Heavily bombed at the end of the Second World War, Le Havre is one of the most disaster stricken towns in Europe. The toll taken after the country was liberated easily proves it a “martyr city”: out of 160 000 inhabitants, 5 000 were killed and 80 000 rendered homeless; the whole 150 hectares of the historic centre were devastated, 12 500 buildings destroyed.
Rehousing the population of Le Havre becomes a national priority.
The figures issued at the end of the war give over 5 000 dead, 12 500 buildings destroyed, 80 000 homeless out of 160 000 inhabitants, out of which 35 000 lost all.
The former residents of the city centre, where only a few facades are left around Saint-François church, have to adapt to emergency living conditions. They pile up in remaining buildings at the periphery or settle in temporary huts. A large number will choose to exile themselves.
Apart from leading a major part in the country’s foreign trade, the city and its port have a strong connection with transatlantic traffic, its reconstruction must therefore reflect, in the eyes of the world, the rebirth of the country.
Thus, by granting the proper administrative, technical and financial means immediately after WWII, the French government means to pilot here the building of an exemplary city project.
Vincent Auriol’s speech
On 18th July 1959, when Reconstruction is only just starting, President of the French Republic Vincent Auriol, and mayor Pierre Courant give very emotional speeches, standing on Town Hall Square, heart of the destroyed city. Preceding the speeches are hymns sung by the Choeur de la Lyre Havraise (local choir).
The Town Archives put on line an exceptional sound archive where homage is given to the martyr city: President of the French Republic (1947-1953) Vincent Auriol’s speech, on the day he gave the city the Legion of Honor medal and the War Cross (Croix de Guerre).