Miracle at le Meurice
Never can you love something as dearly as when you have loved and lost it. Or almost lost it. Those of us who love Paris must remember how it was saved by a sliver of fortune in 1944.
Hitler had given instructions to the Nazi commander and governor of the then-occupied Paris, Dietrich von Choltitz, to destroy it. In Hitler’s words: “The city must not fall into the enemy’s hand except lying in complete rubble”. All was in place for the final order. The great monuments were mined. The Seine was set to flood the city. In the final hours, the fate of Paris would be decided at the Hôtel Meurice, during a secret dialogue between von Choltitz and Swedish diplomat Raoul Nordling.
Even though Nordling promised to arrange safe passage for von Choltitz’s family who otherwise would be assassinated for his treason, the Nazi commander nevertheless took the risk of sacrificing his family in order to save Paris. As he pondered this terrible choice, he most likely did not weigh the thousands of lives he would save. No, those were faceless humans that could not possibly mean more to him than the faces of his very own loved ones. What was it then, that he could not bring himself to do at the final hour?
Was Paris like some immortal idol, such that by saving it he might redeem his soul?
In the final hour, Von Choltitz delivered his verdict, but in the final minutes, Nazi Lieutenant Hegger decided to override his order and detonate the explosives anyway. In the final seconds, Hegger was shot by Lanvin, a Parisian engineer who had been captured to assist in the demolitions.
Majesty prevails over might.
When an event is that close to occurring, it is almost as if it really did. The flickering candle of quantum uncertainty leaves you hanging between dreadful cold sweat and infinite gratitude. There is an alternative reality in which I am grateful not to be present.
What can better accentuate the value of something than its imminent destruction?
Imagine that you, a child of love, might not have been conceived at all had your parents not taken that honeymoon trip to Paris!
The above is an excerpt from the book "Exquisite: Facets of my France" available for download here.
Meanwhile, a few meters away from all those momentous events, this grand family apartment is for sale.