Exodus in 1944
The Falaise Memorial commemorates the “45 million civilians killed and 30 million civilians displaced” during the Second World War (1937-1945) and also bears witness to the fact that, for the first time in history, there were more civilian victims than there were military victims.
This exodus was one of the largest mass movements in 20th century Europe.
In 1940, millions of French people – retreating soldiers and civilians trying to escape the atrocities and repressions of war – took to the road, often on foot, with very few belongings.
There was total chaos, on the roads of course, but also on board packed trains, with fights breaking out. To meet the demands of this wave of passengers, cattle trains were requisitioned.
Although most people headed first for Paris, many civilians then travelled on to the southwest of France.
Not all returned home at the end of the war. Large towns in the “Free Zone” were full of refugees (referred to as “fugitives” by Pétain in 1941).
At this time, Lyon and Marseille saw their populations increase considerably.