Le Havre, World Heritage Site

TemporaryHousing Photo Montage.

First-hand accounts

The story told by the people who lived in temporary housing areas, long excluded from a history of the reconstruction which favored a more prospective point of view, shows real attachment towards this period of transition: new lodgers were offered a measure of comfort, thousands of them shared a similar everyday life, and a collective memory has emerged, giving historical value to these years, growing in number as the country was organizing its rebirth.

War victims take over their new housing and work towards making temporary lodgings last longer than originally planned: some cover over walls made of sheets of tarred paper, others add an upper storey to the place in order to share their living space.

A parallel reconstruction

In a way, these areas which boasted, for some of them, a church, a school, shops even, are part of a “parallel reconstruction”, whose traces were progressively wiped out. Political institutions, privileging the building of large housing schemes, gave a negative vision of these places of community life, which, at the time, saw the arrival of a more marginal population, which could not afford any other accommodation.

Building a new type of collective housing, rectangular blocks or multi-storey towers, marks the beginning of a different lifestyle, one where exchanges do not arise from overcrowding and where everyone can live as he wishes, in a space his own.

Collective or family accounts

Living in temporary housing within bombed out towns impacted a whole generation. Underneath the official version of the reconstruction period, the accounts from the lodgers now find their way into family albums, which can be accessed within families, sometimes organized in associations, providing amateur books of memories or internet sites.

All show strong attachment towards this way of life. Children or teenagers at the time, witnesses tell the tale of everyday life full of difficulties and great solidarity.

Temporary becomes permanent

Recurring elements belong to a community vision of life based on solidarity, extending to all social classes. Everyone, in his own way, made the temporary lodging his own, working hard at making it durable, a constant fight mixing ingenious self-help and mutual aid: reinforcing too thin partition walls, dealing with dampness and heating problems, lack of space and privacy….

These temporary estates sometimes housed thousands and offered schools, shops, places of worship and administration offices. For many they were the equivalent of parallel reconstruction schemes whose destruction and historical non-existence will, in the end, repeat the trauma of the bombings.