FROM GERMAN-OCCUPATION TO D-DAY AND ALLIED LIBERATION: WAR PROPAGANDA FROM THE WOLFSONIAN MUSEUM COLLECTION

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Yesterday marked the seventieth anniversary of the Allied landing of more than 160,000 troops along fifty miles of heavily fortified coastline in Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. As we are preparing exhibitions to commemorate the hundred year anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, one of my colleagues here at The Wolfsonian, Regina Bailey, surprised the staff yesterday with doughnuts and print-outs as it was also National Doughnut Day—a holiday created by the Salvation Army in 1938 to remember the men and women in their ranks who served doughnuts to the troops in the trenches of the First World War. While I was unable to locate any material in our own collection documenting the morale-boosting efforts of the Salvation Army during the Great War, I did find an image of the group at work in the wake of the Nazi bombing campaign in England during the Second World War. The illustration was drawn by the Polish artist, Feliks Topolski (1907-1989) and included in his Britain in Peace and War.

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

Other original drawings by Topolski documenting Allied support to Russian front will be the subject of another exhibition scheduled for 2016.

After the German “blitzkrieg” invasion of Poland in 1939, Great Britain and France declared war against Hitler’s Germany, but actually took little action—ushering in the so-called Sitzkrieg, or “Phoney War.” Having concluded a non-aggression and friendship pact with his former Soviet enemies to the East and having divided up Poland between them, Hitler and his generals were free to move his divisions west and to invade and bring France under the Nazi boot.

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After the signing of the armistice with Germany, the collaborationist Vichy Regime assumed power in France under the figurehead of Marshall Philippe Pétain (1856-1951), a hero of the Great War, and the vice-president of Vichy’s Council of Ministers and later head of government, Pierre Laval (1883-1945).

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GIFT OF MARTIJN F. LE COUTRE

In addition to this humorous portfolio plate by Mexican artist Antonio Arias Bernal (1914-1960) depicting Maréchal Pétain as collaborating under duress, the museum holds a large collection of propaganda literature documenting the German-occupation of France produced by or from the point of view of the fascist Vichy government. Florida International University professor Maria Garcia has been coming to our library during the last few weeks to look at some of the Vichy propaganda materials in the collection to prepare for a course she will be teaching in the fall.

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While the Vichy regime actively collaborated with the Nazi occupiers in shoring up coastal defenses, many French men and women longed for the day when Allied armies dared invade and liberate their country. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese brought America into the conflict, a meeting between U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945), Great Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874-1965), and Free French forces, Generals Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) and Henri Giraud (1879-1949) was arranged in Casablanca, French Morocco in January 1943 to confer on strategy and the next phase of the war.

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GIFT OF MARTIJN F. LE COUTRE

The famous 1942 film, Casablanca starring Humphrey Bogart as a cynical expatriate and Ingrid Bergman as his love interest had been designed to help a skeptical American movie-going public grapple with the contradictions of being asked to help liberate France when part of that government was actively cooperating with their Nazi occupiers. Ultimately Bogart’s character, Rick, (and the audience) come to respect the efforts of resistance leaders and to recognize that beneath the veneer of collaboration, even French officials were happy to turn a blind eye to or take part in the fight against their Nazi overlords.

The library holds a couple of artifacts specifically celebrating the Allied landings in 1944, known as “Operation Overlord” under the direction of General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), supreme commander of Allied Expeditionary Forces.

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GIFT OF MARTIJN F. LE COULTRE

An envelope with a violet caricature of Hitler and the warning that “D-Day is coming,” has “coming” stamped over with “Here!” with the dates of the landings printed in red.

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MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR. LOAN

A French children’s bookpublished in Paris towards the war’s end, La bête est morte! [The beast is dead!], also depicts the Allied landings on D-Day in its history of the war fought by cartoon animals.

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GIFT OF PAMELA K. HARER

Of course, ephemera and children’s book illustrations do little to capture the significance of the landings which involved more than 5,000 ships and landing craft, 13,000 planes, and cost the lives of more than 9,000 Allied servicemen. Their sacrifice won the Allies a foot-hold on the continent and allowed more than 100,000 soldiers to begin the long and difficult struggle to retake France, and to fight on to effect the unconditional surrender of Germany.

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GIFT OF MARTIJN F. LE COULTRE

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~ by "The Chief" on June 7, 2014.

One Response to “FROM GERMAN-OCCUPATION TO D-DAY AND ALLIED LIBERATION: WAR PROPAGANDA FROM THE WOLFSONIAN MUSEUM COLLECTION”

  1. There for the french love the americans. Great blog. Merci .

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