Proposed “D-Day Land” Attraction in Normandy Opposed by Veterans But Loved by Others

Tim Felce CC BY-SA 2.0

Are French businessmen planning to “Disneyfy” the D-Day landings? That’s the charge being levelled at a group of creatives wanting to open a multi-million dollar tourist attraction in Normandy.

Two veterans of the conflict – part of France’s “Commando Kieffer” unit – are opposing the proposed “Homage to Heroes” show. Veteran Léon Gautier, aged 98, calls it “money for history”, according to NBC. He is joined by Hubert Faure, 106. Gautier has reportedly met with the creative team, who failed to convince him about the plan.

Backing the pair is a letter published in Le Monde. 154 signatories, descended from Gautier and Faure’s comrades, write the landings mustn’t be used for “dramatic, festive or commercial” purposes. Additional support has come from across the water, care of America’s National 4th Infantry Division.

Alongside this is a petition organized by the National Research Group. Covered by the New York Post at the start of the year, they believe the attraction will not only “harm the ecology of the sector but also the respect for the victims and veterans”. Intended for President Macron, it carries almost 30,000 names.

The historic sites and locations of the D-Day landings bring a huge amount of visitors into the area, boosting the local economy. Myrabella CC BY-SA 3.0
The historic sites and locations of the D-Day landings bring a huge amount of visitors into the area, boosting the local economy. Myrabella CC BY-SA 3.0

First mentioned in January, the project has a cost of between $58 and $111 million, depending on the source. Private money is behind the 35 hectare development, with 600,000 visitors expected when and if it opens in 2024 – the landings’ 80th anniversary.

Tagged by numerous parties as “immersive”, Homage to Heroes aims to put paying audiences in the thick of the action with cutting edge technology, archive footage and live performance. An 800 seat venue will “move between sets”, writes NBC. Quoted by The Connexion, co-organizer Régis Lefèbvre has described the experience as a “50-minute living documentary” featuring “living paintings” among other spectacles.

For many, the high profile idea is seen as more Hello Disney than Goodbye Hitler. The Connexion reports the words of writer Gilles Perrault, who’s branded the project a “historical farce”. For him the result would be little more than “D-Day Land”. The Connexion refers to further comparisons, namely the Puy du Fou historical theme park in Les Epesses.

A final site hasn’t been secured, though 3 towns in the area have reportedly shown an interest. The show is being championed by Normandy’s President Hervé Morin, among others.

Working with promoter Lefèbvre are Stéphane Gateau, a TV producer, and Roberto Ciurleo, known for his background in musicals. Also aboard is Serge Denoncourt, a director associated with Cirque de Soleil. Denoncourt states he hasn’t started work on the script yet, and that the show could ultimately “go anywhere in the world” (NBC) if an agreement isn’t reached.

The Landings, part of Operation Overlord, happened on June 6th, 1944. The Keiffer commandos, led by the Free French Navy’s Capt Philippe Kieffer, was the “the only uniformed French soldier unit to participate in the embarkment” writes The Connexion. Gautier and Faure are the last remaining survivors of that unit.

The famous parachute on the church at Sainte Mère Eglise, where John Steele remained for over two hours pretending to be dead. Elliesram13 CC BY-SA 3.0
The famous parachute on the church at Sainte Mère Eglise, where John Steele remained for over two hours pretending to be dead. Elliesram13 CC BY-SA 3.0

Tourism around D-Day brings in approx 5 million visitors annually. The Connexion mentions “tourist experiences” already operating in the region. However, as reported by The Local, there is “no single museum that unites all aspects”. It’s that market the Homage to Heroes team wants to capture.

Profit hasn’t been emphasized, though a shop will reportedly be part of the attraction. Ciurleo sees the project as a way of commemorating the past for future generations. NBC quotes his intention to leave “some sort of legacy for our kids”.

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It seems the show must go on, though whether the beaches of Normandy form the backdrop is another matter. This brutal chapter of the Second World War remains etched into people’s consciousness three quarters of a century later. How will it be remembered in centuries to come…?