War Alliances in Life and Death

Being on the same ground where the Battle of Normandy took place helped me better understand the experiences of those who fought and died there. How the dead are remembered across Normandy varied, and the German, American, and British cemeteries each held unique displays to honor their fallen soldiers. The ways in which these men are buried speak to each country’s culture and feelings towards the war. What struck me the most about these cemeteries were the grave markers. In the German cemetery there are crosses dispersed among the yard in groups of five, but individual markers are plain: identical square blocks low to the ground. In the American cemetery the markers are taller and either in the shape of a cross or the Star of David. In the British cemetery the markers are also taller, yet the shape of each depended on nationalities, with the British being a simple rounded rectangle and the Polish coming to a point at the top. The format of the words engraved on each stone also varies. Those at the German cemetery list the rank, name, as well as dates of birth and death. If this information is unknown, it simply states the number of “German Soldiers” in that plot. At the American cemetery the graves list each soldier’s name, rank, branch, and division, as well as their home state and date of death. The graves at the British cemetery each have an image to depict service branch and list names and date of death, often accompanied by a cross and a quotation. The inscription could be individualized by families or simply read “Known unto God.”


The type of information given at each cemetery exhibit the feelings of each country and their relationship to Normandy during the war. The German cemetery was the least landscaped and the graves were the most identical of the three, fitting with their military traditions of acting as one unit and taking pride in their common service as opposed to anything else. There were no German flags to be seen, and the only plant life sustained by the cemetery are the lawn and the trees. In contrast, the American cemetery has several flags flying, and the British cemetery is full of flower beds along the graves and wisteria vines near the entrance. The American cemetery specifically requests reverence at, with “Silence” signs posted and bells playing the national anthem as well as a recording of “Taps.” The British cemetery is not as outwardly nationalistic. I saw no flags and their dedication to not leaving anyone unburied meant that there several countries are represented there, including Egypt, Poland, and Germany. For me, the closest feeling to patriotism was evoked by several graves which read: “There is some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.” Each site pays homage to their soldiers in varying ways, which made me think of their individual roles in World War II and their cultural practices.

Caught in the Middle

In preparation for our trip to Europe, we learned about the bombing campaigns the Allies conducted during the war. These included the bombing of railways in France in the weeks before and after the Normandy invasion. These attacks killed thousands of French civilians and destroyed many towns, including Caen. We visited the Caen Memorial Museum, and I was surprised to find little mention of this destruction or the pain it caused the people of Caen. This is even more surprising because one of the main intentions of the museum is to “pay a tribute to the martyred city of the liberation.” The suffering of thousands of French citizens was seemingly overlooked in this museum that was supposed to be dedicated to their memory. The Battle of Normandy Museum in Bayeux did a better job of capturing the civilian suffering, with multiple captions dedicated to the plight of the people of Normandy. Much of the region was caught in the middle of fighting, and many French civilians suffered in the “Battle of the Hedgerows,” which is acknowledged in the museum. Yet, if these two museums represent the national sentiment, overall, the French seem prepared to overlook the loss of life caused by Allied bombs in the belief that those bombs helped bring about a quicker end to the war. If that is the argument, then it is a questionable one. Strategic bombing proved ineffective in attaining its military goals, and its inaccuracy caused the death of thousands of civilians, which should not have resulted from the actions of their liberators.

Captions in the Battle of Normandy Museum in Bayeux describing the civilian suffering in Caen and Normandy.


Pointe du Hoc: A Reflective Perspective of Nature and Destruction

By Cecelia Minard

Pointe du Hoc is a coastal World War II site in Normandy, France known for its series of German bunkers and machine gun posts, which were captured by US troops on D-Day after scaling the steep cliffs. This site had a more profound impact on me than anywhere I visited in France. Covered in craters from Allied bombs, Pointe du Hoc struck me with emotions that I at first could not understand. I felt a deep serenity but also an existential insignificance that was simultaneously comforting and terrifying. I branched off from the group to sit alone, hoping to understand what I was feeling. Looking around at dozens of bomb craters, the decrepit German bunker, and the cliff the US troops scaled, I found myself overwhelmed by the contrast of nature and this memorialization of destruction. Grass and wildflowers have filled the craters since the invasion, making them appear almost natural; the interior walls of the bunker have grown over with lichen and moss, making them an earthy green color.

