Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Museum Tour: le Mémorial du maréchal Leclerc de Hauteclocque et de la Libération de Paris AND le Musée Jean Moulin

Today I visited the smallest museum with the longest name -- le Mémorial du maréchal Leclerc de Hauteclocque et de la Libération de Paris AND le Musée Jean Moulin.

The two museums, though located in the same building, are technically separate entitities because of the differing origins of the money used to build them. According to the official website, "These two museums explain and relate the history of the French Resistance and of the Liberation of Paris through the destinies of two exceptional men : Marshal Leclerc and Jean Moulin." Both museums were opened in 1994 in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation of France and the end of World War II. (It's interesting -- but unsurprising -- to note that 1994 was a big peak year in the construction of WWII museums and memorials.) 

Mémorial du maréchal Leclerc de Hauteclocque et de la Libération de Paris

Located on the left, the Mémorial du maréchal Leclerc de Hauteclocque et de la Libération de Paris focuses primarily on the life of one of France's most celebrated military heroes, Marshal Leclerc, as well as his role in the 1944 liberation of Paris.

So who is this Leclerc fellow after all? Although he's a household name in France to this day, I found that I didn't know much about this famous war general. For example, HIS NAME. That's right. HIS NAME IS NOT LECLERC. Rather, he was born Philippe de Hauteclocque, the son of a French aristocrat. It was only until he left for England to fight with the Free French Forces that he adopted the nom de guerre of Leclerc, in an effort to protect his family. Leclerc quickly rose through the ranks, commanding soldiers in Africa before coming back to France to participate in the liberations of Paris and Strasbourg. He died in a plane crash in 1947 and posthumously received the title of Maréchal de France.

You can read more about Marshal Leclerc on the museum's official website ... if you read French. If you don't, you might do well to check out his Wikipedia page!


Musée Jean Moulin

Located on the other side of the building, the Musée Jean Moulin provides visitors with information about the French Resistance as well as its most famous wartime hero. If you've been to any French town, you've seen the name "Jean Moulin" -- most likely in the form of a street sign. In Montpellier, it is Grande-Rue Jean Moulin. In Paris, it is Avenue Jean Moulin. In Lyon, it is a school -- the Université Jean Moulin. So, in the words of the guy sitting next to me in the train station, "... mais c'est qui, Jean Moulin?"

Jean Moulin was born in Beziers, a small city just outside of Montpellier, to a family that had no idea their son was about to become the most b.a. of resistants. A member of the French civil service, Moulin famously attempted to commit suicide, preferring to slit his own throat with a shard of glass than to sign a false document and cooperate with the Nazis. In 1941, he joined the French Resistance, travelling first to London to meet with Charles de Gaulle and returning later to France. (Via parachute. In the mountains. In the middle of January.) While in Lyon in 1943, he was captured and tortured by the Gestapo. He later died while in transit to Germany.

Si vous cherchez plus d'information sur Jean Moulin, regardez le site-web officiel du musée iciOtherwise, check out this BBC History article!

The photo above was taken in the permanent exhibit. On one side is Jean Moulin's military uniform; on the other, the street clothes he would have worn in clandestine work. I found this clear association of the Resistance with military service to be interesting.

Also noteworthy? The museum organization itself. A chronological exhibit running around the entire room traced the actions of the French Resistance alongside those of the Germans and the French collaborators. I found this decision to be an interesting one. On one hand, the constant association of resistants and collabos prevents visitors from focusing solely on the romantic idea of the Resistance. Alongside anti-German articles from underground newspapers, visitors find images of collaboration and propoganda. (The examples in the photo below encourage French citizens to "come work in Germany" and cooperate with the Occupation.)

However, the decision also had the opposite effect of mitigating, if not entirely trivializing, the reality of French collaboration. I was struck by the heading in the photo below, which reads: "1940: Beginning of the collaboration, birth of the Resistance." The trend continued throughout the exhibit, always countering one negative point about the Vichy Government with a positive remark about the actions of the French Resistance.


I also really enjoyed the museum's current temporary exhibit, which provides a more in-depth look at the life of Jean Moulin through his artwork. I had no idea that this famous hero of the French Resistance was also a cartoonist ... and a pretty good one at that!

The museum contains artifacts collected and preserved by friends and family of Jean Moulin, including his false papers and personal sketches as well as documents produced by the Resistance under his command. (See the full explanation in French here.)

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