France / Biography
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 spent the first years of his childhood dependant on where his dad was stationed, on Madagascar, as well as in Mali and Senegal.
After his father died Mademba-Sy spent several years in an orphanage after which he went to live with his mother, who had remarried, in Tunisia. After the German Army invaded Tunisia in November 1942, nineteen year old Mademba-Sy voluntarily joined the Free French Forces. As part of the French 2nd Armoured Division led by General Philippe Leclerc, he arrived on Utah Beach in Normandy on 1 August 1944. He hereafter played a role at the liberation of Paris and Strasbourg and the capture of Berchtesgaden, Adolf Hitlers’ country retreat in the Alps.
It was extremely unusual that Mademba-Sy, as a black soldier, was present at the liberation of Paris, because at the insistence of the Allies it was the intention that only white troops would be present. However, since Mademba-Sy was born in Versailles he had the French nationality and 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 and 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.