“It was a miracle that they did not throw me into the Seine,” recalls the Algerian Hocine Hakem of an infamous but little-known massacre in the French capital 60 years ago.
On October 17, 1961, 30,000 Algerians had taken to the streets of Paris to peacefully protest against a curfew imposed only by Algerians living in the city and claiming independence almost seven years after the start of the war against French rule. in the north of Africa.
In response, the police killed hundreds of protesters and dozens of others were thrown into the river seine, which makes this fact one of the darkest pages in the checkered colonial history of France.
Hocine Hakem was 18 at the time and told his story to the newspaper Humanity decades after the event, about which little was reported at the time.
He was one of 14,000 Algerians who were arrested during the operation.
The government of the day censored the news, destroyed many of the files and prevented journalists from investigating the story.
Contemporary news bulletins reported three deaths, including a French citizen. The events were not covered by the international press.
Brigitte Laîné, curator of the Parisian archives, claimed in 1999 that some official documents revealing the extent of the murders survived.
“There were many bodies. Some with the crushed skullOthers with shotgun wounds, “he explained.
“Here we drown the Algerians”
One photo captured the chilling sentiments of the time, showing graffiti scrawled along a section of the Seine embankment that read: “Here we drown the Algerians.”
This is the title of the new book by French historian Fabrice Riceputi, which details how one man, researcher Jean-Luc Einaudi, tirelessly tried to gather eyewitness testimony and published his account 30 years after the police massacre.
Now it is believed that that day between 200 and 300 Algerians died.
A total of 110 bodies were washed up on the banks of the River Seine in the following weeks. Some were killed and then thrown into the river, while others who were injured were thrown into the cold waters and left to drown.
The youngest victim was Fatima Beda. He was 15 years old and his body was found on October 31 in a canal near the Seine.
One of the first descriptions of the event was published in 1963 by the African-American writer William Gardner Smith in his novel “Stone Face“, a fictional story that has never been translated into French.
This work shows the crude anti-Arab racism of the time.
Riceputi believes that the French state still refuses to confront this racist heritage.
As the sixtieth anniversary of the massacre approached, the often tense relations between France and Algeria, which had seen a relative improvement, have hit bottom again.
The dispute began last month when France drastically reduced the number of visas granted to Algerians, accusing its former colony of not accepting the return of its migrants whose visas were denied.
President Emmanuel Macron spoke about it with young descendants of people who had fought in the Algerian war, which has drawn the most anger.
In addition, he asked if the Algerian nation would exist if it hadn’t been for the french colonizers.
He may have thought about it in a spirit of debate, but it has sparked a backlash from Algerians who see it as a symptom of France’s callousness and cover-up of colonial crimes.
When it comes to the Paris massacre, the state has done very little.
In 2012, former President François Hollande acknowledged that it had happened. It was the first time that a French president did it.
In a statement on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the massacre, President Macron assured that the crimes committed under the authority of the police chief were “inexcusable.”
However, the expectations of those who have been apologizing and making amends have not been met. They have not recognized how many people died or the role of the state in it.
Left-wing parties in France, which were in opposition at the time, have also been criticized for not condemning the massacre.
They have been seen as accomplices of the cover-up since they filed a lawsuit against the police for opening fire on mainly French pacifist protesters, killing seven, a few months later.
But they kept silent about the Algerian massacre.
Riceputi points out that the racist nature of the operation cannot be ignored: all the Algerian-looking people were targeted.
The campaign launched against the Algerians in Paris was unofficially called “ratonnade“, which means” rat hunting “.
The “hunt” of Algerians continued for days after that October 17, and the police made arrests in public transport and madehouse records.
It was reported that Moroccan citizens had to put a sign with the word “Moroccan” on their doors to avoid being harassed in repeated police raids.
Immigrant workers Portuguese, Spanish and Italians with curly hair and dark complexions, they also complained about systematic arrests and searches, as the police mistook them for Algerians.
Investigators also say that not only police and security forces were involved in the operation, but firefighters and vigilantes were also involved.
Thousands were illegally deported to Algeria, where they were detained in camps despite being French citizens.
The reputation of the chief of police
At the time, President Charles de Gaulle was in negotiations with the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) to end the war and grant them independence.
The war ended five months later and independence was granted in July 1962.
But in 1961, tensions were at their highest and on October 5 the parisian authorities the they banned all Algerians leave their homes between 20:00 and 05:30.
Subsequently, a march was called to protest the curfew.
The organizers wanted to make sure it was peaceful and that people were checkedbefore going upI know to trains and buses that would take them to the center of Paris.
The exact instructions they were given to the security forces have not yet been established, but the Paris police chief at the time, Maurice Papon, had a fearsome reputation.
He had served in Constantine, in eastern Algeria, where he had overseen the repression and torture of Algerian political prisoners in 1956.
He was later convicted in French courts of overseeing the deportation of 1,600 Jews to Nazi concentration camps in Germany during World War II, when he was a senior security official in Vichy France.
It was this prosecution, which took place between 1997 and 1998, that lifted the lid on some of the classified files related to the October 17 massacre and paved the way for an extensive investigation into the incredible cover-up.
Preliminary official investigations were conducted into the events and a total of 60 claims were dismissed.
No one was tried because the massacre was subject to the general amnesty granted for the crimes committed during the Algerian war.
But Riceputi hopes this 60th anniversary will help establish the truth and determine responsibility for one of the bloodiest police massacres in French history.
Now you can receive notifications from BBC News Mundo. Download the new version of our app and activate them so you don’t miss out on our best content.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.