“ WWII Through Nazi Eyes:” Mont Saint-Michel, France

World War II Through Nazi Eyes is an ongoing series of photographs from the over 100 personal albums of Third Reich servicemen which are now in the Burns Collection. This series complements Dr. Burns’ own art work, which is a series of multimedia images created from the unique photographs taken by Nazi soldiers. These private images offer a conqueror’s inside perspective of his job, play and at times mental outlook. In many of the images the vicious abuse and murderous attitudes ingrained in Third Reich doctrine is clearly visible in the body language and facial expression of the soldiers. In this series of images they are simply enjoying the fruits of their victory as they set up their gun emplacements on Mont Saint-Michel.

On the way to Mont Saint-Michel

The French place in WW2 history must be affirmed. After declaring war on Germany in September of 1939, they did not attack Germany from the West. The combined English and French troops vastly outnumbered the Germans on their Western Front, and the Germans were not well prepared for an attack as the Germans were fighting a war on their Eastern Front in Poland. The French collaboration during the war with the Germans can perhaps be said to have begun with their nonresponse and lack of attack on Germany while they had the advantage. The French in their ‘brilliant’ military strategy waited until the Germans destroyed Poland (a three week war) and then built up a formidable army over an eight month period. On May 10th, 1940 the Germans attacked France, cleverly going around their fortified Maginot Line. France surrendered on June 22 days, about 6 weeks after the attack. The result: France had to pay Germany for the cost of Germany’s attack on the country and the Nazis got to occupy and enjoy the country. The photographs of the unit sent to occupy Mont Saint-Michel is just one chapter in the history of Nazi’s in France.

Mont Saint-Michel is an island and commune in Normandy (Northern France) with a history so rich it should get the level media treatment “Highlander” received (either film or television series). This UNESCO World Heritage site began as a stronghold around the 6th century, the monastic structures followed a few centuries later when “according to legend, the Archangel Michael appeared to St. Aubert, bishop of Avranches, in 708 and instructed him to build a church on the rocky islet. Aubert repeatedly ignored the angel's instruction, until Michael burned a hole in the bishop's skull with his finger.” 

Although the original structure served as a monastery, by the time of the French Revolution it was converted to a prison; while the area is generally dry, the high tide brings in enough water to submerge the surrounding land. The tide shifts with such speed that poet Victor Hugo described it as “as swiftly as a galloping horse". Hugo and other important figures were responsible for having the abbey declared a French historic monument.

During World War II, the island served as a shelter for Nazi occupation. Centuries worth of abbey records kept at Mont Saint-Michel were moved to Saint-Lô for safekeeping. However, they were eventually destroyed during the allied attack on the Normandy coast in June 1944. 

On the way to Mont Saint-Michel

Closer to Mont Saint-Michel

Just outside the structure

Moving in


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  2. During the World War II, the sky was filled with lights and heavy rumblings. No, it isn’t the heavens to be dropping down heavy rain pour, but this is due to the many aircrafts that are on battle. One of the many aircrafts that fought in World War II is The Memphis Belle.
    The Memphis Belle: The Flying Fortress is a documentary movie regarding its troop and their last quest.

  3. Excellent review! We've been editing a Kriegsmarine minesweeper skipper's wartime diary and he mentioned visiting the castle during the late summer of 1940. In his library was a 1940 tourists' guidebook, in English.

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