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Politics

"A Filthy Communist, He Has To Disappear"

Translated Friday 16 February 2018, by Henry Crapo

"I think I was the one who buried the body of Maurice Audin", says Jacques Jubier, his voice trembling [1]. He pauses, and looks at those around him. But he wants to testify. Like the almost two million soldiers called to duty, he had prefered to forget, to remain silent, "to protect his family". Then, the passage of time had its effect, and his fear of reprisals by the "Grande Muette" dissipated. It was the interview published in our columns, on 29 January with the mathematician Cédric Villani, that convinced him. If a deputy of the majority party in the National Assembly is determined to make recognized the responsibility of the French State in the asassination, in June 1957, of the young communist mathematician Maurice Audin, it must be that tongues are becoming untied ... And the demand for a recognition of this state crime will soon come to completion. With the "affair" Maurice Audin, there is also coming to the surface the generalised practice of torture during the war in Algeria. An institutionalised savagery, the hiding of which has eaten away at French society like a gangrene. But the mechanisms for fabricating forgetfulness always tend to fail. This new testimony provides a proof.

The testimony of a former conscript, who believes he "buried" the body of Maurice Audin, tortured by the army in June 1957, relaunches a demand for the truth and revives the horrors of a war for which the French State has never assumed its responsibiity.

Parcours Maurice Audin, by Ernest Pignon-Ernest, Alger, 2003

While the capital was covered by snow, Jacques Jubier, 82 years old, made the trip from Lyon in order to settle with his conscience and "to make himself useful to the Audin family", he assures us. His history, to begin with, is that of an entire generation of young conscripts, whose lives were changed from one day to the next. In 1955, after the vote of "special powers", the contingent is sent en masse to Algeria. Jacques is just 21 years old. Son of a communist worker, a resistant to the nazi occupation in the Isère, machinist (turner-reamer) in a maintenance workshop before being called into the army, 15 December 1955. A month later the young corporal took the boat to Algeria, in order to take part in the "pacification operations", as the army assured him. On the other side of the Mediterranean, he discovered the war. The patrols, the ambushes, the brushes with the "fels", the loneliness, and above all, the fear, which was permanent. In this "war without a name" his participation was via his assignment to a camp perched in the hills on the heights of Foudouk, today become Khemis El Khechna, a little city situated 30 km to the east of Algiers. Jacques Jubier hands us his military notebook, then the photographs that the French army had not censured: at first, the sublime landscapes of mountains and valleys, where one sees the dam in Hamiz, which drains the eastern extreminy of the great algerian plain.

A cabin in a camp perched on the heights of Fondouk: "It’s here that they tortured the Algerians." Photo: personal collection.

"There were volunteers for torturing, who didn’t need to be urged"

Some photos of the camp escaped censureship. In one of them, an Algerian who just barely manages to stand upright, next to five young soldiers, shovels in their hands, smiling. Jacques is one of them. In the background one sees a cabin built of tree trunks and cement. "This is where they tortured the Algerians", he explains. "In the beginning I called them the ’partisans’, but I quickly learned I should stop saying that." For months, the only "distraction" was the beer, for the young soldiers who were still wondering about the strange "pacification operations". "We quickly learned what it was all about. There were volunteers to do the torturing. Some didn’t need to be pleaded with. Myself, I refused. My captain didn’t insist", he assured me. But he saw, in the first interior rooms, the conditioning, then the introduction of violence, individual and collective.

"There was a hole dug in the earth under the camp, where the prisoners were held between two sessions of torture, he recounts. They never left alive. That was the principle. The soldiers never knew the horrors of these exactions. One was conditionned, but we did not all react in the same way. I saw horrible things that I have never forgotten: the "gégène" (electric shock), but even much worse than that. In this war of interrogation, the conscripts were soon encouraged to carry out summary executions and acts of torture, with the feelng of obeying orders, and thus serving their country. From the beginning, not only the government knew about it, but covered it up and legislated it.

