The visit

2nd floor: civilians and the Occupation

Civilians and the Occupation area is located on the second floor of The Falaise Memorial - Civilians at war, it deals with the period of Occupation in Normandy.

This part of the memorial depicts the uniqueness of occupied France: heavy German military administration, and the formation of the new French State. It also deals with all the fundamental issues raised by the Occupation: daily life of the French population, Norman resistance and the repression that followed, Jewish persecution, and the exodus of 1940.

The German occupation

The Falaise Memorial visit begins with a voyage into the depths of Occupied France.

After the armistice was signed on 16 June 1940, Hitler’s aim was to plunder France. Just as he would set out to plunder every occupied country.

A demarcation line was established, separating France into two large zones, one of which was free. An extortionate daily allowance had to be paid and armies were broken up… Suffice it to say that the traumatised people of France had a painful period ahead of them after troops were demobilised and refugees returned home.
It was impossible to cross the demarcation line without a pass or Ausweis.

Administration of the occupied zone was under German military command – a total of about 140,000 German men and women for a French population of 40 million.

During the first few months of the Occupation, propaganda about courteous German soldiers existing alongside the civilian population was widely put about using photographs and films taken by soldiers in the Propaganda Kompanien, like here in the Allier in June 1940. 

Very quickly, however, the French people had to struggle to get food to fill their empty stomachs and to live on despite unbearable restrictions and terrible shortages.
For over five years, civilians resisted, endured and suffered in their bodies, their hearts and their minds - famine, injury and loss were constant agonies.


Daily life

For most French people, the German Occupation was primarily characterised by a restriction of freedom but it also made daily life very difficult. Occupying forces plundered France of all its resources. 

Damage caused by the German invasion significantly slowed down industrial and agricultural production. Fuel shortages brought tractors to a halt. Women had to do most of the work to make up for the many men who had been taken prisoner.
And on top of all that, the country had to pay for its occupation and supply German troops with board and lodging.

In the autumn of 1940, when the situation was becoming unbearable, a ration ticket system was put in place.
Depending on whether you were a man, woman or child, rations varied between 1,200 and 1,800 calories. Age and place of residence were also taken into account.

In such a context, it was inevitable that the black market would come into play.
Everything was now negotiable, as long as you had the resources. The black market deepened the rift of social inequality and some people seized the opportunity to get rich.

And yet, during these dark years, civilians tried to live a “normal” life. This is what we are trying to get across by showing the places that marked these people’s daily lives – a cinema, the Maréchal’s school, a German Placement Office.


The repression

As you take the corridor along the second floor gallery, the walls will gradually reveal what it was like as a civilian to live through wartime repression.

As soon as they arrived in France, German occupation authorities installed their own judicial system. At the same time, the Vichy government also adopted a legal framework to judge and sentence opponents. This double-edged repression, one of the main targets of which was the Resistance, became even more effective with the establishment of the Milice in January 1943. Tens of thousands of opponents and members of the Resistance – men and women alike - fell victim to this paramilitary group and were arrested, imprisoned, tortured, executed or deported to Nazi concentration camps.

In 1942, Joseph Etienne known as "Jean", with the help of two other members of the communist Resistance in the Front National du Calvados, twice sabotaged railway tracks in Airan as a German train full of soldiers on leave passed by.

The Jewish population was, of course, being persecuted and subjected to exclusion measures taken by the Vichy government and then by German authorities. These measures led to 65,000 Jewish men and women plus 11,000 children being deported to extermination camps. Only 2,500 survived.

As anti-Jewish raids, police repression and rationing intensified, and as the first Allied successes were reported from the front, French opinion began to turn against collaboration.
Through its sabotage operations and intelligence work, the Resistance was to be of huge importance to the Allies, particularly during the Normandy and Provence landings in 1944.

16 April 1942 – measures taken by German military authorities in Calvados after the first Airan sabotage: curfew from 7.30pm to 6am; bars and cinemas closed at 6pm; sporting events forbidden; immediate execution of 20 communists and Jews with 25 more to be killed later; deportation "to the east" of first 500, then 1,000 communists and Jews, if the perpetrators were not arrested within a week.


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