Reflecting on the destruction of the past as I looked around in the present, I felt the lasting power of nature in comparison to human insignificance. Man may have brought destruction to this beautiful seaside site a few decades ago, but what does that destruction mean to the earth? The earth continued to grow and reclaim, almost as if we do not exist. Pointe du Hoc provided me the tranquility to see what happens in the wake of destruction.

That serenity came to me in this thought process: nature will come back and reclaim the earth. There is the possibility that humans will cause our own extinction, but there is comfort in the fact that the earth will continuously foster life. As important as we believe ourselves to be, we are an ephemeral blip on this planet. 

However, that does not mean that nothing in the present should matter to us at all or that humans should only ever serve their own interests. This is clearly untrue; humans are complex and caring organisms. There is a tension between the meaninglessness of our lives and those very lives being the only thing that has any meaning to us at all. While Pointe du Hoc made me think about the impermanence of human suffering, I recognize the importance of human events to those who experienced them and the lasting impact of them for future generations, even though the earth will erase our suffering with time.

Through my studies of the Second World War, I better understand the extent of man’s capacity for destruction and cruelty, while also recognizing its insignificance. Visiting Point du Hoc brought me comfort in recognizing our own futility as well as the power of nature.

Deciphering French Selective Memory

Historians Blog

My final project in Spring semester was a study on Paris under the occupation. Parisians suffered increased intervention from the government in their daily lives, including the German occupying forces. The Memorial de Caen provided a comprehensive exhibit dedicated to World War II, which enhanced my understanding through its display of war’s effect on a nation and its people. It also corroborated my research on specific topics such as how French citizens bore food shortages and the prisoner of war camps.

United States Naval Monument Utah Beach

The Memorial de Caen also showed that France has a problem truly assessing the character of its occupation. I found significant facts omitted regarding the French Jewish experience during World War II. The museum seldom acknowledged that the Vichy collaborationist regime played an active role in Jewish suffering, ignoring the 38,000 who were rounded-up by French police and deported to Auschwitz in 1942, including 13,000 men, women, and children detained during Operation Spring Wind in July of that year. This was the largest round-up of Jews that occurred in France.

Remnants from bombing at Omaha Beach

I found a general absence of accountability throughout France with regards to the collaboration. My experience at the Memorial de Caen exemplified the issues in gaining an unbiased historical account of a country’s experience during war. France praised resisters who fought against German occupation, but this clouds the reality that many French citizens were either collaborative or appeased the Vichy regime, including those who actively carried out violence, such as the French police. The evident French difficulties with honesty positioned me to be more attentive to how the U.S. handles dark moments in our history, such as how we grapple with slavery or Native American removals. It demonstrates the challenge nations have in balancing pride while accepting truth and faults.


Vengeance and Remembrance: Monuments in France Relating to the Slapton Sands Disaster

Vengeance and Remembrance: Monuments in France Relating to the Slapton Sands Disaster

Historian’s Blog

Erik Ehrenfeld

     On that night of April 28, 1944 off the coast of Slapton Sands England, German E-boat fast attack craft ambushed a convoy of American LST landing ships during Exercise Tiger—a simulated landing for the upcoming invasion of Utah beach on June 6, 1944. The Germans torpedoed three LSTs, sinking two. Overall, almost one thousand American soldiers and sailors lost their lives in the tragedy while the German raiders escaped unscathed.

     While in France, I discovered several monuments and displays relating to the Slapton Sands tragedy. Each site reflected the context of its location and highlighted emotions of either vengeance or remembrance. Most of the memorials to the participating units on Utah beach highlighted the invasion and the liberation of France.

Although many of these units also took part in Exercise Tiger, the Slapton Sands memorial consisted of a small plaque that did not mention the German attack and cited the incorrect date in the English section.

