The Second World War

Reconquest and Liberation

In late 1942 and early 1943, the struggle for military power overturned, giving the Allies the advantage.

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In 1944, the major Soviet offensives in the East and the D-Day Landings in Normandy to the West sealed Germany’s fate. In Asia, even though Japan could no longer hope to achieve victory, it was to hold out until the United States decided deploy atomic weapons.

This fifth room presents how some countries were reconquered and liberated. Military operations strongly feature, alongside resistance by the occupied, but also reprisals by occupiers.

Involving combat, massive bombardments of cities, civil war and blind reprisals against populations, the battles for liberation led progressively to devastation in Europe and Asia, exhausting them both.

Resistance in 1944: the example of the Vercors

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

For France, the battle of Vercors is the example used, with the tragic end to the uprising in the summer of 1944 and an extremely heavy price paid by the maquis: 456 dead, including 130 civilians. Today it is one of the main remembrance sites of the Resistance, but beyond the debates on the vain expectation of reinforcements at the time of the German attack, the drama of Vercors summarises and illustrates some of the major aspects of the French Resistance.

To the centre of this room, the large display provides two reading boards: on one hand, the actions of the Resistance during 1944 to support reconquest; on the other, Liberation in Europe - or rather Liberations, as in no way did the return to peace resemble a simple one-off action in countries that had been occupied for a number of years.

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Successive liberations

From 1943 to 1945, towns and countries were liberated slowly but surely.

The act of Liberation which marks the true end of conflict all over Europe  - more than the actual day of German capitulation - varies in each country or each region of the same country. The fight could last from a few days to several weeks.

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

After so many upheavals, the Liberation of a whole country and the progressive return to a peaceful society, could in no case be considered simple. Occasionally, savage and vengeful purges accompanied intense moments of re-found peace.

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Purges

As retribution for collaborating with the occupying forces, purges occurred to varying extents 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 one of the main markers of the difficult passage from a state of war to a state of peace, an intense image of swift, extrajudicial and savage justice carried out at the time of the Liberation. The demonstration of retribution for real or supposed collaborators, considered reminders of yesterday's now defeated enemy.

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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.

Countering the widely held idea of a "savage" German army in the East and "polite and pleasant" army in the West. The hardening of German repression in Western Europe was prevalent in the winter of 1943-1944.

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

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