tv Washington Journal Author Mary Louise Roberts on D- Day and French Citizens CSPAN May 28, 2019 1:03am-1:51am EDT
louise roberts and talk about her book looking at the battle of norman dethrough the eyes of the french citizens who were caught in that fight. first, though, from 1945, a u.s. office of war information film. this is a french civilian describing the liberation of paris which occurred just 80 days after the d day invasion. >> at the beginning of august, we could be concerned. it was towards the middle of the month the germans started to leave the city. these, those were the same germans who had signed 25-year leases on their apartments. then on the 14th, our police went on strike. the next day the guess tap low left. that was the day, too, when a police car opened fire on a german detachment on the plaza and began the battle of the city. after that, it seemed the french
flag was hanging from every window. all the flags were made from curtains or anything. it didn't matter. four days later we heard shouting coming. we started hiding. me, my husband, everyone in our house. as we ran, people were screaming. the french army had arrived. when we got to the plaza, we saw it was true. i kissed my husband because i was crying. we began to realize how unhappy we had been for four years and how lucky we were to be alive on this august evening. she is a history professor >> mary louise roberts is a history professor at the university of wisconsin madison. joining us this morning on american history tv and washington journal in our focus
on d day to talk about her book, d day through french eyes. professor roberts we just showed some video from the liberation of paris later that summer. but take us back to before the invasion. what was normandy like on june 5th? what were the citizens of norman delike? >> well, the french had been under german occupation since 1940. in normandy, the food situation was better than the rest of france because it was the dairyland of france. i tell my students the wisconsin of france. so there was more abundant food. but at the same time, the germans took pretty much the majority of the food and the milk in the dairy that the normans had produced. so there was hunger. there was a lot of fear. there was you know tnoknow gest.
members of the resistance were taken away if they were suspected of so-called terrorist acts. so it was a very grim normandy which greeted the invasion on the 6th of november. >> did most french norman citizens have an idea that invasion was coming at some point but they did not know when? >> exactly. particularly in the year between '43 and '44 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. and bombardment, bombing of various parts of france, took place all over france because it's the area had just bombed
normandy that would give the germans the belief that the invasion was going to come there. in fact, in the -- the french expected it to come farther east than it did. so they had an idea of where it was going to be, but they actually didn't expect it to be in normandy. >> mary louise roberts is our guest. she's history professor at the university of wisconsin at madison. author of the book "d day through french eyes" that's our focus for the last part of our program this morning is the experience of french norman stips and the initial invasion of d day. 202-748-8000 if you are living in the eastern and central time zones. 202-748-8001 for mountain and pacific time zones. and for french americans, the number is 202-748-8 02.
particularly interested in you had relatives or ancestors who lived in norman defor french during the time of the invasion. a reminder of the time line of the invasion. we are talking about june 6th, 1944. but the original invasion was postponed, the day before. 75 days ago june 6 the invasion happened, cherberg was secured the day before. but mary louise roberts, the cover of your book d day through french eyes shows a almost dreamlike quality of the paratroopers falling into the night. let me ask you, were american solders and british soldiers, canadians, were they prepared for what they would encounter in terms of what the citizens there
in nermandy would be like? were they given any warning or advice on how to deal with citizens in those first hours of the invasion? >> well, the americans and the british were both told that the majority of people still living in that part of france would be collaborators, that everyone else would have in some way moved away and migrated to get away from the war. but the collaborators would be protected by the germans and on that premise, they would stay. so their initial view of the french was negative. as far as the paras were concerned, they landed, most of them were injured and it was the normans who took care of them. because the planes had to fly very low they released the paras too low sometime. so many of them had broken legs
and broken ankles. if it weren't for the normans going out into the night and rescuing these people and then trying to get them back to american lines, there would have been a kind of disaster among the paras. >> what was the largest cause of death of those citizens? >> by far, bombardment. remember that the term collateral damage was invented in the second world war because planes were notoriously not good about hitting their targets. i think about half the time, it was within an quarter of a mile. so there was a lot of collateral damage. and many, many french people who
even were in cellars were killed. oftentimes the havillage would take refuge in the small towns because they were behemoth buildings with very thick walls. so despite that, bombardment killed many people. some people got caught in the crossfire. normans are stoic people. they would go out to milk their cows even though it was a battlefield and -- and get killed that way. so by far, bombardment. but also -- you know, under homes and their backyards turned into a battlefield. and some of them just didn't have the resources or the time, given the uncertainty of the location, to pick up their belongings and get out in time. >> you talk about the presence of the gestapo in norman dea
couple of moments ago. you write in the book, one of the persons you talk about, a norman a french police officer, i believe, looking at the soldiers the german soldiers who were station there had in germany didn't think much of them. i think he was a world war i vet. he said they were old with little fight in them. was that a common impression of norman citizens in terms of who was theran maing the bunkers there on the beaches and elsewhere in normandy? >> it was not -- it was true that first of all hitler's army of 1944 was not hitler's army of 1940 when they first invaded france because by now hitler has literally bled 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 15, 16, or 17. so they were inexperienced.
