tv Washington Journal Author Mary Louise Roberts on D- Day and French Citizens CSPAN August 20, 2019 5:49pm-6:37pm EDT
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at the beginning of august we were seized what could be confirmed was towards the middle of the month the germans started to leave the city. yes, those those were the same germans who assigned 25 year-- on their pockets. then on the 14th normandy went on strike. the next day the gestapo that was the day that the police car opened fire on the national guard. after that it seems the french-- flag was hanging from every window. two days later we started running. me, my husband, people were clinging. the french army had--. i kissed
my husband. he began to realize how unhappy we had been for years and how lucky we were to be alive on this august day. >> mary louise roberts is a history professor at the university of wisconsin madison. joining us this morning and our focus on d-day to talk about her book, d-day through franchise. prof. roberts, we just heard video from the liberation of paris later that summer but take us back to before the invasion. what was normandy like on june 5?
>> the french had been under german occupation since 1940. and normandy the food situation was better than it was in france because it was the dairyland. there was more abundant food but at the same time the germans took pretty much the majority of the food and the milk and the dairy that the normans had produced. there was hunger, there was a lot of fear, there was the gestapo, members of the resistance were taken away if they were suspected of so- called terrorist acts of. it was a very grim normandy and we did the invasion on the sixth of invade-- november. >> did anyone have an idea that
an invasion was coming at some point but did not know when? >> exactly. particularly in the year before between 33 and 34 after the tide turned in italy, the french knew the invasion was coming so this of course filled them with great hope but they did not know where and they did not know when. bombing of various parts of friends. is the-- for the normans that would given the germans the belief that they would come there. the french expected it to come further east than it did so they had an idea of what was going to be but didn't expect it to be-- normandy.
>> a professor at the university of wisconsin madison, author of the book d- day through franchise is our focus for the last part of the program. the experience of french norman citizens and the initial-- of d- day. if you are living in the eastern and central time zones that is the line to use. or mountain pacific time zone. for those of you who have french ancestry, that line is 202-748-8000 and we are interested if you have stories of relatives or ancestors who lived in normandy or france at the time of the invasion. just a couple of reminders of the timeline. the invasion was postponed, the original, the day before. 75 years ago june 6 shorebird was secured 24 days later.
we showed you some of the video for the liberation of paris in august in august 1944. mary louise roberts, the cover of your book shows many of the french recounts, this almost dreamlike quality of the paratroopers falling into the night. were soldiers prepared for what they would encounter in terms of what citizens there would be like? were they given warning or advice on how to deal with citizens in the first hours of the invasion? >> the americans and the british were both told that the majority of people still living in that part of france would be collaborators and that anyone
else would have in some way moved away or migrated to get away from the war. but, the collaborators would be protected by the germans and on that premise they would stay. the initial view of the french was negative. as far as paris were concerned -- as ours appeared writers were concerned they were injured and the normans had to take care of them. because the planes flew low they had to release to and so many had broken legs and broken ankles and if it were not for the normans going out into the night and rescuing these people and trying to get them back toward american lions, there would have been a kind of disaster. >> 3000 citizens died in the
first two days of the invasion. nearly 2000 by the end of the campaign. what was the largest cause of death of those citizens? >> by far bombardment. remember the term collateral damage was invented in the second world war because claims are notoriously good about hitting their target. i think half the time it was within a quarter of a mile. there was a lot of collateral damage and many, many french people who were in sellers were killed. often times the village would take refuge in the castles of the small towns because they were behemoth buildings with very thick walls. some people got caught in the
crossfire. normans are stoic people. even though it was a battlefield and get killed that way. their homes and their backyards turned into a battlefield. some of them just didn't have the resources or the time given the uncertainty of the location to pick up belongings and get out in time. >> you talked about the gestapo and normandy. you are writing a book about, one of the persons you are writing about is a french police officer i believe looking at the german soldiers who were stationed there in germany. they were old with little fight in them. was that the common impression of norman citizens of who is
they are manning the bunkers they are on the beaches and elsewhere in normandy? >> it was true that hitler's army of 1944 was not hitler's army of 1940 when they first invaded france. because by now, hitler led his population dry so there were older men but mostly there were younger men. if you go to the german cemetery in normandy you will see that most of these young people were 1516 or 17. they were inexperienced and older men as well. it's important to keep in mind as well that only 20%-30% of hitler's army was in normandy. the vast majority of troops were fighting on the eastern front against the russians. you had a small proportion of
