Lily Duke: France as Text 2022

Permanence within the Fleeting

By Lily Duke of FIU at Maison d’Izieu on July 10th, 2022

As nature evolves, chaotic and unburdened, a reminder of both immense injustice (in the most extreme sense of the word) and humanity sits inconspicuously within. While initially unassuming yet beautiful, Izieu brutally reveals a unique depth of humanity, demonstrating both an unconscionable capacity for barbarity and what we should centrally protect and celebrate.

The children of Izieu, photo by Lily Duke, CC by 4.0

World War II saw the occurrence of countless atrocities, rendering the average individual blissfully ignorant as to the scope of what occurred. While the holocaust is taught and depicted in media, for many (myself included), it is challenging to fully comprehend what truly occurred, beyond a detached understanding, until physically confronted by the reality. Izieu amplifies this sentiment, presenting a poignant opportunity to educate and honor those victimized by pure hatred, while emphasizing hope and happiness.

photo by Lily Duke, CC by 4.0

In 1944, the Maison d’Izieu was home to 44 Jewish children and their 7 caretakers. The parents of the children had sent them away to Izieu, an area under Italian control and thus assumed to be less dangerous for Jews, to protect them from the war. The refuge was widely acknowledged to be a place of happiness for the children, with former students claiming their time at Izieu as some of the best years of their lives (THE HOUSE: REFUGE OF THE CHILDREN 1943-44, 2022). This is actively highlighted throughout the memorial (to combat the subsequent dehumanization conducted by the Nazis). Unfortunately, this peaceful and caring environment was brutally undermined. On the 6th of April 1944, Gestapo, under the instruction of Klaus Barbie, raided Izieu, taking the children and their teachers to concentration camps, where they eventually died. 

Personally, the most impactful moment of touring Izieu was walking into the classroom, and seeing not only the empty tables, but how small they were. There is no way to possibly perceive the children as a threat. Ranging from 3 to 16 years old, these children, and their caretakers, were not involved in the French resistance or challenge the Nazi agenda. Their death was innately a demonstration of power and pure hatred. 

photo by Lily Duke, CC by 4.0

It would be so easy for the children of Izieu to resemble the nature surrounding, just a fleeting moment to be forgotten. However, that is where the beauty and hope of this museum can be found; their lives are celebrated and voices amplified, diligently resisting the victimizing nature of history and ignorance. While true justice can never be achieved in cases as horrific as this, in a sense, the memory of the children is immortalized. 

Exhibition within Maison d’Izieu, photo taken by Lily Duke / CC by 4.0

References:

THE HOUSE: REFUGE OF THE CHILDREN 1943-44. Maison d’Izieu. (2022, February 28). Retrieved July 11, 2022, from https://www.memorializieu.eu/en/history/the-house-refuge-of-the-children-1943-44/ 

Lyon: The Duality Within 

By Lily Duke of FIU in Lyon on July 8th, 2022

Lyon a history book. As one meanders through the streets, the intricate pages come to life. The voices, dreams, and sacrifices of many are immortalized through the architecture, exbibits, and diligent efforts of those who refuse to allow time to take its toll. 

During World War II, France became occupied by Nazi Germany. Even today, one can still feel the effects of the war when exploring the city of Lyon. Memorials and museums are woven within Lyon, allowing those who were taken brutally to be remembered and honored. Lyon saw immense oppression during World War II under both the free Vichy government, and Nazi occupation. French residents were targeted for being Jewish, sent to concentration camps, and murdered. 

Photo taken by Lily Duke, CC by 4.0

Violence and hatred can seem so much louder than hope and resistance. However, in Lyon, one is reminded, that a light shines brightest when lit in darkness. As monikered by Charles De Gaulle, Lyon became the capital of the Resistance, a group of individuals who abhorred and actively undermined the antisemitic pursuits of the Nazis. From publishing newspapers, and providing information to the allies, to actively fighting the Nazis, the Resistance were unwaveringly committed to free France, even when aware of the potentially fatal risk.

Photo taken by Lily Duke, CC by 4.0

Upon visiting notable locations, such as the former prison, Montluc, and reading about the awe-inspiring actions of those incarcerated by the gestapo for their affiliation to the Resistance, one naturally contemplates how they themselves would act and have fared during times of immense conflict. Those within the Resistance jeopardized every innate human right to fight for their cause. Idealistically, I would love to say I would stand with them, doing whatever necessary to protect others. But to be entirely candid, I truly do not know if I could confidently stand before barbarity. I cannot imagine myself capable of committing such amazing acts of heroism when not only my life, but that of my family, were threatened. However, fear can coexist with proactivity, and I must honor the sacrifices of others by not passively progressing through life, silent to the injustices I witness. Lyon has taught me that I must use my voice to represent those who cannot speak. 

