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France in the dark years

From defeat to the German occupation of France

After the defeat of the First World War, France once again occupied by the enemy…

A film presents France’s military and moral collapse after the battle of France in May-June 1940, and the unprecedented exodus of almost 8 million French civilians.

Then visitors discover French society under the German occupation. An interactive map shows how the country was divided up – the north under the German military administration in Brussels; Alsace-Moselle annexed to the Reich; forbidden and reserved zones; and, of course, the Demarcation Line. The daily life of French people was significantly affected because each zone was separated by almost totally watertight borders. In the occupied zones, nothing got past German regulations that imposed thousands of decrees and rules placing the population under constant control.

Another gallery presents the role played by the Vichy government, behind the figure of Marshal Pétain who was deemed a hero for “saving France”. The motto of the new French State, which replaced the French Republic on 11 July 1940, became “Travail, Famille, Patrie” (work, family, fatherland). A parody of this motto - "Tracas, Famines, Pénuries" (trouble, famine, poverty) - was invented in light of the constraints and restrictions borne by the French people and was symbolised by the ingenious creation of substitute or "ersatz" goods presented in shop windows.


The collaboration is symbolised by a photograph of Hitler and Pétain shaking hands at Montoire-sur-le-Loir on 24 October 1940. A collaboration that, despite the radicalisation of collaborationist parties such as Jacques Doriot’s Parti Populaire Français, was almost always non-reciprocally beneficial to the Germans.