Created with the funding of local authorities and designed by museum experts from the Caen Memorial Museum, the Mémorial des Civils dans la Guerre is the only museum of its kind in the world. No other museum has ever been exclusively dedicated to studying the lives of civilians during armed conflict before.
WW2 marked the first time in history that more civilian lives were lost in a conflict than military ones - the statistics state that worldwide 45 million civilians were killed in the war and 30 million displaced.
The lives of the French people during the Occupation and Liberation have remained a mystery to many of us and this new museum seeks to give voice to their story of the conflict.
Falaise is a fitting place for the memorial. Over 80% of the town was destroyed by bombing in the summer of 1944 as the Allies invaded from the beaches of Normandy. It also saw some of the Battle of Normandy's fiercest fighting during the Battle of the Falaise Pocket, fought in the area surrounding the town. Here the German army was surrounded by Allied troops, leading to a hellish scene that General Eisenhower claimed 'could be described only by Dante'.
The new museum
The Mémorial des Civils dans la Guerre is split into three distinct sections set over three floors. First, you will enter the 'immersive room' on the ground floor where a reconstruction gallery recreates what life was like as the bombs fell on Normandy before, during and after D-Day.
In the 'immersive room', discover what the French people would have experienced as the shells fell in the multi-sensory reconstruction gallery. Archaeologists discovered the remains of a house that was shelled during the bombing underneath where the museum intended to build this gallery. It has now been carefully excavated with a glass floor installed so that visitors can see the remains. Sound and lighting effects recreate the dreadful moments of a bombing raid.
There is also a brand new film created for the museum with footage from the British, French and German archives of the bombings. The film tells the story of the aerial bombardment by Allied fighter planes that changed the face of France, especially Normandy, as the invading Allied forces pushed the German occupiers eastwards.
On the second floor is an exhibition devoted to Civilians and Liberation, throwing light on the joys and troubles encountered by French people when the Allies landed. The the top floor of the museum focuses on what life was like living under the German regime in the Civilians and Occupation exhibition.
In the Civilians and Occupation exhibition are recreations of a French cinema, where propaganda would have been shown at the time and also an Office de Placement Allemand - an enlistment office set up by the Germans to send French workers to Germany to help the war effort. Whilst French people originally had to volunteer, they were later conscripted to work in Germany.
Featuring archive film, period artefacts, propaganda, photographs and more this museum is a fascinating introduction to a forgotten history. A 'museum of memory', the Mémorial des Civils dans la Guerre is a moving tribute to the French civilians who lived and died during the conflict and is a fantastic addition to the D-Day sites and museums already open to visit in Normandy.
The history you don't know
Here are some stats that you've probably never heard about WW2 in occupied France:
D-Day and the Liberation
- 12,000 Norman citizens were killed by Allied bombing raids. 50,000 to 70,000 French citizens were killed by the raids in total
- Towns and cities such as Le Havre, Caen, Lisieux, Falaise and Saint Lô were all but demolished by the Allied bombing - they were more than 80% destroyed
- The Norman department of Calvados alone saw one-tenth of the destruction wreaked by the aerial bombardment
- Two million Allied soldiers arrived on Normandy's shores following the D-Day Landings - that's around four soldiers for every one civilian
The German Occupation
- Millions of French people fled in a mass exodus to southwest France away from the invading German army, becoming refugees in their own country
- After the Armistice was signed with Germany on 16 June 1940, France was cut in two - the northern Occupied Zone (including the Atlantic Coast) and the southern Free Zone
- Of 76,000 Jewish men, women and children that were deported from France to the concentration camps, only 2,500 survived
- Tens of thousands of opponents to the regime and Resistance members were arrested, imprisoned, tortured, executed and deported to the camps
Museum opening times and prices
The Mémorial des Civils dans la Guerre is open daily from 10am to 6pm until November and will be open from 10am to 7pm in July and August. Tickets cost €7.50 for adults, €6.50 for children (10-18 years) and others entitled to a reduced rate or €18 for a family ticket. Please see the Mémorial's website for more information.
You can also buy tickets for the museum together with other attractions - the Battle of Normandy ticket for €27 gets you entry to the Mémorial des Civils dans la Guerre, the Caen Memorial Museum and the Arromanches 360. There is also a twin ticket available for the Mémorial des Civils dans la Guerre and the Montormel Memorial for €9.
Find out more about the sites and museums of the Battle of Normandy and D-Day in our D-Day guide section