Extract from The Footsteps of History: the war diary of Eustace Marcel
April 6th 1945
My plane arrived in the dim morning, amidst a light fog - once upon a time such weather would have prevented us flying at all, but the airmen nowadays show much more confidence thanks to their new gadgets. Perhaps too much confidence; we have all heard the tragicomic circumstances around the death of General Patton, and he is not the only one. Our plane did shake alarmingly as we approached Orly. It would doubtless have given some satisfaction to my enemies, who have kept me in Algiers through a dismal winter, if I had perished.
No matter. All’s well that ends well, and finally before 10 a.m. I reached the boss’ office. I had heard he looked older, but he shows the wear of five years of heavy responsibilities. Still he played his part, and asked me much about how things go in Algiers these days. Not as well as we would hope, I told him, but could certainly be worse. He hopes the recent demonstrations merely reflect the easing of pressure, rather than the start of serious developments; I wish I could share the hope.
But our main talk discussed the central European question. With our army at last marching across Bavaria (and how blithely we talked of such ideas, five years ago!) we encounter sudden diplomatic complications. The matter of Germany we settled between ourselves, and with the Soviets - if not amicably - at least clearly. But now a glance at a map shows a new wrinkle. Bethouart will, at his present rate of advance, reach Prague some days ahead of the Red Army, and Moscow has made its displeasure clear, even at the risk of upsetting Roosevelt, who in general seeks always to accommodate them.
M. Mandel is of one mind with De Gaulle on this particular question, though as he says himself, “it would not matter if I did differ - at this point I have become De Gaulle’s messenger-boy merely”, with some bitterness. The honour of the fatherland, the prestige of our country, our place in the world of the future - all these come together on this question. Paris is afire with the demand: ‘Prague for our arms’. Any public man who opposed the demand would go in peril of his place.
But Washington ponders giving Prague to the Red Army, Mandel says, for the sake of concord. A laughable idea, in my opinion. London backs us, and who knows - perhaps this is all that stops the Americans from cutting off the fuel that keeps Bethouart advancing. Would Washington ever go so far? I hope not. Counsels seem divided there, so the fuel flows, for now. But this makes the case so strongly that we must have our own source of oil if we wish to enjoy diplomatic freedom of action - and so our conversation led us back to Algiers, and Tripoli. The prospects of trouble there - with the natives, and with the Anglo-Saxons - seem considerable…
Sadly, it seems my first springtime in Paris in five years has started poorly, so far as the prospects go. I must collect myself. Here I am in Paris once more, and victory is at hand.
Extract from A Pilgrim to Mount Lebanon
, by Marc Malik
Fortune smiled on us on the 21st April. The other regiments of the division faced delays from demolished bridges and traffic jams caused by broken-down vehicles, so the Regiment du Liban
had the honour of liberating Prague. We found the city the scene of fierce fighting between Czech patriots and the Germans, a curious scene where in one street the people greeted us with joy and song, whereas in the next street we would find fighting still going on. Our armoured cars and half-tracks, with their ferocious quadruple machine guns, repeatedly settled these fights to the detriment of the Germans… The Colonel assigned my company the task of seizing the Gestapo headquarters. They had set up in the Emmaus Monastery, a fine old Baroque building. I dreaded to think what had become of the monks.
Concerning what followed, I can only give my own eyewitness account, amplified by the accounts I heard from others shortly after. Bachir had taken his men to pursue some of the enemy who they saw fleeing towards the river. I saw two cars emerge from a side street, which then halted and reversed when they saw us approach. The lead vehicle collided with the second, and two of the enemy emerged, firing in our direction, happily missing. We took cover and returned fire - a one-sided battle to be sure; our half track caught up with us at that moment and laid down heavy fire which rapidly reduced the two vehicles to wrecks. Bachir and his men joined us, and we cautiously moved forward and examined the bodies.
‘Happy to shoot up some Gestapo swine,’ commented Bachir, after I explained what had happened. However I sensed immediately that these might be something else. So it proved. As it turned out, many of the top Nazis had briefly set up shop there, thinking that nowhere else but Gestapo headquarters could be safe for them. A false hope indeed! So there, among their bodyguards, we found the remains of Ernst Kaltenbrunner, von Ribbentrop and Albert Speer. In one sense I regret that they never faced justice for their innumerable crimes, but I assure myself that they undoubtedly went before a more terrible and just court than any that men could set up…
On 27th April Germany’s surrender became official, and the Allies could grapple with the enormous problems of peace, and the ominous portents of cold war. As for us, we looked forward to home, and prayed that the evils foreseen by poor Charles would not befall.