On Sunday morning Marie Antoinette invited a group of us to Lyon for a guided tour around a exhibition of what people were wearing during the time of the German occupation in 1942-3 when it was impossible to obtain material to make clothes.
We appreciated the skill in recycling clothes and sewing beautiful fashion items out of scraps. But as our French was not good enough to understand the anecdotes of the guide, like naughty children we soon escaped to explore the rest of the museum.
It was quite horrifying. It has taken me two days before I could sit down and write about it. I had known about the rafle du Vel’ d’Hiv in Paris, the roundup of the Jews in 1942, the capture and deportation of people from Cluny and Cormatin, the ghettos, the concentration camps…. but nothing I had seen before had made such an impression as this museum in Lyon.
The Centre d’Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation (CHRD) is on the site of the old military hospital which became the headquarters of the Gestapo from spring 1943 until the building was bombed by the Americans in mistake for the docks in May 1944.
After northern France fell to the Nazis Lyon had become the capital of the Resistance with France’s bravest freedom fighters plotting liberation. Women made successful spies, being ‘invisible’ as they wiped tables and served food. The Resistance used clandestine printing presses to print their tracts. The men found using this printing press were caught and executed.
The Museum highlights the events concerning two men, Klaus Barbie and Jean Moulin.
Klaus Barbie was appointed the Head of the Gestapo in November 1942. His mission in life was to seek out members of the Resistance, Communists and Jews. One of his first actions was to build torture chambers where he gained a reputation of being sadistic even by Gestapo standards. He was called ‘the butcher of Lyon’ because of his brutal methods of interrrogation.
Jean Moulin was the most iconic leader of the French Resistance. Although he never blew up a train or shot anyone he unified the many small Resistance groups under the direction of de Gaulle, then exiled in London. Jean Moulin was beaten to death by Barbie in July 1943 for courageously refusing to give information about other activists.
When the allied armies were approaching Lyon in 1944, Barbie gave the order to machine-gun the remaining 109 Jewish prisoners, and 120 Resistance members. Under his command 7,500 people were deported, and 4,342 were murdered
Barbie was tried for crimes against humanity in 1987. The trial was filmed so no-one should forget and you can watch the witnesses talking about their torture. At the cinema I noticed nobody sat down but hovered in the doorway ready for a quick exit. It was difficult to watch these people, crippled or blinded at the hands of Barbie, struggling even after 45 years to talk about what happened. One survivor remarked that for Barbie gaining information was just an excuse for cruelty.
The MHRD not only shows life in occupied Lyon but is a valuable collection of documents and films. So, even when nobody is left from that time, the bravery of the Resistance and the suffering of France at the hands of the Nazis will never be forgotten.
I am determined to hold on as long as possible, but if I should disappear, I should not have had the time to familiarize my successors with the necessary information.
On a lighter note we had a lovely day out in Lyon. A shared picnic by the river……
followed by coffee and cakes at a pâtisserie!