Normandy: Then and Now
September 16, 2009 7:41 PM   Subscribe

Normandy: Then and Now Photographs of Normandy in 1944 meticulously juxtaposed with how the area looks today by French historian Patrick Elie.
posted by Ufez Jones (27 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Nice find, thanks for the post..
posted by HuronBob at 7:58 PM on September 16, 2009

Sending the link to my son, who loves World War II stuff. Nice post.
posted by misha at 8:09 PM on September 16, 2009

Great find and timely post. I just started re-watching Band Of Brothers and was curious about some of the landmarks/towns in the show. These photos bring those locations to life. Thanks for this.
posted by lilkeith07 at 8:18 PM on September 16, 2009

Good stuff.
posted by marxchivist at 8:34 PM on September 16, 2009

Great link. Very interesting to how much things change, but also stay the same.
posted by Sargas at 8:40 PM on September 16, 2009

It's always amazing to me to see European cities nearly completely demolished by war 60 years restored to even better than they were before, while in my beautiful city, whole neighborhoods destroyed by neglect 30 years ago look like a war was fought there yesterday.

posted by deafmute at 8:41 PM on September 16, 2009 [4 favorites]

An impressive array of pictures. I particularly liked this one given that it's been 65 years and they still use the nearly the same sign outside their building. That's dedication. If anything in my young area stays the same for 10 years it's rare.
posted by msbutah at 8:57 PM on September 16, 2009

I spent a week in Bayeux two years ago. It is really miraculous that the medieval heart of the town, and the 1000-year old Cathedral, were spared, when virtually every surrounding town and ville was flattened. At some of the German batteries they've left the craters intact so you can see how devastating the pre-invasion bombing was, and yet now the countryside is as peaceful and pastoral as it must have been prior to the war. It's an odd juxtaposition to drive the country roads, and see fields still separated by hedgerows, in age-old fashion, but towns which look virtually brand new.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 8:58 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just to second what ereshkigal said. The most jarring juxtaposition for me was seeing all the tourists, some German, sunbathing and swimming on Omaha Beach, just below the pillbox bunkers up on the ridge.

At first it incensed me that folks would gambol about with abandon in the shadow of such a menacing history. And then it occurred to me that such playful enterprise is the just desserts of that victory - the ability to live lives in peace and joy without fear and oppression.
posted by darkstar at 9:45 PM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the post,My father and all my uncles were in WW 2, and I served in the AF. This is a wonderful site. A wonderful salute to the greatest generation.
posted by Upon Further Review at 9:49 PM on September 16, 2009

Wow, what a great project! History marches on so quickly - reminders like this are necessary.
posted by mopheeoos at 1:48 AM on September 17, 2009

Reminds me of these photos from this post. Love this stuff.
posted by Acey at 4:30 AM on September 17, 2009

Man, this is exactly what is going on in my head when I visit a historic site.
posted by Pollomacho at 4:47 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

So fascinating! My favorite is this one, after noticing someone attached a little american flag to the hand of the statue :)
posted by Jinkeez at 4:56 AM on September 17, 2009

Great stuff, thanks for the link. I love the boulangerie that's still in the same location.
posted by fire&wings at 5:30 AM on September 17, 2009

My favorite is this one

You know, now that I'm a dad, if I were in those GIs' boots, after clawing my way up Utah beach and fighting my way inland, on my first break in the fighting I wouldn't go looking for whores or booze. No, the first thing I'd want to do to feel human again would be to hug the crap out of a little kid.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:05 AM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Wow. It's chilling but compelling. I looked at this one of Caen and thought how imposing the tank looks, and how basic the fear is that you feel imagining being there. Then scroll down to the house, and it just looks so pitiful. Like it couldn't possibly have seen those harsh, older times. Like it couldn't possibly have been part of that scene. It's like looking at a grandparent.
posted by cashman at 6:46 AM on September 17, 2009

This is amazing! It's incredible how little everything has changed, beyond rebuilding and refurbishing. It think it definitely speaks of a pretty large cultural difference between the US and Europe. In the US, they most likely would have bulldozed these buildings (maybe minus the churches) several times over between the end of WWII and now, all in the name of progress. In Europe, even the signs on the building are the same...
posted by This Guy at 6:58 AM on September 17, 2009

I think this may also highlight a reason for some political and cultural differences between Europe and the USA, in that Europe has seen cities destroyed much more recently.

