Sim and I visited the Centre d’Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation, a museum that we’ve been wanting to visit for a while now but which has been closed for renovations. I must admit, I was worried. The cruelty with which humans can treat each other upsets me very quickly, and visiting a museum dedicated to one of the bleakest moments in 20th century wartime France was nerve wracking.
An unprepared France fell very quickly to Nazi Germany in WW2. When Paris was invaded, the government fled to Bordeaux and fluffed around flapping their hands, having no idea what to do. They called on WW1 hero, Marshal Philippe Pétain for help, and within days had surrendered to Germany. Marshal Pétain became the head of the puppet government, and was based in the town of Vichy.
Occupied France in 1940 and Lyon’s town hall.
Of course, not all the Frenchies were happy with this turn of events. The day after Marshal Pétain announced the armistice with Germany, General Charles de Gaulle, who had been exiled to London, called on the French people to resist. To keep fighting. To not give up. Vive la France ! And La Résistance was born.
De Gaulle calling for the French people to resist, Vive la France, and Pétain overlooking the wireless playing de Gaulle’s speech.
I can’t imagine just how horrible Vichy France must’ve been. People who were into the Vichy regime, including the government, were called collaborators. They had their own secret police, la Milice, as well as the Gestapo. Collaborator citizens happily dobbed in their Jewish neighbours for deportation to concentration and death camps.
As disgusting as the collaborators were, the resistants were the opposite. They hid their Jewish neighbours in their own homes, forged new identities for them and sabotaged as much of the Vichy infrastructure as they could. They were the Secret Army. Jean Moulin is perhaps the most well known Résistance fighter; he had the job of unifying all the different Résistance groups. Caught and tourtured in Lyon by Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie, Moulin died in 1943. The face of the secret movement; his ashes lie in the Panthéon.
Jean Moulin. One of the most well-known images in France.
These days, the names Charles de Gaulle and Jean Moulin are scattered about everywhere (Université Jean Moulin -Lyon 3, Aéroport Charles de Gaulle, to name just two), and all around Lyon (and France, I’m sure) there are little memorial plaques and statues for those killed either during their deportation or fighting for the Résistance. The deputy mayor of Oullins died during his deportation, and is remembered with a bust statue and a garden down the street. People want to remember and honour the resistants and the deportees rather than Vichy France and the names associated with it, and this is the sense we left the museum with.
I do wonder what Sim’s grandparents did, St Sym being a drop point for Secret Army supplies in 1944, but I don’t really know how to ask them.