The facade of Lycée Paul Bert presents a harmonious picture. The limestone walls of the ground floor tone with brick walls above, banded in creamy yellow and terracotta. The turquoise blue of the four pairs of doors reflects the colour of ornamental details in glazed brick and ceramic tiles. (Click on any photo for a closer view).
Ceramic coats of arms, for the Republic and for the city of Paris, are framed by oak leaves, roses and songbirds in carved stone, while a more informal touch is added by the rather haphazard way in which the cast iron bollards in the street have been painted to match the doors.
The building (photographed on Sunday afternoon) has the usual selection of official signs and noticeboards, all neat and well kept. It’s a picture of care and good planning.
Also neat, well kept and all too familiar is the engraved, stone plaque between the two sets of doors. Many Paris schools have something similar.
In approximate translation this reads:
‘To the memory of the pupils of this school deported between 1942 and 1944 because they were born Jews, innocent victims of Nazi barbarity, with the complicity of the Vichy government. They were exterminated in the death camps.
More than 120 of these children lived in the 14th arrondissement.
May we never forget them.’
The contrast between the history evoked by these words and the peaceful appearance of the school is stark. The Europe of today is far from perfect, there’s still inequality and hardship, but we’ve come a long way from the dark days of the 1940s.
Memorials to soldiers and resistance fighters killed in the battle for the liberation of Paris were installed soon after the end of the war. That remembrance and commemoration was a straightforward part of the post war reconstruction. This memorial plaque, like many others, is dated 2011, seventy years after the terrible events it recounts.
Learning the lessons of history can be a slow and painful process. This plaque is a recognition that unforgettable lessons have been learnt and that history will not be allowed to repeat itself.