The story of the resistants in the 1944 liberation of Paris from Nazi control is being told at a new museum opening on August 25. The Musée de la Libération celebrates two towering figures of the Resistance: Jean Moulin and Philippe Leclerc de Hautecloque—two men who never met but who both sparked local and international support for the city during the occupation.
Originally, a selection of the artifacts now on view in the museum’s permanent collection was on display in a haphazard and little-known exhibition hall in the Montparnasse district. However, with efforts directed by Parisian mayor Anne Hidalgo, a more cohesive curatorial effort is now housed in a grand 18th-century mansion that was ground zero for the final days of the Resistance movement. Originally owned by Henri Rol-Tanguy, who outfitted the basement for use by Moulin, the house and its subterranean bunker have undergone a $22 million refurbishment over the past four years. It’s been filled with the photographs, personal items, and letters of the resistants and its celebrated leaders, as well as from the general Parisian public.
The bunker was integral to the final days of the Resistance since its useful amenities were located 99 steps below ground. These included a pair of airtight steel doors that could be used in the event of a gas attack, a 250-line telephone exchange that could connect leaders to the police (bypassing Nazi-run lines), and a bicycle-powered electricity generator that could keep ventilation moving despite being so far underground.
All of these elements have been meticulously restored and revealed to the public in the new museum. Hanna Diamond, an expert on World War II from Cardiff University, told The Guardian that the aim of the museum’s display was to be “as engaging and as accessible as possible.”
“There’s a real republican responsibility here,” she said.
The materials collected by the museum include everything from a schoolboy’s wallet filled with ration cards to the walking stick that Leclerc was never without. The narrative told is centered around the heroic events of August 25, 1944, so it’s also fitting that the museum will open its doors on the Liberation’s 75th anniversary.
“The museum’s potency is greatly enhanced by the fact that ‘it all actually happened here,'” Diamond said.
The Musée de la Libération sits directly across from the entrance to Paris’ famous catacombs and is poised to welcome up to 14,000 visitors per year, according to Le Monde. It will serve as a lasting monument to the stories of the resistants and their chapter of French history for years to come.