Near the Château Guillaume-Le-Conquérant, in the former court of Falaise, there is an unparalleled museum elsewhere in the world. Launched on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing and inaugurated in 2016, Civilians in War Memorial presents everyday objects, archives from the Caen Memorial and the inhabitants of Falaise. It was Stéphane Grimaldi, general manager of the Mémorial de Caen, who got the idea for this museum on what he calls the “forgotten memory”. Maintenance.
The Falaise Memorial is celebrating its 6th anniversary this year, can you tell us about the creation of the project?
At the Mémorial de Caen, visitors told me about their questions about the daily lives of their parents or grandparents. How we lived, were they scared? Interesting, rarely discussed issues. When the elected representatives of the Falaise asked me what I thought of the idea of opening a new museum about World War II, I convinced them to focus on civilians instead of solely on the Battle of Normandy and in the military theater. Because the fundamental difference between World War I and World War II is the impact on peoples. This conflict marks a turning point: all the subsequent wars again cause a lot of civilian losses. And Falaise is also one of the Norman cities that is massively bombed.
This conflict left 20,000 dead among Norman civilians and 60,000 wounded. And the war has caused many other traumas among the people …
There is the question of reconstruction, not only of buildings but also moral, political, social, economic … destroyed fields, lost flocks, destroyed villages and emigration of people. They also lived through terrible years of rationing, life in barracks, tracked roads, schools that no longer existed, jobs that no longer existed, dangers, mines, lots of children going to lose an arm, one leg, while they playing outside. The Battle of Normandy lasts three months and will destroy Normandy, it can not be reduced to June 6, 1944 alone. It is important to understand all this and to realize what the civilians of Normandy have endured.
The preventive excavations carried out by archaeologists at the site have also produced the remains of a house that was bombed in August 1944. Tell us this incredible story.
During the rehabilitation work of the former Falaise courthouse (built in the 1950s, editor’s note), where the museum has settled, we had the project of creating an immersive space to make visitors feel what a bombardment is. While digging for the foundations, we came across the basement of a bombed-out house belonging to a doctor. It moved. There were remnants of Chinese porcelain very fashionable among the bourgeoisie of the time. And on these foundations we built a glass floor so that the public could see in transparency the foundations of the house and the damage from the bombing. This discovery brought incredible truth to this museum.
Are you satisfied with the attendance, has the memorial been able to find its place in the typical tourist route around World War II in Normandy?
My goal of 30,000 visitors a year, which is not huge, has not been reached. But the museum began to convince, and Covid arrived at the wrong time. It takes several years to install a business like this in the countryside. The problem in Normandy is that since people are convinced that nothing happened after June 6, they only go to the coast to discover the memorial sites.
So what would you say to tourists passing through Normandy to attract them to Falaise?
That they must not miss a place that is crucial to understanding World War II and what is happening today in Ukraine, at a time when we are talking about civilians, bombings, emigration, absentees, prisoners. For what we experience today is nothing new, and civilians are often forgotten in memory.