from Le Havre to Warsaw, how four cities recovered after the Second World War

A ruined district of Le Havre, in February 1947.


How did four European cities hard hit by destruction during the Second World War manage to rebuild after such chaos? To illustrate this issue, Quentin Domart and Barbara Necek, authors of this documentary series, chose Le Havre, Warsaw, Berlin and London.

Judicious choice, even if a second series is imaginable with the equally emblematic cases of Caen, Coventry, Dresden or Rotterdam. Broadcast in succession this Thursday 24, the episodes devoted to Le Havre then to Warsaw are very successful. Berlin and London are scheduled for Thursday March 31.

Both necessary historical reminders and remarkable lessons in town planning, these episodes retrace, with the help of often unpublished filmed and photographic archives, testimonies of former inhabitants, insights from architects and historians, the way to reinvest and reinvent a martyred city.

In Le Havre, occupied from June 1940 by the Germans then devastated in September 1944 by British air raids of phenomenal intensity, the juxtapositions of photos of the same district before the war and then just after allow us to see the extent of the damage.

From martyr city to concept city

Thousands of people from Le Havre survive in cellars or makeshift camps left by American soldiers. On a visit on October 7, 1944, Charles de Gaulle, touched by the scale of the disaster, decided to make the city the symbol of the country’s rebirth. Designated master of this major reconstruction project: the famous architect Auguste Perret (1874-1954). His roadmap? Rebuild quickly and cheaply.

“Since we are at zero, we must take advantage of it to start again on new bases”, proclaims this precursor of reinforced concrete (“my concrete is more beautiful than stone! »). In the company of other architects responsible for respecting his principles, he will bring out of the ground a new modernist and mineral city center, meticulously studied in this documentary.

Died in 1954, Perret will not see his work completed. Nor the rejection by traumatized Le Havre of this new center, which will take time to be tamed. But going from a martyr city to a concept city remains a rather fascinating example of transformation. The port city will be listed in July 2005 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

In Warsaw, 85% destroyed by the Germans and which housed 1,300,000 inhabitants before the war, there remained in 1945 only 162,000 survivors amid the ruins and rubble. Very quickly, the new communist government decided to rebuild the Polish capital, firmly encouraged by Stalin. From February 1945, 1,500 architects and urban planners set to work. Almost completely destroyed, the old town was rebuilt almost identically by the chief architect Jan Zachwatowicz and his teams. In three years, 700 historic buildings have risen from their ashes. In 1948, on the site of the former Jewish ghetto in Muranow, a housing district inspired by the modernism of the 1930s was born.

After having left a great freedom to the architects, in 1949 the power launched programs typed “socialist realism”. The buildings of the MDM district or the emblematic Palace of Culture and Science, 230 meters high, are still there to testify to this.

after the chaos, documentary series by Barbara Necek and Quentin Domart (Fr., 2022, 4 x 52 min). Planet+

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