In France, where Jews and Muslims share a tragic past – The Forward – .

In France, where Jews and Muslims share a tragic past – The Forward – .

This past weekend Paris marked the 60th anniversary of one of the darkest moments in its recent history – a terrible moment that reminds both French Muslims and French Jews of their fragile place in France.

On the evening of October 17, 1961, more than 20,000 Algerian immigrants boarded suburban trains and buses to meet in the center of Paris. Their goal was to parade along the city’s boulevards to show their support for Algeria’s independence from France. The two countries were locked in a bloody conflict that had claimed the lives of tens of thousands of not only Algerian militants and French soldiers, but also Algerian and French civilians. The conflict had come to be known as the dirty war, or dirty war, an epithet that described the brutal and indiscriminate violence used by both sides.

Tellingly, we called him too the nameless war, or the nameless war. The Algerians knew they were waging a war of independence, a fact accepted by the world except France. Since the mid-19th century, France has insisted that Algeria, unlike its other colonies, is as much a part of France as Provence. The difference, however, is that Provencals were French citizens while Algeria’s several million Arab and Berber Muslims were not. For this reason, French leaders had always insisted that dealing with Algerian nationalists was an internal matter, an internal matter that the government had to control. Literally.

When the Algerian demonstrators – women and children as well as young and old men dressed in suits and ties – began to form in peaceful columns that evening, the riot police, under the orders of the Prefect of Police Maurice Papon, responded with extraordinary violence. Wielding not only batons but also guns, they charged, without provocation, into the long lines of demonstrators. Some units savagely swung their batons as they rounded up thousands of frightened civilians, who were rounded up on buses and delivered to mass detention centers.

Other riot police units pursued Algerians who attempted to flee through side streets and metro stations. Dozens of unarmed Algerians were beaten or shot, their bodies then thrown into black vans or into the Seine. Recalling an earlier religious war, when Catholics threw the bloody corpses of Protestants into the river during the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572, the swollen corpses of Algerians were only rescued a few days or even weeks later. .

Algeria, 1956: During the Algerian War of Independence, the Inspector General of the Administration, Maurice Papon (foreground in the center) accompanied by General Roger Noiret (D, background), commanding the troops of Constantine and General Dufourt ( G), commander of the Kabylie operational zone, reviewing a horse harka during his visit to several mixed communes in the new department of Sétif.

By the end of the atrocities, the death toll was at least 120. The official report released the next day, however, announced that only three protesters – all labeled as aggressors – had been killed in the line of duty. Remarkably, the real numbers, as well as the accounts of the massacre, were suppressed by successive governments for the next 20 years. It was only thanks to the relentless research of historians like Jean-Luc Einaudi that the sad truth of the events of that night was finally revealed.

It took another two decades for a French president to recognize the role of the state in this affair. On Saturday afternoon, President Emmanuel Macron stood in silence in front of a funeral wreath that had been placed on a bridge that became one of the crime scenes 60 years ago. In an official statement released the same day, Macron declared that “the Republic finds inexcusable the crimes committed that night under the authority of Maurice Papon”.

Macron’s statement left Algerians divided. Some praised the integrity of his words, while others lamented their insufficiency. Instead of apologizing on behalf of the state for the crime, critics said, Macron instead attributed it to Maurice Papon, who was then the Prefect of Police. Political reasons undoubtedly dictated Macron’s choice of words. But it is no less indubitable that, for historical reasons, these same words were only too true.

Papon happens to be a central figure in the history of Algerian Muslims and French Jews. In 1981, 20 years after the massacre, the French newspaper The chained Duck shocked the nation. The newspaper revealed that Papon, who was now Minister of the Budget in the government of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, had, as prefect of Bordeaux, organized the round-up and deportation of nearly 1,700 Jews to Auschwitz in 1942. After a Fourteen years of struggling to bring the case to court, Papon was finally tried and convicted in 1998 of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity.

According to Robert Paxton, one of the historians who testified at the trial, Papon was a “pretty important cog in the wheel” of France’s role in the final solution. It turns out that this cog, having benefited from its experience of rounding up Jewish immigrants in Bordeaux, applied it as an even more important cog in the roundups and assassination of Algerian immigrants in Paris.

In their flagship work “Paris 1961: Algerians, State Terror and Memory”, British historians Jim House and Neil McMaster argue that Papon employed the same administrative and police measures as those adopted against the Vichy Jews in France – which included discriminatory laws and compulsory censuses – against Muslims in Republican France. One of the differences is that while Papon did not order his police to shoot in 1942, in 1961 he gave his officers carte blanche to use their weapons.

But there is another equally disturbing difference. In a courageous speech he delivered in 1995, President Jacques Chirac admitted the guilt of the French state for its role in the deaths of more than 70,000 French and foreign Jews during the Occupation. And yet, despite the active role played by the French state in 1961 in supporting Papon’s repression of the Algerian demonstration, and his subsequent suppression of the truth of this event, Macron’s statement, while marking a step forward in before, still move away from the step that is now required.

In 1961, a shameful moment when the horrors of WWII seemed to return

In 1961, a shameful moment when the horrors of WWII seemed to return

Robert Zaretsky teaches at the University of Houston and is a columnist for the Forward. His new book, “Victory Never Last: Reading and Caregiving in Time of Plague” will be published next March.


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