Oakland, CA—August 27, 2018
War tourism is defined as recreational travel to active or former war zones for purposes of sightseeing. In his new book, War Tourism, Mills College Professor Emeritus of European History Bertram Gordon explores its role in France, a leading tourist destination today, during and after World War II.
Gordon has long been engaged in research projects related to tourism and food history, leading to publications in both areas. “The combination of the apparently every day and leisure peacetime interests with the horrors of war make the latter perhaps in a small way, understandable, showing how seemingly ordinary people may maintain an attitude of normalcy or ‘life goes on’ while some were involved in and others witnessed what may only be described as horrific acts of brutality, says Gordon.”
When he came across a collection of Der Deutsche Wegleiter für Paris, the bi-weekly German-language tourist guide to Paris published during the Second World War Occupation in France, Gordon says it opened another vista for him into the dimensions of wartime collaboration. It became the beginning of his exploration of war tourism: Germans on tour in occupied France, the French tourism industry during the war, and subsequently tourisme de memoire, or memory tourism, since the war.
In his book, Gordon details how Germans toured occupied France by the thousands in small groups organized by their army and guided by suggestions in magazines such as the Wegleiter.
The book, says Gordon, “is a step in linking our understanding of war and its culture to the growing field of tourism studies.” Despite the hardships imposed by war and occupation, many French civilians continued to take holidays. Facilitated by the Popular Front legislation of 1936, this solidified the practice of workers’ vacations, leading to a post- war surge in tourism.
After the end of the war, the influx of tourists with links either directly or indirectly to the war took hold and continues to play a significant economic role in Normandy and elsewhere. As France moved from wartime to a postwar era of reconciliation and European Union, memory tourism increased and continues to exert significant influence across the country.
As an historian, Gordon believes his role is to convey to audiences, including colleagues, students and the public at large, the vitality of human agency, whether for good or evil, over time.
Bertram Gordon is Professor Emeritus of European History at Mills College. He is the author of Collaborationism in France during the Second World War and The Historical Dictionary of World War II France. In addition, Gordon is a core member of the Tourism Studies Working Group at the University of California, Berkeley, and since 2013 has been General Secretary of the International Commission for the History of Travel and Tourism. Gordon’s book is available through Cornell University Press.