Photo taken by Lily Duke, CC by 4.0

I feel it is also important to acknowledge that the city itself, beyond its historical significance, exemplifies contrasting, yet successfully coexisting, themes. While there is an obvious commitment to preservation and respecting the past, a strong interest in the future is seen. As of 2026, all diesel cars will be prohibited within Lyon to combat pollution. (Diesel banned in the metropolis of lyon from 2026, 2022). Furthermore, the city has both embraced and limited tourism. Certain areas are obviously highly commercialized and catered towards the stream of new visitors, while other zones strictly enforce silence to respect the residents and limit the obvious discomfort of tourism. In general, Lyon seems to have established an impressive balance, surely establishing itself as a source of inspiration for cities across the world.

References

Diesel banned in the metropolis of lyon from 2026. Plugavel. (2021, October 1). Retrieved July 12, 2022, from https://plugavel.com/3603/car/diesel-banned-in-the-metropolis-of-lyon-from-2026/ 

Immortality in Death 

By Lily Duke of FIU in Paris on July 6th, 2022

Delaroche, P. (1855). La Jeune Martyre Musée du Louvre. 

         In 1855, Paul Delaroche finished a painting entitled The Young Martyr, which is currently housed within the Musée du Louvre. In this melodramatic depiction, the French artist portrays a young woman, recently deceased, floating bound in a river, with a halo above her head. This painting is widely said to represent religious persecution under Diocletian (a Roman emperor). However, it is equally speculated to depict Delaroche’s wife, who died young. Regardless of interpretation, the concept of sacrifice yet immortality is central, due to her state and ethereal quality. For a martyr, as shown in the painting, death consolidates their legacy, allowing them to become more than their physical body; death through martyrdom allows one to become a symbol. 

David, J.-L. (1793). The Death of Marat Musée du Louvre., Photo by Lily Duke, CC by 4.0

Perspective is an important component to consider when discussing martyrdom and legacy. Jean-Paul Marat was murdered by Charlotte Corday (who was subsequently executed for her actions) in 1793 for his aggressive encouragement of the Reign of Terror. With Marat being a Jacobin, and Corday being a Girondin (two politically and violently opposed groups during the French Revolution), both individuals could be argued to be martyrs by their respective parties. Needless to say, through death, both Charlotte and Jean-Paul confirmed their legacies. 

What I personally find intriguing about the concept of martyrdom is one’s inability to truly know if their actions will benefit their cause or simply be in vain. Similarly, many artists die before their work reaches is due appreciation, rendering them oblivious as to their success and subsequent impact on their field. In the late 19th century, Paris attracted an eclectic stream of artists due to the progressive and diverse culture, some of which being Oscar Wilde, Van Gogh, Claude Monet, and Arthur Rimbaud. These artists are specifically acknowledged to have far exceeded their level of fame after death than during their lifetime. The development of ones legacy seems to be strongly determined by societal capabilities to consume said art, therefore, rendering them revolutionaries of their time. Regardless, as martyrs are immortalized through their death, these artists were preserved through their work and their evolving relationship with the city. 

Thomas Edison and Gustave Eiffel statues within the office of the Eiffel Tower, Photo by Andrew Vazquez, CC by 4.0

Paris is a city interwoven with death, but not restricted by it. Throughout the city, there are countless reminders that we are capable of becoming and creating something bigger than ourselves. Almost every street name honors the legacy of a significant figure, whether it be a martyred saint, a poet or a politician. Their actions carried them past death, immortalizing them through time and history. 

References

https://www.aaronartprints.org

Oppression Gilded in Gold

By Lily Duke of FIU at Versailles on July 3rd, 2022

Photo by Lily Duke, CC by 4.0

As a child, I visited Versailles. I remember the golden gate and beautiful gardens, a palace fit for fairytales. However, revisiting almost a decade later proved to be a unique experience entirely. With my formerly superficial appreciation abandoned, I found myself almost overwhelmed as I consciously traversed the halls that had once been lit by the Sun King, stood in the rooms where absolute power had dissolved, and followed in the footsteps of those who would eventually rebuild a nation. While beautiful and awe-inspiring in architecture, the reality of Versailles signifies a deeply troubled period of time within French history.

