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New film for exhibition curated by Cardiff University historian

1 September 2021

A major exhibition which closed just days after launch due to COVID-19 lockdown measures will reach new audiences following the release of a short documentary film.

Professor Hanna Diamond from Cardiff University and Dr Sylvie Zaidman, chief curator and director at the Museum of the Liberation of Paris, had just opened the high-profile exhibition when French President Emmanuel Macron announced a nationwide lockdown on 17 March 2020.

The exhibition drew on Professor Diamond’s research and used extensive archive material to tell the stories of the two million men, women and children who fled Paris as the Germans advanced on the French Capital in the first year of the Second World War.

Professor Diamond, an expert in French History from Cardiff University’s School of Modern Languages, said: “I’m delighted that all the research and hard work we put into this important exhibition is to get a second lease of life after the lockdowns cut short its original run.

“It has been particularly interesting to see the contemporary relevance of these events unfold. For example, when the lockdown was announced in France last year and Parisians flooded the stations and roads to leave the city, many media outlets made direct comparisons with the images that had circulated in relation to the 1940 exodus. And more recent still, the media carried similar scenes of fleeing refugees as a result of the current crisis in Afghanistan.”

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the film guides viewers through the exhibition taking in newsreel film, photographs, written recollections and children’s drawings to share the personal experiences of people who lived through the events now known as the Paris exodus.

Versions of the film in French, with optional subtitles in French and English, will be made available for teaching purposes.

Professor Diamond added: “The film presents an opportunity for our work to reach more people, so that we might relive and remember these stories with current and future generations. It’s our way of responding to the many requests from those who were not able to come to Paris to see the exhibition in person due to Covid.”

[Embed film]

Released on 3 September 2021, the film marks 82 years since Britain and France declared war on Germany. The ensuing months were a time of waiting with few large-scale operations during what is known as the ‘phoney war’, before the German offensive was launched on 10 May 1940.

In June 1940, the government discreetly left Paris one week after the Capital was bombed for the first time. Shortly after, three quarters of the city’s population followed. Panic stricken they carried whatever possessions they could manage and evacuated by car, bicycle, cart or on foot.

Dr Sylvie Zaidman, chief curator and director of the Museum of the Liberation of Paris – Museum of General Leclerc – Jean Moulin Museum, added: “As director of a museum about the Second World War in Paris, one of my key ambitions for the film was to communicate the scale of the events that we had presented in the exhibition on the exodus.

“Curating this project with Hanna and in partnership with Cardiff University made it possible for us to show how the story we had told was not just a Parisian or a French one but one with European and wider international relevance.

“I hope that this video conveys our passion for history to the public and to students in the same way that the exhibition did for our visitors.” Those interested in the period are urged to visit the permanent exhibition at the museum.