A common European history
Located within the Helfaut commune, 5 km from the town of Saint-Omer (Pas-de-Calais, France), La Coupole is one of the most impressive remnants of the Second World War in Europe.
La Coupole underground complex
This is one of the "special constructions" (Sonderbauten) built on French soil by the German army, in 1943-1944, to allow for the implementation of new weapons systems, the flying bombs (Fi 103/V1) and rockets (A4/V2) used to strike England.
Launched by the Nazi regime in September 1943, this lasted 10 months and mobilised considerable technical and human resources. The Todt Organisation, responsible for major works under the Nazi State, entrusted the work site to a powerful German construction company, Philipp Holzmann AG.
Made up of two very distinct groups:
- German specialists (foremen, skilled workers)
- Soviet prisoners, men and women who were treated like slaves and forced to do all the dirty work.
The concrete dome was completed in January 1944. Located atop a plateau, it was designed to protect the underground work site and the room where the rockets would have been prepared to be fired (if it had been completed...).
These were massive and struck the site from January to July 1944. They frequently disrupted access to the site, thus significantly slowing down the work. However, the dome itself, protected by its 5.5 metre thick reinforced concrete, was not undermined. When the Anglo-American troops thrust into Normandy at the end of July 1944, the Germans were forced to abandon the worksite at La Coupole complex, just a few weeks before its scheduled completion. Thus, no V2 rocket was actually able to take off from this site, designed to be the first strategic missile base in History.
La Coupole, an incarnation of the Nazi madness
Through the strength of its concrete shape, the veritable labyrinth of its underground facilities and the use of forced labour for its construction, La Coupole is a site which symbolises Nazi madness: it represents a will to dominate and a total disdain for human life. The underground sites which grew up in Germany and the occupied countries from 1943 onwards, in response to the Allies’ control of the skies, were built with the forced labour of prisoners considered by the Nazis to be "inferior beings". This fact, confirmed on a large scale in the "Mittelwerk" underground factory, where the V2 rockets were mass produced, right in the heart of Germany, by prisoners from the Dora concentration camp, illustrates the visionary character of Fritz Lang’s film, "Metropolis", which described a world of slaves dominated by a "master race". However, the Third Reich, which Hitler had wanted to establish for one thousand years, collapsed in 1945.
For a peaceful Europe
The construction of a peaceful, interdependent Europe, undertaken at the end of the 1940s, arose from a collective reflection on the self-destructive capacities of the "old continent" revealed by the two world wars. This new Europe, which has broken with the confrontations of the past, is now founded on a historical heritage and humanist values shared by all the people who make it up. The memory of the "dark years" must be preserved for younger generations based on clear, rigorous historical information. La Coupole was created for this purpose and established in an authentic and profoundly symbolic place.