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Holocaust Memorials at Père Lachaise - Part 1: Unfinished Mourning (1945-1953)

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris (photo by Jennifer Boyer-Switala)
This summer, I was doing some research on the Holocaust memorials at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. I found that there really was not much out there - at least not for the English speaker - that explained these Holocaust memorials. I promised myself that when I was done, I would share my findings here to help out any one who might have an interest. I made some surprising discoveries in terms of how these memorials reflect French national memory of the Nazi occupation. Since my research was extensive, I will be presenting the memorials in four separate blog entries based on stages of national memory.
I have written before about French national memory in terms of "The Vichy Syndrome." The Vichy Syndrome, simply put, is France’s ongoing struggle in coming to terms with les années noires (the dark years) of Nazi Occupation. Historian Henry Rousso has divided the Vichy Syndrome into four distinct stages of memory: Unfinished Mourning (1945-1953), Repressed Memory (1954-1971), The Broken Mirror (1972-1980), and Obsession (1980- Present).[1] 

Stage 1: Unfinished Mourning (1945-1953)
The Unfinished Mourning stage was spent defining the question of what made one a collaborator so that appropriate action could be taken to hold collaborators accountable. The initial stage struggled to reconcile the memories of the heroic (i.e. the Résistance) against those of the atrocious (war crimes committed by French and Nazis alike).  What developed was a memory that focused on Nazi crimes against the French, such as the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane, instead of French crimes against the Jews, like la rafle du Vel d’hiv.[2]
The two monuments that were inaugurated at Père Lachaise during the Unfinished Mourning stage were Auschwitz-Birkenau (June 1949) and Neuengamme (November 1949). Françoise Salmon, a deportee to Auschwitz, created the abstract sculpture on the Auschwitz-Birkenau monument out of Volvic lava. Inscribed at the base are the words of surrealist poet and résistant Paul Éluard, "When we stop killing, they will be avenged. The only vow of justice has life as an echo."
The Neuengamme memorial was sculpted by Pierre Honoré and depicts a kneeling woman looking into the distance.
The ext on the memorial reads: "Under this stone rests a little ash of the seven thousand French martyrs murdered by the Nazis at the camp Neuengamme. They died that we might live free. Their families and survivor-comrades erected this monument to their memory."
Although the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial mentions the Jews who perished, those words were only added in 1995. It is unknown if Jews were mentioned in the original text.
This is compatible with the Unfinished Mourning stage, and the better part of early post-war national memory as the memorial text does focus on the atrocities committed agains the French "martyrs" by the Nazis. Additionally, the  poet whose words are found on the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial are those of a non-Jewish man - résistant and Communist, Paul Éluard.
This further emphasizes the importance of the image of the Résistance in France and paved the way for France's selective memory that was exhibited during the next stage, Repressed Memory.
"La Vie" (photo by Jennifer Boyer-Switala) I found the symbolism of the stone on the memorial next to the word "life" to  be particularly powerful (a Jewish custom, the stone on a grave represents the permanence of memory)

[1] Henry Rousso, The Vichy Syndrome: History and Memory in France since 1944
[2] Tony McNeill. The Vichy Syndrome: Coming to Terms with Les Années Noirs.


Another wonderful post! Merci! I was there once a few years back when there was a family sprinkling a Jewish loved one's ashes. Very moving.

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