88. Jérôme Blachon Collects and Transmits Precious Memories at the Museum of Resistance and Deportation in Haute-Garonne, France

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During World War II, a Nazi collbatoring regime governed the south of France, and the city of Toulouse was a Resistance hub. The Vichy Government promoted anti-Semitism and collaborated with the Nazis, most specifically by deporting Jews to concentration and extermination camps. Fragmented Resistance fighters organized to form escape networks and build logistics chains to sabotage and disrupt the regime.

In 1977, former Resistance members created a community museum in Toulouse about their experience. Today, that museum is called the Museum of Resistance and Deportation in Haute-Garonne, France, and is run by the regional government. Museum director Jérôme Blachon is reimagining how the museum tells the story of the French Resistance as the people who experienced firsthand pass away.

In this episode, Blachon describes the challenge of presenting the fragmented nature of the resistance to a modern audience, the 2020 renovation of the museum, and his focus on transmitting precious memories.

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Transcript

Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 88. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear, and only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above.

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Toulouse, France has many memorials, covering hundreds of years of history. There’s a statue of Joan of Arc, there's monuments to the soldiers of the Franco-Prussian War, and there’s memorials to the dead of World War I.

But look closer, and you’ll also find sites covering a very specific slice of history: the years between 1940 and 1944, the period of Nazi Germany’s military administation of France. There’s the building where the Gestapo secret police made their local headquarters, there’s a monument to the Glory of the Resistance, and there’s the Shoah Memorial, the Hebrew word for the Holocoust, that honors the Jews who were deported and killed during this period.

Jérôme Blachon (speaking French): Toulouse, during World War II, was a Resistance hub in the South of France. A lot of Resistance fighters came to Toulouse to form a Resistance unit and many then left for the rest of France or Spain. A number of escape networks began in Toulouse and took English airmen, for example, or Resistance fighters across the Pyrenees to London or the United States.

This is Jerome Blachon, speaking French. Blachon is head of the Museum of Resistance and Deportation in Haute-Garonne, France, which is right down the street from many of these memorials in Toulouse. This museum brings together these sites, as well as artifacts, stories, and witnesses from across the region and all over France.

Jérôme Blachon (speaking French): Hello, my name is Jerome Blachon. I am in charge of the Museum of Resistance and Deportation in Haute-Garonne, France. The museum actually opened in 1977. It was first a community museum.

The museum was initially a community museum set up by former members of the French Resistance, and in 1994, it became departmental--which is to say it is now funded by the regional government.

Jérôme Blachon (speaking French): The three themes of the museum are: engage, collect, transmit. We collect to store and transmit this memory of our ancestors from our elders to future generations. Memorials that defend the memory of the Resistance gives us access to people who have objects in their homes and documents and some of them intrust them to us.

The focus on Toulouse and the surrounding region in the museum is in not just because it’s under the authority of the regional government--it also reflects the the uneven and ever-changing military administation of France under Nazi Germany. Until November 1942, the Nazis only had direct occupation of part of the country: mostly the north of France, including Paris, and the western coast. The south of France was under the jurisdiction of the Vichy regime--an independent ally of Nazi Germany, which promoted anti-Semitism and practiced collaboration with the Nazis, most specifically by deporting Jews to concentration and extermination camps.

So when it comes to the people fighting this regime--the Resistance--It’s tempting to present history like a story, with clear-cut intentions and a simple narrative. But the history of the French Resistance was anything but simple. It’s not like there was one single unified resistance with one single outcome in mind.

In episode 51 of this program, we examine another collaborationist regime: Bulgaria in the early 1940s, by visiting the Sofia Jewish Museum of History. Today, one of the galleries is named The Holocaust and the Rescue of the Jews in Bulgaria, which even the museum staff say is an overly simplisic title.

Jérôme Blachon (speaking French): Many visitors are in fact unaware of this fragmented structure of the Resistance, with the Gaullists on one side and the Communists on the other. So, in the Museum, we do indeed present the different forms of Resistance.

To present the complexity, the Museum of Resistance and Deportation focuses on presenting objects gathered from witnesses. These include Resistance newspapers of various groups, and photos and testimonies of those who were fighting -- whether in acts of sabotage, providing shelter to those who needed it, or even building the logistictics of feeding fighters in other parts of France. There’s also catalogues: names and photographs of people deported and accounts of reprisal attacks against Resistance Fighters and Collaborators alike, as control of territory ebbed and flowed.

Jérôme Blachon (speaking French): The period of World War II is quite complex to explain to the younger generations, who often have a rather Manichean view, that is to say in black and white. You are either a Resistance fighter or a collaborator, pro-Vichy, Nazi, that's it. You are either a good guy or a bad guy. The museum was closed for an 18-month renovation from 2018 until 2020. The renovation modernized the museum, and also reflects our moment in time.

Jérôme Blachon (speaking French): Today, this type of museum has a new dimension with the disappearance of the last witnesses, since they can no longer testify in front of students, scholars and the general public. So it is our mission to transmit this memory. To do so, we have collected and we continue to collect objects, and especially testimonies.

The renovated museum features two floors of permanent galleries and space for temporary exhibitions. Special programs are available to school kids, who are encouraged to question the sustainability of the spirit of resistance, the current struggles for the preservation and extension of rights and freedoms, and the fight against inequalities. Today, it’s no longer a museum run by former members of the resistance, but instead it focused on being the transmission to new generations.

Jérôme Blachon (speaking French): The witnesses are now 90 or 95 years old, and we continue to collect their testimonies and to project, broadcast, and record these testimonies in order to gather their precious memories and transmit them to the new generations.

This has been Museum Archipelago.

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