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Paris’s Complex Military Memory

Musée de l’Armée

The Musée de l’Armée contains an unmatchable collection of the French military history, all distributed within the building that formerly housed some of France’s elite soldiers during the Napoleonic times. The extensive selection of items, what they meant, and the history the recollected exhibited how complex the French historical narrative happens to be, even in the present discourse. Unfortunately for the topic of our course, our tour consisted mostly of the history in the context Napoleon, rather than the two World Wars––though the history of Napoleon exposed the rift in political and military memory within the French nation.

Shoah Memorial

The Shoah Memorial was comprehensive in its portrayal of the Jewish population in Europe, extending back to the medieval days and the gentile perceptions of (and their torturous methods against) this group. What was quite surprising to me after the chronological transition into the Holocaust was the focus of the Shoah Memorial Museum on the Auschwitz complex, focusing in on the transportation from Drancy (outside of Paris) to the hybrid concentration and extermination camp in Poland. This emphasis heavily contrasted the Deportation Martyrs Memorial’s portrayal of the distribution of the French Jew population across many of the Nazi extermination camps.

Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation

The Deportation Martyrs Memorial relied heavily on aesthetics to convey a drastic empathetic impact, one that would match the heart-wrenching process of the Vichy and collaborating government sending the French Jews (France’s own citizens) to extermination camps. Its way of shaping space to isolate you as you progress through the exhibition, its jagged typography, and its emotional quotes capture the regret that France as a whole had for allowing this to happen.

However, these notions, executed through beautiful design, are a way that the French people have tried to shape their memory. The museum is used, in a way, to distract through a design and complex donated from the state to wash away the complacency of the majority of French citizens in the of their Jewish communities and neighbors.