I visited the Museum of the French Resistance and Deportation yesterday in Besançon, France while gathering research for my next Hardy Durkin novel, to be set in the Franche-Comte region of eastern France. The Franche-Comte was an area of active resistance against the conquest of Nazi Germany during WWII, and the epicenter of this resistance was Besançon.
The museum, founded in 1971 by a concentration camp survivor, is quartered in the Citadel, a wonderfully preserved military defense designed by master military engineer Vauban. The massive fort sits atop one of Besançon’s seven hills, overlooking the entire city and its surroundings.
Much has been said and written about the French patriots who, poorly armed, barely trained, and often living in deprivation, carried out sting operations of all shapes and sizes against the brutal Nazi regime who lacked for nothing. Rag-tag groups of men and women lived as outcasts in their own country, hunted by the hated Milice (French militia) and the Germans, determined to fight the evil which had engulfed them.
The Museum of the French Resistance and Deportation is superb in its content and organization, and brings the plight of the Free French into focus as an historical narrative, as well as introducing, on a human level, those who were betrayed, tortured, and killed by the enemy. The original documents, photographs, and texts used make a stunning presentation of this dark period in history.
The portion of the exhibit dedicated to the extermination of the Jewish people and other minorities targeted for deportation and extinction is overwhelming. I found myself looking through the many photographs and displays and stopped, reminding myself that they were all people who had once hoped, dreamed, and loved. Men. Women. Children. It was soul crushing.
Exiting the museum, across the courtyard, stands a simple memorial to the more than one hundred resistance fighters who were executed by firing squad in the Citadel during the Occupation. The four upright wooden beams are stark reminders of the sacrifice these freedom fighters paid in the defense of their country and the cause of Justice. They helped rid the world of one of the greatest threats to our humanity.
Bluette Matthey is author of the Hardy Durkin travel mystery series.