When King Louis XIV moved the French court from Paris to Versailles (his former hunting lodge located around 6 hours away from the capital) in 1682, he disrupted the structure of governance, highlighting not only the ability for change, but also the egocentric and dictatorial nature of the crown. The very construction of Versailles consolidated the fragility of the relationship between the monarchy and the people. The physical distance established by the Sun King, Louis XIV, later evolved into full-fledged detachment when King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette abandoned any preexisting façade or efforts, unabashedly taking advantage of the third estate (the commoners) to live lavishly. Versailles became the physical embodiment of every value the French Revolution fought against. When the women marched to Versailles on October 5th, 1789, they not only apprehended the royal family, but destroyed the ornate decorations within. For every opulent decoration represented a child lost to hunger or the enforcement excessive taxation.

Photo by Lily Duke, CC by 4.0

A disconnect between the classes is inevitable and somewhat unshakable. In many cases, these dynamics are so systemic and widespread that opportunities for change are neglected and deemed to be unrealistic. As seen with Louis XVI, in instances of extreme social disparities, public instability is unavoidable. While the French Revolution is a rather extreme and violent example of this concept, class conflict has consistently manifested around the world. In the case of the United States of America, the rich consistently get richer at the expense of the poor, rendering it is challenging to entirely dispel notions of America facing revolutionary level conflict.

Photo by Lily Duke, CC by 4.0

Versailles is innately built upon the people, becoming a symbol of inherent oppression gilded in gold. While we should appreciate its beauty and artistry, it is crucial that we also understand its downfall and assess how further division between classes will one day undermine the values in which our country was built upon. 

Honore De Balzac

By Lily Duke of FIU at Père Lachaise Cemetery on June 29th, 2022

Photo by Lily Duke, CC by 4.0

I live through escapism; whether it be turning my music up too loud, diving into myths, or befriending fantastical heroes who live on pages. I find nourishment in leaving this world for another, even if just for the briefest of moments. Honore De Balzac directly contradicts this sentiment. His writing challenges the reader, daring them to confront reality and find enjoyment in doing so.  

Balzac was a 19th century French author born in 1799. As prompted by his father, Balzac began a career in law after graduating university. However, he quickly decided that his future lay in writing. He began writing plays and articles under the pseudonyms, “Lord Rhône” and “Horace de Saint-Aubin”. These bodies of work were widely unsuccessful. It was not until he abandoned his pseudonyms and fully embraced his work that he earned recognition.

         His experience in law and journalism brought him into contact with a wide variety of individuals in Paris, providing an authentic and honest perspective. This allowed Balzac to distinguish his work from his opponents and consolidate his position as a founder of the literary field of realism. Realism is built upon a foundation of reality and honesty, straying from the out of touch nature of the previous movement of romanticism, which was generally characterized as fantastical tales. 

As a prolific writer known for his ability to write lengthy novels in extraordinarily short periods, Balzac created a large body of work, with his most notable creation being Comédie humaine, a compilation of novels that depicted life in France. His characters were nuanced, and truly human, portraying mortality and poverty honestly. Balzac preserved the escapism sought by many readers, while also completely encapsulating and defining realism. When one turns his pages, they find themselves within the streets of post Napoleonic Paris, riddled with the problems and joys of a working-class resident. 

In his personal life, Balzac was said to be rather dramatic and strange, constantly wearing sleeping robes and living lavishly. While he is often acknowledged to have been rather promiscuous with women, Balzac entered a marriage with Ewelina Hanska in 1850.Initially a married admirer, Ewelina wrote to Balzac with the intention of purely expressing her appreciation for his work and his progressive portrayal of women. Balzac, impressed by her insightful perspective and intelligence, responded to her anonymous letter. The two began an extensive correspondence. Ewelina’s husband eventually died, and she married Balzac. What I find beautiful about their relationship is that he fell in love with her because of her words and her opinions, finding himself completely infatuated by a woman he had never met. It’s important to note though, to somewhat counteract the ironic romanticization that has occurred, Balzac was said to engage in multiple affairs with other women during his marriage.

Balzac’s pen leaked blue, white and red, and his pages immortalize the residents of Paris. His collection of work became a living, breathing body that gave voice to a city of progress, hope and immense culture. Balzac once stated that Paris was the true author behind his literature, and he was merely the secretary. And while humble is not a word many would use when describing this eccentric author, the heart of his work remained true to its goal of realistically documenting the heart and soul of Paris.

The life and work of Balzac reminds me that I have a voice and I have opinions, both of which I actively disrespect through my reticence. Honore did not achieve fame until he abandoned his pseudonym and wholeheartedly embraced his work publicly. He produced outstanding work until his death in 1850. His cause of death is unknown, but it is speculated it resulted from his intense commitment to his work. 

