What the French Left Out

Based on my explorations of museums in both France at Germany, it would appear as if the French are much more evasive about their history than the Germans are. In the Musee D’Armee in Paris, France, an important emphasis was placed on the efforts of Resistance fighters as well as the collaborationist element in Petain’s government. However, the distinction between these two portrayals is the emphasis the French placed upon the specific actions of the Resistance fighters as opposed to those of the collaborators. They had entire sections dedicated to the actions of Free French forces in biding time at the Battle of Dunkirk, harassing the Germans in Normandy, and moving to take Paris. However, when it came to the collaborationists, there were little memorable details other than noting that the Petain government deported Jews and foreigners. This is where the contribution of the German Historical museum came into play.

The national German Historical museum featured advertisements that encouraged the French to join the fight with the Nazis. A poster labeled “La Grande Croisade” (The Grand Crusade) depicted a French Crusader standing with a group of Nazis to fight against Bolshevism. What was even more striking was that these advertisements apparently worked in encouraging individual French citizens to join the Nazi cause. The Waffen SS featured a number of what were known as “Charlemagne” regiments of French Nazi soldiers. This detail lent an insight into the extent to which collaboration pervaded occupied France. It clarified the details that the French Musee D’Armee had left out. While knowledge of the French Free Army is widely celebrated and well known, it is likely that very few French citizens even know of the “Charlemagne” regiments on the other side of the conflict.

In terms of fostering historical knowledge, this comparison demonstrates that the question of how a nation remembers a conflict is reflected in the aspects that they emphasize in their museums. The French Musee D’armee was not filled with made up historical myths per se. Rather, it placed emphasis on certain facts while leaving out others.

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