Displaying Atrocity, Forgetting Complicity: Denazification and the Traces of Collaboration in Postwar France

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 10:30 AM
Price Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Abigail Lewis, University of WisconsinMadison
On June 1, 1945, a Nazi swastika was hoisted in front of the Grand Palais in Paris stunning Parisian residents still healing from the Nazi Occupation. However, the insignia marked the opening of new sensational exhibit at the Palais dedicated to displaying Hitler’s crimes. The exhibit, entitled “Les Crimes de Guerre Hitlériens” or the Hitler Crimes exhibit put the Nazis’ guilt on display through photographs, artifacts, and evidence gathered during World War II and after. The exhibit organizers collected the remnants of Nazism, especially photographs, to put on display as a way of forcefully exposing the Nazis crimes in Europe and instructing the public to remain vigilant against the resurgence of Nazism. In the same space where the Nazis had only years earlier held their anti-Semitic exhibit, “La France Nouvelle,” the Ministry of Justice offered a powerful visual argument regarding Hitler’s guilt for the exhibit visitors. Entry cost 10 francs and the proceeds went towards supporting the political deportees. After its tenure at the Grand Palais, the exhibit travelled all over Europe between 1945 and 1946, including to Nuremberg during the trials of Nazi officials.

This paper examines the planning of the exhibit by the Ministry of Justice and the organizers’ work to collect of photographic evidence and propaganda for the exhibit and the debates regarding the preservation of the traces of Nazism. In many cases, the photographs that the organizers collected came from the hands of French photographers who had worked directly for both the Nazis and Vichy. These photographs existed as products of collaboration. I draw attention to the exhibit’s reliance on photography as a method to both force their viewing public to see and remember the Nazis’ crimes and to turn attention away from France’s own dark history.

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