The Second World War

Total War

In a war that becomes "total", aggressors devote all their human resources and equipment on achieving final victory. This is what the entrance to this new room means. Amongst all the speeches on the necessity for total war, the February 1943 speech made by head of Nazi propaganda Joseph Goebbels, stands out for its unparalleled violence.

This passage evokes the psychological weapon of propaganda and the conditioning of the masses, which were to become major foundations of total war. The control of information and propaganda techniques, particularly advanced in totalitarian systems play a decisive role. No longer did countries fight merely to conquer or defend territory, but rather to impose on others a vision of the world and a manner of thinking, through war without remorse.

The design of this room is based on three major themes but one overriding constant: in total war civilian populations are fair game and their targeted destruction is carefully planned.


The entire left side of the room is first of all devoted to repressive deportations.

In Europe, over two million persons were deported to concentration camps in the heart of Nazi Germany. The reasons given: acts of resistance, political activities, disruptive or non-compliant behaviour.

In the system of concentration camps, set up as early as 1933, killings were not systematic and immediate as they were in the death camps. Their purpose was to hold a captive population, forced to work until exhaustion for the war economy of the Third Reich. The resulting number of victims due to ill-treatment, malnutrition, disease and exhaustion is estimated at nearly 800,000.

In France, repressive deportation affected over 86,000 people. Approximately 60% of them survived. In excess of 8,800 women were deported to concentration camps, mostly to Ravensbrück (6,600).


City bombings

The right side of the room is devoted to intensive bombing campaigns.

During the Second World War, waging battle meant above all bombing  cities. Strategic and systematic bombardment, a leading principle of total war, represents the anonymous destruction of civilian populations. These bombardments were intended to sacrifice civilian populations to achieve — in principle — military objectives.

The case of France illustrates this situation. France was hit by almost 600,000 tonnes of bombs, one fifth of all bombs raining down on Europe. The number of deaths due to bombardments is estimated at 60,000. From Guernica in 1937 to Dresden in 1945, cities were crushed under tonnes of bombs, contrary to international conventions and reaching new heights in the violence of blind war. The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945, marked the summit of the escalation.



The Battle of Stalingrad was the bloodiest conflict between Soviet and German armies during WWII.

Built around genuine walls from the Barricade tractor factory, the central part of the room turns to one of the major military turning points in the Second World War: the battle of Stalingrad. The city of Stalingrad, which bore the name of the Soviet leader, was to become a symbol of total war. For Stalin, like for Hitler, defeat was unthinkable. The 2 February 1943 surrender of the 6th German army led by General Paulus, marked a dramatic turnaround whose effects, more psychological than strategic, were to be considerable.


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