Nevertheless, these same honored units later captured the E-boat base at Cherbourg, which suggested that their landing at Utah beach led to a measure of revenge against their previous naval enemies.

     In contrast, the visitor center at the American cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer focused on honoring those lost. The inclusion of a small display on Slapton Sands proved that the curators of the visitor center valued the lives of those lost during Exercise Tiger as much as those who fell during the battle of Normandy.

Finally, the display claimed that the loss of life on April 28th was not in vain, as the Americans learned hard lessons during the exercise that saved lives on D-Day. In short, the memorials in France presented the Slapton Sands tragedy as either a disaster that required vengeance or a somber reminder of the cost of war.

Commemoration of the Dead of War

Memorializing and commemorating the dead, good or evil, has been a practice that runs centuriesold. France harbors some of the most beautiful cemeteries I have ever visited. Throughout my life I have spent years researching and finding new cemeteries, and with my Transnational History of WWII group, I got the chance to explore the American Military Cemetery and the La Cambe German War Cemetery, where Nazis are buried, in France (see images below). In every cemetery I visit, I try to enter with an unbiased broad view of those beneath my feet and allow myself to be drawn to specific graves instead of seeking them. I have observed that many people hold biased opinions in cemeteries which promotes hostility.
First, as a woman from a strong Jewish descent, I somehow still felt at peace in the German
As we moved onto the American Cemetery, where graves could not be approached without
special authorization, many of my peers spoke about how moving the cemetery and the experience was. I was mind-blown. We knew nothing about these men besides their names and what country they died for cemetery. I did not feel hate for the men who lay below my feet, some as young as sixteen, because these men were merely sons, fathers, husbands, and brothers who were surrounded by a toxic culture that infiltrated their mind. They believed to be fighting for their country’s freedom due to immense propaganda and brainwashing. What was unsettling to me was the reaction of my peers. They scowled through the German cemetery and asked questions like “why are we even here?” “I don’t want to be somewhere with Nazis.” The only thing I felt was sympathy towards the German soldiers, men with memories and lives dehumanized by those around me who claim dehumanization is wrong.
yet there was so much bias presented. Moving through to the American cemetery I was unable to approach the plots but still noticed something very telling.
The American cemetery buried its dead facing East and only East. In the German cemetery the heads of the people were buried facing North and South. If the ground permits, Christianity suggests the dead be buried facing East. Scripture states that the second coming of Christ will be from the East so the dead should meet Him face-to-face. Jewish individuals are supposed to be buried facing west to face Israel but they, too, were buried looking eastward in the American War Cemetery. As for the Germans, I know of no religious affiliation with burying someone facing North and South. I feel the goal of the cemetery designers was to keep it as plain and unbiased as possible in order to not seem to be glorifying their deaths. I feel the overall experience at these cemeteries altered my brain by reminding me to continue to view life as something so fragile and sometimes used on the wrong purposes.


German Cemetery


American Cemetery

Silence that Screams: A Comrade’s Time at the Cemetery – A Comparative Blog

Kids. Of the twenty thousand German soldiers buried at La Cambe German War Cemetery in Normandy, France, many were kids. Younger than me, living in a much crazier world than me, and influenced by evils incomprehensible to me. Why was the Nazi army so dependent on kids in the final stretch of the war, and should I mourn for them?

Many of the young boys who had been interacting with the Hitler Youth, the systematic effort to expose children to the ideologies and policies of the Third Reich, were of age to fight by the final years of the war. Kids from the Hitler Youth comprised most of the 12th SS Panzer Division, and they quickly unleashed a fierce rage upon their opponents, leaving civilians raped, towns pillaged, and prisoners massacred.

While I firmly believe many of these young soldiers were fervent Nazis themselves, I also recognize that some children, even those who spent almost a decade in the Hitler Youth, were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was rarely a child’s choice if they joined the Hitler Youth – their parents made that decision – and there was a whirlwind of influences that parents dealt with when they made such a choice. Given this nuance, how can I blame a child for his  response to the surrounding environment?

