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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: "Jamais je n’aurais imaginé ce qui nous attendait"

by Maud Vergnol

"I could never have imagined what was waiting for us"

Translated Saturday 29 September 2018, by Henry Crapo

In the wake of Humanity’s publications on the Maurice Audin affair, a reader of the newspaper also wanted to recount the abuses committed by the French army during the Algerian war. A courageous testimony, which reminds us that the wounds of that dirty war are still not healed.

He still hears the cries of the women in the Kasbah. The image of a raped body has not left him. Charles Castera is 84 years old. Communist activist, trade unionist at the CGT, reader of Humanité, he came forward at the beginning of the summer after reading the articles published this year on Maurice Audin (see file on Humanite.fr). He wanted to contact his widow, Josette Audin, and then wanted to testify, in turn. As Jacques Jubier did last February, relaunching the demand for truth about the circumstances of the murder by the French army of this young communist mathematician, but also about the horrors of that war, which the French State has still not acknowledged. Charles, on the other hand, did not want to remain anonymous. "What would I be afraid of at my age?"

Charles and the young recruits pass their time during their first days in Algeria

On the platform of the Orthez station, in the heart of his native Béarn, from where he was called to go to Algeria sixty-three years ago, he awaits us, standing firm, with a copy of the daily edition of Humanité in his hand. Happy and anxious. "I want to free myself from this weight on my conscience. " Kindness incarnated, he receives us at home, in the house he built: "I am happy, I found some pictures! " They are carefully placed on the table, next to his military booklets and a few notes, "so as not to forget anything". His history is that of a whole generation that had 20 years in the Aurès. Then walled up in silence and shame. He had been working on a farm in Béarn when he was called into the commissariat of the 10th Coma. "To be honest, I was happy to go to Algeria. We were told about pacification. At the time, I was not at all politicized. For me, who had never left Béarn, it was an adventure, because I came from a very modest background. "The first few weeks in Beni Messous, to the south-east of Algiers, where he had his training, were up to his expectations: he discovered another world, the beauty of the Algerian landscapes, the camaraderie among 20-year-old children ..." I would never have imagined what was waiting for us. " One night, a first soldier was wounded and Charles understood that "policing operations" are not a summer camp. "They started to get us conditioned. You realize not only that you are risking your life, but that you will witness terrible things. »

Charles Castera in 1957, in Algiers, at 23 years of age.

In Les Tourelles, Charles meets all the protagonists of the Audin affair

Everything changed at the beginning of 1957, with the beginning of the Battle of Algiers, when he was assigned as a driver at the infamous villa of the Tourelles, in Hydra, on the heights of the white city. Here, "the cases of those who entered Tourelles was considered serious enough that they would not leave it alive," Paul Aussaresses confessed in 2001. (...) “In Tourelles, torture was systematically used if the prisoner refused to speak, which was very often the case. Most of the time, my men drove about 20 kilometres from Algiers into the "distant maquis”, where the suspects were shot with a machine gun and then buried”. But, in the first few days, Charles was far from imagining the abuses committed almost under his nose. He was even rather happy to be assigned there, enjoying a room of his own on the top floor of this vast villa, a luxury for a young recruit. Charles Castera’s voice is starting to shake. "I have trouble remembering the details of the villa. I don’t even remember where we ate. I have holes ..." After a silence, he continues: "Since I was a driver, I wasn’t always busy... Once, in the middle of the day, I went around the villa and discovered torture rooms at the bottom of the stairs. I saw tap fittings with hoses. I immediately understood what it was for... I was shocked. " He doesn’t tell anyone about it. "NEVER did anyone ever mention these rooms to me. I’ve never heard screams... nothing. It was the total OMERTA! And these bastards knew how to "work" in complete discretion. »

