How to bring the history of the deportees and the resistance fighters back to life after their death

The end of World War II happened 77 years ago, so the people who experienced this conflict are very old today, and for many dead, which raises the question of passing on their history.

On May 8th, to celebrate the end of World War II, we still find in processions all over France veterans, resisters, and exiles, who lived and participated in this war. But 77 years after the end of the conflict, witnesses to this period are less likely to survive.

“It’s a growing disability,” says Jack Farren, general secretary of Anacr (National Association of Veterans and Friends of the Resistance). “The youngest resisters at the time were 14 or 15, now over 90,” and among those still alive, “some can no longer testify” due to their advanced age.

“loss of working memory”

However, their stories have a unique place in our society. “Holocaust testimonies are of particular importance in preventing violence today,” explains Helen Camarad, professor of Germanic studies at Bordeaux Montaigne University, who specializes in German resistance to National Socialism. In this sense, when a witness dies, “it is a loss for the workings of memory, civic mentality, and upbringing” that his story allows.

Many of them recount their experiences in schools, during visits to certain memorials, or regularly to the media, so as not to forget this dark passage in history, so that everyone realizes what happened then, and may not be repeated again. And if their stories can be conveyed through other mouths, “they are not the same, there is no power to convey living testimony,” declares Jacques Varenne.

In order not to lose sight of these stories, director Steven Spielberg launched the project in the late 1990s Visual History of the Holocaust. Record hours of testimonies from people who lived during World War II so that their memories are preserved even after their death. This organization now has over 55,000 accounts, depending on the location, of World War II but also of other events such as the Armenian Genocide or the Tutsi Genocide in Rwanda.

“Our mission is to develop empathy, understanding, and respect through testimony,” writes the foundation’s website, which emphasizes that each person is “a unique source of ideas and knowledge that provide powerful stories of history that require exploration and sharing.”

Witnesses are a way to understand history.

However, historians point out the fragility that the testimony represented in rebuilding an entire period. Anne Claire Vokes, a lecturer in American history, works on slave communities in the United States and has very little direct testimony from this period. It shows that there are records from the 1930s of people who lived before the abolition of slavery (1865).

“These are very valuable documents,” she argues, but “these are people who were children before slavery ended, so their view is probably distorted” by what they understood at the time. memories. As much as they are useful for his research, it is necessary to verify them with other information.

“When a former member of the resistance dies, we actually lose a voice, a way of telling, but we must not forget that this is just a personal perspective,” says Helen Camarad, who also emphasizes the invaluable nature of these testimonies. “Witnesses are a means of understanding history, but historians use several themes to express, not just one.”

With the disappearance of a man, “we lose control of reality, detail, and a point of view,” Anne-Claire Foques abounds, but the overall story of the event continues if it is relayed, “the memory will spread anyway.” dated.

‘We are the witnesses of the witnesses’

“Quand le dernier poilu, Lazar Ponticelli, est mort, des voix s’inquiétaient de la transmission de la mémoire de 1914-1918. Or, la mémoire de la Première Guerre mondiale n’a pas disparu de notre sociétéitéra”, en 2018 to me Cross Holocaust historian Tal Brotman.

In fact, this period is still lived through through preserved stories, but also through school education and museums, as well as many other cultural mediums such as comics, documentaries or novels that evoke this war, even in a fictional way. Days like May 8, designated for commemoration, also serve to remember history, with designated places such as war memorials.

In addition, “there are still children hidden [enfants juifs cachés pendant la guerre] Who are alive and can testify, “recalls Helen Camarad” and there are also children and grandchildren of the deportees, for example, who share what their parents told them. There is still a link, “even if it’s different.” Another era, another phase beginning, we are in a transition phase.

Thus Anacr quickly opened up to the younger brothers and sisters of the Resistance, or to their sons, in order to continue to breathe life into their stories by other means, “it prolongs immediate memory,” Jacques Varenne stated. “He was born in 1944, so my memories of landing are limited,” he joked. However, “I am not the owner of personal experience, but from the testimonies I have heard” and that it is possible to relay them through the Assembly, “we are the witnesses of the witnesses.”

Salome Vincendon BFMTV journalist

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