Soon a museum of German prisoners of war

Paris. Today there are 83 hectares of fields which blend into the Norman bocage. But from 1944 to 1946, 60,000 German prisoners could live simultaneously in the Foucarville camp (Manche): a real town whose ephemeral existence left no trace in the landscape. This hidden memory will soon resurface a few meters from the former prison camp, in the form of a site museum. Supported by a private foundation, supported by the Normandy region, this future museum dedicated to prisoners of war is the subject of an architectural competition, the winner of which will be revealed in the fall.

At the origin of this new museum, there was the chance discovery of the complete archives of the Foucarville camp in a canteen belonging to Lieutenant-Colonel Kennedy. The daughter of the American soldier, administrator of the camp, unearthed this historical treasure shortly after the death of the colonel, and immediately contacted the commune of Foucarville. The Warren J. Kennedy Foundation, hosted by the Mérimée Foundation, recognized as being of public utility, was created in 2021 to manage and promote these archives, which are the subject of a study followed by a publication led by the amateur historian Anne Broilliard. Exhibitions in Foucarville then at the Airborne Museum (Sainte-Mère-Église) and at the Utah Beach memorial (Sainte-Marie-du-Mont) brought this little-known subject to public awareness in 2016-2017.

Captivity of Soldiers in Wartime

The foundation acquired plots of land near the former camp, with the aim of creating a museum space by 2027. Centered initially on the experience of Foucarville, this cultural project extends to the more general question of prisoners of war under the leadership of the historian Fabien Théofilakis, specialist in captivity in times of war. The project management of the museum project is delegated to the programming agency Kantara, which imagines the route with a first sequence devoted to Foucarville, a second to its British and Soviet equivalents, then a temporary exhibition room where the history will be able to echo current issues.

“Colonel Kennedy wanted to make this camp a re-education project, through culture, sport, training, and not just a place of transit,” explains Yasmina Barbé Boudhar, programmer and co-founder of Kantara. It’s a fascinating subject, and one that resonates with German visitors. “ We had the opportunity to present the project to the German ambassador, who was touched because his father was himself a prisoner in the camp. » The “deradicalization” experiment, carried out in Foucarville with prisoners of war, sometimes very young, is able to interest a growing German public at Normandy places of memory. “We have been identifying a new German memory tourism for several years, but we have little else to present to them than a Nazi face of Germany,” indicates Yasmina Barbé Boudhar.

A network of memorials and contemporary conflicts

Collection work from former German prisoners is underway to enrich the route of the future museum, which will also take the form of landscaping on the former site of the camp. The estimated budget of 7 million euros is financed by the Normandy Region, which sees it as an asset in its project to register memorial sites as world heritage sites, but also by the Department, and up to 20% by American and German patronage. The Directorate of Memory, Culture and Archives of the Ministry of the Armed Forces supports this project, which it wishes to integrate into the network of museums and memorials to contemporary conflicts.

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