and there were older men as well. it is important to keep in mind as well that only about 20 to 30% of hitler's army was in normandy. the vast majority of troops were fighting on the eastern front against the russians. so you had really a small proportion of troops and either very young or very old. >> we will open up our phone lines. our guest is from the uniy of wisconsin. our guest is lou roberts from the university of wisconsin. we go first to lily, kentucky. this is brad. good morning. >> caller: i do have a question for ms. -- professor parker.
first i just have to say thank you to all of our veterans. i'm very aware of the fact that the totally blessed life that any modern american is 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 aware of that and i'm very thankful for that. to all the veterans that are 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 i hope things are okay with you. >> did you have a question for
lou roberts, brad? go ahead. >> caller: i thought her name was mary louise parker. lou roberts? >> mary louise roberts. >> there is a mary louise parker. >> go ahead with your question. >> caller: at any rate, i apologize. the role of the french resistance, i have been interested in that since i was young but i have never been able to find any good resources on activities or affairs of the french resistance. i know it was a strong factor, i'm toelg told from history it is. but as far as specifics could you recommend any resources or could you kind of detail something dealing with that? thank you. >> yep. french resistance played a huge part in -- in the d day invasion. one of the reasons i wrote this
book is because d day has always been seen as an american story. ates been told within a national frame. what i tried to do is to turn the lens aren't. i envisioned robert kappa's picture where he is showing the gis as they go up the beach and i turned the camera around, what was it like for the french looking down from the beach? and there were civilians which we have already talked about. but there were also a lot of men, 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 acts of sabotage. in particular, to stop trains from coming to normandy,
bringing supplies, bringing troops. but also to blow up bridges, to -- in other words cripple the transportation system in the area. they also changed some of the signs in normandy from the right sign to the wrong sign to befuddle the germans. but they were in many ways active in the struggle. although we tend to forget them. i don't think there is a mistake, brad, that you can't find resources on them. but i would recommend one book by julian jackson which is excellent on the resistance in france. and not to in any way diminish the great role that the americans played, but it's really important to include the many lives that were lost on the part of the french, too. >> we have a line for french americans or those of you with ancestors who went through normandy or of french decent.
that's 202-748-8002. this is shear on that line in alexander reia, virginia. >> caller: good morning. >> good morning. go ahead. >> caller: i am french american by my french mother, who was a war bride. i have an aunt who was train as a nurse in world war i to deal with the handicap, the injured troops. she was forced -- she and her husband -- to leave a german chemical company. they worked in paris offices. they were warned by their boss that germans were going to invade paris and to save their lives they needed to get out of there. they moved to britainy, the place of her origin her birth and joined the french resistance the two of them. she worked under the guise of a social worker so she could have
free access throughout the countryside. and they had two purposes. one was to move messages from the french resistance fighters to britain and receive them and hand them back to the french. and two, to harbor pilots, british pilots, who had been shot down by german planes. i have a mother who was sent by her family from paris to the area of marseille who also joined the french resistance. her job was to carry automatic and semiautomatic weapons from one place to another. and also too, she was involved in, with her group in blowing up trains and troops. is there anything else that would be helpful to you. >> that's quite a family legacy.
