D-Day tribute or amusement park? The battle rages on over the Normandy plan

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A row has erupted in France over plans for a new D-Day attraction near the landing beaches, which critics have likened to a Disney-style theme park.

The multi-million euro project whose story is to be retold le debarquement on June 6, 1944 and the subsequent Battle of Normandy in a 45-minute “immersive high-tech show” has sparked a furious exchange of words that opponents have described as disrespectful to the dead and their families.

On one side are the backers of the €90 million Hommage aux Héros (Homage to the Heroes) project, who insist it is a historically accurate and appropriate tribute. On the other hand, disgruntled locals and families of veterans have nicknamed the project “D-Day Land” and accused the businessmen behind it of reducing one of the bloodiest events in European history to a money-slinging tourist attraction.

“They talk about creating the ‘wow factor’ of a ‘sensational show’ that will take place near Normandy’s beaches and cemeteries, which seems fundamentally immoral and indecent,” Bertrand Legendre, a former Sorbonne professor and novelist leading the Resistance plans, the Guardian said. “The ethical principle of this commercialization of history is extremely shocking.”

Régis Lefebvre, one of the people behind the project, disagrees. “We aim to convey the story of what happened with great historical rigor using today’s technology to make it interesting to the widest possible number of people. It’s that simple,” he said. “It’s not a theme park and we never called it D-Day land. That’s the name our opponents used. As for making money, who seriously starts a business to lose money? In England they understand that.”

A public planning consultation will run until October 7th. If approved, the attraction will be built on a 75-acre site in Carentan-les-Marais, inland from the American landing beaches of Utah and Omaha (the British offensive focused on the beaches of Sword and Gold, and the Canadians arrived at Juno on land). Beach). Its supporters hope it will open in 2025 and attract 600,000 visitors a year paying up to €28 for tickets.

Tourists visit the Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument between Omaha Beach and Utah Beach in Cricqueville-en-Bessin.

Tourists visit the Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument between Omaha Beach and Utah Beach in Cricqueville-en-Bessin. Photo: Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images

Legendre has a petition with 700 names of people opposed to the plan, including historians and relatives of Normandy veterans.

“We, the children, grandchildren and relatives of American, British and Canadian soldiers who have been exposed to enemy fire, wish to express our strong opposition to the proposed Hommage aux Héros theme park,” it said. “We are appalled that her memory should be treated as a tourist attraction… The zeal of the organizers for a ‘wow effect’ is absolutely objectionable.

“Make no mistake. Passing on memories is viewed here as no more than a business opportunity…Giving this project the green light would demean and devalue pain and sacrifice, presenting our fallen loved ones as mere curiosities in a money-hungry entertainment establishment.

Lefebvre has the backing of former defense minister Hervé Morin, president of Normandy’s regional council, and says the Education Inspectorate, the local mayor and the official French memorial association also support the project, which is funded by private investment.

Morin said he fully supports the project as a means of “linking remembrance and tourism development… with dignity.”

He added: “Do you honestly think, as a former Secretary of Defense, would I support that if I didn’t believe that? We have 5 million visitors to Normandy every year. Are people suggesting we shut down all businesses related to the Battle of Normandy? Has anyone called for the Saving Private Ryan film to be banned?”

Charles Norman Shay, 98, an American veteran living in Normandy who took part in the first wave of landings on Omaha Beach, has also given his blessing to the project as a “appropriate” tribute to the fallen. Another veteran, Léon Gautier, 97, the last of the 177 French troops who took part in the landing, is said to be opposed.

On June 6, 1944, 156,000 British and Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy in Operation Overlord, a surprise invasion that would herald the beginning of the end for the Nazi occupation of France. The Nazi regime capitulated less than a year later under attacks from East and West.

More than 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or disappeared in the Battle of Normandy. Since then, veterans and their families have made annual pilgrimages to the landing areas to pay tribute to their fallen comrades.

In recent years their numbers have declined as old soldiers have died. In their absence, Hommage aux Héros aims to appeal to a younger audience, attracting visitors with a show in a 1,000-seat amphitheater and telling the story of D-Day through actors and archival footage.

The British Normandy Memorial said it was staying out of the fray and maintaining a “neutral position” while accepting that a number of veterans and their families had “significant reservations” about it.

General Richard Dannatt, Chairman of the UK Memorial, said: “There are many memorials in Normandy, which is right and proper. The places where people pay their respects, like the British memorial, are free, and we find that this proposed site charges a fee, which makes it very different. We will eagerly await what the French planning authorities decide.”

Mark Worthington, curator of a museum at Pegasus Bridge, where the first Allied gliders commanded by Maj John Howard landed in the early hours of June 6, 1944, said local museums were concerned that the new attraction was “cannibalizing” their visitors ” would.

“A lot of people who have spoken to me about it aren’t very enthusiastic, and some are absolutely against it. I think we’ll have to see how it’s done and hope it’s not uncomfortable,” he said.

Penny Howard Bates, Howard’s daughter, said she thought the idea of ​​Hommage aux Héros was in bad taste. “To try to exploit this momentous event in history along with all the tragedy and suffering – not least by the French themselves – would be seen as outrage by those trying to honor relatives who died to save France and then Europe from.” to liberate the Nazis.” She said.

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