“June 6th is commemorated with joy”

“June 6th is commemorated with joy”

In your opinion, is D-Day a historical event or above all symbolic?

D-Day is first and foremost a historical event. Indeed, that day, the Anglo-Americans finally opened the second front that Stalin had been demanding since 1942. Caught in a vice, the German Reich was cornered and the victory of the Allies was certain. That said, the event was also loaded with strong meaning, which has evolved over the years. Until 1984, it was mainly celebrated by the Anglo-Americans who implicitly showed Moscow that the democracies were able to form a coalition and that they were capable of projecting considerable forces. From 1984, “Overlord” (code name for the operation to reconquer Europe) changed meaning. The ceremonies extol peace and European construction, a message that President François Mitterrand carries and that his successors take up.

How do you explain the current tourist craze?

The Normandy Landings arouse unwavering interest. Firstly because France owes him its liberation. Then because this unprecedented operation has a strong dramaturgy: will the storm calm down? Will the Germans believe “Fortitude”, the disinformation plan launched to deceive them about the time and place of the Landings? Will they launch a counterattack? Finally, because this event is happy. Certainly, the Allied losses were not negligible, and the Normans paid a heavy price (20,000 victims for the region). But these losses are infinitely lower than during the Great War. For these reasons, June 6 is commemorated with joy. It would be impossible to do the same to celebrate Verdun or the liberation of Auschwitz.

How do you see the future of these commemorations after the disappearance of the witnesses?

Without pretending to be a soothsayer, the symbolic and emotional force of June 6 will allow us to transcend the test of decades. I think commemorations have a bright future ahead of them. Of course, the witnesses will disappear. This story will therefore be less embodied. But that did not prevent us from commemorating the bicentenary of the Revolution nor the centenary of the Great War. We will have to reinvent the methods of celebration.

Do you find that museums do their job of transmission well?

The museum offering in Normandy is plethoric, and the worst (spectacular, commodification of memories, etc.) rubs shoulders with the best. But there is a lot of quality infrastructure – I am thinking, for example, of the Caen Memorial. Transmission also occurs through other vectors: video games, mangas, comics, etc. are a way of bringing the Landings into the present and reaching younger generations. We must not disdain them and accept that the forms of memory evolve over time.

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