Sunday, June 7, 2009
D-Day: taboos and silence
BBC News: Some 20,000 French civilians were killed in the two-and-a-half months from D-Day, 3,000 of them during the actual landings. In some areas -- like the Falaise pocket where the Germans were pounded into oblivion at the end of the campaign -- barely a building was left standing and soldiers had to walk over banks of human corpses.
As for the destruction of Caen, it has long been admitted that it was militarily useless. The Germans were stationed to the north of the city and were more or less untouched. Twenty-five years ago, in his book Overlord, Max Hastings had already described it as 'one of the most futile attacks of the war.'...
For many families who lived through the war, it was the arrival and passage of British and American forces that was by far the most harrowing experience. 'It was profoundly traumatic for the people of Normandy,' said Christopher Prime, a historian at the Peace Memorial in Caen. 'Think of the hundreds of tons of bombs destroying entire cities and wiping out families.'
In his book [Liberation, The Bitter Road to Freedom, William] Hitchcock raises another isue that rarely features in euphoric folk-memories of liberation: Allied looting, and worse. 'The theft and looting of Normandy households and farmsteads by liberating soldiers began on June 6 and never stopped during the entire summer,' he writes. One woman -- from the town of Colombieres -- is quoted as saying that 'the enthusiasm for the liberators is diminishing. They are looting... everything, and going into houses everywhere on the pretext of looking for Germans.'
Even more feared, of course, was the crime of rape -- and here too the true picture has arguably been expunged from popular memory. According to American historian J Robert Lilly, there were around 3,500 rapes by American servicemen in France between June 1944 and the end of the war. 'The evidence shows that sexual violence against women in liberated France was common,' writes Mr Hitchcock.
Image: The ruins of Caen; source here.