"One scene haunted me for a long time", he confided with emotion. "A little Kabyl boy of 14-15 years of age had not been thrown into the trench with the other Algerians. The French soldiers thought that this child would help them make the others talk. But he had become too much of a burden. One day, we leave on patrol and the captain takes him with us. He stops in the middle of the road and tells the child he could leave. The youngster refuses, in the beginning, because he suspected something. But then he fled, running. They fired on him with a machine gun. He was hit several times, and fell to the ground. He was not dead. I see this scene as if it were yesterday. The captain said to the guys, ’Finish him off!’ And there, I saw the savages; several went after him. And these were guys from the contingent. You can imagine the paratroopers. They split open his skull. It was a scene of horror. I remember his big bright eyes that looked toward the sky. Those savages."

Over there, the guys became like animals

To desert? "It was impossible. Each evening I learned what they were going to ask me to do the next day. Since the Algerians never left the camp alive, it was necessary for the army to get rid of the corpses. So they asked me to load them into a GMC truck, an army vehicle, with a tarpaulin over it, and we should leave them near the farms. I don’t know what the inhabitants did with them, once they found them — I suppose they buried them there. As for myself, I wanted to respect the dead. But some of them even searched the pockets of the dead, looking for coins. Over there, the guys became like animals."

Even if Jacques did not dare try to desert, he did make use of a knee injury and was transferred to a company charged with maintenence of vehicules in the city of Fondouk. It was here, one afternoon in the month of August, that an adjutant of the company asked him to put a tarpaulin on a truck: "A lieutenant will come, and you will put yourself at his service. And you will do EVERYTHING he tells you to do." The next morning the weather was foggy and the sky low with clouds when a man "with athletic physique" advanced toward him, dressed in civilian pants but with a military blouse and a béret screwed to his head. He was a parachutist. ’We are going to carry out a secret defense mission’, the guy told me. He asked me whether I was good in reverse gear, then whether I had seen dead people, then, if I had touched them, etc." "Unfortunately yes" relates the former conscript. "That’s good", replied the parachutist, who guided him along the route for leaving Fondouk and ordered him to stop in front of a farm. "Do you have gloves? You will need them". Jacques stops where he was asked to do so, in front of the large gate of a well-furnished farm that seemed to be abandoned. He squints his eyes in order to describe in the smallest detail what might identify the location, "Get down and come help me", demands the paratrooper, whose identity he only learned much later: it was Gérard Garcet [2], chosen by the sinister Aussaresses to recruit the parachutists placed in charge of the dirty work. The same person who, later, was designated by his superiors as he assassin of Maurice Audin. ...

"We used a blow-torch so they couldn’t be identified"

The torturer opens the cabin, which is locked, and inside there are two bodies wrapped i sheets, hidden under the straw. "At first I had the impression from far off that they were Africans. They were all black, like coal," Jacques recalls, to whom Gérard Garcet tells, with pride, the sordid details: "We used a soldering torch on them. We concentrated on the feet and hands so as to avoid their being identified. These guys we kept warm for a while, we had to get rid of them. That’s a big job. We have to make sure they are never identified." "Are they important people?", the young conscript asks. "Yes, it’s the brother of Ben Bella and the other, a filthy communist. We must make them disappear." A sinisiter dialogue that Jacques relates with a choked voice. Today he is sure that the latter was Maurice Audin. As for the other body, it is impossible that it was a member of the family of Ahmed Ben Bella, one of the historic leaders and founders of the FLN (Front de libération nationale). Without doubt a leader of the FLN, close to Ben Bella ... unless Garcet was simply fibbing. "I don’t really think so. You know, those guys, they believed they were doing the right thing."

"After having buried them, we took the route back to the Hamid dam", he continued. "I didn’t say a word. After 20 minutes or so of driving, we stopped in front of a gate. It was not locked. I was surprised. In the middle of the farm there was a sort of cabin with no roof, but with shielding against the wind, like a closure covered with tarpaulins. He asked me to wait. When he opened the tarp, four Algerian civilians had their eyes blindfolded and their hads tied behind their backs. They had made them dig an enormous hole, some 4 meters in depth. In the bottom, I could see some buckets, shovels, and a ladder.
He told me to cover the two dead bodies. Which I did. At first he congratulated me. Then he told me to say nothing to anyone, and that I would have big problems if I talked. And my family too. He threatened me. We returned to Fondouk and he asked me to leave him in front of the the market."

