We Remember: An American Soldier at the Liberation of Paris

09/08/2022     Books & Autographs

NEW YORK, NY -- Jay I. Kislak served as a Naval Aviator in World War II. Unsurprisingly, as an erudite collector of books, Mr. Kislak acquired the magnificent tribute albums for a fallen American soldier during the Liberation of Paris when first offered at Doyle in November 2014. The pair of albums, assembled in 1945 in Sainte-Cloud, France, just west of Paris, comprises approximately 710 leaves of original artwork, vintage photographs, prints, letters and over one thousand signatures of grateful citizens. They are finely bound in red, white, and blue morocco inlaid with American flags and held in slipcases decorated with gold stars.
Mademoiselle Marcelle Thomas, a 23-year-old French pharmacist, created the albums as a thankful tribute to a wounded soldier named Lawrence R. Kelly. On August 25, 1944, Kelly was shot as he attempted to be the first American to cross into Paris during the liberation. Thomas nursed him immediately following his shooting, and the story of his care in the hands of a local nurse became a symbol of Franco-American goodwill in the final days of WWII. The resulting tribute albums are an important example of French book arts of the period. They are just one of many fine offerings in the September 13, 2022 auction of rare books, manuscripts and maps from The Collection of Jay I. Kislak sold to benefit the Kislak Family Foundation: Part II.
Lawrence Russell Kelly (1902-1946) lived and died in Altoona, Pennsylvania. At 15 in 1917, he lied about his age and fought for eight months in France during WWI. Re-enlisting at 40 in 1943, Kelly was wounded jumping into France on D-Day with the 82nd Airborne (included in the albums are two rare original D-Day photos). Kelly was subsequently transferred to field artillery and was in an advanced position on August 25, 1944. That day Major Morel-Deville's column was to enter Paris over the Pont Saint-Cloud. Determined to be the first American to enter Paris, Kelly commandeered a jeep and headed over the bridge ahead of all others. A Frenchman at the other end of the bridge, made nervous by the rapidly approaching vehicle and certain it contained German soldiers, emptied his newly acquired German Mauser at the jeep – hitting Kelly six times. He fell from the jeep just fifty yards from the entry to Paris. Carried to the store of the young Marcelle Thomas, whose family owned the building in which she worked as a pharmacist, Kelly impressed her and all others by not crying out in his suffering. By report, he emptied his pack of cigarettes to those around him and instructed them not to blame the unfortunate Frenchman who had shot him. Transported between several hospitals in France and England, Kelly eventually went home to Altoona, Pennsylvania, where he continued to undergo surgery after surgery to address his 36 wounds.
Kelly and Thomas exchanged over twenty letters in the interim between his return to Altoona and his death. Thomas set out to assemble these albums as a tribute to the event, and a letter from her in the album reads:

"On this radiant summer day, at the head of the American troops, you rush to greet Paris. Five dreadful shots: you drop down. The splendid warrior who arose from out of the sea on D-Day came to his journey's end on the pavement of Saint-Cloud. You are carried to the nearest pharmacy: mine. You suffer terribly but not a cry, not a moan. It is the gratefulness and tender love of a whole corner of France which is throbbing in this book: Royal Princesses and poor old people in the asylum, artists, writers and workmen, shopkeepers and clerks, officers and soldiers ... little children ... famous men and women, all of them, want to send you a token of their love and remembrance."
The albums include contributions by notable artists such as Kees Van Dongan and Marie Laurencin, writers such as Colette, and two Paris-printed D-Day photographs by Robert Capa, war-date printings of which are scarce and desirable. The original artwork in the album offers flowing flags, the breaking of chains, and white doves. The letters offer gratitude to the liberating forces, poetry celebrating peace, and tokens of appreciation for the sacrifice of Lawrence Kelly and others like him.
The American Ambassador in Paris received the albums in August 1946 and sent them by ship to Washington. On the eve of the ceremonial presentation of the albums to Kelly, he succumbed to his injuries. Much weakened from his many surgeries, Kelly suffered a heart attack and died that night, a full two years after sustaining the injuries in Saint-Cloud. The Purple Heart awarded to Kelly for his valor in service is offered with the albums. Kelly was memorialized in Saint-Cloud by a plaque on the Pont Saint-Cloud and a park named in his honor. The albums are a stunning tribute to one man who became the symbol of a grateful nation.

The Collection of Jay I. Kislak sold to benefit the Kislak Family Foundation: Part II

Timed Auction Closes Thursday, September 15, 2022 at 10am
Viewings by Appointment

Lot 322
[WORLD WAR II] "We Remember:" The Important Tribute Albums Presented to Lawrence R. Kelly, an American Casualty of the Liberation
St. Cloud, France: circa August 1946
Estimate: $4,000-6,000