tv Washington Journal Author Mary Louise Roberts on D- Day and French Citizens CSPAN August 20, 2019 12:32pm-1:19pm EDT
at point com fort historic fort monroe in virginia. we're live with norfolk history professor cassandra alexander newby for the history and origins of slavery in america. then at 9:30, live coverage of commemorative ceremonies with speeches by virginia government officials, including senator mark warner, senator tim kaine, governor ralph northam and lieutenant governor fairfax. the history of african's in america from fort monroe saturday at 8:30 a.m. on c-span's washington journal, and on american history tv on c-span3. beginning of august in paris, we're seized. what could be confirmed, towards the middle of the moment the germans started to leave the city. yes, those were the same germans
who signed 25 year leases on their apartments. then on the 14th, our police went on strike. the next day the gestapo 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. 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 he 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. >> 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 normandy like? >> 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, gestapo. 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 if the auria for americans bombed just normandy, that would give germans the belief that the invasion was going to come there. in fact, 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 citizens and the initial invasion of d-day.
202-748-4,000 if you're living in eastern and central final zones that's the line to use. 202-7 202-7 202-748-4001 for mountain pacific. those with french ancestry, french americans, 202-748-8002. particular interested if you have stories of ancestors who lived in normandy or france at the time of the invasion. just reminders of the time line, 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. we showed you some video for the liberation of paris in august of 1944. but mary louise roberts, the cover of your book "d-day through french eyes" shows --
many of the french recounts this, almost the dream-like 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 normandy 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 or migrated to get away from the war. but the collaborators would be 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 sometimes. 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. >> you write that 3,000 norman citizens died in the first two days of the invasion, nearly 20,000 by the end of the campaign. what was the largest cause of death by -- 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 village would take refuge in the castles of 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, their homes and their back yards 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 talked about the ge stando, the presence of the gestapo in normandy 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 stationed there 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 who was there manning 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 invade 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. 202-74-8-8004.
central time zone 742-748-8 0 0. or 202-748-8002. 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 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 the d-day invasion. one of the reasons i wrote this book is because d-day has always been seen as an american story. it's been told within a national frame. so what i tried to do is to turn the lens around. 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. and 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. so 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 descent. 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 trained as a nurse in world war i to deal with the handicapped, 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 britain, the area, origin of her birth and they 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, sherry. lou roberts, any thoughts? >> well, first of all -- [ speaking foreign language] thank you very much, sherry. you do have an amazing family legacy. and what you are bringing up is a subject close to my heart 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 check point, they oftentimes acted innocent. and they got through in a way a man never could. my favorite example of that is a young woman in britain, of course, as you said, was a real center for resistance. huge amounts of resistance in brittany. it was well known for that. and a young britain was with her mother, and they were carrying parachutes from the parrows. 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 silk parachutes in their suitcases, trying to hide them and keep them away from the normans -- sorry. from the guess tau poe. they get to the train station, and there are no escalators. they have to go up this huge flight of stairs and they each have their bicycles with them. they look up. at the top is the gestapo. the young daughter sort of 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 and my suitcase up the stairs, could you please do that for me or help me out? they literally got the german
gestapo to carry silk parachutes every the stairs. because women were seducers and beautiful and knew how to use it as a weapon, they got away with a lot that a young man never would. that's their knew neek role in the resistance. >> that call mentioned brittany and marseilles. we're talking about normandy. was it the case that after the invasion of paris, many citizens from paris or suburbs fled to the countryside? >> that was true, but it was more true in 1940. because as the germans moved east, citizens of paris literally began a mass exodus. every car and every train. the idea was to get to someplace in the west and south of france and away from the germans. of course the germans then at first occupied the north with a collaborationist government in
the south, and then 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 go back to calls from bob in bolivia, north carolina. >> hi, professor, thanks for having us. great job on the book. hey, my father is an american g.i. he was in southhampton england loading ships for d-day, and anyway, he got to normandy in late july. he met my mother over there, and she lived in -- called -- anyway, the occupation for many years and they had no food.
