German general defied Hitler, saved Notre Dame Cathedral from being destroyed during World War II

General Choltitz, who took command of the French capital on August 8, 1994, was reportedly ordered by Hitler to be prepared to destroy all the historic and religious monuments in Paris.


                            German general defied Hitler, saved Notre Dame Cathedral from being destroyed during World War II

Parts of Paris' historic structure, the Notre-Dame Cathedral, came crumbling down after a blaze engulfed the ancient church in flames on Monday. Thousands of people across the world mourned the burning of Notre-Dame with Parisians singing hymns and prayers in front of the burning church. Firefighters, however, were eventually successful in saving a significant part of the 850-year-old heritage building. There have been multiple instances across history where the structure was on the verge of being destroyed but it once had the unlikeliest of saviors — the Nazi General Dietrich von Choltitz.

There have been multiple instances across history where the structure was on the verge of being destroyed (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

When European capitals like London and Berlin were nearly destroyed at the near end of World War II, the historical treasures of the French capital were nearly miraculously saved from ruination. Although the city was largely saved from absolute destruction owing to its early surrender and how the Allied commanders accorded lesser strategic importance to Paris, General Dietrich von Choltitz, however, claimed that the city was saved because of him.

General Charles de Gaulle () inspects a motorised division near the Arc de Triomphe after the entry to Paris on the 26th of August in 1944. German commander Dietrich von Choltitz had given the order to retreat or lay down arms, although Hitler had given instructions to hold on to Paris or turn it into an expanse of rubble. (Getty Images)

Choltitz, who took command of the French capital on August 8, 1994, was reportedly ordered by Hitler to be prepared to destroy all the historic and religious monuments in Paris. The German Chancellor and the leader of the Nazi party gave his orders to Choltitz by cable and told him to turn Paris into a "pile of rubble".

Hitler, on the eve of Paris' liberation, is believed to have asked the general: "Is Paris burning?" Choltitz, in his memoir written in 1951, took credit for saving the capital and claimed that he disobeyed Hitler's orders.

“If for this first time I disobeyed (an order), it was because I knew Hitler was crazy,” Choltitz reportedly said.

Dietrich Hugo Hermann von Choltitz, German General. (Getty Images)

The incident occurred during the last phase of the war and after failing to turn the city into rubles, Choltitz surrendered on August 25th, 1944, as an uprising headed by the French resistance gained dominance in Paris. 

The general's claims were repeated by his son, Timo von Choltitz, decades later in a 2004 interview with The Telegraph: "If he saved only Notre Dame, that would be enough reason for the French to be grateful. But he could have done a lot more."

General Dietrich von Choltitz is believed to have been responsible for saving the structure from destruction (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

"France officially refuses to this day to accept it and insists that the Resistance liberated Paris with 2,000 guns against the German army. To official France, my father was a swine, but every educated French person knows what he did for them. I am very proud of his memory," Timo said.

Multiple historians, however, are skeptical about Choltitz portrayal as the "savior of Paris," as they say that the general neither had the men, material nor air support to flatten the city as ordered by Hitler. However, the final days of the general suggest that even though he was incapable of destroying the capital, he could have easily blown up historic buildings and ordered mass killings, but he didn't. Von Choltitz was never charged with any war crimes despite the leveling of cities like Rotterdam and Sevastopol.