Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

World War II & the Holocaust in France

Following Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939, France was one of the first to immediately declare war on Germany. Despite having a large and well-equipped army, France was quickly defeated by Germany in 1940, leading to the establishment of a collaborationist regime led by Marshal Philippe Pétain. Resistance movements within France fought against both the collaborationist government and the German occupation, with notable figures such as Charles de Gaulle leading the Free French Forces. Many thousands of Jews, homosexuals and Roma were rounded up in internment camps in France, and sent to death camps in the east. France was liberated by the Allies in 1944 and played a significant role in the remainder of the war, including the Normandy landings and the liberation of Paris.

World War II & the Holocaust in Paris

Paris is not widely thought of as a destination where visitors can explore the stories of World War II. For a start, the city itself was not as visibly marked and dramatically scarred by the war as many other European cities were. More significantly, and for understandable reasons, the French capital tends to be overlooked for the D-Day Beaches. Perhaps most visitors know that Paris was occupied by the German Third Reich from 14 June 1940 to 25 August 1944. Few are aware, however, that beyond a few memorials and museums Paris has a number of poignant landmarks that tell the many, varied stories of a city under siege and an occupied nation’s complicity in the Holocaust.

World War II & Holocaust Sites & Museums in France

Château du Hâ

Construction of the fort was ordered by the French king Charles VII following the defeat of the English at the end of the 100 Years War. Over the centuries the fort served as a garrison for royal troops, a ducal palace, a refuge for protestants and tax collectors and as a prison. During World War II political prisoners and Jews were imprisoned here until being shot or sent to the death camps in eastern Europe. The fort ceased being a prison in 1969.

Commonwealth War Graves Experience, Arras

In the town of Beaurains, on the edge of Arras, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has their principal workshop, from where British and Commonwealth cemeteries and memorials around the world are maintained. In the Visitor Centre, open to all, free of charge, a series of permanent exhibits explore every facet of the work of the CWGC, from finding bodies who fell during the two World Wars, to the caring for individual gravestones in cemeteries around the world. As well as the exhibits, windows on the workshops allow visitors to see craftspeople performing their work.

Éperlecques Bunker

The Blockhaus d’Éperlecques was built by Nazi Germany between March 1943 and July 1944 intended to launch V-2 ballistic missiles from France to London. The bunker was built using prisoners of war and other forced labour. It was designed to launch 36 missiles per day. Aerial attacks from the Allies meant the construction was disrupted and it was never completed to be used for launching missiles. Éperlecques was captured from the Germans in September 1944, but it was not until much later was the true purpose of the bunker revealed. An interesting audio tour guides visitors on a present path through the facility.

Oradour-sur-Glane Martyr Village

Oradour-sur-Glane is a small town in the centre of France where, on 10 June 1944, the Der Führer Regiment of the 2nd Waffen-SS Panzer Division Das Reich unexpectedly entered what was then a village with little over 650 inhabitants, rounded up all who were present at the time, massacred them, looted the houses and shops and then set fire to the town before continuing on their way north to join other German troops defending their position in Normandy. Only one person survived the attack, 64 were killed. With minimal intervention, the village has been left as a memorial ever since.

Petit Mont Chambered Tomb & WWII Bunker

The cairn of Petit Mont is thought to be one of the most significant chambered tombs in Brittany. Although this is for all intents and purposes a ‘Neolithic site’, from about 6,600 years ago, it is an excellent example of how monuments constructed in one period are re-used in subsequent periods. Artefacts recovered during excavations show that this site was also in use during the Bronze Age and the Gallo-Roman period. But the most obvious evidence of re-use is the typical German bunker built into the cairn in 1943.

Resistance and Deportation History Centre

Opened in 1992, the Centre d’histoire de la résistance et de la déportation is a museum that chronicles the work of the French resistance and the deportation of Jews from France to the death camps in the east during the Second World War. The museum is housed in a former military health school. From the spring of 1943 the school was occupied by the German Gestapo. It was here that the notorious Gestapo chief for Lyon, Klaus Barbie, tortured members of the resistance. Including the first president of the National Council of the Resistance, Jean Moulin.