troops either very young or very old. >> 202-748-8000 four. those of you in mountain pacific 202-748- 8001 and if you are a french- american of french dissents or had relatives who were in france that line, 202-748-8002. our guest is lou roberts and we go first to kentucky. this is brad. good morning. >> i did have a question for prof. parker but first i had to say thank you to all of our veterans. i'm aware of the fact that the- - lost of any american living today is thanks to a long line
of noble bloodshed of young men and women who gave us the ability to have this present life that we do. i'm very thankful for that. to all veterans out there that came back home with wounds physical and otherwise, you are appreciated, you are loved, i appreciate you, i love you, and i hope you have a good day and things are okay with you. >> did you have a question for lou roberts? go ahead. >> i thought her name is mary louise parker? >> mary louise roberts. >> mary louise parker. >> [ laughter ] go ahead with your comment. >> at any rate i apologize. >> the role of the france
french, i've been interested in that when i was young but i've never been able to find any good resources on activities or the french resistance. i know that it was a strong factor but as far as specifics could you recommend any resources or detail something dealing with that? thank you. >> french resistance played a huge part in the d-day invasion. one of the reasons that i wrote this book is because it has always been seen as an american story. it has been told within a national frame. what i tried to do is turn the lens around. i envisioned roberts picture
where he's showing the gis going up the beach. and i turned around, what was it like for the french looking down the beach? there were civilians but there were also a lot of resistance men who were in eisenhower's view equal to 15 military divisions. we are talking about a force. their job on d-day was to create of sabotage. in particular, to stop trains from coming to normandie, ringing supplies and troops, but to blow up bridges. two, in other words cripple the transportation system. they also changed some of the signs from the right side to the wrong side to be-- befuddle
the germans and be active in the struggle although we tend to forget them. i don't think there's a mistake that you cannot find sources on them but i would recommend one book by julian jackson which is excellent on the resistance and france. and, not to in any way diminish the great role that the americans played, but it's important to include the many lives that were lost in part of the french. >> those of you with ancestors who went through normandy or french dissent, this is sherry from alexandria virginia. >> good morning. >> i am french-american by my french mother who is a war bride. i have an aunt trained as a nurse in world war i to deal
with the injured troops. she and her husband were forced to leave home which was of course the-- chemical company. they worked in the paris office is. they were warned if the germans are going to invade paris to save their lives they needed to get out of there so they moved to brittany-- so they moved to the origin and birth and joined the french resistance, the two of them. she worked under the guise of social workers so that she could have free access throughout the countryside and they had to purposes. one was to move messages from the french resistance fighters to britain and receive them and hand them back to the french. and 2, to harbor british pilots who have been shot down by
german planes. i have a mother sent by her family from paris to the area of marseille who joined the french resistance. her job was to carry automatic and semi-autumn-- semiautomatic weapons from one place to another and was involved with her group blowing up trains and troop. anything else that would be helpful? >> that's quite a family legacy. this roberts, any thoughts? >> first of all thank you very much. you do have an amazing family legacy. what you are bringing up as a
subject close to my heart which was the many ways in which women participated in the resistance. they were not able to participate in military resistance. when the americans arrived they were not given a uniform. their roles were really shaped by their gender. they did all of the different kinds of things that you so beautifully described. one of the advantages was that they were not under suspicion the way that a young man would be. they are the ones who carry the resistance newspapers or the bombs and when they got through check points they often times acted innocent. they got through in a way a man never could. my favorite example is a young woman in britain as you've said was a real center for resistance.
huge amounts of resistance. it was well known for that and a young-- was with her mother and they were carrying parachutes. you're right, they were participating in that wonderful basically train that would take pilots and soldiers through france and through the pyrenees out through spain and through england. they had all of these parachutes in their suitcases trying to hide them and keep them away from the gestapo. they get to the train station and anyone who has been in their nose there's no escalators. they each have their bicycles with them and at the top was the gestapo. the young daughter loses it but the mother says to
the members of the gestapo, excuse me, i'm not going to be able to carry my bike in my suitcase. could you please do that for me or help me out? in that way they literally got the gestapo to carry silk parachutes up the stairs. because women were seducers, because they were beautiful and the new how to use that as a weapon, they got away with a lot that young men never would and that is their unique role. thank you for bringing that up. >> that color mentioned marseille and we are talking about normandy. was at the case that after the invasion of paris that many had fled to the countryside? >> it was more true in 1940 because as the germans moved east, citizens literally began a mass exodus.