thank you shear. lou roberts, any thoughts? >> well, first of all, thank you very much, sherry, you do have an amazing family legacy. and what you are bringing up is a subject he is cclose to my he which is the many ways in which women participated in the resistance. they were not fully able to participate in military resistance. when the americans arrived, they were not given uniforms. so their roles were really shaped by their gender. and they did all the different kinds of things that you just so beautifully described. one of their advantages was that they were not under suspicion the way a young man would be. so they were the ones who carried the resistance newspapers or the bombs. and when they got through
checkpoints, they oftentimes acted innocent, they flirted, and they got through in a way a man never could. my favorite example of that is a young woman in britainy of course as you said was a real center for resistance, huge amounts of resistance in britainy. it was well-known for that and a young woman was with her mother and they were carrying parachutes. they were participating in that wonderful, basically, train, that would take british pilots or british soldiers through france and then through the pyrenees out through spain and up to england. and they had all these, these silk parachutes in their suit cases trying to hide them and keep them away from the normans -- sorry.
from the gestapo. they get to the train station. there are no escalators. they have to go up these huge flights of stairs and they have their bicycles. they look up. at the top is the gestapo. the young daughter sort of loses it. but the mother says to the gestapo, consume, i am not going to be able to carry my bike and my suit case up the stairs, would you please help me out. in that way they got the germans to carry silk parachutes up the stairs of the station. because french women were seducers, because they were beautiful and because they knew how to use that as a weapon they got away with a lot that young men never would. that's their unique role in the resistance. >> that caller mentioned britainy, mentioned marseille.
of course we are talking about normandy. was it the kags that after the invasion of paris that many citizens fled to the countryside? >> it was true, but it was more true in 1940 because as the germans moved east, citizens of paris literally began a mass exodus. every single car, every single train, and the idea was to get to someplace in the west and south of france and away from the germans. but of course the germans then at first occupied the north with a collaborationless government in the south. and after a battle in 1942, the germans realized that in fact the threat could be from the south, north africa. so they occupied the whole country in 1943. >> let's if back to calls here in bob in bolivia, north carolina. >> caller: hi professor, thanks for having us.
great job on the book. hey, my father was an american g.i. he was in southampton, england, loading ships for d day. and anyway, he got to normandy in late july. -- he empty my -- he met my mother over there, she lived in eaufleur. she lived through the occupation for many years. you couldn't go to the supermarket for food. they had nothing. they had to try to grow their foods in mine fields because there was no open field and the occupation was pretty heavy in the '40s. her uncle got shot by the
germans because they thought he was shooting at them. he was hunting ducks. she met my father. my father was in the supply end of the army. my father would go over there and give them food. they never saw canned peaches, never saw a lot of food there before because they were pretty much starving because of the occupation. she said the germans were very nice. like you said, they were young, some were older. >> bob, i think we lost you but thanks for your comments. lou roberts? >> i would add again that he's absolutely right, that most of france was starving by the end of the war. a french writer said that the sound of france is the sound of a growling stomach. again, this is because the germans took most of the produce and most of the wine. and there were always things that were buried in order to
save them for the liberation. the beautiful bottle of champagne. the much beloved bottle of wine. one young man when he met an african-american g.i. brought him out back and dug up his jazz records in order to show him how much he loved american music. so it was a period of great deprivation for the french. and it actually continued for another year. the winter of '44-'45 was still quite hard. you know, because by then france is largely, and normandy, destroyed. there were towns were the french called martyred. among them, homme, st. lo.
many had a large percentage destroyed. life was very, very hard. most people thought that the french were collaborators, you lived on the fat of the land. again, if you lived in the city it was harder than if you lived in the country because you couldn't grow your own food. the war was very hard for the french and was humiliating to be occupied by germans. >> on the 75th anniversary of d day, our guest, mary louise roberts. we are talking about her book, d day through french eyes about the experience of french stips, norman citizens during d day, 1944. joshua. >> caller: hi. we often talk about d day as a starting off point. but i wanted to ask you and touch a little bit upon what transpired beforehand, specifically with lord mount baton and combined operations. mulberry was the -- was the --
the -- the portable area that was put over so the soldiers were able to des embark. talk to me about the preparation and the technical innovation that went into preparing for d day. thank you very much. >> yeah, sure. so hitler constructed what he called the atlantic wall. this was basically a series of fortifications on the beaches of northern france. so this included all kinds of barriers, of course mines, the building of artillery. there were very large guns on the top of the area. that's why the rangers were going up there, to take those guns. unfortunately when they got up
there, they had already been removed. but there was a mighty fortress which hitler deemed impenetrable. this atlantic wall was not built by germans. it was built by forced laborers. many of them polish or ukrainian men who had been born in conquered countries and then were forced to come to perhaps and build the atlantic wall. >> i don't speak french but i do believe in proper pronunciations. debarkment. what does the word mean? why is it so important for norman citizens? >> good question. when i read last night my book again, i realized you know, i didn't really have to use the word debarkment. i just means the landings. that was the french word for the
landings. and it was, again, a word that was whispered to everyone on the morning of june 6th. you know, le debarkment is coming, the landings where coming. it was just a word. there's a wonderful memoir in my book about a young girl and she couldn't understand what this word meant exactly. it was an adult word and she had never heard it before. so it was very specific to the war. remember, again, that 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 was so many mixed feelings in normandy. on one hand, they were the conquerers, on the other, the destroyers. on the one hand, they were the
source of hope. but when they arrived it brought a tremendous amount of anxiety because this is it, this is the moment, and if they fail all hope will die. so there is a specific kind of anxiety about the debarkment because this is the moment of testing. no one knew that the g.i.s would triumph. things were, you know, in the offing for a while, really, until the middle of july. and so there was a lot of anxiety that this would fail and then they would be under the nazi fist forever. >> and that word, debarkment is still used to describe d day. that's how the french refer to d day, correct? >> it's exactly right. yes. that's right. >> let's hear from joe next up in new fairfield, connecticut. >> caller: hi. how are you? >> hi, fine. happy memorial day.
