A prominent Nazi banner was draped over the facade of the Palais de la Prefecture in Nice, France on Monday. Naturally, it caused quite a stir because, well, that’s what happens when a giant swastika appears without apparent explanation just below the French flag waving atop a 17th century ducal palace. The uproar was first picked up by French daily Nice-Matin, which reported surprised onlookers taking photos and selfies.
“People started screaming… they were really agitated,” American tourist Andrew Gentry told the BBC. “There was nothing around to explain what was going on. The scene was just surreal.”
But it was all a misunderstanding. Call it movie magic. In fact, the banner was hung for the filming of director Christian Duguay’s updated adaptation of the graphic novel Un sac de billes (A Bag of Marbles), author Joseph Joffo’s account of his escape from Paris to southern France under Nazi occupation.
“Under the Italian occupation, the French Riviera had been one of the last places of refuge for Europe’s Jews,” reported the BBC. “But when Italy signed the armistice with the Allies in September 1943, the Nazis invaded and [SS] Alois Brunner arrived with a special squad to round up Jewish residents.” Brunner, who served as Adolf Eichmann’s assistant and is believed by some to have died in Syria in 2010, used Nice’s Hotel Excelsior to coordinate his efforts. The Palais de la Prefecture served as a double for the Hotel Excelsior. Reported the BBC:
The Palais de la Prefecture defended its decision to allow the banner to be hung from its building, insisting it had informed the local community about the plans.
It said in a statement they had contacted the Jewish community in Nice, adding there was a “duty to remember” the horrors of the Nazi regime.
Filming continued on Tuesday with slightly less panic, as onlookers had a chance to adjust.
Hannah Vaitsblit is an intern at Tablet.