French veterans against ‘immersive’ D-Day tourism project

French veterans have come out against a planned project to launch an “immersive” tourist experience in France, that would recreate the 1944 Normandy embarkment and battle.

22 September 2020
Tourists visiting Pointe du Hoc near the Normandy beaches. Controversy over plans for ‘immersive’ D-Day tourism projectThe historic beaches in Normandy and surrounding World War Two memorials draw nearly 5 million visitors per year.
By Joanna York

The creators of the proposed project are television producer Stéphane Gateau, musical producer Roberto Ciurleo, and promoter Régis Lefèbvre. The group is currently searching for a 35-hectare site near the historical beaches in Normandy, which could accommodate 600,000 visitors per year.

While the group has argued for the tourist experience on historical and economic grounds, many are not in favour.

Veterans, writers and researchers not in favour

Veteran Léon Gautier, who was one of the soldiers in “Commando Kieffer”, a Fusiliers Marins Commando unit that served in World War Two under Captain Philippe Keiffer of the Free French Navy, told news source AFP: “I am against the project.” 

Mr Gautier's unit was the only uniformed French soldier unit to participate in the embarkment with the allies on June 6, 1944.

Descendants of soldiers who fought in the Commando Kieffer unit are also against the project. In a letter published in news source Le Monde, 154 descendants wrote: “The memory [of the historical event] cannot in any case be shared in a way that is dramatic, festive or commercial.”

They wrote that the “message (of) our grandfathers is to never relive these events”.

Hubert Faure, another veteran from the unit, is also against the tourist site, as is noted French writer Gilles Perrault.

Mr Perrault has said he believes the project will be a “historical farce with commercialism in its sights”. He has nicknamed the idea “D-Day Land”.

The national research group for the years of 1939-45 has also started a petition against the tourist site, referencing French historical theme park Puy du Fou. The petition “against the creation of a Puy du Fou version of the Normandy embarkment” currently has 26,970 signatures.

 

Experience to be 'historical' rather than a 'theme park' 

But Mr Lefèbvre has denied the experience will be a “theme park”.

He said: “It will be a 50-minute living documentary mixing archive imagery, immersive techniques and living paintings.” Visitors will sit in a moving theatre throughout. He said there will be “no carousels” and “no commercial areas”, although an onsite shop is planned “as in all museums”.

He noted that the organisers of the project have also called in a “scientific council” of experts and an ethics committee to help consult on the project, including British military historian Anthony Beevor, and French World War Two specialist Jean Quellien.

Many local politicians are also in favour of the project, and its economic prospects. These include Hervé Morin, president of the Normandy region, who has pledged to invest private funds, and LREM MP for the Manche department, Philippe Gosselin.

Local MP against 'Disneyfication' of World War Two battle

Jean-Michel Jacques, LREM MP for Morhiban, believes that removing these politicians from power will be the most effective way to put a stop to the “Disneyfication of the embarkment” he fears will happen if it goes ahead. 

He said that “the target is Mr Morin, rather than the project, because there are regional elections” in March 2021. 

There are already some small immersive tourist experiences near the 94 sites of the embarkment in Normandy, that draw nearly 5 million visitors per year. Almost 10,000 soldiers were killed or injured during the embarkment and subsequent battle on June 6, 1944.  

The group hopes to open the experience for the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings in 2024. 

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