Early last year, France opened its WWII police archives for the first time. More than 200,000 documents, formerly available only to select scholars and officials, became open to the public after 76 years of secrecy.
Reports soon surfaced of people leaving the archives in tears, distraught with the newfound counternarrative to what their parents and grandparents had told them about the war. With this documentation, memories, on both an individual and collective level, could be confirmed, or confronted.
For me, the opportunity was personal. My grandmother lived just outside Paris during the war, in the town of La Varenne St.-Hilaire. The opening of the archives offered a chance for me to complete the portrait I’d begun to paint in my imagination of her family, her town, and its part in the glorious Resistance against the Nazis. And so, last summer, I traveled to France to do just this. And when I asked my grandmother to accompany me, with an infectious joy, she agreed.
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