>> caller: my question is more of a personal one. my grandmother was mary louise roberts. and my mother and her moved from manhattan to paris during the depression. and her sister, june married a frenchman and lived there for quite a while. and i am just wondering if roberts is that common a name or are we somehow related? >> well, i think roberts is my father's name. and my father was from maine. and he supposedly was the descendant of the drunk of plymouth colony. so he was on the mayflower, his ancestor, but he was kicked out of plymouth company. that's my ancestry on my father's side. it is a welch name, so i don't
know. but i will say that a lot of you have talked about marriages between americans and french. that was one of the very happy results of the g.i.s being on the continent. the french women and american g.i.s often fell in love. that love lasted. and when the war was over, the americans came back to get their bride. >> on an not unrelated subject you wrote a book, who soldiers do, sex and the american g.i. why did you write that book and what sort of reaction did you get? >> i just got interested in the relationship between the american g.i.s and the french. and i went over to -- i mean, what distinguished me was that i looked at both the french archives because i was a french historian by training. but then i also looked really
quite deeply into the american archival situation. so i was trying to tell the story from both sides. and what i found really surprised me, actually, which is that the summer of 1944, franco-american relations were really at first rather brusk. but then once the french realized that the americans were going to triumph and liberate them, they were exstatic and joyful. the summer of 1945 was a little different, i found. the troops are now coming back in places like leave, which was a port town. probably the major gate between the g.i.s and france, and they are suffering from what we would now call ptsd. many of them have lost buddies. they are bored. they are waiting to go home. they are in many ways war
hardened. so in places like leave, there was a lot of drinking, alcohol abuse, a lot of prostitution, sometimes in the open air. one of the things that i read was the correspondence between the mayor of le ave and the colonel who was in charge of the troops there. and the mayor did have some complaints about g.i. behavior. so there was an interesting shift there between the summer of 1944 and the summer of 1945. and the shift of course is the difference between soldiers going into a war and soldiers coming out of a war. >> a few more minutes for calls. we go next to peter in provincetown, massachusetts. you are on with mary louise roberts. good morning. >> caller: good morning. i want to wish everyone a happy memorial day, and especially a couple people. i'm sitting in a hospital room
right now with roger putnam. and roger is very ill with cancer. i just want to also say that two weeks ago my father passed away. and there was a very interesting you know kind of development with his dad, my grandfather was part of the original army staff at the army war college in platsburg, new york back just prior to the deployment of the u.s. troops to europe during world war i. and there was a time when my dad thought he was going to fight in japan. but in fact he was at iowa state university training as an officer when there was just an
instance where we suddenly changed our priorities and rather than invade the philippines in great number -- >> peter, do you have a question for our guest? >> caller: yeah. my question is, you know, was there, you know, any lingering sense of, you of, you know, sup which the french tapped into and, perhaps, made the connection from world war i to world war ii. >> thank you. we'll ask professor roberts. >> yeah. i mean, many of the people who fought in world war ii had dads who had fought in world war i,
and their dads came home describing france as a land of wine and beautiful women. probably all if not most of it, exaggerated. so when the g.i.s got there, their expectation was that if they got off of the beach, they would meet beautiful french women who would thank them for their liberations. the connection in terms of american soldiers was that france got a reputation of sort of, you know, the babylon of europe, with beautiful women who were loose women, and so in as much as their dads exaggerated that, the sons had a certain set of expectations. there was a lot of prostitution in france. by the fall of 1944, the american army was quite worried ate the veneer yal disease rate among the troops, so that's how
i would connect the first world war and the second world war in terms of the americans. >> next asheville, north carolina, this is teresa. >> caller: hi. i don't have french ancestry and i was born in 1946, so i wasn't 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 french teacher who taught us a poem and to my recollection, and i may be wrong, the name of the poem was [ speaking foreign language ] and she told us the poem the first line of the poem, was used in the normandy go order and i wonder if you know if that's true and the name of the poem?