As I moved through the cemetery I thought of these circumstances and attempted to pull pieces of humanity out of the soldiers who lay there. But I questioned why I was trying so hard to find humanity in folks that – as far as I am concerned – refused to see any humanity in me. I was silent, wiping tears from my eyes as I read the graves of young men, unsure if I should mourn the loss of life when their demise might be the reason why I am alive. Ultimately, I couldn’t mourn the death of the soldiers in the German cemetery, not even the kids. A piece of me holds each of them responsible for their own actions regardless of the wild environment they grew up in. That same internal voice tells me that I would not be here if they were, even the sweet, young boys filled with amazing potential before being brainwashed by Nazi rage. I feel like my life is on the line when I wonder about theirs, and every time I must pick mine.

By  comparison, the serenity of the Normandy American Cemetery conveyed  reverence, respect, and admiration.  I felt as if  the sacrifice of these American soldiers guaranteed my life. The clean, white stone at the American cemetery created a serene feeling compared to the dark gray stone that covered the German cemetery, a stormy and gloomy look. Both cemeteries invoked emotion and gratitude, ultimately reminding me of those that came before me and how their deaths, unfortunate or not, gives me the opportunity to live.

Historical Appreciation v Contemporary Entertainment

           It’s interesting to view how history has been preserved and appreciated as time goes on. After learning so much about WWII, it was a surreal experience to be able to see the places we talked about and to step foot on the same land that so many soldiers risked their lives on.

            When the attack on Omaha Beach was occurring, German troops were hunting the Americans on the beaches from bunkers up in the bluffs of Point du Hoc. Systematically bombed before the landing, the area was quite literally a battle field strewn with explosions, guns, and bodies. Now, the bomb craters  are filled with grass and greenery, and the German bunkers are becoming rubble overtaken by nature. One thing that is still pretty much the same is the inside of the German bunkers that are still standing. When walking inside the bunker, I could see  bullet holes and small indentations made by grenades all throughout the surrounding walls. The wood on the ceiling is still charred, burned by flamethrowers, and you can look outside of viewpoints that the Germans once used to watch the Americans storming the beaches. Being able to stand in the same place where a Nazi soldier once had stood watch was a haunting experience. But it really helped me to put all that I’ve learned about the D-Day invasion into perspective.

            When I was walking the beaches, all I could think about was the weight of the sacrifices made here. While we were walking through a bunker, there was a group of about fifteen high school kids touring aside us. Despite the violence that happened here, they made jokes about shooting people and even made a TikTok of themselves re-enacting being shot against the wall.  They were simply disrespectful. When thinking about it more, I wonder if this “joke” shows how a historical site may become trivial to some as time passes. There were no bodies left on the land, no active fighting, and today we are raised around violence as entertainment. I wonder if this makes it hard to have the same appreciation for history, and whether these kids were simply uneducated about the horrors that occurred exactly where they were standing or whether they simply didn’t care.

            Being able to stand in the same place where something so horribly important happened allowed me to have a better grasp on what I’ve learned while studying WWII. Seeing different reactions to a place like this brings up the question of whether or not these locations will be properly respected as time passes, or if contemporary social media will make it a trivial site of exploitation and dark comedy.

The Parisian Experience: Ratatouille vs. Rat-patootie

I had never been to Paris before coming on this trip, and the images in my mind had come from movies like Ratatouille and Midnight in Paris: a romantic city of lights with an enticing charisma. After roaming through the city center and seeing what it has to offer, I can say that that city definitely exists, but so does another that can be best summed up by what Linguini, the rat-controlled rising chef, says in Ratatouille while in a drunken stupor: Rat-patootie.

Evening in Paris

The city certainly has a majesty that exemplifies Parisian life. Cafés stand on every street corner, and impressive gothic buildings surround the Seine, which is dotted with stone bridges, some of which are very ornate, like the Pont Alexander III. The Louvre is a sight to behold, and I found myself admiring both the interior and exterior architecture as much as the paintings themselves.