every single car, every single train and the idea was to get to some place in the west and south of france and away from the germans but then they occupied the north and after the battle in 1942, the germans realized that in fact the threat could be from the south so they occupied the whole country in 1943. >> olivia north carolina. >> thanks for having us. great job on the book. my father was an american g.i. and he was in england loading ships for d-day. anyway he got to normandy in late july. he met my mother
over there and she lived in this-- anyway, they had no food, you couldn't go to the local supermarket and get any food. she had nothing. they had to try to grow their food and minefields because there was no open field on the occupation was pretty heavy in the 40s. her uncle got shot by the germans because they thought he was shooting at him. my father would go over and give them food and they never had seen canned peaches or other food because they were pretty much starving under the occupation. she said the germans were very
nice but like you said, they were young and some older but-- >> i think we lost you but thank you for your comments. >> i would just say again that he's absolutely right. most of france was starving by the end of the war. one french writer said the sound of france was the sound of a growling stomach. and again this is because the germans took most of the produce and most of the wine. there were always things that were buried in order to save them for the liberation, the much beloved bottle of wine. one young man when he met an african-american g.i. brought him up back and dug out his jazz records in order to
show him how much he loved american music. it was a great period of great deprivation and continued for another year. the winter of 44 4445 was still quite hard because by then france was largely destroyed. there were towns which the french called martyred. these towns were 80% destroyed. so life is very hard during the war for the french. most people think the french were collaborators, that they lived off of the fat of the land. if you lived in the city it was harder than when you lived in the country because you couldn't grow your own food but the war was hard on the french
and humiliating to be occupied by the germans. >> the 75th anniversary of d- day, we are talking about mary louise roberts, the experience of french citizens on d-day 1944 we hear from joshua, brooklyn. good morning. >> we talk about d-day as a starting off point so i wanted to touch on the what transpired beforehand mulberry was the portable area that was put over so soldiers were able to disembark and you had a lot of innovation. definitely about the technical
innovation that went into preparing for d-day. thank you very much. >> hitler constructed what he called the atlantic wall and this was basically a series of fortifications on the beaches of normandy france including all kinds of barriers, the building of artillery. there were large-- on top which is why the rangers were going up there to take those guns. unfortunately they had already been removed when they got up there but it was a mighty fortress which hitler deemed impenetrable in this atlantic wall was built by germans. it was built by forced laborers, many of them polish or ukrainian men who had been
born in concord countries and were forced to come to france. >> help me out on this word that we've seen quite a number of time, the french word department. what does it mean and why is it so important for citizens? >> i realized i didn't really have to use the word. it just means the landing. that was the french word for the landing it was again a word whispered to everyone on the morning of june 6. the landings are coming.
so there is a wonderful memoir about a young girl who couldn't understand what this word meant exactly. it was an adult word and she never heard it before so it was very specific to the war. remember again there was always the hope that the americans would come, the british would come and rescue the french so it was much-anticipated. with it came joy but there were so many mixed feelings. on one hand they were conquerors and on the other they were the destroyers. on one hand they were the source of hope but when they arrived brought a tremendous amount of anxiety because this is it this is the moment. if they fail, all hope will die. there's a specific kind of anxiety because this is the moment of testing. no one knew that the gis would
triumph. really until the middle of july . there was a lot of anxiety that this would fail and they would be under the nazi sift forever. >> and that is still used to describe d-day. that's how the french refer to d-day, correct? >> exactly right. >> let's hear from fairfield connecticut. >> how are you? >> happy memorial day. >> my question is a personal one. my grandmother was mary louise roberts and my mother in her moved from manhattan to paris during the depression. her sister june married a frenchman and lived there for a while. is that it is a common name or
are they related? >> i think roberts is my father's name and my father was her main. he supposedly was the descendent of the drunk of plymouth colony is. he was on the mayflower but was kicked out of plymouth colony so that's my ancestry. it's a welsh name so i don't know. i will say a lot if you have talked about marriages between americans and french and that was one of the very happy results of gis being on the continent. the french women and american gis often fell in love and that love lasted and when
the war was over the americans came back to get their brides. >> not unrelated subject, what soldiers do, secs and the american g.i. in world war ii friends. france. why did you write that book and what kind of reaction did it get? >> i just got interested in the relationship between american gis and the french. what distinguished me was that i looked at both the french archives because i was a french historian by training, but also deeply into the american archival situation. i was trying to tell the story from both sides. what i found really surprised me which was that the summer of 1944, franco-american relations
were rough but with the once the french realize the americans were going to liberate them they were ecstatic the summer of 1945 was a little different i found. the troops are coming back in place of like-- which is a port town. probably the major date and suffering from what we would now call ptsd. many had lost buddies, they are waiting to go home, and in many ways were hardened. in places like that there was a lot of drinking, a lot of alcohol abuse and prostitution sometimes in the open air. one of the things that i read was correspondence between the mayor and the colonel in charge of the troops there.
