Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Monaco in World War II

Recently, on September 3, Monaco celebrated its liberation day from the occupying Axis forces of World War II. It was a very difficult time for the principality. HSH Prince Louis II, a decorated veteran of World War I, knew the horrors of war first hand and though he was pro-French naturally wanted to keep Monaco neutral during the conflict. As was traditional though this did not prevent his grandson, Prince Rainier, from serving at the front with the French army in attempting to repel the Nazi invasion. Ranier was a lieutenant in the French artillery and distinguished himself during the German counter-offensive in Alsace. He earned the Croix de Guerre, the Bronze Star and was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. Perhaps because of this service Rainier was always strongly in the Allied camp.

Prince Louis II was in a difficult position and was sympathtic to his old war time commander Marshal Philippe Petain, leader of the French Vichy regime. The population was also torn with some favoring the French but with many, seeing themselves as more Italian than French, also favoring Mussolini's government in the Kingdom of Italy. In 1943 Italian fascist troops marched in and occupied Monaco setting up their own local government. When Mussolini's regime fell the situation became worse as this meant occupation by German troops who immediately began targeting the Jewish population in Monaco. Prince Louis II did what he could, working behind the scenes, to save Jewish lives. He had access to the police files which showed who would be targeted and he was able to warn Jews ahead of time that they were scheduled to be arrested by the Gestapo, allowing them time to escape the Nazis. Rene Blum, founder of the opera in Monaco, was one of those arrested and he would later die in a Nazi concentration camp. However, many were able to escape thanks to the assistance of Louis II and the Monegasque police who acted at great risk to their own lives by interfering to thwart the Nazi effort.

On September 3, with the Allied advance, the German forces retreated from Monaco and the country was liberated though the pre-war economy was in shambles. Nonetheless, it was a time for celebration, particularly for Prince Rainier whose sympathies had always been with the Free French, and it was this occasion that was recently celebrated in Monaco with parade and military march past.

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