Alsace Moselle Memorial, Schirmeck
Mémorial de l'Alsace-Moselle (Bas-Rhin). Source : GNU Free Documentation License.
The Alsace Moselle Memorial tells the story of a region that saw its borders shift in step with successive wars between Germany and France, and the story of the foundations of European construction.
This vast building behind a glass front is nestled in greenery and overlooks the valley below. It towers skyward a stone's throw from Schirmeck. And it casts light on one of history's rambling episodes, and on the suffering and self-sacrifice that episode brought upon thousands of men, women and children. The amazing architecture and setting convey the oft-misconstrued story of an area that jolted from one country to another as the border it skirts shifted. The 3000 sq m museum casts light on this hazy period between 1870 and the aftermath of WWII, which weighs upon this region's identity. And, as efforts to reconcile France and Germany were born from efforts to root peace across Europe, this memorial also showcases the foundations of European construction.
When you leave the glass-walled hall, you get the feeling you are descending into history's depths. At the foot of the sombre steps, you will find a staggering, cathedral-sized room. The 12-metre-high walls on either side bear 148 portraits of men and women from Alsace and Moselle, spanning every generation and every walk of life. They all have names. It might be someone's piercing gaze, engaging hairdo or original dress, but something will no doubt catch your eye. But this room, first and foremost, will put a face on textbook history. The stories this memorial tells, in other words, are not about statistics and remote people in a remote land. They are about children, grandparents, young women. About the children, grandparents and young women in that room. They will speak to you over the audio guide. They speak French, German and Alsatian. They tell you what happened over those 70 dissonant years. They tell you their story.
Hitler's shuddering voice rings out as you step into a rebuilt village station. Posters luring you to tourist destinations hang alongside evacuation orders. You take a seat in a train packed with luggage and personal belongings. A film on the wagon wall shows how 430,000 of Alsace's and Moselle's people were transferred to Southwest France. On the opposite wall, a corridor leads to a fort on the Maginot Line. The white walls strewn with electric wires, floor tracks, dormitories and armoured doors explain are chilling. The instructions aimed at drafted soldiers, speech excerpts and images from the front exude this peculiar war's atmosphere.
After the documents stating the terms of the occupation and de-facto annexation under the Third Reich, you will walk into a circling corridor displaying street name boards. The first ones are in French first, the last ones in German. The flags parading overhead surreptitiously transmute from France's red, white and blue to swastikas.
Then you reach a forward-tilting typically Germanic building. The only way forward is through this oppressive, half-prison, half-bureaucratic universe. Desks on either side show the population brought to heel and enlisted by force. Struthof Camp bodes ill at a distance.
The barbed wire, army camps, pale lights and watchtowers in the next room will give you a glimpse of what concentration camps felt like. Photos, papers and audiovisual documents in this bleak universe also speak of the resistance and of escaping into France.
You walk across this vast room on a 3.5-metre-high footbridge. The Vosges forest pines underfoot are a reminder that people crossing the border over the neighbouring heights were doing so illicitly. The scenery is scarred by war. Bombs have disfigured the land. Everything is littered with disfigured bicycles and car wrecks, strewn petrol drums, and such like debris. Bombers tear through the sky. A house crumbles. And images on the wall speak of the German retreat and the Landings. Liberation nears.
The next room is much more soothing. The floor is even. Towering columns mirror the return of justice and truth. This room tells the story of the Oradour massacre trials in Bordeaux. The red walls seem lined with drawers holding the hundreds of files under review. A well of images shows the process and purge.
The room before last is white and bathed in light. It is a breath of fresh air. Lit blocks show French- German reconciliation and European construction. This soothing and cheerful room leads to a projection room screening a film by Alain Jérôme. Then, you walk back into the vast transparent hall and esplanade, whence you can look out onto stunning views over the Vosges massif. And, across the valley, see Struthof camp and the European Centre on Resistance and Deportation (Centre Européen du Résistant Déporté).
Opening hours The Alsace Moselle Memorial is open from 10.00 am to 6.30 pm in winter and from 10.00 am to 7.00 pm in summer. Tickets are on sale until one hour before closing time. Admission Full fare: €10 Reduced fare: €8 Families (two adults and children): €23 Tours with audio guides Disabled-visitor access Shop Bar / Tearoom Educational Office - Workshops The Educational Office caters for school groups (with an educational director and assigned professor).
Lieu dit Chauffour 67130
Plein tarif: 10 € Tarif réduit: 8 € Pass famille: 23 €
Ouvert toute l'année du mardi au dimanche, de 10h à 18h30
Fermé le lundi, le 1e mai, le 26 décembre et le mois de janvier