To encourage the last witnesses to speak up

And then, Jacques had forgotten, to continue to live. Like an entire generation, marked for life, walled in silence and shame, he had not spoken. Not about that night in question, nor about the rest. In La Question Henri Alleg relates a dialog with one of those tortured, who had said, worn out by the torture, "They will know how I died". The torturer replied "No, no one will know anything". "Yes", replied Henri Alleg, "everything is already known".

The search for the truth, begun in Alger by Josette Audin and carried forward in France, is not yet ended, more than 60 years after the events. Will the testimony by Jacques permit one to put together some pieces of the puzzle? Will it encourage others to speak up? While his testimony, already transmitted to the Audin family, leaves no doubt concerning his sincerity, and that the sheaf of coincidences is troubling, there is only a slight chance that it was indeed Maurice Audin. "As with all disappearances, the absence of the body of the victim prevents us from reaching a terminal point, and renders impossible the healing of the wounds of those suffering from this disappearance," explains Sylvie Thénault. For this historian [3], who worked with the Audin family, this testimony, like those revelations that emerged in the years 2011-2014, have a certain fragility inherent in their tardiness. "But it is possible to imagine that one day a document will emerge, containing a new element that, like a missing piece in a puzzle, will come to support one or another of the imaginable hypotheses, or will come to bear against some other hypothesis." Perhaps, as Benjamin Stora said in La Gangrène et l’Oublie [4], the writing of the history of the war in Algeria has only just re-begun.


Emmanuel Macron Should Recognize the State Crime

The deputies Sébastien Jumel and Cédric Villani hold, today (14 February) a press conference to demand the official recognition of the assassination of Maurice Audin by the French army.

Maurice Audin would have been 86 years of age today if, on the night of 11 to 12 June 1957, the assistant at the Faculty of Sciences in Algiers, member of the Algerian communist party, had not been arrested by a unit of paratroopers, to disappear forever.
This is the date chosen by the deputies Sébastien Jumel (PCF) and Cédric Villani (LREM), but also by the family and the Association Maurice Audin, to demand that the truth be told, and finally acknowleged by the state, about the assassination, by the French army, of the young mathematician. In our columns, on 22 January, Cédric Villani already expressed this demand, affirming that the president of the Republic had shared with him "his intimate conviction that, effectively, Maurice Audin was executed by the French army." Will Emmanuel Macron have the courage finally to admit, officially, to the responsibility of the French authorities of that epoch? For the communist militant did not simply evaporate into thin air after an escape in June 1957, as has for too long been maintained by the "official version", but was in fact executed with "the full and entire participation of the political powers" of that day, as confessed half-heartedly before his death by the murderous general Aussaresses.

In 2012, Josette Audin had obtained from François Hollande his authorisation to consult all the archives relative to the disappearance of her husband. The decision was followed up, because she was permitted to consult the military archives, and also some documents in the national archives. "This research in the archives remained without success, which will come as no surprise to historians", explains Sylvie Thénault. In fact the public archives simply record the false version of his "escape". Despite this, in 2014, François Hollande, in a official declaration, had placed the affair in the hands of historians, without recognizing the entire truth: the responsibility of the French state. "I am, like my father, materialist and atheist. What counts for me is not to meet in a graveyard, but that justice be done," confides Pierre Audin, who had just been born when his father was arrested. The choice of a non-trial in laws of amnesty, all that is to bury the truth about crimes committed by the French army during the war in Algeria. Sixty years after the fact, it’s high time that France look directly at its colonial past.


Soon a Commission of Inquiry on the "Audin Affair"?

(Article published on 15 February in l’Humanité, by Maud Vergnol.

While Emmanuel Macron considered on Tuesday that "it would not be reasonable to recognize a state crime without having a proof of it", the deputies of the PCF and Cédric Villani envisage the creation of a commission of inquiry "if it could be useful in the search for truth".