The ceiling facades at the Louvre

However, there was another Paris that I experienced, one that felt like an ugly dose of reality. The poor, deteriorated air quality left my nose and throat a scratchy, volatile mess. I witnessed two examples of public urination in places with high foot traffic. Our coach driver into the city, Jean Louis, pointed to a homeless encampment crammed between the street and highway and said, “This is Paris.” The street edges were littered with cigarette butts, and annoying tourist scams clogged major sites like the Louvre and Eiffel Tower.

Paris has a distinct and well-known reputation for romance and grandeur, but my time there served as a reminder that the city is still a crowded urban center. It suffers from the same issues that affect other major tourist cities. But it also confirmed that the city has a flare that separates it from the rest. Despite all the rat-patootie, the energy of the city was exciting and alluring and I find it difficult to say that I will never come back and dine again.




Fallacies of the French Resistance

Throughout the nine days the group spent in France, it was evident that the nation still has not come to terms with World War II. From the Mémorial de Caen to Les Invalides in Paris,  French museums attempted to create a narrative that resistance membership was not only omnipresent but was also successful. Most egregious, near the end of the Mémorial de Caen, a paragraph states “with or without the help of Allied forces, most of France had been liberated by August and September 1944.”

Pictured: the aforementioned quote at the Mémorial de Caen

While it is true that the resistance grew after the Allied Invasion of Normandy, minimizing the impact of the Allies in liberating France is completely dishonest. At Les Invalides, an English language poster welcoming the Allies to France was displayed. Though perhaps the French wanted to show the Allies that they supported their cause, one of its statements is also completely false. The poster states “each Frenchman, according to the means at his disposal, resisted the German oppression.” As the Nazi-aligned Vichy Regime existed, being the de jure government of much of France for a period in the war, collaboration was present and somewhat common among French people.

Pictured: aforementioned poster at Les Invalides



France’s desire to display continued support for the Allied cause is logical. As the impact of Nazi crimes and genocide throughout Europe became evident, French people made an attempt to distance themselves from the truth of their collaboration. Creating a narrative that relies on two central, opposing figures, Charles de Gaulle and Philippe Pétain, France attempts to create a story that aligns with its pre- and post-war republican values.  Claiming a widespread resistance movement inspired by Charles de Gaulle’s speech allows the French museums to convey that their people chose the moral side behind a strong, unifying leader. Additionally, pinning the most brutal French collaboration on Philippe Pétain allows France to downplay their amount of collaboration with Germany. Though both are inaccurate descriptions, it is logical that a historical and modern hub of democratic ideals desires to paint this picture of their wartime experience. France is a nation that is proud of its culture and history, the created wartime narrative allows the nation to be proud of something at arguably its weakest national period. Regardless, France should accurately depict its wartime experience rather than inaccurately inflating the participation of its citizens in a minority, albeit moral, movement.

Pictured: Arc de Triomphe, a national landmark of France

The Leisurely Pace Present in French Culture

Throughout our time in Bayeux, I began to take note of the interesting behavior among the shop and restaurant owners. There were moments when a group of us attempted to grab dinner but random hourly closing made this quite difficult. One crepe place closed at 4pm while a pizza parlor didn’t open till 8pm. As the quest for French dining grew futile, we regularly relied on the local grocery store for DIY sandwiches and tasty pesto mozzarella chips. The chips became a prominent staple of our diet that by the end of our stay one lonely bag remained on the store’s shelf.   Just through this one French town, I began to understand particular aspects of French culture. People seemed to move at their own pace. On our last evening in Paris, we grabbed dinner at Aux Artistes, which featured homestyle French dishes. The meal lasted over three hours but time never seemed to be an issue. 

The infamous pesto mozzarella chips


The slow-paced, personally oriented culture of France made American civilization seem like a madhouse. Normally people strived to find aspects of their home culture throughout the places they travel, but I had found myself falling in love with parts that are absent from my own. A three hour dinner in the United States signifies an inadequately executed order or an understaffed restaurant. The quick customer turnover rate stems from the monetary motivations of American restaurants. American waiters attempt to accrue significant tips by serving substantially more tables when compared to their European counterparts. Our three hour dinner in Paris functioned as a pleasant hiatus from the rushed environment present in a majority of American restaurants. 


