France – World | “Isle of Martyrs”, then “Forbidden Island”, Sesembre is reborn from the ashes

Île de Cézembre (France) – “This path allows you to discover history”: in Cézembre, near Saint-Malo, the path opened in 2018 after its demining receives dozens of summer visitors every day, who are happy and moved by the discovery of this island that was the most the bombed territory per m2 of the Second World War.

“There’s a lagoon effect, it’s wonderful!” raves Maryse Wilmart, a sixty-year-old resident of La Rochelle, contemplating the beautiful sandy beach with turquoise water and a unique view of the ramparts of the corsair city.

“But when you see it all behind… Do you even imagine what happened here?” she wonders, not far from the barbed wire and signs. Danger! Uncleared territory behind the fences”.

Because you have to go back 80 years to understand what happened on this uninhabited granite island with an area of ​​about ten hectares with a steep topography in the northern part.

In 1942, the German occupation army captured the island, which was of strategic importance to the Atlantic Wall, and installed bunkers, casemates and artillery pieces. On August 17, 1944, Saint-Malo was liberated by the Americans, but the Nazi commander Sezembre, attached to Jersey, at the head of 400 men, refused to surrender.

A deluge of fire follows from the air and from the allied continent. “It’s said to be the most bombardment per square meter of any theater of World War II. Between 4,000 and 5,000 bombs were dropped,” some of which included napalm, explains Philippe Delacott, author of the book Secrets of Sesembre Island (Christel) .

On September 2, 1944, the white flag was finally raised and about 350 exhausted men surrendered. “Some of the survivors could say it was like Stalingrad,” says Mr Delacott. The island is completely devastated, so much so that its height has fallen due to the bombs.

– Demining –

“One of the consequences of these bombings is that at the end of the war, the Ministry of Defense became the owner of the island and closed the area completely,” explains Gwenal Ervuet, project manager for the construction of the conservatory. coast, which became the owner of the island in 2017.

If the first demining, in particular of the beach, began in the 1950s, it was necessary to wait until 2018 for approximately 3% of the island’s surface to finally become accessible to visitors: a path approximately 800 m long allows you to loop around. between rusting cannons and bunkers, with breathtaking views of Cap Fréhel and Pointe de la Varde.

“We can still see the huge cracks and the cannons are impressive,” says Olivier, 25, a farmer from Savoy, one of hundreds of elderly visitors who came to play the Robinsons that August day. short vegetation, where there is a restaurant of fine cuisine. The shipping company provides a daily rotation, mostly in summer, from Saint Malo and Dinard.

Since the path opened, “there hasn’t been a single accident,” even though “there are always people who want to go beyond the permitted part,” admits Jean-Christophe René, a coast guard and work technician for the department that manages the site. .

Over time, colonies of seabirds such as gulls, cormorants, torda penguins and common terns reappeared. “Everything is great with biodiversity, everything has been resettled and vegetation restored, birds have taken over the territory. It’s just a joy,” says Mr. Hervue.

Proof of the importance given to wildlife is that the trail was partially closed in April “to increase the chances of success and flight of the peregrine falcon chicks”, explains Manon Simonnot, head of monitoring for the Bretagne Vivante islands.

Some hikers say they hope the trail will be extended to allow a full view of the island. A pious wish, responds the Conservatoire du littoral: the sums for demining would be astronomical, and now the birds and nature are the masters of Cézembre.

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