The Second World War

Reconquest and Liberation

From the end of 1942 and the beginning of 1943, the military power struggle inverted, giving the Allies the advantage.

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In 1944, the major Soviet offensives in the East and the Landing at Normandy to the West sealed the Germany’s defeat. In Asia, even if Japan could no longer hope to achieve victory, it was to hold out until the United States decided to resort to the atomic weapon.

This fifth room presents the different forms of these reconquests and liberations. To military operations must be added resistance by the occupied, and the reprisals of the occupiers.

Between combat, massive bombardments of the cities, civil war and blind reprisals against the population, the wars of liberation progressively led to devastation in Europe and Asia, who came out of them exhausted.

Resistance in 1944: the example of the Vercors

In this room a special emphasis is placed on the role of the Resistance in Europe: in the Balkans, and also in France, during the great stages of the liberation of the occupied territories.

For France, the Vercors is the example that is used, with its tragic solution during the summer of 1944 and an extremely heavy price paid with the destruction of the maquis: 456 dead, including 130 civilians. Today it is one of the sacred sites in memory of the Resistance, but beyond the debates on the vain expectation of reinforcements at the time of the German attack, the drama of the Vercors summarises and illustrates some of the major aspects of the French Resistance.

To the centre of this room, the large display provides two orientations for reading: on the one hand, the actions of the Resistance during 1944, for the wars of reconquest; on the other, the Liberation in Europe - or rather the Liberations, as the return to peace did not in any way resemble a unique and simple act in the various countries that had been occupied for a number of years.

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The liberations

From 1943 to 1945, towns and countries are liberated successively...

The Liberation that everywhere in Europe marks the true end of the conflict - more than the day of German surrender - in fact varies in the different countries or regions within a single country. Thus it can last from a few days to several weeks.

Between Kiev (6 November 1943) and La Rochelle or Lorient (9 May 1945), the period of liberations spreads over nearly a year and half. Rome was only liberated on 4 June 1944, Brussels 7 September, Athens 12 October, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Warsaw only in January 1945, Vienne in mid-April.

After so many upheavals, the national Liberation, this progressive return to a peaceful society, could in no case be considered simple. Purges, often "savage", in fact generally accompanied these intense moments of rediscovered peace.

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The purges

The retribution for collaboration, the purges varied from country to country.

The main excess of the Liberation, the practice of shaving women – here shown on film - is significant for more than one reason: it was a one of the main marks of the difficult passage from wartime to peacetime state, an intense image of swift, extrajudicial and savage justice set up at the time of the Liberation - the extreme result of the purges of real or supposed collaborators, the symbols of the enemy of yesterday, today gone.

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Reprisals

One of the main themes of this room is devoted to reprisals, and to the escalation of repression that characterised 1944...

...attacking the widely held idea of a German army "savage" in the East and "polite and agreeable" in the West. The hardening of German oppression in Western Europe did in fact take place in the winter of 1943-1944.

The fight against the terrorists of the Resistance, in Belgium, Italy and France, as well as the reprisals that followed, showed the same mechanisms of radicalisation as those observed in the East, with most of the victims civilians, women and children included.

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