War Tourism. Second World War France from Defeat and Occupation to the Creation of Heritage

Gordon, Bertram M.
Anzahl Seiten
XII, 307 S.
£ 34.00
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Kristin Semmens, University of Victoria

Picture German soldiers in Paris after the Fall of France in 1940: swaggering down the Champs Élysées, gazing at the Eiffel Tower, feasting on French food and wine, and ogling French women. To American journalist William Shirer, the soldiers acted less like military occupiers and more like “naïve tourists” (p. 1). In this impressive book, Bertram Gordon situates their experiences and the “tourism imaginaries” they inherited, shared, and bequeathed within the wider context of war tourism in France (p. 11). War tourism, he suggests, took place during three distinct epochs: during the German occupation between 1940 and 1944; during and immediately after the Allied liberation of France; and from 1945 to the present day as “memory tourism” centered on war-related sites. To examine the interrelationships between tourism and the Second World War in France, Gordon, a distinguished scholar of wartime collaboration and tourism history, utilizes plentiful, relevant, and diverse primary sources in German, French, and English. These include archival materials, memoirs, guidebooks, and even personal interviews.

The arc of the book is loosely chronological beginning with a chapter focusing on the Belle Époque. In this period, certain French, and particularly Parisian, sites became “must sees” for all visitors. Gordon stresses continuity here as he carries the story through the interwar period. Friedrich Sieburg’s 1929 book, Gott in Frankreich? Ein Versuch played an important role in solidifying the Germans’ image of France: generally admiring of French culture but critical of perceived “French decadence” (p. 41). Though Gordon does not cite them here, German interwar guidebooks, such as the 1931 Baedeker guide to Paris, tended to echo Sieburg’s assessment.[1]

Chapter 2 turns to the Occupation period, detouring to examine two specific tourist sites, the Maginot Line and the Compiègne railcar, before exploring wartime tourism more generally in Chapter 3. The Germans deliberately fostered a semblance of “normalcy” in occupied France (p. 68): thus, French civilians continued to travel and French tourism organizations, like the Touring Club, continued their operations albeit in circumscribed ways. Michelin even published a guide to the Auvergne region in 1942. Local tourism did not end abruptly in Vichy France either, where it appears the Nazi coordination of the industry in Germany may have served as a model for reorganization, although Gordon does not make that connection himself.[2]

More numerous than domestic tourists, however, were German visitors to France after 1940, the subject of Chapter 4, most of them “tourists in uniforms” enjoying a relatively “cushy billet” in Paris and elsewhere (p. 112). While occupying authorities certainly exploited existing tourism infrastructure where possible, the Germans themselves largely steered soldier tourism in this period. The Wehrmacht had its own special tourism unit, which employed German tour guides and issued publications like the Deutsche Wegleiter für Paris. This chapter also discusses gastronomic tourism, sex tourism, and art tourism by German troops and civilians.

Chapter 5 examines the period immediately following the 1944 liberation, when tourist narratives about the “good war” were created for American soldiers now stationed in France and for the French themselves. A three-day recommended “Liberation circuit”, for example, stretched from Paris to the beaches of Normandy, with stops in places associated with Allied victories and General de Gaulle. Chapter 6 and Chapter 7 deal with many of the same, intersecting themes of tourism, war, and memory. Chapter 6 describes how war-related tourist sites and itineraries embody different interpretations of past events, whether Gaullist, Communist, Pétainist, or German. Chapter 7 outlines the problem of reliable sources, especially statistics, for historians of tourism. Gordon’s solid grasp on academic tourist literature and its key theorists is evident here, all pointing to the “difficult” issue of reception (p. 211). What can we know of tourists’ perceptions and interpretations of certain sites? How can we be sure of their motivations for visits to certain places? Gordon admits those difficulties.

As the book ends with a concise summary of the central themes already explored, readers will be left with additional questions. What tourist imaginary did French travellers construct of Nazi Germany when they attended events like the 1941 German Writers’ Meeting in Weimar? Did French soldiers look with a tourist gaze when they in turn occupied Germany after May 1945? Gordon has written an engaging, readable, well-researched book; such questions indicate how well the work stimulates more thought about his subject.

As accomplished and wide-ranging as War Tourism is, however, one might be critical of its structure and lacunae. First, there were too many separately titled, sometimes unconnected, often very short subsections, some only half a page long. These disrupted the flow of the chapters. Better editing might have grouped related material together into longer subsections under more accurate, expansive subheadings, thereby avoiding unnecessary disjointedness and repetition. Second, while the days of having to justify taking tourism “seriously” are long past – Gordon himself convinced us almost two decades ago – this book at times threatens to inflate tourism’s importance. Was Hitler really preoccupied by “vengeful touring” after the Fall of France (p. 61)? Were French refugees really expressing “touristic curiosity” during their flight from advancing German troops (p. 67)? Can we really consider Parisians to have been tourists in their own occupied city (pp. 70, 194)? Ultimately, is every “gaze” to be read as a touristic one as Gordon seems to suggest? What of the gaze of the flâneur, the cinema spectator, or the art connoisseur?

Finally, apart from brief mentions of Strasbourg, Gordon has little to say about those areas of France directly annexed by Nazi Germany in 1940: Alsace, Lorraine, and the Moselle. What happens to the tourist imaginary of a certain region when it suddenly becomes part of another country? Did French people there look with a tourist gaze upon what was now technically a foreign land? How did Germans respond to wartime guidebook exhortations to visit places like Alsace, a “living member of the German Reich”, after a “twenty-two year interruption”?[3] What additional forms of memory tourism occurred there after 1945 apart from visits to the Maginot Line? Gordon rightly insists that “not all French wartime tourism sites are in France”, so the elision of these areas is puzzling (p. 190). Yet, overall, this fascinating book will undoubtedly inspire future historians to look more closely at the intersections between tourism and war in countries beyond France and beyond the Second World War.

[1] Karl Baedeker, Paris und Umgebung. Chartres, Fontainebleu, Senlis, Reims, Verdun, 20th ed., Leipzig 1931.
[2] See Kristin Semmens, Seeing Hitler’s Germany: Tourism in the Third Reich, Basingstoke 2005, pp. 16–41.
[3] Karl Baedeker, Das Elsaß. Straßburg und die Vogesen, Leipzig 1942, p. V.

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