The Second World War

Societies at war

As you enter the room covering "societies at war", on your right there is a wide display on the life and death of soldiers and in front, an enclosed, intimate space evoking the life of civilians during the storm of war.

Understanding how civilians and military personnel lived, coexisted, and perceived these war years is the purpose of this fourth room. It is nevertheless very difficult to provide an all-encompassing image of the essential characteristics of societies at war, so varied was their behaviour: resistance, collaboration, a wait-and-see attitude, accommodation or indifference.

War was first and foremost fought on the battleground with weapons and other 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 existed and were implemented.

Today the clandestine life and army of the Resistance are known as the most successful forms of opposition and the most heroic, but they also bore the greatest risk. Reducing the opposition to the occupier to this single armed Resistance movement 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, subversive speech, the clandestine press, spiritual resistance, assistance to outcasts;  all examples of what is generally called the civilian Resistance.

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The private area

Despite the raging war, the French continued to live and go about their lives.

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 in this room is that of the soldier’s situation and his dilemma when faced with death: kill to avoid being killed.

No army came through the battles endured under total war unscathed and the extremes experienced by soldiers, wherever they were – prisoners of war executed, units deliberately sacrificed, massacre of defenceless civilians, - with no thought of general considerations.

The two large displays of uniforms and cases containing 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 theaters of the conflict.

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