This past weekend I spent three days in one of the most historical provinces known to France and the world: Normandy.
The history lesson started early Friday morning with a two-hour train ride to Le Havre from Paris. Once in Le Havre, we saw the main harbor built in the 1800s, and we learned about the main profession of the 19th century: ship making. From Le Havre we traveled to a tiny city called Bayeux, famous for its Notre Dame Cathedral, and a tapestry made in the 13th century.
But the focus of our trip was not just for pleasure, but for for an in-depth and personal study of France and America during and after the World Wars.
We awoke early Saturday morning and ventured to the World War II Memorial in Caen. The memorial chronicles French history from the beginning of WWI through the end of WWII, with many pictures, videos, and visualizations that appeal to your emotions.
Ending our visit to the Memorial with a video made from real WWII footage, we then traveled by bus to Colleville-Sur-Mer, home to the American Cemetery from WWII and the beaches of D-Day. The cemetery was built in 1944, after which France gave the land to the United States, and the land was granted special permissions to be recognized as American soil. 9,386 American military men are buried here, and there is a wall devoted to 1,557 soldiers whose bodies could not be identified or located.
After an emotional afternoon at the Memorial, the cemetery, and the debarkation beaches, we ended the day with a visit to the La Cambe German WWII Cemetery where 21,222 German military men are buried, of which 207 are unknown.
After two exhausting days, Sunday was a day for relaxation, and in the morning we spent our time at the Notre Dame Cathedral of Bayeux, and ended our trip with a visit to the famous Bayeux Tapestry. The tapestry is an embroidered work of art which chronicles the events leading up to the 1066 Battle of Hastings and the Norman invasion of England.
After eating lunch and making our way back the train station, we boarded our train back to Paris, and I took the two-hour train ride to reflect on everything I saw during the weekend.
Since I can remember in history class, we’ve talked about World War II, the Holocaust, D-Day, and what the war meant not only for the United States, but for France, England, Germany, Russia, Japan and every other country that played a role in the war. Hearing about the beaches of Normandy and the moment when the Americans arrived ready for battle does not even begin to compare to what it felt like to see all of this in person. Just standing on the sand at Omaha Beach it was as if you could feel the history passing before you, and you could see the events that took place not so long ago.
Experiencing what the war meant not for you own country, but for a country that suffered so much devastation after the War is a moment in time which is inexplicable, and to do so would not render it the justice it deserves.
I’ll end this post with a quotation by Cicero:
“History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illuminates reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life, and brings us tidings of antiquity.”