The Allied forces insisted only white soldiers would be present for the liberation of Paris. Claude Mademba-Sy was an exception to this rule. As part of the Free French Forces he was present as a non-white soldier on 25 August 1944 in Paris.
Claude Mademba-Sy was born on 11 December 1923 in Versailles. His father, Abdel Kader, was the first black commander of a colonial infantry battalion of the French Army. Mademba-Sy did not grow up in France, but spend the first years of his childhood depending on where his dad was stationed, on Madagascar, as well as in Mali and Senegal. After his father died Mademba-Sy spend some years in an orphanage after which he went to live with his mother, who had remarried, in Tunesia.
After the German Army had invaded Tunesia in November 1942, nineteen year old Mademba-Sy voluntarily joined the Free French Forces. As part of the French 2nd Armored Division led by General Philippe Leclerc he arrived on Utah Beach in Normandy on 1 August 1944. Hereafter he played a role at the liberation of Paris and Strasbourg and the capture of Berchtesgaden, Adolf Hitlers’ country retreat in the Alps.
It was extraordinary that Mademba-Sy as a coloured soldier was present at the liberation of Paris. At the insistence of the Allies it was the intention that only white troops would be present. Since Mademba-Sy was born in Versailles he had the French nationality. Because of this he was part of a white French unit which meant he could attend.
After the war Claude Mademba-Sy stayed active in the army. He was one of the founders of the Senegalian army in 1960. He also fought for better appreciation of French colonial troops and for a raise for their pensions. He died at the age of 90 in France on 9 April 2014.
In the desperate days of June 1940 captain Philippe de Hauteclocque made his way to London and adopted the war-name of “Leclerc”. As a great tactician and outstanding leader, he enjoyed a blistering career. His name and that of his 2nd Armored Division are associated with the liberation of Paris in August 1944.
The liberation of Paris didn’t have Allied priority, but an uprising of the population against the Germans on 19 August made it necessary. Thus the 2nd French Armoured Division was sent to Paris and entered the city on 24 August. On 26 August a huge triumphal parade was held on the Champs-Élysées.
Fought between the iconic landings on 6 June 1944 and the liberation of Paris on 25 August, the Battle of Normandy is often overlooked. Yet this campaign decided the course of the war in Northwestern Europe. The losses were huge: more than 100.000 people were killed during the 80 days, 20.000 of them civilians.