A fear of failure dictates many aspects of my life. And it has left me living passively, finding comfort in escapism. But the true human experience is not linear, as seen with Balzac. He faced immense setbacks throughout his journey to success. But he utilized these hardships to inspire his writing, and subsequently earned appreciation. His life and commitment to realism has inspired me to live presently and without regret. 

References

Alloprof. Alloprof aide aux devoirs. (n.d.). Retrieved July 19, 2022, from https://www.alloprof.qc.ca/fr/eleves/bv/histoire/honore-de-balzac-1799-1850-d1084 

Balzac, H. de, Stump, J., & Madden, J. (2005). The wrong side of Paris. Modern Library. 

Biographie de Balzac. Études littéraires. (n.d.). Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://www.etudes-litteraires.com/biographie-balzac.php 

Roy Upton Talhelm

By Lily Duke of FIU at Normandy American Cemetery on June 24th, 2022

Roy Upton Talhelm was an American soldier who fought in World War II. At the age of 15 (in 1942), Roy enlisted in the army after having forged documents to change his age. Roy was subsequently placed within the famous “Easy Company” (G Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division). This specific company later became the inspiration and focus of the show Band of Brothers (released in 2001). At the time of his death, Talhelm was a private. 

Little is publicly known regarding Roy’s life prior to the war. However, it is stated that he worked in construction, implying he withdrew from education early. Growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, Roy met his girlfriend, Donna, at a young age. The two went on to have a child together while Talhelm underwent military training. Unfortunately, Roy was only able to see his daughter once before being deployed in Normandy in 1943.

       On June 6th, 1944, (also known as D-Day) Roy, along with the Easy Company, were dropped over Normandy. At the age of 17, Talhelm survived the initial jump, making his way to La Barquette bridge (located to the north-east of Carentan). He spent two days here, defending the bridge from the Nazis. On June 8th, 1944, Roy was severely injured. After four days of suffering, Roy Upton Talhelm died on June 12th, 1944. 

Photo by Lily Duke, CC by 4.0

         I feel it is important to emphasize how truly courageous and honorable Roy was. Out of the over 9000 buried within the Normandy American cemetery, Talhelm was the youngest. While all those who fought for the allies during World War II were immensely admirable, Talhelm was unique due to the element of choice. He could have avoided conflict until he was of age (which would have allowed him to evade enlistment entirely due to the war ending in 1945). I cannot personally imagine making such a fearless and selfless decision at my current age of 20, let alone at 15. 

My father was in the British parachute regiment. His time enlisted was short, and he was never put in any dangerous environments (beyond the obvious risk of jumping out of an aircraft). My grandfather was in the army. Neither my dad or grandfather ever faced an active war zone, and both left their divisions when they no longer wanted to serve. It is because of the actions of individuals like Roy that my family had the freedom to enlist voluntarily and safely leave the miliary when they decided to do so. Those who fought during World War II fought so we could evade both the atrocities of the Nazis but also the immense responsibility and consequences of war. 

I have family members who lived in London during World War II. My nan was a nurse working within a hospital that was bombed by the Nazis. She fortunately survived, but had the war continued longer, she could have died. While perhaps a dramatic sentiment, I strongly believe that I would not be alive today had it not been for the immense courage and resilience of people like Roy Upton Talhelm. They saw a future bigger than themselves and gave their entirety to their country and people. 

When reflecting on World War II, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the disturbing ideologies and practices of the Nazis. However, it is imperative to acknowledge the humanity and hope demonstrated by the opposing forces. Roy had no legal responsibility to enlist in the army (due to his age), which is a testament to his honor and integrity. At 15, Roy decided on the legacy he wanted to leave. Whether it was for his country, those within concentration camps, or for his daughter, Roy proactively took a stand against pure evil, establishing himself as a hero in the truest sense of the word.

Growing up in England, we would celebrate Remembrance Day on November 11th. This national holiday was held to commemorate the lives of those who fought and died in combat following World War I. Every year, we would read the poem, In Flanders Field, written by John McRae. This poem is beautiful yet haunting, highlighting that we must always remember the immense sacrifices made, and the integrity and courage of those who fell so we could rise.

In Flanders Fields 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow 

Between the crosses, row on row, 

That mark our place; and in the sky 

The larks, still bravely singing, fly 

Scarce heard amid the guns below. 

We are the Dead. Short days ago 

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, 

Loved, and were loved, and now we lie 

In Flanders fields. 

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow 

In Flanders fields. 

– John McCrae 

Roy Upton Talhelm is buried in the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, located in Section Plot C, Row 9, Grave 32.

References

Talhelm, Roy Upton. WW2 Gravestone. (2022, January 16). Retrieved July 10, 2022, from https://ww2gravestone.com/people/talhelm-roy-upton/ 

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