the mayor did have complaints about g.i. behavior. so there was an interesting shift between the summer of 1944 in the summer of 1945. the shift of course is the difference between soldiers going into a war and soldiers coming out of a war. >> we go next to peter in provincetown massachusetts. you are on with mary louise roberts. >> good morning. i want to wish everyone a happy memorial day especially a couple of people all. i'm sitting at a hospital with roger putnam and he's very ill with cancer. i just want to also say that two weeks ago my father passed away and there is a very
interesting kind of development. my grandfather was part of the original army staff at the army war college just prior to the deployment of the us troops to gear up during world war i. there was a time when my dad thought he was going to fight in japan but in fact he was it iowa state university training as an officer where there was an instance where we suddenly changed our priorities and-- invade the philippines and great number. >> do you have a question for
our guest? >> yes. my question is, is there any lingering sense of support which the french tapped into? and perhaps they made the connection from world war i to world war ii. >> thank you. >> many of the people who fought in world war ii had father's who had fought in world war i. their fathers came home as a land of wine and beautiful women and probably all if not most exaggerated. so when the gis got there their expectation was if they got off of the beach they would meet
beautiful french women who would thank them for their liberation. the connection in terms of american soldiers was that france got a reputation as the babylon of europe with beautiful women who were loose women. inasmuch as their fathers exaggerated the sons had a certain set of expectations so as a result there was a lot of prostitution. by the fall of 1944 the american army was quite worried about the venereal disease rate among troops. that is how i would connect the first and second world war in terms of the american army. >> next to go to asheville. this is teresa. >> i don't have french ancestry and was born in 1946, so i was
not a part of the war. it was over when i was born. but when i was in high school i took french classes and i had a teacher who taught us a pollen. to my recollection, and i may be wrong, the name of the poem was-- and she told us that the first line of that poem was used in the normandy go order. i wondered if you know if that's true and if that's the name of the poem. >> yes, your teacher is exactly right. the poem is by a french poem poet and the first praise of the poem was a signal to the resistance.
it was heard over the bbc that they should get ready, get information and start to do the sabotage. the invasion was going to happen within the next week. on the night of june 5, the second line was given, that's when the resistance knew that the invasion was going to come within 24 hours. it was a french poem that signaled first that the invasion was going to come within a week or so and that it was imminent. >> rachel in alexandria virginia with prof. mary louise roberts tonight. >> my name is rachel. i had an uncle who is a fighter ace in the world-- in the war
and took part in the war before and after d-day. he was involved in a dogfight over paris. he was able to claim that victory and to get out of paris he flew low to avoid the antiaircraft fire. the way he told us and told the press and everyone else, this helped to re-energize the resistance. it helped the french people so much so that the french ambassador of the united states awarded him the legion of honor in a wonderful ceremony held in bedford virginia my question is in your research did you find
any documentation of this? >> no i didn't. and i'll tell you why which is that-- because i was focusing-- well first of all, it's a terrific story. it really is. and, it's very common in the sense of people getting rescued by french pilots or airplane personnel getting rescued by the french. my research for this book really focused on normandy so i went to 2 archives. the provincial archive and a special archive which is memorial to dj-- d-day. i would not have picked this up unless i had gone someplace in paris. it's a great story and there are many such wonderful stories. one of my favorites is when a pilot was downed in someplace in central france. for people
died and one was a survivor. because there was a standard number of people on these planes they decided they would have to create a coffin for the fifth person so they literally buried for people on the plane and put sand in a fifth coffin so the gestapo would not be suspicious if someone had survived. and as was often the case they got to safety, went to the pyrenees, and back to london. >> good morning. >> i have a question. a book like yours is fantastic but are these facts then taught in french schools? because frankly, i feel and this may
only be my opinion, that the french themselves are the most ungrateful people on the face of the earth. [ laughter ] we lost hundreds of thousands of wonderful young men freeing them and i don't think today the french come of the young french especially realize the sacrifice that the british and canadians made to free them. >> prof. roberts? >> i'm going to have to disagree with you and this is one thing i really wanted to make sure that the viewers knew was that the french were profoundly grateful to the americans for what they did. i think most americans go to paris which is a large cosmopolitan city but if you step outside the big city and go to the countryside
particularly normandy you are treated especially-- especially as an american. i'm tall and blonde and was in normandy doing research and someone mistook me in a cafi for german. i suddenly found myself eating yesterday's bread with my sandwich and being scorned upon , them assuming i was a german. when i got up to leave i said in french i'm not a german, an american. their faces completely changed and they were very apologetic. i think if you go to france outside of paris you will see that the french are very very grateful. my sister, once her car broke down in the south of france and it was fixed on a holiday at a reasonable cost because this auto mechanic remembered the
americans. so i have to differ. and i think there also quite useful. >> joining us from the university of wisconsin in madison is prof. mary louise roberts. we've been talking about her book d-day through franchise ahead of the 75th anniversary of d-day on june 6. prof. roberts, thank you so much for being with us this morning. >> thank you for having me. i appreciate it.
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