Aux Artistes

French Sites and Insights

The sites and museums we visited enhanced my understanding of liberated and occupied France from what I researched during my spring studies. The D-Day beaches we visited were the most helpful to me, especially Utah and Omaha. My comrades and I walked all the way down to the shoreline of the beach at Omaha and just turned around to look back up at the sand and at the cliffs. We stared and talked about what it must have been like to run up the beaches under fire and carry large equipment. The low tide provided us with a somewhat accurate image of how grand the beach was on that day. The breadth of the beach showed how easy it was for the Germans to spot American soldiers Allies coming up the beach. Standing there, I could better understand how fearful they must have felt knowing they were out in the open with enemies up on the cliffs ready to fire at them. From where we stood, you could not see far up the cliffs, especially on a dark and foggy day like D-Day. Yet the Germans could look down on them and fire without even being spotted. It is one thing to learn about the beaches in a classroom, and another to be there entirely.

The Liberation Museum in Paris supposedly is dedicated to the French Resistance.  As we learned in spring semester, we learned that only a small minority of French participated in the Resistance.  Yet the museum made it appear as though all the French were resisting in some way; resistance, the displays seem to suggest, was universal.  And yet Charles de Gaulle was the focus, and they made it appear like all the people in France rallied around him. After seeing the museum, I understand better how the French used universalism to bring pride back to the people after their occupation. All the French resistants in the museum were spoken of with such pride for fighting against their occupiers. Along the wall at the start of the museum were about 1000 members of the Resistance that they wanted to showcase. The French people needed to feel that collectiveness after their ignominious defeat. Yet one problem with universalism is that specific and minority groups are left out of specific recognition, despite also being important resistors. For example, my spring studies focused predominately on the Communist Resistance, which did not support de Gaulle, but the museum suggests that all resistors did support him. The Liberation Museum in Paris clarified the mindset and impacts of French universalism post-WWII.

Unrest in the Streets of France

Unrest in the Streets of France

A Contemporary Blog of France

Meg Brosneck

An image of Karl Marx on a concrete wall. Below him are the words “En Marx!” In black ink. There is a railing in front of the image.

An image of Karl Marx found in Bayeux

There is political and civil unrest in France, and one does not have to be a French native to understand this: it’s visible everywhere you look. Within an hour of arriving in Bayeux, France, I’d already stumbled upon a graffitied image of Karl Marx. I kept an eye out for more of this sort of imagery for the rest of my time in France. While I was never able to see an actual protest in person, just looking at the walls of buildings around allowed me to see how else the French showed their displeasure. Most of the graffiti centered around President Macron recently raising the retirement age from 62 to 64. However, this was far from the only topic presented. I found countless stickers placed on various bridges and lampposts opposing France funding wars, French Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin’s laws, and several generalized “anticapitaliste” and “antisexiste” ones too. They were all leftist in belief.

A blue sticker on a guardrail with red text at the top which says “de l’argent pour les retraites et les salaires.” Below this text is a crowd of black figures. There is white text over them that says “pas pour l’armee ni pour la guerre”

“Money for pensions and salaries not for the army nor for the war”

Through merely observing these writings as I walked through the streets, I was able to learn much about the state of politics in France. The people, in general, are restless. I could not have ignored this anger even if I tried; it’s painted on the walls, streets, and everywhere you look. Even if I had managed to ignore all of that, I couldn’t get away from the people themselves. Walking home on my last night in France, a homeless woman stopped me and introduced herself. Though she first tried to speak in French, she switched to English when she learned I understood it better, and she began to recount her story, She fumed about police corruption and injustice and told me all about how people in charge ruined her family’s lives and took away their homes. She blamed them for her siblings’ suicides. She spent several minutes speaking about the importance of women standing up for themselves and encouraged me to tell others the same. It was a strange but telling interaction about the current state of French politics. There was less of a heavy public divide between the right and left wing. As far as I could tell, there is no French equivalent to the widespread Trumpism present in the United States. The outspoken majority of the French, old and young, lean towards the Left.

