“Diplomacy” is a French film
about their love for
it’s told from an interesting perspective:
based on a play by Cyril Gely, it tells the story
was saved from near-total destruction, because of the skilled
diplomacy of one man. Who
wasn’t even French.
It’s late August, 1944.
The Americans, having successfully landed at
Normandy earlier in the summer, are now steaming through Southern France and
headed straight for Paris, which the Germans have occupied since the infamous
collapse of the French Resistance in 1940 (it only took the Germans 9 days
from the start of their French invasion to occupy Paris).
The Germans have already suffered defeat in
, and are retreating through
, pounded by the Russians on the Eastern Front.
It’s obvious that the tide has turned in favor
of the Allies. The
German high command is reeling from the failed attempt on Hitler’s life.
Their Fuhrer has become more detached from
reality as he continues to issue orders for divisions that no longer exist,
and to make unrealistic demands on the ones that are still carrying on the
General von Choltitz (Niels
Arestrup), the German commander of
, gets up on the morning of August 25th,
1944, feeling a deep pain in his chest.
He has to call his orderly for his pills
(presumably nitroglycerin) before he can even finish getting dressed.
When he arrives at his office, all is in chaos,
as the enemy approaches.
Expatriate German civilians are openly
evacuating. The relatively small occupation garrison is hastily preparing a
defense, but everyone knows that the outcome is inevitable.
When the lights go out briefly, Gen. Choltitz’
office is plunged into darkness.
And when the lights come back on, Gen. Choltitz
has an unexpected visitor in the room:
the Swedish Ambassador, Raoul Nordling (Andre
It seems that the room which Gen.
Choltitz chose as his personal office was in fact once used by Napoleon III to
house his mistress. It
was fitted with a secret staircase and a two-way mirror, which Mr. Nordling
knew all about, and used to his advantage.
He appears in Gen Choltitz’ office for one
reason only: to
try to dissuade him from ordering the munitions detail to proceed with the
systematic destruction of
: yes, the Louvre, the
, 33 bridges over the
, even Notre Dame Cathedral.
All in order to reduce the city to rubble.
Gen. Choltitz, of course, argues
that he is only following orders.
Mr. Nordling asks him at what point orders become
nonsensical, or even morally repugnant (later, of course, the Nazis who were
tried for war crimes regarding the Holocaust would all utilize the defense
that they were only following orders).
Nordling pleads with the General to save
for the sake of the sheer beauty of it, the exquisite
uniqueness of it, but the General seems unimpressed by any of that---though he
has, obviously, learned French, so he already demonstrates some sense of
solidarity with those whom he governs.
When Nordling argues that the
civilian population represents non-military targets, the General replies,
understandably, that the Allies have been bombing
and other German cities without regard for the civilian
population there. When
Nordling argues that the General needs to think of his family, the General
shows him the directive signed by Hitler himself, that decreed any officer not
following orders would suffer the arrest, imprisonment, and execution of his
And yet, desperate times called
for desperate measures. We
all know that ultimately, the Germans didn’t raze
as they were retreating from it.
And it’s fascinating to consider this little
fictionalized parlor drama as an articulate explanation.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Parish
Associate, Woodhaven Presbyterian Church,