you couldn't go to a local supermarket and get any food. she 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. so her uncle got shot by the germans because they thought they were shooting at him. he was hunting ducks, but she met my father. my father was in the supply end of the army, and my father would go and give them food. they never saw canned peaches or a lot of food there before, because they were pretty much starving under the occupation. she said the germans that were there were very nice, but like you said, they were young, and some older -- >> bob, i think we lost you, but thanks for your comments. >> i would just add, again, that he's right.
that most of france was starving by the end of the war. a french writer said the sound of france is the sound of a growling stomach. and, 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, and because by then france's largely normandy destroyed. there were towns which the french called martyred. among them, st. low. these towns were 80% destroyed. it was very hard. life was very hard during the war for the french. most people think that the french were collaborators, that they lived on the fat of the land. again, if you lived in the city, it was much harder than if you lived in the country, because you couldn't grow your own food. but the war was very hard on the french, and it was very humiliating to be occupied by the germans. >> with the 75th anniversary of d-day june 6th, our guest, we're talking about her book "d-day through french eyes". about the experience of french and norman citizens. we hear from joshua next.
brooklyn. good morning. >> caller: hi. how are you? >> well, thanks. >> caller: we often talk about d-day as the starting off point. i wanted to ask you and touch a little bit upon which transpired beforehand specifically with fort mt. baton and combined operations. mulberry was the portable area that was put over, so the soldiers were able to disembark, and you had a lot of innovation. 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. and 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. that's why the rangers were going up there, in order to take the guns. unfortunately when they got up there, they had already been removed. but there was a mighty fortress which hitler deemed inpenetrable. and 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 countries and then were forced to come to france and build the atlantic wall. >> i don't speak french, but i value a correct pronunciation. help me out on that word we see a number of times in your book.
the french word debarkment. what does it mean and why is it so important for norman citizens? >> okay. good question. when i read last night my book again, i realized i didn't really have to use the word debarkment. it 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, the landings are coming. so 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'd 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. and with it came joy, but there was so many mixed feelings in normandy. on the one hand, they were the conquerors. on the other hand they were 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 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 what the -- how the french referred 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 grand mother 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 just wondered 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 descendent of the drunk of plymouth colonies. he was on the may flower, but james allen, he was kicked out of plymouth colony. that's my ancestry on my father's side. it's a welsh name, so i don't know. but i will say that a lot of you have talked about marriages between americans and french. and 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 brides. >> well, on a not unrelated subject you wrote a book called what soldiers do. sex and the american g.i. in world war ii france.
why did you write that and what sort of reaction did it get? >> well, 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. i was a french historian by training but i looked into the american archive 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 ecstatic and joyful. the summer of 1945 was a little different, i found. the troops are now coming back
in places like port towns. probably the major gate between the g.i.s and france. and they're suffering from what we would now call ptsd. many of them have lost buddies. they're bored and waiting to go home. in many ways, they're war hardened. and so in places, there's a lot of drinking. a lot of alcohol abuse, and then a lot of prostitution. sometimes in the open air. and so one of the things i read was the correspondence between the mayor of a town and the colonel in charge of the troops and the mayor had complaints about g.i. behavior. 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 province town, massachusetts. you're on with mary louise roberts. >> 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 kind of development with his dad. my grandfather was part of the original army staff at the army war college in 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 an instance where we suddenly changed our prioritiepriorities 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 any lingering sense of support which the french tapped
into and perhaps made the connection from world war i to world war ii? >> thank you, peter. 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 sort of a land of wine and beautiful women. probably all that 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 liberation. so the connection in terms of american soldiers was that france got a reputation as sort of the babalon of europe who
