Modern Europe Workshop - "An Eternal Occupation: Burying German War Dead on French Soil, 1944-1994"

Modern America Workshop
Event date: 
October 24, 2017 -
12:00pm to 1:20pm
Zoë Rose Buonaiuto
Princeton University
Seminar Series: 
Modern Europe Workshop

"An Eternal Occupation: Burying German War Dead on French Soil, 1944-1994"

Zoë Rose Buonaiuto, Princeton University

There will be a pre-circulated paper for this workshop. The paper will be available approximately one week prior to the workshop. A light lunch will be served.

This essay explores the problem of burying and commemorating enemy war dead using the post-World War II construction of La Cambe German War Cemetery as a case study. By the Battle of Normandy’s end in August 1944, nearly two hundred thousand unclaimed German corpses lay scattered throughout the region—bodies needing identification, burial, and grave markers. Between the end of hostilities and La Cambe’s official public opening in September 1961, local Norman inhabitants, government officials, and the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (German War Graves Commission) debated how to design a resting place that was sufficiently sacred yet sober enough so as not to offend local communities that endured four years under German occupation. By focusing on the nexus of World War II memorialization, architecture, and diplomacy, the essay reveals that the building and management of La Cambe was not only a project in common-sense logistics dealing with the burial of thousands of soldiers, but also a larger project in reconciliation between longstanding enemies. 

Zoë Rose Buonaiuto studies modern France with particular interests in war and society and Franco-American relations in the 20th century. Her dissertation research explores the problem of war dead during World War II, examining how Allied and Axis armies in Normandy, France negotiated the legal, cultural, and diplomatic issues of burying, repatriating, and commemorating mass casualties during combat and in the immediate postwar period. Buonaiuto is also interested in how Normans/Normandy embraced playing the role of "host" to combat, foreign military cemeteries, commemorative events, and battlefield tourism.

Before Princeton, Buonaiuto spent four years as an undergraduate at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where she graduated in 2012 with degrees from the Department of History and also the Department of French and Francophone Studies. 


Jonathan Catlin
Area of Interest: 
Military History
War & Society
20th Century