PARIS – Paris turned back the clock Wednesday for a grandiose fête to remember the tears, the joy and the euphoria that heralded the liberation of the French capital 60 years ago as it threw off the shackles of Nazi occupation.
Ceremonies expected to draw thousands of people into the streets began with six firefighters hoisting the French tricolor atop the Eiffel Tower (search), re-enacting the emotional moments of Aug. 25, 1944 when the national flag was again displayed after four years of German rule.
Recreating the moment was intended to honor the firefighters who carried out the dramatic gesture on liberation day.
When the Nazis first marched into town, they ordered the flag pulled down. The man who reluctantly followed Nazi orders and took it down on June 13, 1940 was Capt. Lucien Sarniguet — and he had vowed to raise it again one day.
"He swore that he would be the one to put it back up. He kept his word," said Sarniguet's daughter, Jeanne-Marie Badoche, 77, who attended the ceremony with her family. "For four long years, he waited for that day."
Sarniguet had a flag fashioned out of dyed sheets and hid it during the Nazi occupation so the Germans wouldn't find it, she said.
Pierre Noel, one of only two surviving firefighters out of the original six, attended Wednesday's ceremony, proudly displaying a chest full of medals. He received the City of Paris' highest honor — the Grand Vermeil Medal — from Mayor Bertrand Delanoe (search).
Paris also was honoring its liberators — Resistance fighters who took their clandestine battle to the streets and French and American soldiers whose military might assured victory.
Paris — shamed, hungry and on its knees for four years during World War II — was still standing on liberation day, spared Adolf Hitler's threat of demolition.
The main ceremony of the multifaceted commemoration was to be held at City Hall late Wednesday, with President Jacques Chirac (search) paying tribute to veterans and Resistance fighters before 4,000 guests.
With the liberation, "Paris again became a city of light," said noted director Jerome Savary, who enlisted 1,000 Parisians for celebrations that are to crisscross the city and end with a street ball.
The city also was to recall jubilant scenes from the liberation with period clothes featured in various events. Parisians were asked to wear 1940s garb for the swing and bebop party at the Place de la Bastille on Wednesday night.
Solemnity also was in order. More than 1,400 Parisians — including 582 civilians — were killed in street battles, according to the Jean Moulin Museum. Some 3,200 Nazis were killed.
At the Place de la Concorde (search), Chirac paid special tribute to Gen. Philippe Leclerc's 2nd Armored Division, greeting some 600 soldiers — including 100 veterans — who, starting Tuesday, retraced the soldiers' journey into the capital.
The arrival of the French division and the 4th American Infantry Division (search) set off an explosion of joy that itself has become a historic event.
"The liberation of Paris was one of the most extreme cases of mass joy you could ever find," said British World War II historian David Wingeate Pike of the American University of Paris (search).
Soldiers were covered in kisses. But Maurice Cordier, 84, a veteran of Leclerc's 2nd Division, also remembers the risks.
"A big mess. An enormous mess," he said of the Allies' arrival.
"The enthusiasm of the people who came out, it was madly imprudent," he told Associated Press Television News. "They came out before the fighting was over. There were some who were stupidly killed."
Paris' tribute to its liberation was the last in a series of 60th anniversary commemorations by France marking critical moments leading to the capitulation of Germany and the end of World War II. A day of ceremonies to mark D-Day on June 6, 1944 — which paved the way for Paris' liberation — drew royalty and heads of state.