For Adolf Hitler, the signing of the Franco-German Armistice of 22 June 1940 in a railway carriage at Compiègne, France was a great triumph. It gave him an immense status among the German people and his political followers. Next to earning more respect as a military leader, based on the successful tactics and the speed of his modern army during the French campaign, he had restored the pride of the German nation.
But the Armistice was also a chance for sweet, almost personal, revenge. Only 22 years earlier the odds had been the other way around and a defeated Germany was forced to sign a similar agreement on 11 November 1918, ending World War One in Europe. Ironically, it was this event, that had led to the start of Hitler’s political career.
And now, it was time for France to undergo the same or even worse humiliation. He had come to Compiègne, to see to that in person.
He had the railway wagon removed from the memorial building and put on the tracks at the exact same spot it had been in 1918. He inspected the French monuments at the site and had them covered up. After the Armistice he even had most of the monuments removed and the railway wagon taken away to Germany, where it was eventually destroyed.
Hitler left the railway carriage just before the ‘negotiations’ started on the 21st of June 1940 led by Oberkommando der Wehrmacht Wilhelm Keitel. One day later on 22 June, the French representative General Charles Huntzinger had little more options but to accept the German terms and sign the armistice.
Three days after the signing, the site at Compiègne was completely demolished removing all the French monuments except for the statue of Marshall Foch, which was left in the wasteland. The railway carriage was taken away to Germany where ,at first, it was put on display in Berlin and eventually destroyed at the end of the war.
Visit the Armistice Museum Compiègne
After the war the site and it’s memorials at Compiègne were largely restored to it’s former state.
It is in the middle of a peaceful and quiet wooded area. The memorial building once again holds a railway carriage, now a replica of the destroyed original used in both the 1918 and 1940 events. In the spaces behind the railway carriage they have more related and unrelated WW1 and WW2 items on display, including a piece of wood that is said to be of the original carriage.
We were there on a sunny and clear day, much like that day on the 22nd of June 1940. I can imagine this site must stir some mixed feelings if you think about what happened here in both events and the consequences it had for so many people in the history of Europe in the 20th century. If we would have learned anything from this, it would be that no one should feel victorious here.
Although the museum staf was friendly at the time of our visit, they are very strict about not making photographs inside the museum.
In the museum garden there are some interesting items on display, like this restored light Renault FT 17 “Général Estienne” tank dating from may 1918.
We went to the museum with our car, but we saw a lot of coaches coming in too, so there must be organized tours that can take you there. It is an easy walk from the parking to the museum.
For more information check the website of the Armistice Museum.