Shaping Young Minds: How We Share History

Throughout our time in Bayeux, I often noticed the way that the French memory of the war is presented to the people there. The first place where this was evident was in the museum in Caen. There was little to no ownership taken for any of the atrocities committed during the war. In their exhibit about the Holocaust, most of the examples of deportations given were from the Ukraine. As we had learned in this past Spring, France was often complicit in the deportation of Jews from their country, and yet this was never mentioned. There was also no mention of the collaboration of Vichy France with the Nazis. Besides a small exhibit about Petain, the leader of Vichy France, Vichy was only mentioned one or two times throughout the museum.

There was also a high level of dedication to the memory of the Resistance. While the Resistance was valuable in some ways, the museums made it seem like every person in France was actively resisting the Nazi occupation, which was not the case. This myth is played up to the point where one of the signs explaining the liberation of France stated that liberation would have been achieved “with or without the help of the Allies.”

While these sources of information are concerning to me as a historian, they are even more concerning to me as a future educator. There were many French school children at these museums. This is the information that they are receiving as the complete truth, which could be problematic as they continue their education. In each museum I grappled with not only how the information was presented to those children, but how information about war and history is conveyed to American students at our own historical sites. It is easy to look at museums in another country and pick them apart, but it is just as important to do this back in the US. It is important to me that my students are able to understand history in a holistic way, and thinking critical about the information we were presented with in Bayeux solidified this as a necessity in my classroom.

One of the panels explaining the role of the Resistance at the Museum in Caen.

One of the only pieces of propaganda which discussed the situation in France…

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