What Story Do I Tell? Poland Versus France

Having completed my time in Poland, I am fascinated at the differences in the museums between there and France. Leaving France I was dissatisfied with some of the museums, specifically the Caen museum, and the interpretations of the French war experience. I was frustrated with the lack of recognition France had for its role in the murder of its Jews. It mentioned the deportation or killing of other European Jews before it mentioned French Jews. It also tended to focus more so on the role of other countries in the Holocaust as opposed to France’s role. Before going to the Schindler Museum, I believed the interpretation of Polish war experience would be similar to the French: overshadowing, if not outright denial, of complicity against the Jews. I was surprised, however, to listen to our tour guide discuss how there were both good and bad Polish people. For example, she discussed the Volksdeutsch, Polish people who were able to become German and gain advantages under the German occupation, sometimes at the expense of the Jews.

Text at the Caen Museum. The mention of Belgium Jews comes before that of the French Jews.

Another stark difference between the Schindler Museum and the Caen Museum was the attitude towards defeat against the Germans. In the Caen Museum there was a poster that read, “Invaded but not Conquered.” For the French, the identity of France as a nation still remained, only temporarily controlled by the Germans. The Schindler Museum showed that Poland’s experience was not the same. Even though they had been preparing for a German invasion, their defeat meant being conquered and not merely invaded. These two differing attitudes also meant they viewed their resistance differently. The Caen museum portrayed resistance as exemplary, so much so that a quip stated that France was liberated by the summer of 1944 with or without the help of the Allies. While the Schindler Museum recognized Polish resistance, the tour guide also explained the uncomfortable acceptance of Soviet help to expel the Germans. Altogether, these differences helped exemplify the differing war experiences between the two countries, and how each remembers their own story.


French propaganda poster at the Caen Museum.


Beginning in the second paragraph, the Caen Museum dismisses the Allies crucial role in liberating France.

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