were beautiful women who were loose women. as much as their dads exaggerated, the sons had a lot of expectations. there was a lot of prostitution in france as a result. by the fall of 1944 the american army was concerned about the venereal rate among the troops. >> next to asheville, north carolina. this is theresa. >> 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, she told us that that poem, the first line of that poem was used in the normandy go order. and i wondered if you know if that's true, and if that's the name of the poem. >> yeah. um, yeah, your teacher is exactly right. the poem is by a french poet named berlin, 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 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 a french poem which signalled 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 virginia on with professor mary louise roberts. hi. >> caller: hi. i'm 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 fact air war before and after d-day. he was involved shortly before d-day, i believe. he was involved in a dog fight
over pace. he chased the enemy over the eiffel tower and was able to claim that victory, and to get out of paris, he flew low and avoided the anti-aircraft fire. now, the way he told us, and has told the press and everybody else before his death in 2013, this helped to reenergize the resistance. gave 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 in your research for this book, did you find any documentation of this stint? >> no, i didn't. and i'll tell you why which is that the majority -- 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 the french, pilots, or airplane personnel getting rescued by the french. but my research for this book really focussed on normandy. so i went to two archives in normandy, the provincial archive and then a special archive that is a memorial to d-day. i wouldn't have picked this up unless i had gone someplace 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 someplace in central france, five people on the airplane died or four people died and one was a survivor. and 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 gestapo would not be s suspicious that someone survived. they made sure the pilot got to safety, went through the pyrenees and back to london. >> let's see if we can get one more call from bill in california. good morning. >> caller: good morning. yes, good morning. i have a question, please. a book like yours is fantastic, but are these things facts from then taught in the french schools today? because frankly, i feel, and this may be only my opinion, that the 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
french, the young french especially, realize the sacrifice by the british, the americans, and the 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 most i think most americans go to paris which is a large cosmopolitan city, but if you step outside big city and you go to the countryside particularly normandy or brittany, you are treated specially as an american. i remember once i'm tall, and i'm blonde, and i was in normandy doing research. somebody distook 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. their faces completely changed. and they were very apologetic. i think if you go to france outside of paris, you'll see that the 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 this auto mechanic remembered the americans. i have to differ with you. i think they're quite grateful, and i think 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 in madison is professor mary louise roberts. we've been talking about her book "d day through french eyes" ahead of the 75th anniversary of d-day on june 6th. professor roberts, thank you so much for being with us this morning. >> sure. thank you for having me. i appreciate it. >> all week we're featuring american history tv programs as a ve pre view of what's available every weekend on c-span3. lectures in history. american artifacts. real america. the civil war. oral histories. the presidency. and special event coverage about our nation's history. enjoy american history tv now and every weekend on c-span3. >> sunday night on q and a. theoretical physicist talks about our destiny beyond earth
and achieving digital immortality. >> it takes everything known about you on the internet. your digital footprint. your credit card records, what movies you see. what wines you like to buy. what countries you visit. your videos, your pictures, occupies, and creates a provile that's digitized that lasts forever. when you go to the library of the future, you will not take out a book about winston churchill. you'll talk to winston churchill. >> sunday night at 8:00 p.m. eastern on c-span's q and a. >> in 1979 a small network with an unusual nanl rolled out a big idea. let viewers make up their own minds. c-span opened the doors to washington policy making for all to see. bringing you unfiltered content from congress and beyond. a lot has changed in 40 years but today that big idea is more relevant than ever. on television and online, c-span is your unfiltered view of government. so you can make up your own
mind. brought to you as a public service by your cable or satellite provider. next on american history tv, historian david mills discusses the world war ii military partnership between george marshall and dwight eisenhower. m this is just over an hour. >> good evening. i'm with the public affairs staff at the kansas city public library. it's great to have you. great to have david mills, our speaker. tonight's program has been a long time and coming. david was originally scheduled to be here in february, but was grounded by bad weather, by winter weather and we're so happy that he hung with us and so happy to have him