Josette Audin, sitting between the deputies Sébastien Jumel (on the left) and Cédric Villani, at the press conference held 14 February in the National Assembly. Photo: Lahcène Labib

"I must stop, please excuse me. It’s hard for me to speak". With much emotion and dignity, Josette Audin, 86 years of age, testified yesterday concerning the circumstances of the disappearance of her husband, on the occasion of a press conference arranged at the National Assembly on the initiative of the deputies Sébastien Jumel (PCF) and Cédric Villani (LREM). "Maurice faced up to the task of working as a teacher in the faculty of Algiers, to advance the research for the thesis he prepared, and his activities as a miitant for the communist party, without neglecting his role as father of three young children: 3 years, 20 months, and 1 month old at the moment of his arrest, the night of 11 June 1957, in the midst of the battle of Algiers." More than 60 years have passed, and Josette Audin waits "still for France, the land of the Rights of Man, to condemn torture, that which they have used, and that which they have authorised".

To make sure that the testimony of the last witnesses be harvested

"The initiative that we organise aims to obtain official recognition, in the public opinion, and, if you will permit me to say, the engagement of the responsibility of the state in the disappearance and assassination of Maurice Audin", declared Sébastien Jumel, emphasizing "the great symbolic value of a common initiative of a communist deputy and another deputy of the majority LREM, with the common responsibility to be at the side of the family and to put oneself in the service of truth and justice". Cédric Villani, who is close to the Audin family (see our interview with him on 22 January), reminds us that he is "personally convinced, without the shadow of a doubt", that the communist mathematician was assassinated by the French army. "His thesis was heard after his death, in a very symbolic fashion at the Sorbonne", recalls the LREM deputy from the Essonne. More than a thousand persons made the trip. His thesis director, himself, delivered the talk. He asked not for applause, but to observe a minute of silence.This is the message of universality and of solidarity that we must continue to carry." Referring to the testimony reported yesterday in our columns [5], Cédric Villani shared "his extremely strong emotion in response to the testimony of this conscript, which ought to encourage others to let free their speech. For Pierre Audin, also, "this testimony undermines the horrors of summary executions and of torture. It establishes the necessity of a declaration by the president of the Republic, so that those who have a conscience to liberate may do so.

But the previous day, on the occasion of a presidential press conference, when interrogated by l’Humanité, the president of the Republic thought that it was "not so much a question of recognition (or admission), as a search for the truth". "It will not be a responsibility on my part to recognize a state crime, since I have not been capable of establishing the truth", Emmanuel Macron even declared, before assuring that "all the documents will be open to perusal, even those not so far opened," since the opening of the archives in 2014 by François Hollande. "In saying this, I am not saying that it is necessarily false", clarified the chief of state. "But what we owe to his widow is the strict truth, and to put all means at her disposal." Publicly, Emmanuel Macron does not wish to share the "intimate conviction" that he shared with Cédric Villani.

"This opinion, according to which we must make further inquiry before recognizing the responsibility of the state, we totally refute in the name of the family", clearly stated Claire Hocquet. For this lawyer representing the family, "the exact circumstances, that is a task for historians, but this official statement concerning torture and the responsibility of the state has no reason to be further delayed. The time has come." Claire Hocquet also emphasizes that "the president of the Republic, in his role as chief of the armies, must make sure that the testimony of the last witnesses be heard, and, with urgency, collected."

Could this be accomplished by a parliamentary commission of inquiry? This is a possibility that neither the communist deputies nor Cédric Villani exclude. "We must make sure that this tool be used efficiently", explained Sébastien Jumel. "If a commission of inquiry appears to be useful, we can effectively take the initiative."

[1The witness wishes to remain anonymous, but is available to the Audin family.

[2See l’Humanité for 14 January 2014.

[3"La Disparition de Maurice Audin. Les historiens à l’épreuve d’une enquète impossible (1957-2004)", Histoire@Politique, Sylvie Thénault.(The disappearance of Maurice Audin, Historians with the task of an impossible inquiry). Read also, by the same author, "Histoire de la guerre d’indépendence algérienne, Flammarion, 2005.

[4Gangrene and Forgetfulness

[5see above


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