24–26 August 1944


Liberating the Rooftops

‘IT WAS SATURDAY THE 26TH, the day of the assassination attempt on General de Gaulle,’ Adrienne Monnier, who spent that morning with her sister, Rinette, and Sylvia Beach, remembered. ‘We had left the house with the intention of going to Notre-Dame, but the gunfire caught us in the Boulevard du Palais and obliged us to turn around and go back the way we came.’ That morning, Charles de Gaulle had relit the flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe which had been extinguished in June 1940 and marched with Leclerc’s Second Armoured Division to symbolize the resumption of French sovereignty. He went to a traditional Te Deum of thanksgiving at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, where he attracted a crowd similar to the one that had welcomed Maréchal Pétain only four months earlier. As he walked towards the cathedral’s open Door of the Final Judgement, gunmen started shooting. The general stood erect, while most of those around him hit the ground. Firing continued inside the church, where the congregation dived under chairs. De Gaulle strode in and took his seat.

The wild shooting, whose source was never determined, stopped Adrienne, Rinette and Sylvia from reaching the cathedral. ‘The way back,’ Adrienne remembered, ‘was punctuated by splendid bursts of fire from the rooftops.’ When they reached Adrienne’s flat, it was impossible for them to tell from her window which snipers were German and which résistants. The three women waited indoors for the shooting to stop. Suddenly, in the afternoon, they heard a voice in the street calling, ‘Sylvia! Sylvia!’ It was Maurice Saillet, the young writer who worked downstairs in Adrienne’s bookshop. Cupping his hands around his mouth, he bellowed, ‘Sylvia! Hemingway is here!’

Sylvia ran down the stairs and rushed outside. For Sylvia and Adrienne, the most glorious moment of the war had arrived. Sylvia wrote, ‘I flew downstairs; we met with a crash; he picked me up and swung me around and kissed me while people on the street and in the windows cheered.’ Adrienne watched the scene from above: ‘Sylvia ran down the stairs four at a time and my sister and I saw little Sylvia down below, leaping into and lifted up by two Michelangelesque arms, her legs beating the air. I went downstairs myself. Ah, yes, it was Hemingway, more a giant than ever, bareheaded, in shirtsleeves, a cave-man with a shrewd and studious look behind his placid eyeglasses.’

With Hemingway were four jeeps and sixteen irregular fighters, French and American, whom he called the ‘Hem Division’. Hemingway had returned to France after the first waves of the Allied invasion as a correspondent for Collier’s magazine. On the way from Brittany to Paris, he collected a small Resistance band that did some fighting. ‘War correspondents are forbidden to command troops,’ he admitted, ‘and I had simply conducted these guerrilla fighters to the infantry command post in order that they might give information.’ His ragbag comrades took part in the liberation of Rambouillet, but the real prize for him was the city where he became a writer, the Paris of his Moveable Feast. The day before reaching the rue de l’Odéon, he stared at Paris in the distance and reflected, ‘I couldn’t say anything more then because I had a funny choke in my throat and I had to clean my glasses because there now, below us, gray and always beautiful, was the city I love best in all the world.’

Up and down the rue de l’Odéon, the eccentric and unshaved Franco-American warriors attracted admiring attention. Hemingway introduced Sylvia and Adrienne to his bodyguard, a French maquisard named Marceau. ‘For the moment, hardly in a hurry to put down their arms, they had come to purge the Rue de l’Odéon of its snipers on the roofs,’ Adrienne wrote. ‘They had already climbed to the top of several suspect houses, which the onlookers vied with one another to point out to them; but really they had not yet found anything.’ Adrienne approached Hemingway’s freedom fighters and ‘invited them to come and drink the wine I had kept for them, like every good, self-respecting French person’. They declined, saying that other Parisians had given them too much to drink already. Hemingway, Marceau and a young American went with Sylvia and Adrienne up to the flat. The rest of the ‘Hem Division’ kept watch outside.

‘We went up to Adrienne’s apartment and sat Hemingway down,’ Sylvia wrote. ‘He was in battledress, grimy and bloody.’ She noticed ‘his clanking machine guns’, undoubtedly the first ever in the apartment. Hemingway, as playful as the hungry young writer he had been at Shakespeare and Company twenty years earlier, teased Adrienne. Adrienne recalled the exchange,

Hadn’t I, Adrienne, during those years of the Occupation, been brought to the point of collaborating a little? In which case he offered to draw me out of all possible danger. (Obviously, he must have thought, that fat gourmande couldn’t endure the rationing; she must have weakened.) I seriously examined my conscience. No, I swear I had not ‘collaborated.’ He drew Sylvia off to a corner and repeated the question to her: ‘Are you sure, Sylvia, that Adrienne did not collaborate and that she does not need a little help?’–‘Not at all,’ Sylvia answered. ‘If she collaborated, it was with us, the Americans.’ Hemingway seemed to show some regret at not being able to be the knight errant–a slight regret that flickered across his good face as it became serene again.

Sylvia and Adrienne offered to give Hemingway anything he needed. ‘He asked Adrienne for a piece of soap, and she gave him her last cake,’ Sylvia remembered. Adrienne confessed, ‘I gave him, without hesitating too much, my last piece. (Let’s be frank, it was the next to the last.)’ Hemingway took the much-needed soap and asked what he could do for them. ‘Liberate us. Liberate us,’ they said. Sylvia wrote that ‘the enemy was still firing from the roof. And the Resistance was firing also from the roofs, and this shooting was going on all the time, day and night. And especially on Adrienne Monnier’s roof.’ Hemingway called his comrades from the street. ‘He brought his men up, and they all went up on the roof. And we heard a great deal of shooting going on for a few minutes. Then the shooting stopped forever.’

When Hemingway brought his men back to the flat, Sylvia and Adrienne invited them to stay for a drink. ‘Oh, no,’ the author of For Whom the Bell Tolls said. ‘I have to liberate the cellar of the Ritz.’ The Hem Division trundled downstairs, jumped into their jeeps and roared out of the rue de l’Odéon. Having liberated Odéonia, they intended to do the same for the finest wines that the Ritz’s Swiss manager had kept from the Germans. Sylvia stayed with Adrienne in the rue de l’Odéon and waited for her other American ‘bunnies’ to come back to Paris.

At the American Embassy on the Place de la Concorde, housekeeper Simone Blanchard had everything ready. Thanks to electrician Georges Rivière and mechanic Paul Feneyrol, the telephones and electricity were in working order. The corridors and offices were as clean as they had been when Ambassador William Bullitt left in 1940. Waiting for the Americans to reclaim the property, Mme Blanchard took from a hiding place something that diplomat Maynard Barnes had entrusted to her when he closed the embassy in 1942. When the new ambassador arrived, she would give to him the Stars and Stripes to fly once again over the embassy.

You can support our site by clicking on this link and watching the advertisement.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!