The Second World War

Societies at war

Entering the room dealing with "societies at war", you see on your right a wide display on the life and death of soldiers and in front, an enclosed and "intimate" space evoking the life of civilians during the storm of war.

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Understanding how people – civilian and military – lived, coexisted, and perceived these war years is the aim of this fourth room. It is nevertheless very difficult to establish the outlines of an image that can encompass the essential characteristics of the societies at war, so varied was the behaviour, including resistance, collaboration, a wait-and-see attitude, accommodation, and indifference…

War was first and foremost fought on the battleground with weapons and other various equipment, examples of which visitors can see up close – a Soviet military vehicle with rocket launchers, nicknamed "Stalin’s Organs", a German motorcycle and an American Sherman tank also used by the British army.

The Resistance

Many forms of resistance exist and are used.

Today the clandestine life and the army of the Resistance are known as the most abject forms of refusal, and the most heroic, but they also bore the greatest risk. Reducing the refusal of one of the occupied to being part of this unique Resistance gives a distorted view of reality, as one cannot simplify everything to a mere clash between resistant and collaborator. There were many ways to resist: guerrilla warfare, sabotage, the subversive word, the clandestine press, spiritual resistance, rescuing the persecuted, and aiding those who belonged to what is generally called the civilian Resistance.

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The private area

Despite the war raging, the French continue to live and go about their leisure.

Crossing the partitions of the central and bright space brings you to the intimate universe of the civilian during the war: forced separations, extreme conditions of existence and survival, daily life alongside the occupiers, secrecy… so many situations that shattered the lives of families, couples and lovers, sometimes dramatically.

Despite everything, despite the deprivations, the suffering and tragedies, life continued with all of its contrasts, leisure and intimate relationships. The film on leisure in France under the Occupation goes some way to translating this strong will to survive.

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Life and death of the soldier

The third and last theme touched on in this room is that of the soldier’s condition and his dilemma in the face of death: kill to not be killed.

No army came through unscathed following the clashes of the total war and the extreme variety of the situations experienced by the soldiers, wherever they were – prisoners of war executed, units deliberately sacrificed, massacres of defenceless civilians … – no questions asked by general order.

The two large displays of uniforms and the cases containing soldiers’ personal objects and documents evoke the fate of the men – and women – who wore a uniform, by choice or by force, to fight in all the theatres of the conflict.

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