If I understand correctly the last time something similar happened in the US was during the civil war.

I do think that helps accounts for the strong aversion to war you sometimes see in EU nations, especially in those that suffered the brunt of the destruction.

I would also note that when the center of London was burnt out they didn't try to rebuild it. They just bulldozed the mess and built the fricken Barbican Centre, a study in concrete brutalism. It is shockingly ugly.
posted by fingerbang at 8:41 AM on September 17, 2009

This is required viewing for anyone who doesn't understand why the Europeans can't seem to forget WWII.
posted by tommasz at 10:00 AM on September 17, 2009

Awesome pictures. A reminder, yes. But for those who didn't experience it, the full extent of the devastation and horrors of the battle of Normandy is perhaps only being realised now, 65 years later. A recent book by Anthony Beever describes the gruesome atrocities of that campaign, the following are some statistics from a review:

"In the first two months, the Western Front suffered one of the highest casualty rates of the war: the Allies lost 2000 men per division each month and the Germans 2300 per division a month (compared with 1000 German losses per division a month on the Eastern Front). [...] After three months of fighting, the casualties were 83,045 British, Canadians and Poles, 125,847 Americans and 240,000 Germans [...] the greatest civilian losses resulted from Allied bombardment, which killed 70,000 French noncombatants during the war: more than the number of British killed by German bombing" (
posted by cx at 10:04 AM on September 17, 2009

why the Europeans can't seem to forget WWII

I've always seen the opposite. The Europeans seem to be trying to get over WWII while the Americans revel in the newfound superpower status derived from it and won't shut up about it.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:03 AM on September 17, 2009

Why Pollomacho, don't you know - if it weren't for the Americans, we'd all be speaking German!

Great post, thanks.
posted by stinkycheese at 11:39 AM on September 17, 2009

Cashman: Thanks for linking that photo. It's actually a tank from my old reserve unit. I'll have to see what I can find out about that shot.
posted by smcniven at 11:53 AM on September 17, 2009

Pollomacho (which I think means strutting chicken, but I digress). Re: "I've always seen the opposite. The Europeans seem to be trying to get over WWII while the Americans revel in the newfound superpower status derived from it and won't shut up about it."

Man, then you've wandered Normandy with your eyes and ears completely closed.

I was there for a week last October and visited several US, Brit, German and Canadian sites of significance. I was almost reduced to tears several times during a day-long tour that marked the Canadian D-Day experience. (A couple of these shots are centred on the half-timbered house that was one of the Bernieres-sur-mer focal points of the Juno Beach landing.) As our guided tour progessed inland, we stopped in town after town with a centrally-located "Place du Canada" or "Place Canadienne", and saw literally dozens of monuments marking key battles in which a single regiment figured prominently in the liberation of that section of the front. And to honour the young men -- many of them teenagers, who died in those battles.

"Trying to get over WWII"? Not for a second, and I suspect the appalling ignorance of your statement would benefit greatly from just such a visit. Be sure to stop in at the US, Canadian and German Normandy cemetaries, won't you? Pay special attention to the very few years between "Born..." and "Died...", or the number that follows "Aged:..." on so many of them.

Until then, how be you just shut the hell up.
posted by Mike D at 12:08 PM on September 17, 2009

It brings in the tourists.
posted by Catfry at 12:39 PM on September 17, 2009

Mike D, are you aware of the fact that the US Government pays for the upkeep and maintenance of the cemetaries and monuments where US servicemen and women fought and are buried abroad?

But I digress. I wasn't referring to the actual monuments. Of course Europeans have built monuments to the service of those of all nations who died in the war. Politically and culturally, they have largely moved on. We on the other hand cling to the idea that we are the hero of WWII. We saved Europe from Hitler. We brought down the Iron Curtain. We continue to try and act as the hero forgetting all along that the fate that lead us to our status was largely lucky geography rather than moral superiority. But I'll take that up with my relative that repose in those cemetaries next time I'm over there.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:07 PM on September 17, 2009

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