvre museum, a sign of the decade’s turmoil. Source: Daily Mail

Dior Fashions in 1947
In 1947, Christian Dior launched his extravagant dress designs, restoring Paris as the “pinnacle of haute couture.” Source: Diorable Style

European Economic Cooperation
The conference on European Economic Cooperation was held in Paris in 1947. Source: CVCE

Vintage Paris by Edouard Boubat
An image shot by photographer Edouard Boubat captures two children outside a Paris storefront in 1948. Source: Pigtails in Paint

Snowy Day in Paris 1940s
A picturesque snow day in Paris in 1948. Source: Vintage Everyday

1949 Painter in Paris
A Parisian painter in 1949. Source: Antique and Classic Photographic Images

United News captured the liberation of France in 1944. Check out this clip for historic scenes from the liberation:

Kiri Picone
Kiri Picone holds a B.A. in English and creative writing from Pepperdine University and has been writing for various digital publishers for more than 10 years.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.