|Untold past: Visitors look at the exhibition on the life of Vietnamese labourers during World War I. — VNS Photo Bich Ha
PARIS (VNS) — More than 100 photos of the Vietnamese people during the World War I period are on display at an exhibition that will run till December 30.
Organised by the Vietnamese Association in France, the exhibits are part of a military image archives at the French Library of International Contemporary Documentation. The images show the living and working conditions of the first Vietnamese people who were shifted to France by the French-backed government to serve in the war in the early 20th century.
According to the organiser, the event is being held to remember the Vietnamese people who were shifted to serve in the war, and were often forgotten later during the war's anniversary events in France.
This year, the French people are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the First World War.
At the exhibition, historian Pierre Brocheux briefly introduced the historical context in which nearly 100,000 Vietnamese people were recruited and transported to France during this period.
Brocheux said that these people were both "workers" and "soldiers", labouring mainly in logistics, including weapons and other military equipment manufacturing, battlefield clean-up and carrying of wounded soldiers, besides fighting in the war.
According to the archives, of the total 340,000 people mobilised from Africa and Indochina for the French war, nearly 100,000 came from Viet Nam. Most of them came from poor and rural areas.
Many of the Vietnamese labourers died of diseases during the arduous journey to France itself. The ones who survived the journey had to do hard and life-threatening work in France. Many of them soon realised the unjustness with which the French had forced colonial citizens to bleed in and finance their wars.
"For me, a Vietnamese who was born and grew up here in France, the exhibition is not just a ‘spiritual task' to showcase respect and gratitude for the sacrifice of our predecessors," researcher Francois Trieu told the Vietnam News Agency correspondent in France.
"It also gives the French and the Vietnamese people in France an insight into a part of history to understand and value what they have at present," added Trieu, who spent four months researching and collecting the images for the event.
A forgotten history
|The cover of the book Immigres de Force, les Travailleurs Indochinois en France 1939-1952
The true stories of Vietnamese workers and soldiers in France were described in detail in a book, first published in 2009, by the Liberation reporter Pierre Daum.
The Vietnamese translation of Daum's book, entitled Immigres de Force, les Travailleurs Indochinois en France 1939-1952 (Immigrants Force, the Indochinese workers in France 1939-1952), was published by the Tri Thuc Publishing House early this month.
The release of the book was followed by a conference in HCM City that was attended by the French journalist.
"When I arrived in Viet Nam in 2007 to meet the final witnesses of the tearful history, it seemed that I was the first person they were willing to open up their hearts, speaking about a past that has been untold for more than 70 years," Daum told the Vietnamese audience.
By chance, Daum was sent to the Camargue region for an assignment about a workers' strike against an order closing the Lustucru rice factory in 2004. While visiting a local rice museum there, he discovered that it was the Vietnamese people who arrived in France in 1939, who turned rice into a key crop in the region.
Then he drafted a story about the Vietnamese origin of the Camargue rice and got a chance to meet with the first "characters".
In the following months, he travelled across France.
"All those who I met received me courteously. Their emotions made me understand that they were delighted to tell their stories that had been hidden in memories for many years," Daum said.
He visited Viet Nam numerous times, looking for rare documents, and met about 50 people who had been transported to France.
"We were housed under the ship's hold like animals. We were rarely allowed to go above. We lay packed like fish, without enough space to even wriggle," Nguyen Trong Hoan, a witness featured in the book, was quoted as saying.
"The managers were retired colonial military officers. They treated us like animals. If any problem occurred, they showered blows on us," Hoan, born in 1915, said. "The voyage lasted a miserable 43 days," he added. — VNS