Video produced by the Normandy Region
Date of production: 2019
On June 5th, the first Freedom Prize was awarded to Greta Thunberg in the presence of the D-Day Veterans and the Battle of Normandy and young people from all over the world. A tribute was paid to those who, 75 years ago, fought in Normandy in favor of Freedom and Peace. The Region gave the Veterans a medal.
Synthesis of the Freedom Prize ceremony
Peace must be spread; it is everyone’s responsibility to fight ceaselessly against war, hatred and global warming, something which affects all of mankind today. This belief led to the creation of the Freedom Prize by the Normandy Region, in partnership with the International Institute for Human Rights and Peace, the Normandy Board of Education and Ouest France.
The Freedom Prize has three patrons, all of whom are veterans of World War Two: Charles Norman Shay, medic during the landing on Omaha Beach on 6 June 1944 and Penobscot tribal elder, an Amerindian community in the United States, Léon Gauthier, green beret, naval fusilier and a member of Philippe Kieffer’s commandos and Bernard Dargols, who fought for the Americans and died in April 2019.
The latter often repeated Churchill’s words: “a country that forgets its past has no future”. He stressed the importance of remembrance to ensure that the events of the Second World War never happen again. He saw the Freedom Prize as a means of paying tribute to the men, many of whom were in their twenties and who did not feel they were doing anything heroic when they came to fight on the beaches of Normandy. It was created to pay tribute to their sacrifice, to share this message with those who now enjoy this freedom, because of their sacrifice. It is these people who are now responsible for protecting this freedom; freedom can quickly be lost when hate-filled words are spoken every day.
The anniversary of the Allied landings in Normandy is a timely reminder of the need for vigilance and reflection and encourages a humanitarian commitment to embody, to staunchly defend and to pass on the values which drove the veterans of the Second World War. More than ever, this focus on remembrance is a task for the present and a way ahead for the future.
For this very reason, the Freedom Prize is part of an educational initiative for secondary school students. It follows the 70 Voices of Freedom programme, which was organised to mark the seventieth anniversary of the D-Day landings and brought together seventy men and women involved in D-Day or the resistance along with 3,000 secondary school students. Following on from this, in 2019, history laboratories were set up in a school in every department within the Normandy Region. These writing workshops led to the publication of a collection called Chemins de la liberté (Roads to Freedom).
The ceremony on 5 June 2019 was an opportunity to showcase this work in front of a large audience of young people and veterans, all of whom attended this event to acknowledge the links between past, present and future.
The first Freedom Prize was awarded to the young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg for her commitment to the climate and her efforts to raise collective and global awareness of one of the greatest challenges which humanity has ever had to face: climate change. She shares a simple message of the solidarity which the more than seven billion inhabitants of the Earth must demonstrate in the fight for their very survival.
Greta Thunberg is supported by young people who are taking a stand in response to the climate emergency. The awarding of this prize therefore has a strong symbolism: the formerly young soldiers of D-Day pass the torch on to the youth of today who will continue the fight. The battle for freedom and the struggle for climate justice have the common goal of guaranteeing a just and peaceful future for future generations.
The panel of judges also chose to acknowledge the work of photographer Lu Guang, who has immortalised the hidden China for several decades and is now missing, and the Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi, who has been imprisoned for eight years for his fervent defence of freedom of expression, once writing: “freedom of expression is the air that every free thinker breathes, the wood that fuels the fire of thought and free debate.”
Freedom Prize medals were also awarded to six D-Day veterans: Charles Norman Shay, Leonard Hobbes, sailor, Bob Conway, driver in the Royal Army, Walter Beal, gunner, Billy Ness, pilot, and Alan Gullis, delivery driver, one of the first soldiers to enter Berlin in 1945.
The venue of Greta Thunberg
The Freedom Prize trophy was awarded to Greta Thunberg during her visit to Caen on 21 July 2019. More than 2,000 people came to meet Greta Thunberg and to attend the ceremony, which was also attended by Léon Gautier, Charles Norman Shay and Hervé Morin, President of the Normandy Region.
The least we can do to honour veterans is to stop destroying that same world and the humanity that Charles, Leon and their friends fought so hard to save. Greta Thunberg, winner of the Freedom Prize 2019
She spent the day before the award ceremony on the D-Day beaches with Charles Norman Shay. This man, who Greta described as a “hero”, also believes in the importance of the fight for the environment.
As a soldier, I fought for freedom and to liberate Europe and the world from Nazism, seventy-five years ago. But this is a nonsense if Mother Nature is deeply wounded and if our civilisation collapses due to inappropriate human behaviours. Charles Norman Shay, medic on Omaha Beach on 6 June 1944