Alpi in guerra/Alpes en guerre
Alps in wartime
This bilingual exhibition, which was prepared as part of the project by the Musée de la Résistance et de la Déportation de l'Isère and the Istituto piemontese per la storia della Resistenza e della società contemporanea, continues to be set up and visited in various Italian and French towns. It was a particularly significant moment when the exhibition was set up in Courmayeur, in the Aosta Valley, to mark the inauguration of the cross-border Museum of Monte Bianco.
Il progetto/The project
The exhibition entitled “Alpi in guerra/Alpes en guerre” is the first product of the collaboration between the local authorities and scientific institutions of Piedmont, Aosta Valley, the province of Imperia and the border regions of France and Switzerland, which set up the Interreg/Alcotra project “Memoria delle alpi /Mémoire des Alpes”.
The exhibition was set up in Grenoble by the Musée de la Résistance et de la Déportation de l'Isère, with the collaboration of the Istituto piemontese per la storia della Resistenza e della società contemporanea, and the support of the Istituto storico della Resistenza and della società contemporanea in the Aosta Valley and the Isalp-Istituto di storia delle Alpi in Lugano. Together the partners defined the scientific framework, which is reflected by the printed catalogue, and made available extensive documentation by drawing on their archives and carrying out specific studies.
Having been set up almost simultaneously in Grenoble and Turin, the exhibition presents an overview of the events, archeology and memory of war in an attempt to identify the long-term cultural affinities and the solidarity between populations – aside from opposing military interests – which, even during the conflict and in spite of inevitable fractures, laid the foundations for the future European democracy.
Made up of irregular shaped panels in dull colours, which almost seem to evoke the rugged mountain environment, the exhibition comprises six sections, divided by three video stations that provided additional sequences of images to complement those on display. To complete the overview, a documentary and a 6-minute film were projected onto the long screen in the Picture Gallery. This summed up the phases of the war between Italy and France, up until the peace treaties, using animated sequences and archive materials.
The exhibition opens with a large photograph of Hitler and Mussolini, almost as if to remind us that everything on display derives from the ideologies put into practice by these two men.
The first set of panels show images of the Alpine territory in the late 1930s. The existence of the political frontier did not affect relations between peoples living either side of the mountains who instead shared languages and traditions.
The scope then widens to examine the strategic position of the western Alps and their geopolitical role at an international level from the late 19th century to 1945. Although this was not a military front of primary importance, it was defended by massive fortifications and specialised troops: the Chasseurs alpins and the Alpini, who were recruited from local communities.
A third section provides background information on the political powers on either side of the battlefield and on the course of the war. This is followed by an illustration of the Resistance that developed on both sides of the Alps, leading to the creation of the “free republics”, such as Vercors in Dauphiné or Val d'Ossola, Valmaira and others in Piedmont, which were subsequently quashed by the German repression.
As a focus of resistance, the Alps were also a place of refuge for all those whose lives were threatened: Allied soldiers and former prisoners, Italian and French partisans, anti-fascists, and above all the Jews from central and eastern Europe fleeing from persecution. After the enforcement of the Race Laws (1938) which evicted the Jews from Italy and the German occupation of France (1940), many Jews were forced to make long and tortuous journeys in search of safety.
Until 8 September 1943, they were given refuge in the Alps in those French areas under “mild” Italian occupation, and even greater numbers took refuge in neutral Switzerland, crossing over the Swiss border from every direction.
But not all of them managed to escape the frenzy of the war and the programmed homicide of the Nazis and their collaborators, the Vichy troops and the fascists of the Italian social republic.
The heavy tribute paid by the Alpine populations is the subject of the fifth section.
The allied bombings on industrial towns also killed numerous civilians. Torture, summary execution and deportation intensified after the German occupation of the Alps up until the Liberation, which occurred in French Alps in August 1944, but only in April 1945 in the Italian Alps.
The sixth part illustrates the stages of the difficult reconcilement between the Italians and the French as a consequence of the war of 1940: the redefinition of the borders, attempts to re-annex the Aosta Valley, examples of Italophobia all hindered the elaboration of memory and even the writing of history itself.
The Turin exhibition presents more detailed cartography and studies of Alpine sociology and the lines of the fortifications on both sides of the Alps (The end of frontiers).
The Scientific Committee
The exhibition and the continuing research work have benefited enormously from the commitment of a Scientific Committee comprising:
Barbara Berruti (Istoreto, Turin), Gilles Bertrand (historian, University of Grenoble II, CHRIPA), Michel Bligny (Director of Cultural Affairs, Region Rhône-Alpes, Lyons), Pierre Bolle (historian, Grenoble), Françoise Bros-Jacquot (Department of Heritage and Memory, Ministry of Defence, Lyons), Michèle Gabert (historian, Grenoble), Jean-William Dereymez (historian, Institute of Political Studies Grenoble), Louis-Jean Gachet (Curator of Museums, Chambéry), Anne-Marie Granet-Abisset (historian, University of Grenoble II), Daniel Grange (historian, University of Grenoble II, CHRIPA), Jean Guibal (Conservation of the Heritage of Isère, Grenoble), Marina Guichard-Croset (historian, General Council of Haute-Savoie), Jean-Marie Guillon (historian, University of Aix-Marseilles), Daniele Jalla (Department of Culture, City of Turin), David Michielan (historian, Switzerland), Paolo Momigliano-Levi (historian, Istituto di storia della Resistenza, Aosta), Richard Monléon (Department of Heritage and Memory, Ministry of Defence, Lyons), Jean-Louis Panicacci (historian, University of Nice), Ersilia Alessandrone Perona (historian, Istoreto,Turin), Gianni Perona (historian, University of Turin), Simon Roth (historian, Switzerland), William Saadé (Curator of Museums, Annecy), Alberto Turinetti di Priero (historian, Turin), Nelly Valsangiacomo (historian, University of Freiburg), Eric Vial (historian, University of Grenoble II)
Istituto piemontese per la storia della Resistenza e della società contemporanea
Istituto storico della Resistenza e della società contemporanea in Valle d’Aosta
ANCR Archivio nazionale cinematografico della Resistenza
Muséè de la Résistance et de la Déportation de l’Isère
ISAlp, Istituto di Storia delle Alpi, Università della Svizzera italiana, Lugano
Memoria delle Alpi – Memoire del Alpes – Gedechtnis der Alpen
Museo della Resistenza e della Deportazione dell’Isère