Le Mont-Saint-Michel sous l'Occupation 1940-1944
Mont Saint Michel Under Occupation 1940-1944
A photographic account of war time occupation in France, by Emmanuel Villain, published January 2011
A review by Christopher Long
The Occupation of France by the Germans in 1940 was an extraordinary and humiliating experience for French men and women everywhere. The rapid capitulation of the French army was shocking enough but the almost immediate decision by the French government to collaborate with its German occupiers astonished the world.
Some believe that it has taken France three generations since its Liberation in 1944 to overcome the trauma of these events and to come to terms with history.
Emmanuel Villain, the author of this excellent book Le Mont-Saint-Michel sous l'Occupation is indeed a member of this third generation.
In forty pages written in French and English and lavishly illustrated with previously unpublished photographs taken between 1940 and 1944 he gives us a dispassionate view of events that overwhelmed the generation of his grand-parents.
The object of his study is the world famous but very isolated abbey of Mont Saint Michel on the coast of Normandy which, with its small local population living at the foot of the rock, felt the effects of wartime occupation particularly strongly.
Villain is ideally placed to tell us the story since he has worked at the island's tourist office for many years and lived most of his life in nearby Pontorson.
Ingeniously, his collected pictures taken by members of the German and American forces as well as by local French citizens tell us more than just the story of the arrival, occupation and final departure of the Germans.
They reveal what a visitor would have seen during the Occupation. In chronological order we see the arrival of German soldiers on leave at Mont Saint Michel; their climb through the village and its high street to the abbey above; and the views they would have seen from the ramparts and across the island's rocky coastline.
We also see the last day the Germans were present and liberation by the Americans. The final few pages are then devoted to the occupation and the price of liberation in and around the area's principal town, Pontorson.
The premier historian of Mont Saint Michel is Henry Decaëns. In his foreword to Emmanuel Villain's book, he describes its occupation by the Germans as a dark chapter in the abbey's history. Founded in 708 AD, the monastic 'fortress' had resisted all enemies and threats of occupation for more than 1,200 years.
Yet this world-class tourist attraction worked its charm on German servicemen too. They may have been in uniform and are sometimes pictured armed, but their photos show them behaving just like tourists today.
Their climb through the village to the Merveille above was the end of a trail taken for ten centuries or more by untold numbers of pilgrims from all over Europe...
"Nothing changes but the telling of it!"
And this book tells its tale extremely well.
Author & publisher: Emmanuel Villain
Foreword by Henry Decaëns
In French and English (translated by Christopher Long)
Content: 40 pages and 88 images (17 x 24 cms), designed and printed by Imprimerie Malécot (Pontorson)
ISBN No.: 978-2-7466-2784-0 (January 2011)
Price: €13 (including p&p within Europe)
Sales & enquiries, contact: Emmanuel Villain (Tel: 0033 6 6760 4445)
© (2011) Christopher A. Long & Emmanuel Villain. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
The text and graphical content of this and linked documents are the copyright of their author and or creator and site designer, Christopher Long, unless otherwise stated. No publication, reproduction or exploitation of this material may be made in any form prior to clear written agreement of terms with the author or his agents.