Museums convey complexities of France’s wartime role

Lyon’s Centre d’Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation is housed in the building used by Klaus Barbie as his Gestapo headquarters in the city

France is no longer uncomfortable discussing its role in the Second World War. Samantha David meets the director of Lyon’s museum dedicated to the history of resistance and deportation

There are museums all across France exploring the country’s role in the Second World War; most are museums of resistance, some are also museums of deportation, and one (in Cahors) is styled as a museum of liberation too. The earliest of them opened in the 70s, although the one in Paris is only ten years old. As well as highlighting the heroic actions of many, gradually these museums have shone a light on parts
of WWII history that some would like to forget.

The museums celebrate the incredibly brave resistance put up by ordinary people all over France, document the deportations and more sombrely, explore French collaboration with occupying Nazi troops. 

The Centre d’Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation (CHRD) in Lyon is housed in the ex-military medical school which was taken over and used as Klaus Barbie’s headquarters between spring 1943 and spring 1944. The head of Hitler’s Gestapo in Lyon, he was so infamous for his brutal interrogations, that he earned the name ‘The Butcher of Lyon’.

The basement of what is now the museum was converted into cells for prisoners awaiting interrogation. Klaus Barbie personally tortured adults and children, breaking limbs giving electric shocks, and dunking people’s heads into ammonia. He also sexually abused adults and children. He is estimated to have been ...

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