The Second World War

France in the dark years

The second section, situated underground, helps the visitor understand “the dark years” following France’s defeat. What was daily life like for French people, how did the collaboration work, what different forms did resistance and repression take? In this section, a wartime newsreel presents the Battle of Britain which “would never surrender”.

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The "phoney war"

Upon leaving the sphere, the visitor enters a deliberately oppressing, confined space...

Remained passive in the face of rising dangers, London and Paris go to war without enthusiasm after the invasion of Poland. Entrenched behind their fortifications, armies remain grounded arms. Major demonstrations of the strength of Nazi Germany readying itself for war give way to images of a worn-out France and an army from another lifetime, massed behind the Maginot Line. This long period known as the “phoney war” was characterized by defensive tactics and a strategy of waiting… But the length of the wait would be countered by the brevity of the Battle of France: from 13 May to 22 June 1940, the French armies were utterly crushed by the efficient German “blitzkrieg”.

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From defeat to the German occupation of France

After the defeat of the First World War, France is occupied by the enemy...

A film presents France’s military and moral collapse after the battle of France in May-June 1940, and the unprecedented exodus of almost 8 million French civilians.

Then visitors discover French society under the German occupation. An interactive map shows how the country was divided up – the north under the German military administration in Brussels; Alsace-Moselle annexed to the Reich; forbidden and reserved zones; and, of course, the Demarcation Line. The daily life of French people was significantly affected because each zone was separated by almost totally watertight borders. In the occupied zones, nothing got past German regulations that imposed thousands of decrees and rules placing the population under constant control.

Another gallery presents the role played by the Vichy government, behind the figure of Marshal Pétain who was deemed a hero for “saving France”. The motto of the new French State, which replaced the French Republic on 11 July 1940, became “Travail, Famille, Patrie” (work, family, fatherland). A parody of this motto - "Tracas, Famines, Pénuries" (trouble, famine, poverty) - was invented in light of the constraints and restrictions borne by the French people and was symbolised by the ingenious creation of substitute or "ersatz" goods presented in shop windows.

 

The collaboration is symbolised by a photograph of Hitler and Pétain shaking hands at Montoire-sur-le-Loir on 24 October 1940. A collaboration that, despite the radicalisation of collaborationist parties such as Jacques Doriot’s Parti Populaire Français, was almost always non-reciprocally beneficial to the Germans.

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Resistance movements in France and German repression

Men and women gather around a newspaper or a political party, before structuring the movements and networks.

During the summer of 1940, the first acts of resistance against occupying forces were committed by isolated individuals. By gradually grouping together into movements and networks, the resistance could set itself key objectives such as fighting the occupier, blocking collaboration policies and preparing first for liberation and then for the future of the country.

A gallery presents a timeline of the resistance movement and its key figures like General de Gaulle and Jean Moulin, as well as some examples of actions carried out by this bunch of anonymous people. These actions included intelligence operations, saving persecuted Jews, attacks against the Germans and the collaborationists, as well as sabotage and guerrilla operations run from the Maquis shrubland of southeastern France.

Without forgetting the help they gave Allied soldiers parachuted into France or the information they broadcast to the people through tracts and the thousand or so papers published by their underground press. Finally, the exhibition covers the role of Free France, the name given to the movement created by General de Gaulle after his appeal on BBC airwaves on 18 June 1940.

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