A green dumpster with white writing on it. The writing has “64 ans” crossed out with an arrow pointing towards “60 ans”

“64 years —> 60 years”

Resistance in France and the Restoration of National Pride

In class, we learned about the French refusal to admit defeat against Germany and the overwhelming need to restore national pride to France after World War II. When visiting many museums and memorials in both Bayeux and Paris, we saw the over-exaggeration of the French role in military battles of WWII, resistance movements against the Reich, and even the liberation of many cities in France.

In some of these museums, there seems to be the justification of the Vichy government—who collaborated with the Nazis and were complicit in the genocide of Jews in occupied France—as the only choice to keep France from total annihilation by the Germans. Exhibits at the Caen Memorial Museum tell of the Free French Forces organized in France and their help in all fronts of the war. They also focus on the various resistance movements and their spontaneous acts of rebellion against the Third Reich. While it is true that there was French Resistance against the Nazis, the Resistance was not as strong as the museum exhibits often indicate.

In the case of the Charles De Gaulle exhibit, Vichy is indeed harshly criticized; being contrasted with De Gaulle’s help in French Resistance efforts. The Caen Museum also depicts resistance as any act along a broad spectrum—from reading a forbidden newspaper to planning armed assaults on German soldiers. The armed resistance that was stressed in almost all the museums we have seen in France, while not untrue, felt overemphasized. The French have also created a narrative that they would have liberated themselves and could have done so with or without the Allies’ help. This emphasis on their self-liberation, combined with the almost nonexistent mentions of the armistice with Germany, gives the impression that the French do not want to lose their sense of victory after WWII.

However, there were not many options for France at the time of occupation. While in retrospect it is easy to call for total resistance and to judge any form of complicity, the United States was fortunate enough to have not been put into that situation. From fear of social exile and self-preservation to pure survival and fear of death, there were many different reasons why most French people did not participate in resistance efforts. The Vichy government certainly committed atrocities such as the deportation and registration of Jews and other various initiatives that were taken by this government even without the prodding of the Nazis. Despite this, we still couldn’t imagine what we would do in that situation.

Though it is true France has been and seems to continue to attempt a restoration of their national pride after WWII. No matter the amount of resistance, the Vichy collaboration with Germany will never be forgotten. I feel it will be a long road for France to be able to finally prove to themselves and the rest of the world who they really are.

A Troubled National Memory: The French Perspective on D-Day and Nazi Occupation

During our time in Bayeux, we visited a series of French museums with exhibits on D-Day and the Second World War. It was interesting to see the French perspective, having only studied the events as they relate to American forces in any detail. There was far more emphasis on the efforts of the French Resistance movement, and not much mention of Vichy France and their collaboration with the Nazis. One exhibit in the Caen Memorial Museum went so far as to say that France would have liberated itself soon enough, with or without Allied help. Countries tend to tell their side of history, but this view is highly problematic, and I found it troubling to see it voiced so prominently in a museum display, especially as groups of young school children filtered through the museum with us.

Display in the Caen Memorial Museum stating the French didn’t need help from the Allied Forces.

Other exhibits, including a short film that we watched in Arromanches, the town that lies beyond Gold Beach, had a focus on the aftermath of the invasion and the toll taken on French citizens during the ensuing weeks of combat. Around 20,000 civilians were inadvertently killed during this time, and those that survived watched their homes be destroyed in the chaos. This was something we hadn’t discussed as much in class, and I found the images and stories presented to be of particular interest and value to our studies as they opened a new narrative that I hadn’t considered before. There’s so much focus on the Normandy beachhead landings and following military engagements that we often overlook what some of the French people caught in the middle of these events went through, and the true cost of total war.

Gold Beach and the town of Arromanches

When considering what was presented in these museums, it is clear that France wants to paint an image of themselves as victims under occupation, shading over any of Vichy’s complicity with the Nazis or the deportations of Jewish people that they allowed to take place. This idea of national victimhood also coincides with the memory of the Resistance, which got a great deal more credit in French museums than sources that we studied in class gave it. The French national memory of the Second World War feels troubled, and it is evident in every museum that we visited that they are not yet ready to come to terms with some of the ugly and difficult to process realities buried in their past.