>> yeah. yeah, your teacher is exactly right. the poem is by a french poet. and the first phrase of the poem was the signal to the resistance, it was heard over the bbc, that they should get ready, get in formation, go out, start to do the sabotage because the invasion was going to happen within the next week. and then on the night of june the 5th, the second line of the poem was given, something like the long slobs of the violins and that was when the resistance knew that the invasion was going to come within 24 hours. it was, indeed, a french poem which signaled to the resistance first that the invasion was
going to come within a week or so and then that it was imminent. >> rachel is in alexandria, virginia, on with professor mary louise roberts. hi. >> caller: my name is rachel. i had a beloved uncle bill overstreet, who was a fighter ace in the war. he was a member of the 357th fighter group out of england and he took part in the air war before and after d-day. he was involved shortly before d-day, i believe, he was involved in a dogfight over paris. he chased his enemy under the eiffel tower and was able to claim that victory and to get out of paris, he flew low along the sennes to avoid anti-aircraft fire. now, the way he told us and has told the press and everybody else before his death in 2013,
this helps to re-energize the resistance, give hope to the french people, so much so that the french ambassador to the united states awarded him the legion of honor in a wonderful ceremony held at the national d-day memorial in bedford, virginia. my question is, and your research for this book, did you find any documentation of this event? >> no, i didn't, and i'll tell you why, which is that the majority -- because i was focusing -- first of all, it's a terrific story, it really is, and it's very common in the sense of people getting rescued by the french pilots or airplane personnel getting rescued by the french, but my research for this book really focused on normandy. i went to two archives in normandy, the provençal archives and a special archive which is a
memorial to d-day. i wouldn't have picked this up unless i had gone some place in paris. but it's a great story and i will say there's many such wonderful stories. one of my favorites is when a pilot was downed in some place in central france, five people on the airplane died or four people died and one was a survivor. they -- because there was a standard number of people on these planes, the village french people decided that they have to create a coffin for the fifth person so they literally buried four people on the plane and then just put sand in a fifth coffin so the ga stap po would not be suspicious someone survived and as is often the case they made sure that pilot got to safety, went through and back to london. >> see if we can get one more
quick call from bill in california. good morning. >> caller: yes, good morning. i have a question, please. a book like yours is fantastic, but are these things and these facts then taught in the french schools today? because frankly i feel, this may be only my opinion, that french themselves are the most ungrateful people on the face of the earth. we lost hundreds of thousands of wonderful young men freeing them and i don't think today the young french especially realize the sacrifice of the british, the americans and canadians made to free them. thank you. >> professor roberts. >> well, i'm going to have to disagree with you. and actually, this is what one thing i really wanted to make sure that the viewers today knew, which is that the french are profoundly grateful to the
americans for what they did, and, you know, most -- 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 as an american. i remember once, i'm tall and i'm blonde, and i was in normandy doing research and somebody mistook me in a cafe for a german and i suddenly found myself eating yesterday's bread with my sandwich and being scorned upon, them assuming i was a german, and then when i got up to leave, i said in french, you know, i'm not a german, i'm an american. well, you know, their faces completely changed and they were very apologetic. i think if you go to france,
outside of paris, you will see that french are very, very grateful. my sister kathy once her car broke down in the south of france and it was fixed on a holiday at a reasonable cost because the mechanic remembered the americans. i have to differ with you. i think they're quite grateful and the young people are also quite grateful. but a lot has happened since 1945 and that also has to be taken into account clearly. >> joining us from the university of wisconsin, madison, is professor mary louise roberts. we've been talking about her book, "d-day through french eyes" ahead of the 75th