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On the “memorial business” surrounding the Normandy landings?

Photo: Agence France-Presse Archives Hubert Faure, who died in 2021, here standing to the right of the image, one of the last French veterans who participated in the Landings, himself decried the “Normandy Memory” project.

Caroline Montpetit

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  • Europe

As Thursday marks the 80th anniversary of the June 6, 1944 landings in Normandy, defenders of the controversial spectacle megaproject Normandy Memory, designed by Quebec creators, are very discreet.

The opponents of this permanent multimedia project, directed by Serge Denoncourt and scripted by Stéphane Roy, nevertheless continue to denounce it.

In a column published by the newspaper Le Monde in April, around thirty descendants of French veterans of the landing denounced a “commercial” project and ridiculous”, deeming it dishonorable for the memory of the deceased.

A megaproject

The show project involves the construction of a large building on a 25-hectare site that once housed a metallurgical factory in Caen. This theatre would have 1,000 moving seats, advancing over 400 metres, where around thirty scenes of the landing, each lasting a few minutes, would be unveiled to spectators. The proposal combines tableaux vivants, performed by actors and extras, and a presentation of archive material. The project leaders, including the president of the urban community of Caen la mer, Joël Bruneau, hope to attract 600,000 visitors per year. After being moved twice, notably for environmental reasons, the project should take root on the Caen la mer site, which is located in Caen, on the banks of the Orne, in 2025. Initially entitled Hommage aux héros, it now bears the name Normandy Memory.

Dominique Kieffer is the daughter of Commander Philippe Kieffer, who led the French commando of 177 men during the landing on Sword Beach, in Ouistreham, on June 6, 1944. Today, she gives workshops in schools commemorating the event and the war. She is, with her sister, one of the signatories of the letter denouncing the establishment of the Normandy Memory project in Caen la mer.

“I speak in schools to tell a little of my dad's story, and young people have a completely wrong idea of ​​the war. I come to explain to them that war is violence, it’s death, it’s horrible. I don't think they are aware of that. And it’s not a show like Normandy Memory that’s going to make them understand,” she says.

To go further

  • Find all our texts on the 80th anniversary of the landing in Normandy

The “wow” effect

Critics of the project were particularly irritated by the fact that promised a “wow” effect, and organized themselves by forming the Association for the Dignity of Memorial Tourism.

“We are thinking of all the families of the veterans who landed in this location. And we frankly think that war is not a spectacle. And to present a show under the pretext of cultivating youth, we found it very ugly. We are told: “Young people need modern things.” But they take young people for idiots. Neither youth nor anyone else needs to see war as a spectacle,” continues Dominique Kieffer.

Normandy is bristling with museums and cemeteries, cemeteries from all the allied countries, she notes. These cemeteries are acceptable places of contemplation for visitors and tourists. “Normandy is a land of blood and memories,” adds Ms. Kieffer. “It’s terrible: all along this coast, and even in the hinterland, our fathers were stuck for days and days with the enemy.”

From our point of view, this project is designed solely to make money and has nothing to do with the duty of remembrance.

— Laurent Choubrac

His father, Philippe Kieffer, who died in 1962, was concerned about the representation of the Normandy landings in the popular imagination. He was also an advisor for the film The Longest Day, filmed in 1961, which depicts the landing. “My father asked to participate [in the creation of the film] so that we wouldn’t talk nonsense. »

The children of veterans who oppose the project Normandy Memory are convinced that their fathers would not have enjoyed the show. Léon Gautier, one of the last French veterans who participated in this landing, himself decried it before passing away in 2023, like his compatriot Hubert Faure, who died in 2021. Since then, their children, their grandchildren children and their great-grandchildren took over to contest it.

“That’s the question we’ve all asked ourselves, children of veterans. And we all really agreed that our fathers would not have liked that at all,” explains Dominique Kieffer.

Designed to make money

Laurent Choubrac, president of the Association for the Dignity of Memorial Tourism in Caen la mer, also denounces the essentially commercial nature of the project, considered a manifestation of “business memorial”. “From our point of view, this project is designed solely to make money and is not at all a duty of remembrance. »

“We know the landing sells well; there is great fear that with the disappearance of the last witnesses a dam will be broken which will give free rein to all appetites. The confirmation of this project in its new version would be the most cynical manifestation”, write the descendants of the veterans in their forum.

The building housing the project should be built on the site of a former metallurgical factory dear to regional history. After listening to citizens' concerns, the designers added elements recalling the memory of this factory, which was occupied by the Germans, then bombed by the Allies at the time of the Liberation.

People that Le Devoir contacted, including Serge Denoncourt, Stéphane Roy, Joël Bruneau, from the urban community of Caen la mer, Hervé Morin , from the Normandy region, or even Régis Lefèvre, none called back. Critics of the project, for their part, wanted to take advantage of the 80th anniversary of the landing to debate it. In November 2023, Stéphane Roy explained himself to local radio France Bleu.

“The work we have been doing for more than three years is indeed a work of listening. We are on a work of memory. We will follow all the little memories, archive images of simple people who lived through the Battle of Normandy, who lived through the occupation. In the same way, we are going to have humanity on the move, which will leave New York towards England, towards Sussex and then the landing”, he said.

In 2020, also on France Bleu, Serge Denoncourt responded to criticism of the project, which was then called Homage to the heroes. “At the time,” he said, “we had thought of a showcase, a welcome with a shop of local products that well represent Normandy. So, they tell me: “You want to make money.” I answer: like everyone else. We are not discouraged. We have our eco-responsible project, our Homage to the heroes. I met historians in Carentan, Caen, in Great Britain to be as precise as possible and not to do what we are accused of, that is to say a funny spectacle. I want to be respectful of History. »

The thirty signatories of the column published in Le Monde on April 24, 2024 fear that death of veterans erases the realistic memory of the blood shed in Normandy in 1944.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116