“We hope to inspire visitors to think about the stakes behind these combats, which have singular resonance today.” – SYLVIE ZAIDMAN, MUSEUM DIRECTOR
As some of you may know, the Liberation of Paris Museum actually already existed for many years at the back of the Jardin Atlantique, a garden on the roof of the Montparnasse train station. Despite what should have been a cool location for people to visit this free municipal museum highlighting the heroes of the French resistance and the liberation of the city from Nazi occupation in WWII, it was sorely outdated and never got much traffic (probably because it was hard for many people to find the entrance to the rooftop garden).
A few years after its closure, the new museum was opened last week for the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of Paris (August 25th, 1944) in a completely restored historic pavilion, one of the 18th-century customs gatehouses built by one of King Louis XVI’s architect’s, Claude-Nicolas Ledoux. Back in 1785 when it was built, this was the edge of the city. It also happens to be right across the street from the Paris Catacombs entrance, where it will undoubtedly attract curious visitors (it wouldn’t hurt if there was a big “free entry” sign on the façade that people standing in the long line for the Catacombs could see). But the museum wasn’t just moved into this building because of its beautiful architecture and accessible location, but also because of what lies beneath: a defense shelter used as the command post by Colonel Rol-Tanguy, head of the Paris Resistance Forces (Les Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur, or FFI). This is where, through communications with General de Gaulle and the Allied Forces, he coordinated the popular uprising in Paris beginning August 19th, 1944.
The fully modernised museum collections are now arranged with a good mix of text, video and historic objects without being overwhelming. While the two main figures of the Resistance, Jean Moulin and General Leclerc, are the focus of the museum, it also shows the military history of how the Nazis defeated Europe’s armies (d’oh!), as well as the experiences of average Parisians and what they endured during the long occupation. Some information is quite depressing (there is a section about the treatment, deportation and execution of the Jews), but there’s also lighter historical references, like the fascinating footage showing rescued American airmen dressed in civilian clothing visiting Paris like tourists right under the eyes of the Nazi soldiers.
One of the things that was most interesting to me is how they presented the information in a way that shows how, during the year leading up to and the four years during the occupation, Resistance fighters — and to some extent all Parisians — were constantly confronted by new situations which required them to quickly decide how to act, and how those decisions often had life-or-death consequences. It makes you realize how exhausting it must have been just trying to survive day-to-day, let alone maintain hope, assist those who needed immediate help, or organize active resistance to liberate France.
The museum is arranged to be visited in a particular order, although no one seems to mind if you backtrack or skip ahead. If you just want to browse and look at the images, you could see most of the important things in about an hour. A more thorough visit would be at least two hours. If you visit the command post downstairs, allow another half hour. Whether you’re a history buff or not, this museum is worth a visit to learn more about one of the city’s most important historical events. Check out their website to see a more detailed room-by-room description of the collections.
Also note that the museum has a documentation center that’s “designed for research workers and historians, as well as for students, families of veterans, documentarians and others who are interested in this period and looking for archives and information.”
Before you go, download the free Liberation of Paris Museum app (Android or iOS) so you can get the extra information in English, Spanish and German at your fingertips (as audio or text, bring headphones if you want to use the former).
That said, almost all of the information in the museum is also in English (the videos are subtitled in English as well), only the individual descriptions of the smaller items are in French (a little smartphone symbol means you can read the English version on the app).
You can visit the museum freely on your own, but the visit to the command post is done in small groups in half-hour timeslots that you reserve (for free) at the welcome desk. When I went today at about noon the slots were filled until 3:30pm. I spent about two hours visiting the museum itself, and could have gone to a nearby café and then come back for the underground tour, but I decided to save it for another visit. As of this week, there’s no way to reserve a time slot online, but it looks like they have it set up to work soon (there’s a booking link on their website, but it doesn’t work yet).
There are steep steps leading down to the command post, so this part of the museum is unfortunately not accessible to anyone with reduced mobility.
To avoid the possibility of waiting, get there when they open if you want to be sure to get an early slot. You can also use the interactive video screen for a virtual visit of the command post or sign up for one of the free virtual reality tour (with goggles), which seemed to have more openings (not recommended for kids under 14).
The museum is air conditioned (yay!), and the underground command post is always about 16°C/61°F, so bring along a sweater if you’re in summer clothing and might get chilly. There are a few books, post cards and commemorative coins sold at the entrance desk. There’s no snack bar, but you’re right by the Rue Daguerre, a market street lined with cafés, if you need a quick bite or a full meal.
Musée de la Libération de Paris
The official name is actually “Musée de la Libération de Paris – Musée du Général Leclerc – Musée Jean Moulin” and its official address is on the newly renamed street, 4 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, but just look for Place Denfert-Rochereau, 14th (M°/RER Denfert-Rochereau). Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-6pm, free entry to the permanent collection.