The Occupation as a symbol

The Occupation as a symbol

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A German sentry in front of the Château de Chambord.

© BPK, Berlin, Dist. RMN-GP - Hanns Hubmann

Publication date: March 2012

Historical context

The Château de Chambord under the Occupation

Even before the start of the Second World War, the Château de Chambord was chosen to protect many pieces of art from the French collections from any bombardment. After the Nazi victory and throughout the Occupation, Chambord remained a center for sorting and receiving works, constituting the main repository of national museums from 1939 to 1945.

Like many historical monuments or symbolic places in the occupied zone, the castle was placed under the direct control of the Nazis and became a place of strategic and symbolic power, protected as shown in the photograph “A German sentinel in front of the castle of Chambord”, taken by Hanns Hubmann in the fall of 1940.
Photographer and journalist close to the regime, Hubmann followed the German military campaign in France, before taking numerous images of the beginnings of the Occupation, which often accompany newsreels or films commissioned by the regime. If such photographs obviously have a propaganda function (especially to the German public), they also have the documentary value specific to photojournalism and war reporting.

Image Analysis

Embedded camera

Composed on three levels of depth, the photograph “A German sentinel in front of the castle of Chambord” was taken from the vehicle in which the photographer embarked.

In the foreground on the right, a wheel and the rear-view mirror of the stationary car indicate the position occupied by the reporter. In the background, a young sentry stopped (and / or greeted) the crew. Dressed in a private soldier's uniform and armed with a rifle, the man stares at the lens (and therefore the viewer), a slight smile on his lips. In the third plan, the esplanade (almost deserted, a single silhouette appearing near the entrance), then the main facade of the castle itself.

Benefiting from a rather exceptional luminosity, the photographer plays with the contrast between whiteness (of the ground and the stone of the castle) and darker tones (uniform of the sentry and details of the vehicle) to reinforce the arrangement and the structure resulting from the capture. of view.


The real and the classic

In this photograph, the occupation situation is reported only by the soldier waving to the driver. Alone, it should indeed appear almost harmless compared to the vast panorama drawn by the esplanade and the facade of the castle. These latter bearing no unusual markings, the identity of the monument (symbolized by this "classic" view) would therefore seem to be unchanged by the specific character of the context.

However, the way in which Hubmann represents the scene suggests on the contrary that current events (the Germans have taken over the place) take precedence over the history of the place. Framed fairly closely, the sentry and the car are indeed the real subjects of the cliché, in which they occupy the central space, relegating the building to the background (literally and figuratively). Chambord thus becomes a sort of landmark, a place that symbolizes the occupation of France rather than referring to itself or referring to François Ier. The sentry "opposes" and "imposes" itself on the castle, as a symbol of the domination (easy and quiet) of the German occupier over French culture.

By a kind of juxtaposition of planes and tones, the soldier and the elements of the vehicle contrast their modernity and their immediate reality (well-polished bodywork, uniform, gun) to the Renaissance castle. Almost easy and carefree (see the relaxed face of the soldier, and the fact that he is alone to keep the passage), this occupation is therefore not insignificant: "A German sentry in front of the castle of Chambord" refers to the victorious and peaceful presence of military, concrete and technical modernity in a territory with an outdated culture.

  • Nazism
  • Occupation
  • War of 39-45
  • Petain (Philippe)
  • photography
  • reportage
  • Chambord Castle
  • propaganda
  • patrimony
  • monuments


AZEMA, Jean-Pierre, From Munich to the Liberation, 1938-1944, Paris, Éditions du Seuil, 1979.AZEMA, Jean-Pierre and WIEVIORKA, Olivier, Vichy, 1940-1944, Paris, Perrin, 1997.CORCY, Stéphanie, Cultural life under occupation, Paris, Perrin, 2005. LABORIE, Pierre, The French under Vichy and the Occupation, Paris, Milan, 2003 PAXTON, Robert, The France of Vichy, 1940-44, Paris, Éditions du Seuil, 1973.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "The Occupation in Symbol"

Video: The Spitfire - a symbol of remembrance


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