Very quickly, he spotted a team of six non-commissioned officers, "professional killers", formerly in Indochina, who stayed away from the rest of the contingent: Damoiseau, another one nicknamed "Schmittkaiser"..." The others, I forget their names. " All are under the orders of the famous Lieutenant Garcet (one of the protagonists in the assassination of Maurice Audin [1], and act on behalf of Aussaresses. One day, Charles heard one of them boast of his exploit of the day: "I killed 17 today, it’s my record. "They were doing extermination contests!" he says in rage. They caught prisoners from the internment camp at the exit of the truck. They gagged them and then killed them with a knife before throwing them in the pit. They were being tortured and Colonel Trinquier was covering for them. This was a secret of Polichinelle [2], and he flew every Friday to the White House to make a detailed report to François Mitterrand, Minister of Justice [3]. I drove him to the airport once. »

One day, Charles was confronted with the butcher "Schmittkaiser". "I was on a mission, driving my Jeep when, not far away, a truck of gendarmes, recruited in support of the army, was machine-gunned. I saw them fall. I stopped to rescue them. And to recover the weapons, because those were the orders, never to leave weapons that could be used by the fellaghas.  A few minutes later, "Schmittkaiser" approached him, holding a young Algerian, and ordered him to take the youth to the villa. "On the road, this guy, who was my age, explained to me that he was innocent, that he had nothing to do with the attack on the gendarmes," says Charles. So I let him go, I told him to run away, to get out of there fast.  A few minutes later, "Schmittkaiser" put a gun to his head: "I should kill you without a summons! Next time, you’ll be killed! You’ll know that the person who comes in here never sees the exit again. Do you understand what that means? " Charles understood the message well, which was to be confirmed by the scenes he would then be confronted with. "I didn’t say anything. I was pale. I thought I was already dead. " The young Algerian did not survive, caught up by the dogs of the sinister commando.

Algerian women raped by French soldiers

And then he sees a Harki collaborator, called Babaye (see photo), meet up with the group of non-commissioned officers. Babaye was also designated, notably by Aussaresses (1), as one of the protagonists in Maurice Audin’s assassination. "I immediately understood what his role was: a sturdy brute at the orders of the dirty team of non-commissioned officers. I remember that he had a special role because he wore a colt. But I was told he would stab his victims. "One evening, as Charles returned from his mission, the famous Babaye called out to him and took him downhill from the villa, into a sort of underground. "There are girls, there’s one waiting for you! Don’t be shy, everyone else has taken advantage of her, she’s waiting just for you. " As Charles recalls the scene, he collapses into tears, overwhelmed by emotion. A few minutes later, sobs in his voice, he continued: "He said to me, you touch only this one; the little one, she’s for me. " On the ground, a woman is lying on her back, with her legs curled up. Charles approaches. "I understand right away. She had been raped by many soldiers. I touched her arm, she was cold. It was so fast and the darkness was such that I didn’t know if she was dead or if she was faking it, the poor thing. »

In the center, the infamous "Babaye", designated as one of the protagonists in the assassination of Maurice Audin.

“It’s a relief, it’s the first time I’ve talked about it, like this.”

Further on, a very young girl tries to escape by running. Babaye shouts: "This one is for me! " Charles starts screaming back: "That big bastard! " I remember thinking to myself, at the time, "I have to kill him." And then I pulled myself together, I realized that if I did that, the three of us would have been dead. I left as soon as I could. I couldn’t sleep. "Not that night, not the next ones. Even today, sixty-one years later, this woman’s inert body continues to haunt him: "It makes me feel a little better to tell you that. I always think about it when I see reports about wars. "Very moved, he continues: "This is the first time I’ve spoken about it like this. Once, I tried to talk with someone who had also been to Algeria. He had experienced the same thing..." And then, faced with the omerta, Charles also kept silent. Like nearly 2 million conscripts, he preferred to try to forget. But this repressed person has made a big comeback. Since the early 2000s, the mechanisms for forced forgetting have been blocked. And the enlisted soldiers, like French society, are ready to face history.

[1See l’Humanité of February 14, 2018

[2Something “everyone” knew

[3editor’s note: until March 1957

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