Mont-Valérien: A French Perspective

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The eternal flame at Mt. Valérien

At the beginning of the trip to Mont-Valérien we traveled to an area just outside of the city of Paris. We walked up a hill towards the fort, and at the entrance we saw a giant wall and an open area in front. The area in front was symbolic of France in the fact that it was made to represent the French flag. The steps were blue, the middle was beige to represent white, and the path around the middle was red. The flame in front was called the “eternal flame” which burns in memory of the Resistance. [The Resistance leader Charles DeGaulle dedicated the memorial site on 18 June 1960, the anniversary of his call for Resistance from London.]

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Memorial bell


The beginning of our exploration of Mont-Valérien began with the tour guide telling us a brief history of the fort. It was built in 1841 when King Louis Phillipe was ordering forts to be built around Paris in order to have a better defense system. 16 forts were built (Mont–Valérien is built on the highest ground) in the shape of a star for strategic purposes, making them almost impenetrable. The points made it easier to not only defend Paris from enemies but also spot them as they approach. Mont-Valérien has 2 ½ km of walls and during the 4 year Nazi Occupation the fort was used as an execution site. [The victims executed were resisters and hostages taken in reprisal for Resistance activities, mainly Communists and Jews.] I found all of this information very enlightening considering the very few things I knew about the fort before the tour. Next, we went inside the memorial and up the stairs. Our first stop was at a tunnel where they used to keep the animals that helped build and run the fort. On the other side of that tunnel was where the actual executions took place. Afterwards we went up the stairs until we reached the top of the hill. The area was very peaceful and heavily forested. The top was cleared and there stood a museum, a church, and a bell-shaped monument.

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Inside the museum you can learn about victims and the history of the Resistance

The museum held a lot of interesting information such as about how the Germans put a V for victory on the Eiffel Tower to try to deter the Resistance. The one thing in there that made this fort very eerie to be in was the last letters the victims sent to their families. Out of the 1,009 people executed there, they have 19 of these letters on display. As one of the letters was read you could hear the emotion behind the words, and I couldn’t even imagine how hard it would be to have to write something like that. The next thing was the church right by the museum that was called the “antechamber of death.” It used to be used for mass but during the Occupation they used it to hold the prisoners for up to eight hours before their execution. On the walls are still traces of the messages some of the prisoners left before their execution. It was fascinating but at the same time surreal to see something like that.

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Inside the chapel where prisoners were held in the moments and hours before their executions

Our tour guide told us that not many Americans go to see Mont-Valérien because the U.S wasn’t involved in the executions that occurred and the memory of it. Everything there was in French because mostly Frenchmen were executed there and French go there to honor the fallen. [Foreigners were also executed.] I felt like we were trespassing a little since it was so heavily in a French point of view, but at the same time I was honored that I had the opportunity to see something like this that many don’t get to see. My time at Mont-Valérien was both a humbling and great experience that I won’t forget.

Comments

  1. Eileen Walvoord says:

    Found this quite interesting. Have never visited there but would like to share this information with my high school students next school year. I am taking a group of 15 students to France in just a few days and we will be doing a blog as well. It was quite helpful to see how you are doing yours. Bon séjour en France!

    • Merci, Eileen! Hope you have a wonderful trip with your students! We’ll have to look for your blog.